Analyzing 25 Years of Privacy Policies with Machine Learning


A recent study has used machine learning analysis techniques to chart the readability, usefulness, length and complexity of more than 50,000 privacy policies on popular websites in a period covering 25 years from 1996 to 2021. The research concludes that the average reader would need to devote 400 hours of'annual reading time' (more than an hour a day) in order to penetrate the growing word counts, obfuscating language and vague language use that characterize the modern privacy policies of some of the most-frequented websites. 'The average policy length has almost doubled in the last ten years, with 2159 words in March 2011 and 4191 words in March 2021, and almost quadrupled since 2000 (1146 words).' The mean word count and sentence count among the corpus studied, over a 25 year period. Though the rate of increase in length spiked when the GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) protections came into force, the paper discounts these variations as'small effect sizes' which appear to be insignificant against the broader long-term trend.

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