In The Kaleidoscope

When I was still working for the overly-large school district, one of things our office did was interpret the terms of service and privacy policies for the ever growing stream of websites and application teachers were bringing into their classrooms. At least we did the best we could.

No one in our group had any legal training and most of those documents were heavy on the jargon, written, I think, on purpose to confuse anyone who actually made the attempt before clicking the “I accept” button. Not that many of the educators we worked with ever did.

I recently ran across a resource I wish had been available back then.

It’s a clear and relatively brief article called “How to Quickly Get to the Important Truth Inside Any Privacy Policy”, complete with examples. It turns out, these things are not as impenetrable as they seem.

They follow a predictable structure, meaning you can learn to navigate them, spotting key sections and passages from a safe skimming height, swooping down only to extract the juiciest morsels of information or to leverage an opportunity to opt out of certain collection (or to opt in to deeper, more personalized disclosure).

We can teach you how to do that. Drawing from our shared experience—Jon as a reporter who has read hundreds of these documents in the course of his reporting, and Jesse, an intern with us who also happens to be an attorney who has helped write dozens of privacy policies himself—we have some tips we want to share with you about what to look out for. We also asked some privacy experts to weigh in and share their advice with our readers.

The post comes from a site called the Markup, which they describe as a “nonprofit newsroom that investigates how powerful institutions are using technology to change our society”. And yes, I read their privacy policy and even signed up for their weekly Hello World newsletter.

So, why should you bother to understand the privacy policies of the sites you visit?

For your personal web browsing, that’s totally up to you.

However, if you’re a teacher and plan to use a site or application in the classroom, you need to understand this stuff. Both for the safety of your students and your professional liability.

Take a few minutes to apply the process explained in this article and I think you’ll find privacy policies are not as obtuse as you may have thought.

Now I need to find a similar resource for terms of service, which, I suspect, are not quite as straight forward.

The photo at the top is a view through a large kaleidoscope at the Museum of Illusions in DC. That maze is pretty easy to figure out.