By Design June 2013

How to Protect Your Privacy Online

A new graphical warning system

The average American Internet user visits 1,462 different Web sites a year. The median length of privacy policies for popular Web sites is 2,514 words. Reading every privacy policy of every Web site you call up in a year would take you 10 full days. Not that the legalese would give you much of an idea of what you risk every time you check your e‑mail, shop online, or skim the news.

Disconnect, a start-up specializing in online privacy, has a better idea. It commissioned a graphic designer to create a set of icons that would indicate, at a glance, how Web sites treat user data—not unlike traffic signs that indicate rough roads ahead. Disconnect hopes to integrate the icons into user experience via a browser extension that displays them next to a Web site’s URL, or by partnering with a search engine to show them next to results. If Web sites don’t display the icons voluntarily, users can assign them in a wiki-style database.

The icons themselves are simple and scannable. All users really need to watch for is the color: green means go; orange means think twice.


Green indicates that a Web site either does not allow third-party tracking or notifies you if you are being tracked. Orange means you might be unknowingly observed (for example: Amazon vs. Kayak).

 


Green indicates that a Web site uses your data only in ways you actively consent to or would expect given the service the site provides. Orange means your data might be shared or used in ways that should give you pause (Google vs. The New York Times).


The number on the green icon indicates how many months a site will retain your data. The infinity sign on the orange icon means that your data may outlive you (Twitter vs. Facebook).

 

Presented by

Malcolm Burnley does story research for The Atlantic.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

A Stop-Motion Tour of New York City

A filmmaker animated hundreds of still photographs to create this Big Apple flip book

Video

The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"

Video

This Japanese Inn Has Been Open For 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.

Video

What Happens Inside a Dying Mind?

Science cannot fully explain near-death experiences.

More in Technology

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In