New Tool Helps Users Determine What Personal Data Is Being Gathered Online


Researchers have developed a new online tool that simplifies detailed privacy policies so that users can easily establish what data is being collected from them.

The tool, aptly named Usable Privacy, “develops methods and techniques to semi-automatically analyse privacy policies with crowdsourcing, natural language processing and machine learning.”

It has been launched as a co-project between Carnegie Mellon University and Fordham Law School to share their research on company privacy policies. So far they have 193 simplified privacy policies, with plans to analyse many more.

The researchers have argued that it would take up to 600 hours to read all the privacy policies of the sites and apps that they regularly use, the equivalent of 37.5 days where you took sleeping breaks and nothing else.

“Our objective is to produce succinct yet informative summaries that can be included in browser plug-ins or interactively conveyed to users by privacy assistants that inform users about salient privacy practices,” said Norman Sadeh, the lead principal investigator of the study.

“While navigating our site, people will notice how complex and fragmented many privacy policies are,” he added. “The vast majority of statements are about first-party collection and third-party sharing and contain significant levels of ambiguity when it comes to determining exactly what is being collected and with whom it is shared.”

The tool aims to provide users with an instant breakdown of the particular data that a company has access to. It uses colour coding, visual bookmarking, and annotation to show particular trends, as well to give users a means to figure out exactly what breaches of privacy they are agreeing to.

You can follow Ben Kew on Facebook or on twitter at @ben_kew or email him at 


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.