Privacy is a bit like the weather — everyone talks about it but no one does a damn thing about it. Sure, it’s creepy that these companies track you and munch your personal information. But are you really going to ditch Facebook and every other online convenience of modern life?
That’s why firms like Privacyscore are intriguing. The company wants to empower consumers by showing instant report cards of websites and, now, Facebook apps as well. The apps have become a special concern following publicized incidents in which apps ferret into personal profiles and share the data with marketers.
Privacyscore works like this. Users who install it will see a number icon in their browser when they visit a website or Facebook app. Zynga Texas HoldEm Poker, for instance, gets an 87:
Clicking on the number itself produces a more detailed report about the site or app’s strengths and shortcomings:
So is this a game changer? Not really. For the most part, Privacyscore does little more than confirm our suspicion that websites and apps collect more of our personal information than we want. If the past is any indication, this will not dissuade consumers from using them all the same.
There’s hope of course that a lousy privacy mark will shame app maker into shaping up. This page, for instance, shows at a glance that Fruit Ninja is doing a far worse job than Words with Friends. But does Fruit Ninja care?
While services like Privacyscore will do little to change privacy rules in the short term, they may help in the long term by teaching consumers the basics about advertising and data collection.
This education may help consumers and politicians move beyond privacy hysteria and accept a basic fact: personal information is a commodity used to pay for access to free online services like Facebook. (The company even admitted as much in its latest ‘Data Use’ policy update).
It also suggests that the best solution to privacy concerns may lie not in “Do Not Track” laws (which aren’t going to happen in any case), but a system in which consumers can pay more money in exchange for handing over less personal information in the first place.