Source Evaluation Series Week 7: Privacy Policy Review

digital-579553_1920In my last post, the Source Evaluation Series covered the accuracy of claims appearing on the American Lung Association website,* as well as how one should evaluate accuracy for other websites. This week, we are covering privacy policies and online privacy in general.

When you access the internet, you leave yourself vulnerable. Of course, many of you are thinking about hackers, viruses, malware, spyware, etc. While these are valid concerns, it is also important to realize the threat to your personal privacy. Many legitimate businesses acquire and use data gathered from your web-wanderings to enhance user experience, even directing your searching to what they believe is relevant to you. While seemingly innocuous, this also enables them to gather unbelievable amounts of personal data. “Through the sites we visit and the searches we make, we disclose details not only about our jobs, hobbies, families, politics and health, but also about our secrets, fantasies, even our peccadilloes” (Carr, 2010). This information allows for targeted advertisements, specifically designed to appeal to you or even manipulate you into making certain choices. If you are at all concerned about personal privacy online, and you should be, it is important to understand how to keep yourself safe online and gain an understanding of a website’s privacy policies.

When we look The ALA has an extensive Privacy Policy that details what personal data, if any, they collect, and how they use that data. According the American Lung Association (2015e), optional registration requires users to provide personal data such as name, email address, physical address, communication preferences and personal interests. Such data is useful for marketing purposes as well as providing relevant communications for the user. However, they do not distribute this information to unaffiliated third parties. The website also utilizes cookies (sadly, not the edible variety) to improve website navigation and store passwords, as do many websites. In some instances, it is possible to disable cookies and still experience a functional website. Alternately, one can clear cookies following browsing. All user-based data is transmitted using SSL (Secure Socket Layer) encryption that protects private information and minimizes security risks (ibid, para. 1-3). Finally, when visiting the website, the ALA collects an individual IP address in order “to help diagnose problems with our server, administer our Site, analyze trends, track user’s movement, gather broad demographic information for aggregate use in order for us to improve the site, and deliver customized, personalized content” (American Lung Association, 2013, para. 2).

While I am not overly concerned with using this website, others may find a benefit in exercising more caution. If you would like to learn how to protect your privacy on the internet, a good place to start is the Online Privacy and Technology topics available through Privacy Rights Clearinghouse*.


Carr, N. (2010, August 6). Tracking Is an Assault on Liberty, With Real Dangers. Retrieved from The Wall Street Journal:

If you have questions about the series or a particular website, please comment below.
*I am not affiliated with the organizations or website used in this post. All rights belong to their respective owners and authors. Usage does not convey endorsement. Use of the ALA & Privacy Rights Clearinghouse websites are for educational purposes only.


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