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Privacy Policy Could Be Site Quality Signal

Privacy Policies & Personal Data [1]Search engines have increasingly gotten involved in protecting endusers from hostile and intrusive elements on the internet, and they’ve also become more active in internet privacy issues as consumers are getting more educated about issues surrounding data privacy. Ask.com [2] has tried to differentiate themselves by being progressive [3] about communicating their data retention policy and by enabling users to define how long data is retained, for instance, while Google has revised their data retention policy [4] as well as worked to aggressively block or warn endusers about websites containing adware, spyware, and other exploits. Yahoo! even recently paired up with McAfee [5] to assess and improve the safety of sites displayed in their search results.

One aspect of search rankings I’ve written about before [6] is the theory of a site’s quality — a “quality score” very likely is applied by Google (and to lesser degrees, Yahoo! and Microsoft Live Search) to quantify how much they may trust a site for ranking purposes and for users’ safety. There are a number of factors which might feed into a site’s quality score (including Google’s human quality auditors’ scoring), and one major factor that could be used might be a site’s Privacy Policy.

Privacy Policy pages are supposed to disclose to users how the data resulting from their interactions with a site might be used by the company operating that site. Simply the fact that a site *has* a Privacy Policy page posted could very well set it apart from a great many “thin-content” domainer sites and other sites of very low quality. Most major corporation websites and Internet Retailer 500 sites sport a Privacy Policy page, so sites which do not offer a posted policy for users to read may be earmarking themselves as being somewhat suspect or of lower quality.

Also, sites which do not offer a “Platform for Privacy Preferences Project” or P3P protocol in page headers or in a file on their site servers might also be indicating a slightly inferior status.

Taking it even a step further, what if there were algorithmic means of detecting whether a site is actually *following* their stated practices in their posted Privacy Policy page and P3P? Certainly, it seems entirely credible that engines like Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft Live who might also have access to email spam reports could compare the frequency of such reports along with the offending notes’ originating IP addresses and domains and see if the websites at such locations have Privacy Policies which seem to be seriously out of sync with what they’re actually doing.

So, for the sake of insuring that your site passes some potential quality scoring assessments, I suggest the following:

Increasingly, quality issues are impacting a site’s natural search marketing presence, so keeping a handle on the factors that can impact quality scores is becoming a vital component of search engine optimization.

Some companies are not following their own Privacy Policies, according to this Forbes article [8] published today. That article indicates that many companies’ security and compliance officers are unaware of the actual privacy practices followed by their marketing departments. This indicates to me that there’s also a high likelihood that many companies are likely posting privacy policy pages and P3P files which are incorrect as well.

These companies are courting disaster in terms of negative publicity as well as their rankings in search engines by being out of compliance with their own stated policies.

(Also check out this other detailed article on the subject by Bill Slawski, “Privacy Policies And Search Engines [9]“.)