In order to use many online services like Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, and others, we usually have to agree to the terms and conditions of that service. But how many times have you actually read these terms and conditions?
More to the point, do you really know what you are agreeing to?
There is a new movie called “Terms and Conditions May Apply” which highlights what we are really agreeing to when we click “I agree” for the terms and conditions of some websites.
And it ain’t a pretty picture. In fact, it’s downright scary.
What You Are Agreeing To
Let’s be honest: there’s a reason why you don’t read those terms and conditions. They are usually many pages long and hopelessly confusing. That confusion is intentional. Most companies don’t want you to know what you are agreeing to and, more specifically, what they are doing with your data.
While all companies are different and do different things with your data, below are some of the things that many online companies do when you agree to use their services:
• Sell your information to the highest bidder: Why do you think Google and Facebook are free? How do you think they make their billions of dollars each year? They do it by selling your information to the highest bidder. By using their services, you are implicitly allowing them to let sell your information to anyone they want to. This includes innocuous information like your name, sex, age, where you live and other public information, but it also includes the content of your emails, the search terms you look up, your appointments you make using Google Calendar, and more. On these supposedly “free” sites, you are the product. And business is booming.
• Track everything you do on the Internet: When you visit many websites, a cookie is put on your computer’s hard drive. This cookie is a tiny piece of data that allows companies like Google and Facebook to track what websites you visit so they can figure out your interests. Then they pair this online tracking information with offline information that they get from data brokers, a multi-billion dollar industry. Data broker compile information about you such as your age, race, sex, weight, height, marital status, education level, political beliefs, buying habits, household health, vacation dreams, and more. All of a sudden, Facebook and other companies have a whole profile about you that they can sell to advertisers.
This is valuable information but should other companies have access to this information, especially if you don’t know about it? Did you really know you implicitly agreed to this when you clicked “I agree”? Probably not. But you did.
• Anything you do or write on the site is the property of the site – forever: Many of these services include a clause which allows them all rights to whatever you post or publish on their website. For example, unless you explicitly opt out of it, Facebook reserves the right to use any images you post to the site in future advertisements.
A Movie For Our Time
“Terms and Conditions May Apply” comes at an important time. Not only is privacy on the front page due to the recent revelations that the government is spying on us both online and offline, but many people are beginning to wake up to the realization that unless we protect our privacy aggressively, online companies will continue to exploit our data for their own purposes.
To learn more about what you are implicitly agreeing to, watch the trailer and visit the website to get a look at some steps you can take to protect your online privacy.