People don’t read privacy policies. One study from 2016 showed that people will agree to anything to get past that daunting mess of legalese; 98% of the study’s participants didn’t realize that the policy for a fake social networking site gave all their personal information to the NSA and even required them to give up their first born child.
Once they’d built the system, Harkous realized that the chatbot interface was only useful if you had a specific question about a specific company. So he began work on Polisis, which uses the same underlying system but just represents the flow of data in a visual way.
Some of the most interesting insights Harkous has noticed of the nearly 16,500 policies the system has analyzed so far come from the privacy policies for Apple and Pokemon Go. Both companies take users’ location data, which makes sense given that they both offer location-based services, but the Polisis visualizations show just how many things they use location data for–in particular, advertising. You might not realize it, but when you catch a Pokemon in a certain area, the company is likely using your location to sell you things.
The project, which launched earlier this month, has already garnered thousands of views. Users have added 2,000 new websites, which the tool analyzes automatically and then adds to its database. You can also download a browser extension that takes you to the Polisis analysis of any service’s policy.
The Polisis interface is far from perfect, and Harkous has plans to improve it. Right now, it’s hard to know what to pay attention to–the visualization treats all data-sharing as equal when it’s obviously not. Some forms of sharing are perfectly normal, while other types indicate shady practices. For instance, the free email unsubscribe service Unroll.me reads all your emails and sells information it finds there to third parties. But that’s something that would be hard to tell when looking at the site’s privacy viz, so Harkous is working on a tool that will analyze all the policies and point out surprising parts of particular policies that are abnormal. He also wants to make a side-by-side comparison tool and provide Polisis in other languages.
But for now, you can check out the site or download the plugin. It’ll save you the time it’d take to read the policies for every site you use on the internet today–about 76 full working days per year. And it may just help you feel more informed, and less guilty, the next time you hurriedly click “accept.”