The shorter the better? : Effects of privacy policy length on online privacy decision-making

Privacy policies provide Internet users with the possibility to inform themselves about websites’ usage of their disclosedpersonal data. Strikingly, however, most people tend not to read privacy policies because they are long and cumbersome,indicating that people do not wish to expend much (cognitive) effort on reading such policies. The present study aimed toexamine whether shorter privacy policies can be beneficial in informing users about a social networking site’s (SNS) privacypractices, and to investigate associations between variables relevant for privacy decision-making using one theory-basedintegrative model. In an online experiment, participants (N=305) were asked to create a personal account on an SNS afterbeing given the option to read the privacy policy. Privacy policy length and the SNS’s level of privacy were varied, creatinga 2 (policy length)×2 (level of privacy) between-subjects design. The results revealed that participants who saw shortpolicies spent less time on reading but gained higher knowledge about the SNS’s privacy practices—due to the fact thatthey spent more reading time per word. Factual privacy policy knowledge was found to be an indicator for participants’subjective privacy perception. The perception and evaluation of the specific SNS ́s privacy level influenced the assessmentof privacy costs and benefits. Particularly when benefits were perceived as high, self-disclosure was increased.


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