MSN sites get easy-to-read privacy label

Microsoft adopts a streamlined "nutrition label" layout for telling people what data is collected on them at some of its MSN portals.

Robert Lemos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Robert Lemos
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Robert Lemos
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Microsoft is making it simpler for surfers to understand privacy practices on some of its MSN Web portals.

The Redmond, Wash.-based company has adopted a standard format for displaying information on its practices on MSN portals in the United States, Canada, Australia and Hong Kong. The changed format, which went into effect on Thursday, summarizes the data the company collects, how it intends to use the data and what choices a consumer has regarding their information.

"We want someone to read this like a nutritional label and quickly compare and see what data we collect and what you can opt out of," said Diane McDade, director of policy and privacy for the Technology Care and Safety group at MSN. "People hate long statements because they feel there is something in there that someone is hiding."

Microsoft introduced the privacy-notice format on MSN Web sites in its eight European markets late last year and plans to adopt the practice worldwide by the end of this year

The software giant is the latest company to adopt the shorter notices, also called "layered" notices, which consist of a top-level summary with more detail accessible through hyperlinks. Others include Procter & Gamble, IBM and JPMorgan Chase.

The movement to convince online sites to adopt a more readable privacy policy has been spearheaded by the Center for Information Policy Leadership, a privacy practice think tank that is part of law firm Hunton & Williams.

A standard notice contains six sections covering the scope, information collected, use of the information, consumer choices and company contact information. It also includes a section for important notices to the consumer.

While their appearance is much simpler, the notices are difficult to write in plain language, McDade said.

"It was a very hard challenge to summarize (our practices) into a short snapshot and to write it in such a way that people thought it was a fair representation," she said.

Microsoft has not yet implemented the shorter form on its main Web site.