When was the last time you read the terms and conditions (Ts&Cs) when you signed up for something online? For example, when you joined a new social media platform, or accessed free WIFI in a café?
For most people, the answer to this question is ‘never’. And why would you, when they tend to be long, littered with legal jargon and difficult to understand?
While we may be slightly more cautious when it comes to handing over our money and signing up for financial products, if it’s a matter of convenience – and the ‘cost’ is handing over some personal data, such as our name, email address, phone number and date of birth – then we don’t tend to hang around. We click and go with little thought for the consequences. And how the price we are paying may actually be our privacy.
A clause for concern
Numerous studies have explored this issue in recent years, with researchers creating fake terms and conditions that contain some rather surprising clauses:
- When Together Mutual Insurance conducted an experiment with a set of fake Ts&Cs, 72% of respondents ticked “yes” agreeing to the terms, which included hopping on one leg and learning every word to Ed Sheeran’s song ‘Thinking out Loud’.
An issue of ethics
From a company perspective, Ts&Cs are very important. They determine the rights and obligations of both the company and the customer. They make everyone aware of their rights and obligations and are legally enforceable in court.
With ‘compensation culture’ something we often hear about, it’s no surprise that companies are taking whatever steps they can to protect themselves. In tandem, advances in technology have created opportunities for using and gathering vast amounts of data that have never existed before.
But have things gone too far? Is prioritising convenience over privacy a big mistake? Especially when the ethics of certain platforms continue to be called into question.
Two areas that garner serious attention when it comes to privacy are search engines and social media platforms. Anyone who caught Netflix’s recent documentary The Social Dilemma will know it painted a rather sinister picture.
While such platforms are, in the main, free to access, the ‘product’ is ultimately the users themselves and the reams of data being generated by the monitoring of every word searched, page visited, post shared and connection made. This data has huge value for advertisers who can use it to pitch the right product, to the right person, at exactly the right time. And as the documentary revealed, for influencing and shaping opinions.
Should the government step in?
Governments across the world are starting to take action in this space, as they battle to try and ensure that legislation keeps pace with digital innovation.
GDPR is one of the most high profile examples and has seen the introduction of tighter restrictions for any company operating within the EU, regarding the use, storage and management of ‘personal data’. It also placed a requirement on companies to communicate what they are doing, in a clear and understandable way.
The fact is though, most people are guilty of parting with their rights and data in exchange for convenience. Whether they truly understand the consequences and what they’re signing up for, is another matter.
Which begs the question, is this something that needs to be dealt with at a higher level? Do protections need to be enshrined in law and driven by government, rather than responsibility sitting with the end user?
Of course, with 3.8 billion people worldwide now using social media platforms and 3.5 billion searches carried out on Google every day, it may be too little too late…
About Dragon IS
Concerned about privacy, data or cybersecurity? At Dragon Information Systems, we make it simple. No jargon. No surprises. Just expert advice you can trust, backed by superior technology and outstanding customer service.
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