Perfect security and privacy do not exist on the internet — and other things you learn if you read terms and conditions

Security & Privacy

While heading to Heathrow Airport last month, our Security Advisor Sean Sullivan made a rather unsurprising discovery.

The terms and conditions of his shuttle’s free Wi-Fi told him something as a security expert he already knew: YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR SECURITY AND PRIVACY

One of the subtle ways we give up our privacy on the internet — and our legal rights — is by accepting terms and conditions. It’s a must for any web company that wants to stay in business — including F-Secure.

But  every time you click “Yes” to a product’s legal gibberish, you are agreeing to a huge list of things you may not say yes if they were asked one-by-one.

For instance,did you know Twitter and Google track your IP address, browser type, operating system, the referring web page, pages visited along with a half-dozen pieces of information to find out more about how you found and use the site? Meanwhile Facebook can use the photos and video you post in any way it like and even tracks the stuff you decide not to post.

Recently Facebook and dating site OKCupid have gotten a lot of attention for running experiments on some users in the hopes of finding out more about how the site effects users.

Is this that different than the typical A/B testing that developers have been using for years? Such data may actually improve users’ site’s experience.

OKCupid’s tests connected members in a purposely bad way in order to improve how it matches users.

Some argue Facebook went beyond this in its 2012 test. “Facebook manipulated content in users’ feeds to see if the emotional tone of their News Feeds impacted the tone of their own posts on the social network, deliberately making people sad,” Techcrunch‘s Cat Zakrzewski wrote. “After conducting the test on almost 700,000 users, it published those results in an academic journal.”

Regardless, users submitted themselves to all sorts of tests by clicking yes on terms and conditions, putting their faith in these sites that are enmeshed with our emotional lives in ways we couldn’t have imagined just a little more than decade before.

Ironically OKCupid’s Terms specifically tell you that you can’t use the site to “use the Website solely to compile a report of compatible singles in your area, or to write a school research paper.” You have to be there to actually meet someone. No testing. But that’s a condition that benefits users looking for love.

The site’s terms also reminds users that “perfect security does not exist on the internet.” Wise words.

But does anyone care? How do sites convince us to surrender our fears of being hacked or watched as we share our lives online?

Social media addiction, it seems, has a similar effect on the brain as drug addiction. The highs — and lows — it offers make us less focused on the costs of using the site. In fact, most of us would rather stay willfully oblivious.

“There are roughly 1.5 billion smartphone users in the world today,” Quartz‘s Leo Mirani recently wrote. “Fewer than 10 million of them have downloaded MyPermissions.”

MyPermissions — like our free Permissions app — tells users exactly what each app is monitoring.

If you would rather not sign your privacy and security away each time you say yes, consider tools that attempt to restore your privacy like Tor or our Freedome, a VPN solution that protects you from trackers and allows you teleport your phone around the world by setting your location from several choices all over the globe. It won’t stop sites from being able to play games with your experiences. But it will keep you from volunteering information you may not even know you’re sharing.

[Photo by Sarah Van Quickelberge | ]


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