Is your name used to sell a product? Will your face show up in someone’s online ads? Have you signed away your rights to your name and likeness? It’s possible. After all, when’s the last time that you read and agreed to a product or service’s terms and conditions documents? Unless you’re a lawyer, the answer is most likely “never.” After all, terms and conditions are notoriously lengthy and are inscrutable to most people without a legal degree.
And while R. Sikoryak’s verbatim translation of the Apple terms and conditions into a graphic novel is memorable, we can hardly expect any other legal documents to receive the comics treatment. Given the length, the number, and the dryness of the typical terms document, it’s no surprise that a Deloitte survey found that 97% of people between the ages of 18 and 34 click through mandatory agreements without reading them. Could this be a problem?
Dangerous terms and conditions
The evidence shows that terms and conditions often hide disconcerting provisos. To begin on a lighter note, in 2010, one company put an “Immortal Soul” clause in its fine print: Users who agreed sold their souls to a company called GameStation. While no earthly or supernatural court is likely to enforce that ruling, the ease of the hoax should make us all consider just what we’re signing away.
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Most advertisers and corporations have few scruples about the data they collect and the uses they put it to. Even the most intimate corners of a person’s life may be datamined: Dating apps like Tinder, OKCupid, and Grindr have all shared their users’ information with advertisers. It makes a gross sort of sense: Few other apps can access as much personal and private information as romantic apps can. But do you want corporations to know everything you thought was shared exclusively with potential romantic partners? And, as the dating app whistleblowers pointed out, reading all the relevant terms and conditions is near-impossible, since “advertising partners” may share their information with hundreds of other firms, each with its own policies and positions. Finding love on a dating app can be difficult; finding where your data goes may be impossible.
Dating apps selling your data?
Dating apps selling customer data seems particularly egregious, since the apps have a revenue source in subscriptions and since we naturally expect private information to remain private, but really big dating is only a small segment of big data. Tinder and OKCupid are on a spectrum with far larger companies like Google and Facebook; their data collection is the same sort that make scandals like Cambridge Analytica nearly inevitable. Different apps, devices, and websites gather and distribute different data sets; however many services you avoid, chances are that great swathes of your information are already on adtech servers. Your information will likely be used to target advertisements for years to come.
It’s taken time to raise awareness of the data sharing problem, but there are indicators that more regular users are taking notice of misconduct. Younger users, who may not remember life before the internet, may lead the way. Recently, Virginia Commonwealth University introduced a campus-wide WiFi-tracking system for freshmen and sophomores. The university’s surveillance, designed to increase class attendance and guarantee student wellness, was as well-intentioned as it was unwanted: More than two-thirds of students opted out of the program.
Virginia College terms and conditions
Virginia Commonwealth University students who decided against surveillance remained students, beneficiaries of all their school had to offer. If you decline an online terms and conditions document, no matter how unreasonable or unfair it might be, you’ll find yourself unable to avail of the service. Those Virginia students will be online for decades to come, and young as they are, they’ve all already clicked “OK” on other terms and conditions documents. Will corporations and advertisers collect their information for the remainder of their lives? Or could a new model change the internet?
Blockchain has introduced a new business model for the Internet where the infrastructure and incentives are held by the users, not self-interested organizations. Building on this momentum, concerns over surveillance from big tech and big government have inspired the creation of new cryptographic protocols that shred metadata and restore user control over the personal data that is revealed while online. The modern world cannot operate without the Internet, but there’s no reason that it must compromise its users’ privacy. The internet has become an essential tool, but data grabs, endless terms and conditions, and electronic surveillance are not.
Will Carter is the COO of Praxxis.
About xx network
The xx coin is a digital currency that will support decentralized messaging, payments, and dApps on the xx network. The xx network was designed in response to growing public concern for user privacy as well as the emerging threat of quantum computing. The Elixxir cMix layer provides groundbreaking privacy and security by shredding user metadata. Praxxis provides a denominated coin structure that breaks payments into individual coins to provide privacy, and a distinctive consensus protocol using hash-based cryptography, which is secure against attacks from current nation-state adversaries and future quantum computers.