Icons of Privacy
More recently, there have been attempts to design more meaningful icon sets that symbolize the different uses of personal data by web services. The first example I am aware of was presented by Mary Rundle from the Identity Commons Working Group on Identity Rights Agreements last year at the UN Internet Governance Forum (see the pdf of her presentation here, the icons and the idea are on slides 7 and 8).
Now (apparently inspired because I told him about this), Matthias Mehldau from the popular German blog netzpolitik.org has designed a whole set of private data usage symbols. It's spreading heavily in Germany's blogosphere at the moment, and he calls for designers and privacy experts to develop this version 0.1 further. It's licensed under a creative commons by
Disclaimer: I also blog at netzpolitik.org
Update, 6 November 2009: Christopher Parsons from the University of Victoria is now also thinking about this. Worth a read.
Update, 14 January 2010: Now some folks around Mozilla.org in Washington, DC are also working on this.
Update, 3 October 2012: Alexander Alvaro, liberal Member of the European Parliament and in charge of the upcoming data protection regulation for his group, has proposed privacy icons in a conceptual blogpost titled "data protection lifecycle management".
Update, 7 October 2012: Aza Raskin presents the alpha release of an icon set based on the work around the Mozilla.org activities.
Update, 9 October 2012: The rapporteur of the European Parliament for the new data protection regulation, Green MEP Jan Philipp Albrecht, has endorsed the idea of layered policies and privacy icons in his Working Document 2, which summarises the state of debate in the lead civil liberties committee. Disclaimer: I am senior policy advisor for him and work on data protection, among other things.
Update, 22 November 2012: The icon set from Mozilla has been finalised in a hackathon. A few hundred websites' privacy policies have already been categorised and inconised. Several browser plugins now allow you users to get a quick overview of which data is collected, for how long, and what happens with it: Firefox, Safari, Chrome.
Update, 14 January 2013: I just discovered another icon set, this time from May 2012 and from some folks at Yale University.