Jensen: Responsibility over privacy for the rewards of convenience


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Terms of service are often skimmed over and agreed to by consumers too focused on convenience to worry about privacy. Designing an educational user experience could give consumers more control over privacy.

Derek Jensen

Reading and understanding those terms and conditions that most people ignore is so long and boring yet full of valuable information that even I fail to glance over.

I, along with so many others, want to get into a free service, obtain a legal download or anything else that would require a terms of service document, as fast as possible.

This document is the intersection of privacy and convenience, and something needs to be fixed.

Tech companies such as Facebook, Apple, Google and Amazon continue to push the envelope with their products, which offer convenience to all of us, or at least a majority of us. While doing so, they are pushing the envelope with that terms of service document that a majority of us agree to.

When certain features of a certain technology have been in use for some time, critiques find stories where the features have violated someone’s privacy. Some of these features include having geo-location on your phone or allowing your photos to be tagged and shared.

These tech companies are being held responsible from a legal standpoint, through this often-ignored document that we, consumers, all agree to. Furthermore, if our privacy is violated, we should be held responsible because we agreed to it.

To prevent this, some have deleted their Facebook accounts or disabled geo-location, but one key element that we all live for in technology is immediately gone. That element is convenience and we continue to allow tech companies to push the envelope on affecting our privacy because we love the added convenience that the whole industry foresees.

Sure, we as consumers should read through the entire terms and then agree to them.

The reality is that we don’t, and we reach scenarios of someone finding or doing something that violates our privacy under a specific technology. When they choose to not agree with the document, they are unable to use that technology.

This would be OK only if that technology was very experimental and offered no convenience.

We put ourselves into the great dilemma of privacy vs. convenience, and usually convenience wins. If we choose privacy, we’re seen as a laggard or just a stubborn outsider that doesn’t want to adapt.

In a recent interview with Nick Bilton, lead technology writer at The New York Times, he said that the tech industry is not being held responsible, so the U.S. Congress is working on legislation that puts more responsibility and control on these companies to protect consumers.

The responsibility lies in data mining. Data mining is when the technology industry collects data about users, which is seen in terms of service, to provide convenience of their service to you. The problem lies when companies don’t relay the information to the user. Did you know that Google, by default, gathers your search history?

In the same interview with Bilton, he said that Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, told him “it would be too confusing” when he recommended to put a banner that says to turn off that default setting.

Yes, it could be confusing, but education is needed and a balance needs to be made.

I do believe Facebook does a good job of this when new features are introduced. And even Apple has done a good job of letting users know when the terms and conditions of iTunes change when purchasing a new song.

But Facebook changes your default settings sometimes when new features are introduced, and Apple continues to add and edit their massive document that we all agree to.

So two big things need to happen:

First, the terms of service documents need to be reworked or organized in a way that allows for a concise level of reading and understanding where consumers are comfortable in hitting “agree” or “accept.”

Second, an educational user experience needs to be designed and integrated into these services when new features or changes to these features are introduced that allows for better understanding and user control over privacy.

Privacy and convenience will always be on a very tight balance, and these changes are just the beginning of responsibility over privacy for the rewards of convenience.