Major Internet companies say that they inform their customers about privacy issues through specially written policies. What they don't say is that more often than not consumers would need college undergraduate educations or higher to easily wade through the verbiage.
To give a visceral sense of grade reading levels, I went to a site of Harry McLaughlin, inventor of the SMOG readability index, and looked pairs of scores and comparable reading material:
|SMOG Grade Level||Reading Material Example|
|0-6||Soap Opera Weekly|
|8||Ladies Home Journal|
|13-15||New York Times|
|17-18||Harvard Business Review|
An online site that calculates readability scores under various schemes provided the basic data. The Gunning Fog, SMOG, and Flesh Kincaid Grade Level scores all gave approximate years of education necessarily to comprehend the policies on a first read. Because the three scores for any given policy were fairly close, I averaged them.
Here are the companies (each name is linked to the policy URL), the approximate length of the policies, and the average grade levels:
|Company||Policy Length (in Words)||Average Grade Level|
|Bright House Networks||1,241||13.9|
|Time Warner Cable||2,958||18.5|
The Great Complicator is Insight Communication, which at 20.78 years is clearly a taxing read. Most Compact Twists and Turns has to be CableOne; at 1,156 words, it still is nearly in the tax code class.
For some perspective, a couple of years ago, the Securities and Exchange Commission informed publicly-held companies that the descriptions of executive compensation in proxy statements had to be put into plain English. To the SEC, that means a reading level at about the level of the Readers Digest -- about three years lower than even Yahoo's score.
If corporations can be reasonably expected to simply state what the CEO of a company makes, surely they should be able to work toward the same goal when it comes to privacy. If not, maybe they should send subscriptions of the Harvard Business Review to all their customers, because clearly there must be untapped intellectual power out there.
Egyptian parchment image via morguefile.com user chelle, use under site standard license.