In the midst of all the complexity and fear about data usage and privacy, it’s nice to see an example of disclosure done well.

A couple of weeks ago, Pinterest announced Buyable Pins, which will enable their users to buy products directly from Pinterest on iPhones and iPads. Like any new feature, this one comes with data privacy implications: if I buy something on Pinterest, both Pinterest and the seller will have access to this transaction information–and possibly more about me.I’m a Pinterest user myself, so last week I received this email:

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Long story short: Pinterest and the seller receive enough information to complete the transaction, facilitate future transactions and make promotions more relevant to me. If I don’t want to share information to customize my experience, I can turn it off. Short, sweet and to the point.

If I want more information, Pinterest’s privacy policy covers a range of other issues in similarly clear language. The other thing I like about it is that it prompts me to dig deeper if I want to. Clearly, this should be true of any privacy policy update, but the naturalistic and concise nature of the language makes that process a little less intimidating.

I asked the Pinterest team what they were trying to achieve with the privacy language, and here’s what they told me:

Buyable Pins has been a highly requested feature, so we wanted to make sure the language for the policy was clear right from the start. The goal was for Pinners to have an understanding of why the updates are being made, how they can customize settings, and where they can learn more. The approach was similar to past policy updates, where we aim to put Pinners first and be as helpful and concise as possible.”

There are two really important issues at play here: 1. people have been asking for this feature, so there is going to be a lot of scrutiny among the pinner community; and 2. Pinterest is now dealing with people’s money. So there’s a lot at stake.

Privacy Policies in Context

The Pinterest privacy policy explicitly fits into two areas of the framework:

  • Collection and Respect. Have we been transparent about the fact that we collect data?
  • Communication and Respect. Have we communicated clearly about what information we collect, and why?

This is why our use of language is an ethical choice:

While dense and legalistic language may satisfy the legal team, clear and simple language demonstrates respect for the user.

You could further state that Pinterest, like many other ad-supported sites, is arguing that increasing the relevance of promoted pins is a benefit to pinners, which would cover Collection and Benefit as well. [That argument only holds up if users agree that the benefit is worth the exchange of data.]

This is not to say that a privacy policy is the only thing organizations need to consider when it comes to ethical data use. Many other issues have gotten organizations into hot water, whether in courts of law or public opinion. Some top-of-mind examples include Borders (for attempting to sell customer transaction data as part of its bankruptcy process) or Anthem and others (for data breaches). These examples map to Respect/Fairness and Usage, and Respect/Fairness and Storage and Security, respectively.

But now that the framework is out, I will be testing it (and suggest you do too) against real-world examples, using the IAF principles and the data lifecycle stages to examine and illustrate examples of ethical data use in theory and, most importantly, in practice.