Website privacy policies ‘hard to understand’

A large number of Australian websites are failing to make it easy for people to understand their privacy policies, which could be putting their personal information at risk.

This is the message from the Australian privacy commissioner Timothy Pilgrim, who assessed 50 websites for accessibility, readability and content.

Each of the sites was also assessed against new policies put forward in the Privacy Act, which are due to come into force on March 12 2014.

After this date, all sites will be required to display an easy-to-read privacy policy that people are able to locate quickly – failure to do so could result in action taken by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC).

Websites therefore need to give this consideration the next time a security audit is carried out on their portal.

The idea is to give people a better understanding of how their personal information is being used.

Of the sites' privacy statements looked at by OAIC, 83 per cent had compliance issues, which ranged from not providing contacts for further information, or not being easy to find.

Mr Pilgrim emphasised that the average policy was more than 2,600 words long, which he believes is far too much information for people to read through.

However, there were some instances where websites had provided a simplified version of the policy alongside the standard one, which should help improve access.

"Privacy policies need to be accessible by all users. This means that policies should be in formats that can be read by people using assistive technologies like a screen reader," commented Mr Pilgrim.

More than 65 per cent of the privacy policies seen by the OAIC provided information that was not relevant to the handling of personal information, while one site did not display one at all.

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