You’d Need 76 Work Days to Read All Your Privacy Policies Each Year

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The problem with privacy on the Internet isn’t so much that companies don’t provide privacy options or tell you that they might share your data, it’s that protecting your privacy often entails wandering the wilds of Facebook’s confusing privacy settings or reading an epic privacy agreement written in a confounding mixture of tech speak and legalese.

Need proof? A couple of Carnegie Mellon researchers recently published a paper suggesting that reading all of the privacy policies an average Internet user encounters in a year would take 76 work days. Imagine spending 15 work weeks punching the clock so you could keep up to date on how not to let Internet companies violate your privacy.

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Researchers reviewed the top 75 websites on the Internet and found that the median length of their privacy policies was 2,514 words. Then they added another factor — how long it took an average person to actually understand what they were reading, which they found by giving simple comprehension questions to 212 study participants.

The Atlantic‘s Alexis Madrigal breaks down the numbers:

So, each and every Internet user, were they to read every privacy policy on every website they visit would spend 25 days out of the year just reading privacy policies! If it was your job to read privacy policies for 8 hours per day, it would take you 76 work days to complete the task. Nationalized, that’s 53.8 BILLION HOURS of time required to read privacy policies.

The researchers came up with hypothetical national cost for all of those lost work hours: $781 billion.

That number sounds ridiculous because nobody actually spends that much time reading all of the privacy policies that they encounter on the Internet — which, of course, is the point. Right now, the responsibility is on the user; lawyers make sure the Facebooks of the world have all of their bases covered.

Do you have 76 spare work days to read over privacy agreements? I didn’t think so. Something isn’t quite right with how the whole system works and — while not a panacea — shifting more of the responsibility to the websites who want profit off your data might be a good way to start fixing it.

MORE: Google’s New Privacy Policy: 5 Ways to Minimize Your Online Exposure