Do Scary Privacy Policies Hinder Adoption?

I wrote up the privacy policy associated with the Alexa Toolbar in my post Which is the Bigger Spy, Alexa Toolbar or SearchStatus? In this post, I review the privacy policy with the Alexa Toolbar and SearchStatus. Reading the privacy policy for the Alexa Toolbar makes the program sound pretty scary. The privacy policy warns of the following – the Alexa Toolbar service will collect and store the following information:

  • Your browsing history, any web pages you view will be recorded
  • The data you enter in online forms and search fields (This could include private financial, bank or medical information)
  • Version 5 or higher – The products you purchase online
  • Version 6.5 or higher – Using the search function on the Alexa website, or toolbar can redirect you to a results page on Amazon.com, and that site will collect and store your data also.
  • Alexa.com will collect referring URL, IP Address and domain name and will use cookies to determine which pages you are browsing on the site.

I received an email from Geoff of Alexa clarifying the privacy policy. I updated my original post with this information, but feed readers will probably not catch this update.

Geoff clarifies the privacy policy as follows:

  • It only collects URLs. It doesn’t scrape the page and collect information in posts or forms.
  • The privacy policy is worded that way because often what you place into online forms appears in the URL, and the URL is sent to Alexa. 

Regarding turning off the toolbar –

  • It turns itself off whenever on a secure site
  • Disable the toolbar using the Tool menus

I appreciate that Geoff commented and followed up with an email to clarify the Alexa Toolbar Privacy Policy. My question is this, why is the privacy policy written in such a way that Geoff has to use his time clarifying misconceptions about how the Alexa Toolbar works. After writing my initial post, I received comments and emails from people that did not install the toolbar because of the privacy policy.

Are these misconceptions hindering the adoption of the Alexa Toolbar? The SearchStatus privacy policy is straightforward and mentions up front what Geoff had to clarify. Why isn’t this additional information easily located on the Alexa.com website in the FAQ or install notes?

I see an opportunity for Alexa.com to turn the personal information included in URLs issues into a positive for their company. I am not sure if it is feasible, but would you use a product that would inform you if a website was sending your personal data over a web URL? I know I would.  Alexa Toolbar could be the service that watches your browsing habits to help keep you safe. That is a product I could get behind, as long as I didn’t find the privacy policy frightening.

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5 Responses to “Do Scary Privacy Policies Hinder Adoption?”

  1. Opal: Vegan Momma Says:

    This is an excellent article and I do think they hinder people from signing up at least the ones that use the service. I still won’t be using it because regardless of what a rep says about it the words, for me, anyway contradict that. I’m now left wondering what to believe the rep or what is stated in the TOS?
    If the information is incorrect then that needs to be changed.

  2. Thomas Says:

    Opal – The email I received from Alexa.com, stated that they are trying to get Amazon legal to clarify the privacy policy. He said that they made it intentionally scary as a CYA to cover the possiblity of form data being sent through a URL.

    I do agree with your statement though, it does make one cautious about using the tool. This is what prompted me to create the post – I thought I did a good job of plainly transcribing what had been written in the privacy policy. From the email I received it was not very accurate, and I did not find this discrepancy addressed anywhere.

    You can have the best product, but if people are unwilling to adopt it, that is going to be a definite barrier to gaining acceptance in the marketplace.

  3. Opal Tribble Says:

    I’m glad you addressed the issue. It was appreciated. If Amazon changes the info I might use it.

  4. Mike Goad Says:

    Good article. I stopped using Alexa when I went to Firefox and have recently started using it again. The feature I use the most is “related links.” Thanks to your post, I now know how to disable Alexa, should I so desire, and enable it when I want to look for related links. Thanks!

  5. Thomas Says:

    Opal – I received updated information and it seemed fair to print it. At first I felt kind of like Chicken Little, and I had to post that the sky wasn’t falling, but when I reread the privacy policy, I think I portrayed an accurate assessment with the information I had. The cool thing about the interactivity of a blog, as I can get that updated information and then post it out. I enjoy the interactive, organic nature of blogs.

    Mike – Thanks for the comment – I am glad you found the post helpful. I think it is important that if you are going to use this tool to have all the facts. I found the privacy policy to be very misleading, but Geoff from Alexa was cool enough to clarify some of the issues.

    Knowing that you can turn the toolbar off, and that it will shut down on secure website is useful information to have. I just don’t understand why that information isn’t on their website.


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