‘Click.’ Any Idea What You Just Agreed To?

A website's privacy statement
Most consumers do not fully understand what they agree to when they accept a company’s online privacy policies. Many automatically tap a “click here” button without ever reading the accompanying text.
Paul Pavlou, Dean of the University of Houston C.T. Bauer College of Business and author of just-published paper
Paul A. Pavlou, Cullen Distinguished Chair Professor and Dean of the University of Houston C.T. Bauer College of Business, joined computer scientists Bailing Liu and Cheng Xiufeng, of Central China Normal University, in creating a system that invites customers to balance their privacy concerns with personalization of products and services.

About that “click-here” box on a web page, where you verify that you have fully read, understand and agree to company privacy and policy statements – do you actually read and understand what you are agreeing to? The whole thing, every time?

Or maybe you just tap that little box and move on. If that’s your approach, you are in the overwhelming majority.

“Most people don’t read the policies because there isn’t really a true choice. If you decline, you are automatically blocked from going further into the website or app and you cannot conduct the business you need,” said Paul A. Pavlou, Cullen Distinguished Chair Professor and Dean of the University of Houston C.T. Bauer College of Business. He is the co-author of “Achieving a Balance Between Privacy Protection and Data Collection,” an article recently published in the prestigious top journal Information Systems Research.

“To have access you must agree to all of the company’s privacy and policy standards, often pages long and written in legal language, not easy to understand. The all-or-nothing system, as it exists now, is more of an annoyance than a business negotiation,” Pavlou said.

He and co-researchers Bailing Liu and Cheng Xiufeng, two computer scientists with Central China Normal University, propose an alternative that offers meaningful options for both sides of the transaction. Taking inspiration from justice theory, proposed in 1965 by psychologist John Stacey Adams, they sought to add fairness to privacy policy agreements by devising an IT-enabled artificial intelligence system that links tiers of customer information with levels of personalization offered by providers of products or services.

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