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Ambiguity in Privacy Policies and the Impact of Regulation

29 Pages Posted: 15 Jan 2016 Last revised: 24 Sep 2016

Joel R. Reidenberg

Fordham University School of Law

Jaspreet Bhatia

Carnegie Mellon University

Travis Breaux

Carnegie Mellon University

Thomas B. Norton

Fordham University - Fordham Center on Law and Information Policy (CLIP)

Date Written: March 22, 2016

Abstract

Website privacy policies often contain ambiguous language that undermines the purpose and value of privacy notices for site users. This paper compares the impact of different regulatory models on the ambiguity of privacy policies in multiple online sectors. First, the paper develops a theory of vague and ambiguous terms. Next, the paper develops a scoring method to compare the relative vagueness of different privacy policies. Then, the theory and scoring are applied using natural language processing to rate a set of policies. The ratings are compared against two benchmarks to show whether government-mandated privacy disclosures result in notices less ambiguous than those emerging from the market. The methodology and technical tools can provide companies with mechanisms to improve drafting, enable regulators to easily identify poor privacy policies and empower regulators to more effectively target enforcement actions.

Keywords: privacy policy, ambiguous terms, vague, regulation, safe harbor, financial services

JEL Classification: K00, K20, K23, K40, O33, O38

Suggested Citation

Reidenberg, Joel R. and Bhatia, Jaspreet and Breaux, Travis and Norton, Thomas B., Ambiguity in Privacy Policies and the Impact of Regulation (March 22, 2016). Journal of Legal Studies, Forthcoming; Fordham Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2715164. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2715164 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2715164

Joel R. Reidenberg (Contact Author)

Fordham University School of Law ( email )

140 West 62nd Street
New York, NY 10023
United States
212-636-6843 (Phone)
212-930-8833 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://faculty.fordham.edu/reidenberg

Jaspreet Bhatia

Carnegie Mellon University ( email )

5000 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
United States

Travis Breaux

Carnegie Mellon University ( email )

Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890
United States

Thomas B. Norton

Fordham University - Fordham Center on Law and Information Policy (CLIP) ( email )

New York, NY
United States

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