Center for Identity releases new browser extension to simplify terms of agreement contracts

Nashwa Bawab

Long paragraphs of borderline incomprehensible text in online terms of agreement contracts will soon be slightly easier to read, thanks to UT’s Center for Identity.

The Center released PrivacyCheck, a new browser extension created to scan and summarize online privacy policies, earlier this week.

The program, a free extension available on Google Chrome, condenses information in privacy policies for users so they can understand the terms of consent before they click “I Agree.” The extension summarizes how websites intend to use information such as email addresses, credit cards and social security numbers, according to Suzanne Barber, Center for Identity director and engineering professor.

“These privacy documents are long, and they’re written in legal terminology, so nobody reads them,” Barber said. “[This] isn’t good, because we have to know what we’re agreeing to in order to not get our identity or information stolen. PrivacyCheck gives you a quick synopsis of what’s in the document. You may decide to go ahead and click ‘agree,’ but at least now you can do it as an informed consenter.”

The extension organizes privacy policies into 10 different-colored categories according to how companies or websites will use visitors’ information. A green icon means the website isn’t collecting information at all, yellow means the website will use information only for internal profit purposes, and red means the website is allowed to share information with external marketing or corporate firms.

Katelyn Holley, English sophomore and Chrome user, said she is hopeful that the browser will help students make better decisions.

“I’m one of those people who are like, ‘I want this, so I’m just going to agree to everything,’” Holley said. “[Companies like] PayPal know the end of your credit card number and save all that information, and I know it’s supposed to be secure and stuff, but it’d be nice to know where your information is going.”

A 2012 study at Carnegie Mellon University estimated the average Internet user would have to spend 200 to 250 hours a year to read an entire privacy policy agreement form.

Students don’t have that kind of time or patience, according to education sophomore Sydney Dexter, who said she would be interested in using PrivacyCheck.

“It’s like Sparknotes,” Dexter said. “Nobody reads the terms of agreements and conditions — so if I could get a program that could bullet point or summarize that information for me, it would be so much easier.”

Center programmers plan to expand PrivacyCheck to different Internet browsers in the future, but it is currently available for free download in the Chrome Web Store.