What is a Privacy Page?

Legitimate websites that collect information from visitors should have a prominently placed privacy page link from the home page. The purpose of the privacy page is to reveal what kind of information is collected by the site, how it is collected, how it is protected, used and shared, and how it can be reviewed or corrected. Inclusion of a privacy page link does not guarantee privacy, however, as a privacy policy might afford very little to no protection to the visitor. Therefore it is important to carefully review the privacy page of a website before participating in the site’s offerings or before volunteering personal information.

There are basically two types of information collected online: aggregated information and personally identifiable information. Aggregate information is statistical, whereas personally identifiable information includes things like name, address and phone number.

When you visit a website, your Web browser automatically turns over quite a bit of aggregate information as a matter of course. The specific Web browser you are using and your operating system are two examples of non-identifying, statistical information. Your browser also necessarily hands over your Internet Protocol (IP) address; the unique number that identifies your specific computer on the Web. Without sharing this unique identifier, you would not be able to participate on the Internet.

Websites that require registration might also ask for an email address and other personal information. The privacy page should state how this information is used, and if it is shared or sold to marketers, third parties or affiliates. If name, address and phone are requested, the privacy policy should reveal how this information is protected, and a secure, encrypted link should be established to pass this information to the site. A secure link starts with https:// versus http://. Privacy policies should also allow a mechanism to opt-out of information sharing and marketing offers.

Sites that engage in commerce, requiring personal information and credit card numbers, should also state on the privacy page how this information is protected. Secure access should be allowed by the owner of that information to update the information as necessary.

Controversy over privacy policies of popular socializing sites sometimes make headline news. Participants of sites like YouTube™, Facebook™, MySpace™ and LinkedIn™ provide a plethora of personal information, including digital photographs, personal videos, blogs, podcasts and more. The more personal information one intends to share, the more vital it is to review policies before participating. Aside from privacy concerns, one might want to be sure that he or she maintains copyright to original works posted, rather than the copyright automatically becoming property of the website.

While it is always better to review a privacy page, it should be noted that there is no true policing organization for the Internet because it is a free entity. Watchdog organizations like TRUSTe™, BBBOnline™ and others, formed to review companies in relation to their privacy policies to provide assurances to the public that the company or entity actually does what it claims to do on its privacy page. In reality, history shows that privacy policy violations are all too common and frequent, probably because these organizations have no legal power to punish, effectively making them “toothless” watchdogs. The only real assurance the typical surfer has is to limit the sharing of personal information to those companies or entities that are personally trusted, which also have privacy policies that meet his or her expectations.