Privacy is a big concern amongst us today: What personal information is accessible, by who, when, where and how. It all seems pretty mysterious, almost like there’s a mythical information bank in every neighborhood where the “bad guys” can go, look around, and get your information. Well, except for the physical building that’s exactly what is happening, and many agencies are trying to protect personal data in many different ways. The FTC is exploring an online “Do Not Track” option for consumers and I didn’t think it would take long for private entities to follow suit.

Mozilla is looking into this matter and has come up with a set of privacy icons that will inform users about how their data may be used by the websites they navigate to. Mozilla lead designer Aza Raskin has posted alpha versions of the icons on his blog, along with an explanation of each. Raskin doesn’t intend these icons to replace the current security icons already in place, but sees them as a “bolt on” to existing security measures that will give web users an “iron clad guarantee” about how their data is being used.

Some of the proposed icons and their meanings are listed below, but feel free to head on over to the blog of Aza Raskin to get more details.

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This means that data is only collected and used to carry out the interaction you are engaged in with the website. The website is only using your data in ways that are functionally necessary to carry out the relationship as users intend. This means if you are buying a pair of shoes, your email address is collected to confirm the order, provide updates on shipping status, etc. An intended use of your email address would not include sending you marketing messages from other companies or for other products. This means that your data is collected and used in ways that go beyond what is necessary for the interaction. For example, in addition to collecting your address to ship you a pair of shoes you just bought (which is an intended use of your address), the web site might also sell your address to data aggregators who sell it to junk mail companies.
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Besides the information exposed via on-page advertisement, the site does not share the data it collects about you with advertisers. This means that a site either shares the data it has about you with marketing or advertising companies or allows those companies to collect info about you while on its site.

These new icons are nice, and I like how simple they are, which will help the less tech savvy users, but I do see some growing pains coming in the widespread adoption. Obviously all websites will not adopt the icon system simultaneously, so will sites with the icons be considered more credible or legitimate than the sites that have yet to implement the system? I would bet dollars to doughnuts on that happening. I could also see users confused as to why some sites have these new icons but others don’t.

I personally love the idea, but it seems as if the project may take a bit longer to get off the ground than some would like. Raskin announced last week that he will be leaving Mozilla to co-found a healthcare startup so the future of the icon project is unclear.

What do you think of the proposed system by Raskin? To simple, unwarranted, or a stroke of brilliance? Tell me in the comments below.