I’ve noticed a few apps and websites lately acting a little fast and loose with user data and private information. I thought I was outraged until I reframed that thought.

It’s funny when you think how precious we are about our “personal data” when it comes to the internet, there’s this notion that every company is (or at least should be) honest, that they don’t take anything they don’t absolutely need and that even under Jack Bauer levels of torture, they wouldn’t utter a word about your account details to a third party.

That may have been true 10 years ago, pre-Facebook, pre app store and smartphones but is it now a little naive to think technology could progress at the rate it is currently doing without some less than legitimate practice? I’m by no means suggesting I agree with riding roughshod over private data but merely wondering aloud if it’s something that you have to compromise on a bit if you want all those apps that know what your friend just deposited in toilet at a local Starbucks and to make it shareable on the latest micro network for people who like wearing red trousers?

You only need to look as far as Path recently who I’d bet wouldn’t necessarily have done the “honourable thing” if they’d not been caught out. Facebook seemingly have a “beg forgiveness rather than ask permission” policy when it comes to their 800,000,000 users data.

Lack of privacy is hidden deep in T&C’s now

I’m not sure I know what I should feel about this sort of thing any more. Sure I’m not keen on the idea of my phone contents being uploaded to a server somewhere but if I’m honest, I sometimes don’t even read the legalese that comprises T&C’s on a website or app so it’s entirely possible I’ve actually agreed to allow it anyway and then it’s happening anyway. I’m fairly sure I’m not alone here.

Sometimes reading the legalese does little anyway, your every action is being recorded by companies hoping to make a buck from your behaviour and history and looking at things like the recently lauded design of the 500px photo sharing website terms efforts are being made to make things easier to understand visually but ultimately as David Bushell highlights, yes, there’s a short version of the terms but it’s not legally binding so you still have to read the long version.

500px terms
Easy to read but not legally binding.

How privacy breaches are reported makes a difference

I’ve no doubt that often the title of the breaking blog posts and news reports play a big part in generating initial spike in outrage which as we know then spreads quickly across the internet as people look for more and more cases of data breach.

Tech blogs would certainly get fewer page views and outraged comments if they reported things like “user agrees to provide contents of phonebook voluntarily” that’s for sure.

Privacy as we once knew it is long dead and I’m sorry to say I’m resigned to knowing that unless something dramatic happens everything I’ve said or done online in the last few years (at least) has been logged, collated and one day will be used by some company to try and sell me something I don’t want. Perhaps it’s time to accept that’s the real cost of “freedom” on the web.

James Young

Written by James Young

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