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Sometime in 2017, two communication professors, Jonathan Obar of York University in Toronto and Anne Oeldorf-Hirsch of the University of Connecticut, created a phony social media platform as part of a rather fascinating experiment.
They called this phony social media platform ‘NameDrop’ and they got hundreds of college students to sign up.
But what those students didn’t know — probably because they are just as guilty as most people of not bothering to look at the fine print before clicking “I agree” — is that they had all agreed to give NameDrop their future first-born children. That’s actually what paragraph 2.3.1 of the NameDrop’s terms of service read. And technically, they had all agreed to it.
Well, the professors had planned the experiment to establish the fact that hardly anybody bothers to really go through the thousands of words that typically make up the contracts, license agreements, terms of service, privacy policies and other agreements of online platforms. And it sure looks like that experiment was a resounding success.
When signing up on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, SnapChat, or TikTok, or when trying to use just about any smartphone app, one typically comes across these words at one point: “By clicking Join, you agree to abide by our terms of service.”
But the millions of obedient clicks which imply that millions of people have, in fact, read the fine print before signing up and are satisfied with what it says is probably the biggest lie on the internet.
And who is playing a greater part in enabling that lie? The users who appear to be failing in their duty of going through the terms or the creators who have burdened users with what seems like an impossible duty in the first place?
Well, the subject of who’s playing a bigger role in the charade and what can be done to make things better is another matter altogether.
This piece is about uncloaking what’s hidden within the fine print and enlightening users on what they are really agreeing to when they click on that neon-lighted, colourful, beckoning “I agree” button.
What It Really Means When You Click On “I Agree”
It’s the year 2020 and chances are that you are part of the smartphone-totting internet community where people meet and network via electronic devices rather than in-person.
In today’s world, phones have become a collection of apps and entire sentences have been compressed into emojis and stickers. Plus social media is the in-thing.
Anyone who has access to the internet probably visits anyone of free social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram at least once a day. And if not, they are probably using one or more free apps on their devices on a daily basis.
Well, here’s the thing about all those ‘free’ apps and other cool internet products we access for free daily — if you are not paying for the product, chances are you are the product!
In September 2019, it was widely reported in Nigeria that the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) had opened an investigation into the caller ID app, Truecaller, over possible privacy issues.
It was observed that the app’s privacy policies for the European Union (EU) countries were relatively secure and distinctively different from what obtained for non-EU countries like Nigeria.
In plain terms, Truecaller, the popular caller recognition app reportedly used by 7 million Nigerians, is being investigated for fiddling with the personal information of Nigerians without permission and consequently encouraging unscrupulous persons to continue using Nigerian identities to perpetrate fraud.
Kashifu Inuwa, the Director of the NITDA, said that unknown to users who are far-too-willing to click on “Yes, I agree,” Truecaller was siphoning far more information from their devices than it needs to provide its primary service.
Well, sometimes, that is precisely the price users pay for using free services like Truecaller and even the more popular Facebook.
Remember Facebook’s infamous Cambridge Analytica scandal of 2018? Yes, it came to light that some 87 million Facebook users’ data was scraped by an analytics firm without Facebook’s knowledge, for the purpose of influencing voters ahead of an election. And that’s not even close to the worst thing that can happen.
Now, here’s what you should know about what you sign up for when you say you’ve read the T’s & C’s and ready to join a platform or use an app.
Social media giants, for instance, not only have a license to use content that you post, but they are also constantly collecting data on you that you may not realize you are sharing.
For example, Facebook collects information from all the devices you have installed it on or access its services from. So depending on the permissions you have granted Facebook, it can collect things like your device location via GPS, Bluetooth or Wi-Fi signals.
It can also collect information such as the name of your mobile provider, Internet service provider and your language and time zone, according to its data policy.
Twitter collects similar metadata and can track users’ whereabouts even if their location services are disabled. The company may do this by using publicly broadcast information from the user’s wireless access point, like a MAC Address, to identify their approximate location, according to the company’s website.
And both sites collect data about users from third-party websites that use the companies’ services. So for example, if you visit a website that has the “like” button implemented on it or a site that uses Facebook’s advertising service, the social media company collects data about your visit to that site. That’s as close to perpetual surveillance as one can get.
If you delete your account, there’s a good chance that not everything disappears as quickly as you might want.
“We store data for as long as it is necessary to provide products and services to you and others,” Facebook’s data policy states.
According to Facebook’s website, it could take 90 days to delete all of the things a user has posted, including pictures, status updates and other data stored in its backup system. However, once an account is deleted, this information will no longer be available for other users to view.
Information others have shared about you will not be deleted, however, as it is not part of your account.
On Instagram, you can’t really delete your account at all. However, you can deactivate it.
Most reputable social media companies like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn require users to agree to a terms-of-service agreement before registering an account.
While these contracts generally don’t give ownership of published content to the social media companies, the agreement does usually secure the companies a broad license to use anything users post to their platforms.
Most social sites have similar language. This enables the sites to have an expansive right to use all posted or shared content without being liable to you.
While Facebook does not currently give third party applications or ad networks the right to use a user’s name or picture in ads, it does reserve the right to use a user’s name and profile picture in social ads on its own platform.
Featured Image Courtesy: tech.co
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