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There's a real gap between the actual protection provided by online "privacy policies" and what Californians think they are getting. We're lulled into believing we're protected when it's not the case at all.

That's the disturbing conclusion of a study out today by Chris Jay Hoofnagle and Jennifer King of the UC Berkeley School of Law's Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic.

In their research report What Californians Understand About Privacy Online they conclude:

"We found that many California consumers believe that privacy policies guarantee strong privacy rights.  The term “privacy policy” is functioning in consumers' minds as a privacy seal. A majority of Californians believe that privacy policies guarantee the right to require a website to delete personal information upon request, a general right to sue for damages, a right to be informed of security breaches, a right to assistance if identity theft occurs, and a right to access and correct data.

"In other cases, a majority believes that privacy policies prohibit common business practices, or simply doesn't know the answer to the question. For instance, a majority either doesn't know or believes that privacy policies prohibit third party information sale, affiliate sharing, government access to personal information, and enhancement."

In other words far too many of us glance at a website's home page, note that there is a link labeled privacy policy and are reassured. We never bother to read and understand it. If we took the time, we'd all too often see that the so called "privacy policy" spells out that company retains the right to do the very things we thought a privacy policy would ban.

Maybe we should start to call it a company's NON-PRIVACY policy. At the very least, read it and know what's happening. Such phrases as "Privacy is about trust" and "Your privacy is important to us" may have a nice ring, but are actually meaningless. Read the fine print. And almost always it is in fine print.