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Why Privacy Policies Don't Work - And What Might

Publication Date: 
January 29, 2012
San Francisco Chronicle
James Temple

Director of Privacy and Robotics at the Center for Internet and Society Ryan Calo was mentioned in the following article by James Temple of the San Francisco Chronicle that discussed ways to help consumers realize when their actions are being monitored online.

In the spring of 2010, thousands of online customers clicked on the terms of service at and unwittingly sold their souls.

As an April Fool's prank, the British gaming retailer slipped an "immortal soul clause" into its license agreement, knowing full well that nobody looks at them. In fact, a 2006 UC Berkeley survey found that only 1.4 percent of participants read these sorts of agreements "often and thoroughly."


Ryan Calo, director for privacy at Stanford's Center for Internet and Society, offers another model for informing consumers that he calls "visceral" notice.

This approach takes advantage of technology we're familiar with or our anthropomorphic responses to warn people about how technology is working. It's the tech equivalent of using rumble strips instead of a "road narrows" sign, he wrote in a recent paper for Notre Dame Law Review.


The paper noted that studies have shown people are more likely to pay for coffee available on the honor system when there was a nearby picture of a set of eyes. Calo suggests the appearance of an avatar when third-party advertisers are monitoring a person's behavior online could make users similarly self-conscious.


"Experience as a form of privacy disclosure is worthy of further study before we give in to calls to abandon notice," Calo said.