Have a Little Respect for Your Readers

I’ve always wondered who the progenitor of “We care about your privacy” is. Who was the first to come up with that absurd and condescending platitude that seems to top every privacy policy? They deserve some kind of lifetime achievement award, considering the amount of times they’ve been copied and ripped off.

I especially like it with an exclamation point:

We care about your privacy

That’s how you know the company REALLY means it. They care so much, they used an exclamation point. Those other companies don’t care nearly as much as they do. I mean, did they use an exclamation point? I didn’t think so. (The alternating decisions on title case vs. sentence case are also interesting. Do you care more if you go with title case? Or are you just an adherent of Chicago style?)

To paraphrase Queen Gertrude, though, it seems like these companies protest a bit too much. Of all the companies I ever ran into, about 99 percent of them cares almost exactly the same about privacy as all the other companies: The exact amount they have to care by the letter of the law.

For example:

we care about your privacy so much we do what the law says

Yes, indeed, they care SO MUCH that they do what the law requires. Very big of them.

Of course, there are some companies like DuckDuckGo and Brave, etc., that choose not to monetize data and to use privacy prominently in their marketing, and I’m sure they really do care more than the average firm about user privacy, but they are pretty clearly the exception to the norm.

Which is fine! Privacy is not what most of these companies do on purpose. Most companies provide you with health care or sell you a car or let you eat a great meal or whatever it is they actually do. That’s what they care about and that’s what I want them to care about. I want the hotel to care about my sleeping experience and my showering experience. I want Nike to care about my fitness and that sort of thing.

Not breaking the law is sort of my basic assumption on the other stuff.

Think about your average restaurant. How many of them have a sign somewhere that says, “We care about your health! We do lots and lots to make sure you don’t get e coli!” Not very many. Because, you know what, a clean restaurant is table stakes. It’s a given. We’re all basically assuming, restaurant owner, that you keep the place up to code with the cleaning and whatnot.

Telling me you care about my privacy? Eh. I don’t really believe you. Especially if the only way I found your policy was with the little 6-point font link at the bottom of your page, or only right before I’m about to actually join the thing I want to join. Don’t let me click on that link at the last possible moment and then read, “We care about your privacy!”

You might go ahead and show me you care about my privacy by presenting me with your privacy policy in something more prominent, or in a way that doesn’t seem completely mandatory - that would be great. And then maybe you can go with, “We’ve made privacy a particular focus recently.”

But most of you? How about something that respects me, like, “Here is how we comply with privacy laws”? Or, “This is how we collect, use, and share your data”? Or maybe even, “We paid a lawyer a bunch of money to write this privacy policy, so you might as well read it”?

That at least respects the intelligence of your visitor and avoids disingenuousness. If you want to have fun with it, and it fits your corporate personality, go for that. The 10 people who click through every month will appreciate it. Just don’t mouth the same lame platitude that everyone else mouths. It doesn’t respect your audience and it doesn’t do you any favors.

Sam Pfeifle