Few Know What They're Paying Google, Facebook

Google-Like-Thumbs-downIt’s official: Facebook and Google’s privacy policies are more confusing than government and financial services documents.

According to a survey released by branding firm Siegel + Gale, consumers -- after reviewing the privacy policies of both Google and Facebook -- could only correctly answer questions about the policy 36% of the time. When it came to Facebook, only 39% could provide correct answers. In similar studies, 70% of consumers correctly answered questions regarding government notices and 68% had the right answers to credit card agreements. 

“Some people don’t realize what the implication of the privacy policy is on their regular lives,” Brian Rafferty, global director of research insights at Siegel + Gale, tells Marketing Daily. “In real life, no one ever reads them because they’re so long and arduous. But even among people who are made to read them, there’s still little understanding.”

The increased comprehension and care, however, did have a lasting effect on consumers. After reviewing the policies as part of the study, 36% of Google users and 37% of Facebook users said they would change their online behavior by using the sites less, adjusting their privacy settings and clearing their search histories more often.

“People going in don’t really understand or make the connection that their information is in some ways the currency they’re ‘paying’ Google and Facebook,” Rafferty says. “The same way you would want to understand the price, people are not getting that understanding of the price they’re paying for these services.”

Indeed, after reading the policies, 47% of the respondents said they felt less comfortable with how Google collects and stores their information (and that the policy also applies to Google-owned sites such as YouTube and Blogger). “Perceptions of Facebook didn’t move as much as much with Google,” Rafferty says. “People started off with more presumption that Facebook that was using their data. It was more surprising to people how Google used their information than Facebook.”

Adding to people’s confusion is the way the policies are written -- full of jargon, technical information and other inscrutable information, Rafferty says. “The information hasn’t been written in a way that the actual reader is taken into account,” he says. “The information is out there because they have to, rather than it being understood.”

However, with Facebook and Google profiting from the sharing of this data, it’s unlikely they will make the privacy policies easier to understand without some intervention, Rafferty says. Between 70% and 80% of the survey respondents supported governmental intervention that would make it easier for users to control online tracking of personal information, according to Rafferty.

“It comes down to a fundamental definition of what freedom of choice is, and how much should companies be enabled to have that information,” he says. “If companies such as Google made it more obvious and easier to adjust these privacy settings, it would put the control back into the user’s -- as opposed into the seller’s -- hands.”

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