The 10 biggest Web annoyances

In its relatively short life, the World Wide Web has already made many of our most mundane, tedious tasks quicker and easier to perform. But there are still a surprising number of activities -- from helping us buy concert tickets to protecting our privacy -- that, for one reason or another, the Web still can't get right, stirring the ire of even the most patient users. We look at ten of the worst of them.

Beyond obvious, nagging problems such as e-mail spam, phishing lures, viruses, and spyware, a great many commonplace online frustrations -- some dating all the way back to the earliest days of the Web -- remain unfixed.

We asked visitors at our online forums to identify what they consider the most dysfunctional aspects of the Web; then we polled our readers to find out which of these problems they find most aggravating. For each difficulty, we identified an "aggravation factor" -- the percentage of readers who were either "very annoyed" or "infuriated" by the issue. We start with the ones that irk our readers most, and work our way down.

1. Dubious privacy policies

Aggravation factor: 69 percent

Many business-focused Web sites -- Particularly in the areas of health and financial services -- collect sensitive private information from users. The vast majority of these sites have established privacy policies to lay out what information the site collects and to delineate customers' rights. But the legal jargon in these policies is often laid on so thick that customers can't understand it, leaving them unsure about whether their private data is truly safe from misuse.

Amazon.com's online privacy notice, for example, is a 2700-word document that links to a 2600-word conditions-of-use page jam-packed with arcane legalese. Good luck figuring out your rights if you don't have a J.D. after your name. Privacy policies at some Web sites grant the sites very broad discretion in handling private data, including the right to use the data to market other products and services to members, and the right to share data with unknown, unnamed third parties -- leaving the person who supplied the data feeling exposed.

Consumer advocates have found this problem exceedingly difficult to correct because site owners (via their attorneys) go to extremes to avoid legal liability. Of course, you can refuse to patronize any site that you suspect might take liberties with your data. But short of hiring a lawyer to analyze the privacy policy, how do you determine that a site is untrustworthy before it's too late?

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Ryan Naraine

PC World
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