VisibleThread – Language Analysis Platform

GDPR & Plain Language – How To Be Compliant

2 min read

Fergal McGovern

CEO & Founder

GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) applies to all companies operating within the EU. US and international companies with an EU customer base must also comply. The mandate becomes law on 28th May 2018, and non-compliant companies risk forfeiting between 2%-4% of top line revenue. One of the core requirements of the GDPR is transparency using clear and plain language.
In fact, there are 7 separate references to ‘clear and plain language’ in the regulation.

Here’s one example,

The principle of transparency requires that any information and communication relating to the processing of those personal data be easily accessible and easy to understand, and that clear and plain language be used.

What does this mean for you?

Companies must state in ‘clear and plain language’ how they will handle data, for what purpose and by whom. For example, if a company holds data related to children, then the reading level of the consents must be accessible for those children.

Here’s what the regulation says:

Given that children merit specific protection, any information and communication, where processing is addressed to a child, should be in such a clear and plain language that the child can easily understand.

Companies must test all privacy policies and related content for clarity. In this article, we’ll look at how you can test your privacy statements and related content.

A little about Clarity and Readability

First off, the good news is that there are well established readability tests. The two most widely used are the Flesch Reading Ease Index and Flesh-Kincaid. They score reading difficulty using two factors; average number of syllables per word and sentence length.

  • The Flesch Readability score is a number between 0 and 100. The higher the score, the easier the text is.
  • Flesh Kincaid is similar. It approximates the number of years of education required to easily understand the content. The lower the grade level, the easier to read.

The following table helps to understand the score for Flesch Reading Ease:

  • 90-100: Very Easy
  • 80-89: Easy
  • 70-79: Fairly Easy
  • 60-69: Standard
  • 50-59: Fairly Difficult
  • 30-49: Difficult
  • 0-29: Very Confusing

How do you score your content?

There are a few options available. For example, MS Word has both scores built in. That’s useful as you can see how difficult a document is.

But, MS Word does not score down to the paragraph level. So, you can’t easily see which paragraphs have issues, making it hard to fix.

For our analysis, we used VT Writer. It’s a lightweight readability tool for Doc, Web and Text analysis. The nice thing is that it flags issues at paragraph level & it’s free. There is also a paid version which generates some nice reports. But we were fine with just the free version for this analysis.

We analyzed privacy statements from some companies operating in the UK:

  1. AIG’s privacy policy
  2. BNP Paribas’s privacy policy
  3. Amazon’s privacy policy
  4. Siemens’s privacy policy
  5. And a document called Siemens‘s Binding Corporate Rules (“BCR”) – summary of 3rd party rights’.

Here are the Clarity results:

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