Websites and apps are constantly prompting us to acknowledge their privacy policies. But what is a privacy policy? Most importantly, it explicitly states how a company will handle your data, what information is collected, and whether it will be shared with third parties. It should also indicate how or if your information will be tracked. To minimize information tracking, consider opting out of ad trackers and deleting your cookies, history, and cache.

Have you noticed more websites asking you to read their privacy policies?

This is due largely to new US state privacy laws. As more and more states pass stricter privacy laws, companies will want to make sure consumers are aware of any new policies they have in place.

This means you might see pop-ups that prompt you to agree to a privacy policy, meaning it’s more important than ever to get familiar with these statements.

What a good privacy policy will include

Privacy policies can empower people to better understand and control the data they share. But decoding the legalese can be a chore. All the lengthy documents can lead to “consent fatigue,” when people accept the terms of privacy policies without really reading them. 

A recent University of Pennsylvania study found that one-third of those surveyed believed only the presence of a privacy policy meant the website wouldn’t share their information without their permission. Unfortunately, that’s far from the truth. 

Since privacy policies are dense by nature, it’s helpful to know what should be included. A good privacy policy will:

  • Describe the types of information collected, such as payment methods and IP addresses, and describe how that information is going to be used

  • Disclose how information is gathered, including the use of browser cookies

  • Identify any third parties or organizations that might have access to your information

  • Outline the available privacy choices, with instructions on how to opt out of information sharing — and the consequences of doing so  

  • Describe the site’s security protocols  

  • Outline compliance with child online protection laws

  • Has a current publication date and provides contact information for further inquiries

Look for these keywords in privacy policies

It’s critical to make informed decisions about the data you share. So, when you’re skimming a marathon-length policy, be mindful of these words and phrases that can signal important disclosures:

  • Add

  • Advertise

  • Choice

  • Control

  • Delete

  • Sale

  • Sell

  • Settings

  • Share

  • Third parties

What do website cookies have to do with privacy?

In addition to looking over a site’s privacy policy, you can get ahead of some privacy issues by proactively managing your interaction with cookies.

What cookies do on a website: Think of them as virtual breadcrumbs. As you browse, sites can leave cookies on your system. They gather information and track your behavior, creating a trail of where you’ve been online.

Sometimes cookies come in handy. They may help a site remember your log-in information or record your preferences for a future visit. But companies can also use them to capture your data which can translate to big profits for them — at your expense.

Here’s how you can set controls to limit what you share and minimize your digital footprint:

  • Visit your browser’s settings to eliminate traces of your past searches  by deleting your history, cache, and cookies

  • Consider enabling your browser’s “Do Not Track” mode from settings (a feature that stops web services from tracking your actions online) 

  • Consider resetting the advertising identifier on your smartphone and opting out of ad tracking. To do this on iOS or Android, start by going to the device’s settings and looking for “privacy settings”

  • If you're an Allstate Identity Protection member and your plan includes our cyber coverage, enable the anti-tracking browser and safe browsing tool that’s included in your plan 

  • Visit Usa.gov to learn about controlling the cookie settings on popular internet browsers  

What happens if you ignore a site’s privacy policy

You may wind up receiving unwanted ads and solicitations. Or, if you’ve shared with a company that doesn’t adequately protect its data, your personal details could wind up in the wrong hands.

Knowing a company's privacy policy can help you make informed decisions about continuing to do business with them and providing your data to them.

Unfortunately, exposed personal information can lead to identity theft. But if you're a member and you experience identity fraud, we'll be here to help you chart a path to recovery.