Friday, 22 November 2013

Semiotic Analysis of a Privacy Policy

Pretty much every service has a privacy policy attached to it; these policies state the data collection, usage, purpose and expectations that the customer has to agree with before using that said service. But at another level they also attempt to signify (that's going to be a key word) that the consumer can trust the company providing the service at some level. Ok, so there's been huge amounts of press about certain social media and search service provides "abusing" this trust and so on, but we still use the services provided by those companies.

So this gets me thinking, when a privacy policy is written, could we analyse that text to understand better the motives and expectations from both the customer and the service provider perspective? Effectively can we make a semiotic analysis of a privacy policy.

What would we gain by this? It is imperative that any texts of this nature portray the right image to the consumer, thus this can be used in the drafting of such a text to ensure that this this right image is correctly portrayed. For example, the oft seen statement:

"Your privacy is important to us"

is a sign in the semiotic sense, and in this case probably an 'icon' in its near universal usage. Signs are a relationship between the 'object' and 'interpretant', respectively the subject matter at hand and the clarified meaning respectively.

Pierce's Semiotic Trangle
The object may be that we (the writer of the statement) are trying to state a matter of fact about how trust worthy we are, or at least we want to emphasise that we can be trusted.

The interpretant of this, if we are the customer, can of course vary from total trust to utter cynicism. I guess of late the latter interpretation tends to be true. Understanding the variation in interpretants is a clear method for understanding what is being conveyed by the policy itself and whether the right impression is being given to the consumer.

At a very granular level the whole policy itself is a sign and the very existance of that policy and its structure, is it long and full of legalese or short and simple? Then there's the content (as described above) which may or may not depend upon the size of the in the World's Worst Privacy Policy.



Found this paper while researching for this: Philippe Codognet's THE SEMIOTICS OF THE WEB, it starts with a quote:
I am not sure that the web weaved by Persephone in this Orphic tale, cited in exergue of Michel Serres’ La communication , is what we are currently used to call the World Wide Web. Our computer web on the internet is nevertheless akin Persephone’s in its aims : representing and covering the entire universe. Our learned ignorance is conceiving an infinite virtual world whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere ...
Must admit, I find that very, very nice. Best I've got is getting quotes about existential crises and cosmological structures in a paper about the Semantic Web with Ora Lassila.

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