9 Privacy Policy Phrases You Need To Know

iStock
iStock

There’s a reason you’ve been getting a lot of emails recently about updated privacy policies—the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation goes into effect on May 25. The new law requires companies that do business with users within the European Union's 28 countries to be more transparent about how they collect and use customers' information. That means that as a consumer, you should have more control over, or at least be able to better understand, your privacy.

Still, let’s face it—privacy policies are boring. They’re full of legal jargon, they're often complex, and the information they contain likely won’t stop you from using a service you need or purchasing a product you want. Most people don’t even read privacy policies, and research suggests that at least half of us don’t fully grasp their purpose.

While you can’t always know what goes on behind the scenes of a company, you can choose not to engage with a company or service provider if you don’t trust them to keep your information secure. Here’s what to look for in a privacy policy.

1. “INFORMATION WE COLLECT” OR “INFORMATION YOU GIVE US”

sign in screen on computer
iStock

For as long as you've been using the internet, you’ve likely been giving your personal information to dozens of websites that required you to create accounts to access services or make purchases.

This could include everything from your name and date of birth to your social security number. Any data, even information you consider “non-sensitive” (for example, your email address may seem innocuous compared to your credit card numbers) can be used to connect the dots and create a detailed digital profile.

Some of this information you provide actively and voluntarily, but much of it you may not be able to control. For example, Facebook collects information about you from other users. You also give up billing details and data about your connected devices (IP address and geographic location, for example), which you may not realize you are granting Facebook permission to view and use. We unknowingly provide lots of personal information to our internet service providers (ISPs)—and would-be hackers—with many of our regular internet browsing habits.

2. “COOKIES”

screen showing how to erase cookies
iStock

If you want to purchase an item on Amazon, you must create an account, which at the very least requires you to provide your email address. To place an order, you have to enter your credit card number and billing and shipping addresses. According to Amazon’s privacy policy, the company receives and stores “any information you enter on our Web site or give us in any other way.”

If a login isn’t required or you aren’t making a purchase, websites still collect data using cookies—little bits of text that help the site identify you. Cookies are the reason you are targeted with certain ads and can stay logged in as you navigate around a site. While you can disable cookies in your browser, this will limit your ability to fully use many websites.

3. “INFORMATION SECURITY”

A privacy policy should describe how a company stores your personal information, but the language around this is often vague, and you may have to take additional steps to fully secure your data. For example, Facebook says they have “teams of engineers, automated systems, and advanced technology such as encryption and machine learning” and “easy-to-use security tools”—but you have to go to the security help center page to learn how to enable those tools.

Google’s privacy policy states that the company encrypts “many” services using Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), which protects the connection between your computer and Google’s servers. Google also restricts access to user data to “employees, contractors, and agents...who are subject to strict contractual confidentiality obligations.”

4. “THIRD-PARTY”

This is another vague area in many policies. Facebook and Amazon both share data with a number of third parties, including customer service providers and third-party apps you connect to your Facebook account. Companies may also share non-identifying information—data that cannot be traced back to you as an individual. While third-party sharing should not necessarily stop you from using a website, you should be aware of who else is receiving information about you and whether you can opt out.

Third-party sharing is what Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, calls the “meat and potatoes” of a privacy policy—especially when it comes to sites that promote health or health-related information and products. While some medical data is protected by privacy laws like HIPPA, medical-adjacent information like biometrics, sexual preference, specific income, and even purchase history can be dangerous when released to third parties or data brokers.

“Medical-related information is prized,” she says. “Any kind of health-related data can be used to make important decisions about our lives.”

5. “AFFILIATED BUSINESSES”

Facebook.com isn’t the only website owned by the bigger Facebook company, which may share your data with WhatsApp and several other platforms that the larger company also owns. Many companies provide your personal information to affiliated businesses—Amazon works with Marketplace sellers and companies like Starbucks and Verizon, for example. While this isn’t necessarily a dealbreaker, Dixon says that, like with third-party sharing, you should scan for where and how your data is being shared or combined and have the chance to opt out.

6. “COMBINE DATA” or “DATA BROKER”

Data brokers collect, compile, and sell personal information—from your name and email address to the websites you visit and your search history. Companies purchase this data to create a more complete profile about you, which is then used to target you with specific products or services or even determine how much your health insurance should cost. Dixon says this can have consequences on everything from education to employment opportunities and opens the door for your information to be compromised in data breaches.

