Business

Let’s talk about pri-va-cy, let’s talk about you and me

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Time to talk about private parts and openness. Kid, this is an important conversation, so I need you to pay attention. Ready?

Alright, alright. This is actually about privacy policies, and the open source toolkit that mobile security company Lookout is launching today as a free repo on Github. And it’s called — you guessed it — “Private Parts.”

As a cybersecurity provider, Lookout has long been preoccupied with its own privacy policy, how people perceive it, and how it can continue to simplify it.

Lookout wants people who use its app to know what happens with their information and to feel empowered when it comes to making decisions regarding their mobile devices and apps, Lookout’s associate general counsel, Irene Liu, told VentureBeat. And the company is going one step further by opening up its approach to other developers so they can create simpler, stronger privacy policies too.

Most privacy policies these days are “walls of text” and full of legal jargon, Liu said. Now that privacy rights are in the public eye, she said, it’s time to find a clearer way to communicate them.

“Private Parts”

Lookout pulled together different company departments to come up with a new approach. That effort culminated in its current, heavily visual and simple representation of its privacy policy. Lookout calls it a “short-form privacy policy.”

Lookout surveyed over 1,000 smartphone users as part of its process. It found that “only 34 percent of users admitted to reading privacy policies sometimes, while over 54 percent found privacy policies to be vague,” according to the company.

The team used the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) recommended code of conduct (Lookout has been a part of the process resulting in the guidelines) in order to make its policies work worldwide.

The research and design process then helped the team make sure they’re “using iconography that works everywhere” and learn that, for example, “people don’t like to see things we don’t collect,” product designer Bruno Bergher explained to VentureBeat.

An overwhelming majority of the research feedback also convinced Lookout to make its short-form privacy policy openly available as a toolkit to any company or web developer. The company is releasing it freely, with five simple steps that any developer can follow to create their own visual statement in less than hour, according to the company.

Developers can customize the look and components of the visual statement, from the colors to the content. The resulting policy statement is also responsive to screen size, making it more icon-heavy on small mobile screen and expanding the text on larger, desktop screens.

“It’s a very developer-oriented thing,” said Bergher. “If you know HTML/CSS, it’s completely customizable. This is not selfish at all, we want people to feel empowered to make their own.”

But the release of this open source kit is about more for Lookout than just designing something pretty and letting others slap it onto their websites and apps.

“We want to make a broad industry change,” said Liu. “We really think that short-form privacy policies are the future of privacy policies. As a whole, we think of privacy policies as an iterative product, a living document.”

As I mentioned above, Lookout had a hand in the creation of the NTIA code of conduct released in July 2013. It also shared that it plans to continue to advocate for the adoption of short-form privacy policies by partnering with a variety of stakeholders, from legal organizations to the web developer community.

And although privacy policy statements are not the sexiest thing people want to think about, much less read, Lookout does have a point — we do need to pay attention to what happens with our information.

With all the recent conversations about privacy (thanks, NSA!) and frequent uproars about companies weakening their policies or making complicated changes, the least we can do is make educated decisions about what we share and with whom.

There are cases of the government wanting surveillance backdoors, cases of not even knowing that one’s information is collected by an app, and the list goes on.

But at least this first step is quite easy on the eyes.

More about the companies and people from this article:

Lookout secures the new generation of mobile computing for individuals and organizations everywhere. With a global network of tens of millions of devices and the world’s most comprehensive mobile data set, Lookout provides powerful t... read more »

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