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Privacy policies – a waste of time

Posted by Michael Bloch in web development (Wednesday December 3, 2008 )

Just about every web site has one (or should have), but privacy policies appear to be a complete waste of time – potentially up to 44.3 billion hours worth per year.

Those were the findings of a recent study by Carnegie Mellon CyLab researchers Lorrie Cranor and Aleecia M. McDonald in their paper on “Cost of Reading Privacy Policies.”

Their study found online privacy policies take users an average of 10 minutes to read. The 44.3 billion hour figure is how long it would take if everyone in the USA read the privacy policy of every site they visited.

If that time were recompensed, the cost would be a staggering $652 billion a year.

The researchers estimate the average privacy policy takes around 10 minutes to read and one well known site’s document came in at over 7,000 words; the equivalent of 15 pages of text.

While this all seems like a waste of life and time and over 90% of people don’t read the darned things, it’s still important to have one on your site.


We live in an age where people do dumb things like stick pets in microwaves to dry them off then sue companies for not providing proper warnings, where justice and law and very different beasties and common sense in life is an optional extra. Companies simply need to cover their butts and the legal system is such that in order to do so requires a ton of documentation.

Additionally, people may not actually read the policy, but they want to know it’s there as just the presence of these words seem to put their minds at rest that they aren’t going to be spammed to death, nor their credit card details sold to the guy hanging out in the alley.

You can learn more about developing a privacy policy here.


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