Privacy Icons: Where are They Now?

Long holiday weekends definitely have their perks, and for me one of those was catching Friday afternoon’s To the Point conversation on internet privacy (usually I’d be in the middle of a work day and miss it). The discussion centered around the pros and cons of data and behavior tracking as consumers move about the ‘net and reminded of a great presentation by a classmate of mine on cookies. I find this topic fascinating because it touches on so many things — privacy, design and the online experience. And, like so many things, it’s complicated.

I am definitely concerned about how much and what kind of information about me and my online behaviors is shared, leaked, sold, etc. but I also enjoy having a somewhat customized experience as I navigate the web. I like that Netflix and Amazon provide suggestions about what I might like, I like that e-commerce sites remember what’s in my shopping bag, and I like it when sites “remember” me. Though I consider myself a relatively web- and tech-savvy individual, I have no idea how and why most sites are using information about me. Which probably means that the vast majority of the web-using public have no idea either.

One thing I found particularly interesting in the To the Point conversation was the idea of having privacy icons that indicated when personal information was being transmitted and how it was being used. This was not a topic they explored in depth, but I did some Googling afterwards and found some interesting articles — almost all of them from 2010. It seems that following a privacy workshop, Mozilla tasked its head UX designer with creating a set of icons (see left) that could be used within its browser, Firefox. Though Mozilla has yet to implement these, the idea would be that these icons “bolt on to” a site’s privacy policy — the browser would search for these and display accordingly.

I’m fascinated by the concept, though I’m not entirely sure how it would be implemented. It seems that to be of real value this would need to be standard across all browsers, not just limited to one, and I can definitely see the reluctance on the side of commercial sites who are used to “burying” this kind of information in privacy policies that few people read.

What do you think? Are privacy icons like these something that could actually work? How would you see them being used?

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