If you come across language in a privacy policy along the lines of “learning more about you and your interests,” read carefully. It may not be obvious or explicit when a company works with data brokers, so it’s important that you ask this specific question.

7. “OPT IN” VS. “OPT OUT”—“WHAT CHOICES DO I HAVE?”

confused woman in yellow t-shirt
iStock

Check privacy policies for how much control you have over your own information. Many will have sections that outline what choices you have and how you can opt in to or out of certain data collection and sharing practices, similar to opting out of email communication.

For example, Amazon’s policy includes a link to update your user communication and advertising preferences, but it does acknowledge that you can’t access, update, or delete everything and notes that the company keeps copies of prior data even after you make changes. Google requires users to opt in to any sharing of sensitive personal information and allows you to opt out of advertising services, choose what data is saved in your account, and remove some information from Google services.

Following the Cambridge Analytica controversy, Facebook recently announced that it is updating its data policies to give users more opportunities to actively choose how their data is collected, stored, and shared.

8. “DELETE”

Another important thing to ask: What happens to my information over time? Facebook stores your data for “as long as necessary” to provide you with products and services, but information will be deleted once you delete your account. Even if you get rid of certain accounts, however, your data may live on a company’s servers for longer. For example, Google’s policy says that they may not “immediately delete residual copies” or remove information from backup servers.

9. "CONTACT US"

contact us sign
iStock

Companies should offer a way to get in touch. In fact, Dixon recommends reaching out to companies directly and asking these questions about their privacy practices. As a consumer, you have the right to understand how your personal information is used as well as the right to opt out of any data sharing—and now is the time to demand that companies collect and secure our data responsibly.

10 Products for a Better Night's Sleep

Amazon/Comfort Spaces
Amazon/Comfort Spaces

Getting a full eight hours of sleep can be tough these days. If you’re having trouble catching enough Zzzs, consider giving these highly rated and recommended products a try.

1. Everlasting Comfort Pure Memory Foam Knee Pillow; $25

Everlasting Comfort Knee Pillow
Everlasting Comfort/Amazon

For side sleepers, keeping the spine, hips, and legs aligned is key to a good night’s rest—and a pain-free morning after. Everlasting Comfort’s memory foam knee pillow is ergonomically designed to fit between the knees or thighs to ensure proper alignment. One simple but game-changing feature is the removable strap, which you can fasten around one leg; this keeps the pillow in place even as you roll at night, meaning you don’t have to wake up to adjust it (or pick it up from your floor). Reviewers call the pillow “life-changing” and “the best knee pillow I’ve found.” Plus, it comes with two pairs of ear plugs.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Letsfit White Noise Machine; $21

Letsfit White Noise Machine
Letsfit/Amazon

White noise machines: They’re not just for babies! This Letsfit model—which is rated 4.7 out of five with nearly 3500 reviews—has 14 potential sleep soundtracks, including three white noise tracks, to better block out everything from sirens to birds that chirp enthusiastically at dawn (although there’s also a birds track, if that’s your thing). It also has a timer function and a night light.

Buy it: Amazon

3. ECLIPSE Blackout Curtains; $16

Eclipse Black Out Curtains
Eclipse/Amazon

According to the National Sleep Foundation, too much light in a room when you’re trying to snooze is a recipe for sleep disaster. These understated polyester curtains from ECLIPSE block 99 percent of light and reduce noise—plus, they’ll help you save on energy costs. "Our neighbor leaves their backyard light on all night with what I can only guess is the same kind of bulb they use on a train headlight. It shines across their yard, through ours, straight at our bedroom window," one Amazon reviewer who purchased the curtains in black wrote. "These drapes block the light completely."

Buy it: Amazon

4. JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock; $38

JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock
JALL/Amazon

Being jarred awake by a blaring alarm clock can set the wrong mood for the rest of your day. Wake up in a more pleasant way with this clock, which gradually lights up between 10 percent and 100 percent in the 30 minutes before your alarm. You can choose between seven different colors and several natural sounds as well as a regular alarm beep, but why would you ever use that? “Since getting this clock my sleep has been much better,” one reviewer reported. “I wake up not feeling tired but refreshed.”

