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Want to Actually Read Online Privacy Policies? Prepare to Give Up 40 Minutes a Day

Posted Mar 6, 2012 2:46 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Two Carnegie Mellon researchers have estimated that it would take 40 minutes a day to read the privacy policies you encounter on websites each year.

The Atlantic explains how researchers Lorrie Faith Cranor and Aleecia McDonald came up with the figure in the 2008 study (PDF). They looked at the top 75 websites and found that the average privacy policy is about 2,500 words in length, which would take about 10 minutes to read. Then they estimated the average American visits 1,462 websites in a year, meaning 244 hours would have to be dedicated to reading the policies.

To put the figures in perspective, the researchers write, a person would have to spend an average of 40 minutes a day to read all those privacy policies. The figure is staggering on a national level. “We estimate that if all American Internet users were to annually read the online privacy policies word-for-word each time they visited a new site, the nation would spend about 54 billion hours reading privacy policies,” according to Cranor and McDonald.

The Atlantic sees a lesson in the numbers. “What that massive number tells us is that the way we deal with privacy is fundamentally broken,” the story says. “The collective weight of the Web's data collection practices is so great that no one can maintain a responsible relationship with his or her own data.”

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