Buy it: Amazon

5. Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light; $200

Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light
Philips/Amazon

If you’re looking for an alarm clock with even more features, Philips’s SmartSleep Wake-Up Light is smartphone-enabled and equipped with an AmbiTrack sensor, which tracks things like bedroom temperature, humidity, and light levels, then gives recommendations for how you can get a better night’s rest.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Slumber Cloud Stratus Sheet Set; $159

Stratus sheets from Slumber Cloud.
Slumber Cloud

Being too hot or too cold can kill a good night’s sleep. The Good Housekeeping Institute rated these sheets—which are made with Outlast fibers engineered by NASA—as 2020’s best temperature-regulating sheets.

Buy it: SlumberCloud

7. Comfort Space Coolmax Sheet Set; $29-$40

Comfort Spaces Coolmax Sheets
Comfort Spaces/Amazon

If $159 sheets are out of your price range, the GHI recommends these sheets from Comfort Spaces, which are made with moisture-wicking Coolmax microfiber. Depending on the size you need, they range in price from $29 to $40.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Coop Home Goods Eden Memory Foam Pillow; $80

Coop Eden Pillow
Coop Home Goods/Amazon

This pillow—which has a 4.5-star rating on Amazon—is filled with memory foam scraps and microfiber, and comes with an extra half-pound of fill so you can add, or subtract, the amount in the pillow for ultimate comfort. As a bonus, the pillows are hypoallergenic, mite-resistant, and washable.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Baloo Weighted Blanket; $149-$169

Baloo Weighted Blanket
Baloo/Amazon

Though the science is still out on weighted blankets, some people swear by them. Wirecutter named this Baloo blanket the best, not in small part because, unlike many weighted blankets, it’s machine-washable and -dryable. It’s currently available in 12-pound ($149) twin size and 20-pound ($169) queen size. It’s rated 4.7 out of five stars on Amazon, with one reviewer reporting that “when it's spread out over you it just feels like a comfy, snuggly hug for your whole body … I've found it super relaxing for falling asleep the last few nights, and it looks nice on the end of the bed, too.” 

Buy it: Amazon 

10. Philips Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band; $200

Philips SmartSleep Snoring Relief Band
Philips/Amazon

Few things can disturb your slumber—and that of the ones you love—like loudly sawing logs. Philips’s Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band is designed for people who snore when they’re sleeping on their backs, and according to the company, 86 percent of people who used the band reported reduced snoring after a month. The device wraps around the torso and is equipped with a sensor that delivers vibrations if it detects you moving to sleep on your back; those vibrations stop when you roll onto your side. The next day, you can see how many hours you spent in bed, how many of those hours you spent on your back, and your response rate to the vibrations. The sensor has an algorithm that notes your response rate and tweaks the intensity of vibrations based on that. “This device works exactly as advertised,” one Amazon reviewer wrote. “I’d say it’s perfect.”

Buy it: Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Stouffer's Has Invented a Mac and Cheese Dispenser for National Mac and Cheese Day

The Stouffer's mac and cheese dispenser appears destined for college dorm rooms everywhere.
The Stouffer's mac and cheese dispenser appears destined for college dorm rooms everywhere.
Stouffer's

Though preferences vary from Kraft to Stouffer’s to homemade, macaroni and cheese has remained a go-to pasta dish for generations. Now, Stouffer’s appears to be taking distribution of this comfort food staple to the next level by introducing a mac and cheese tap it wants to install at commercial establishments.

The announcement, which conveniently comes just prior to National Mac and Cheese Day on July 14, is a glimpse into the future of on-demand pasta. The tabletop dispenser has an internal heater to keep the pre-made mac and cheese warm. With a flick of the wrist, it allows globules of warm, cheesy sustenance to ooze out of the tap and into a bowl or as a topping. It might be best described as a nacho cheese dispenser, only with pasta noodles.

Stouffer’s offered a primitive view of its mechanism on Twitter:

Stouffer’s, which normally peddles frozen mac and cheese in grocery stores, is soliciting suggestions for where their mac tap should wind up. Homes, gas stations, sports arenas, and weddings are apparently all on the table. The company says it’s aiming for a launch this year and will consider sites based on that consumer feedback.

There seem to be logistical hurdles that Stouffer’s has yet to publicly address. The chances of cheese and pasta clogging the mechanism might be a common occurrence, and the machine will almost certainly require daily cleanings. Such maintenance might result in a plight similar to those frequently unavailable McDonald’s McFlurry machines.

On social media, however, at least one rival cheese baron was impressed. In response to the announcement, Velveeta Tweeted a one-word response: “Respect.”

[h/t Cleveland.com]