Sad figures about how many read the license terms

Privacy

Do you remember our stunt in London where we offered free WiFi against getting your firstborn child? No, we have not collected any kids yet. But it sure was a nice demonstration of how careless we have become with user terms of software and service. It has been said that “Yes, I have read then license agreement” is the world’s biggest lie. Spot on!

This was proven once again by a recent case where a Chrome extension was dragged into the spotlight accused of spying on users. Let’s first check the background. The “Webpage Screenshot” extension, which has been pulled from the Chrome Web Store, enabled users to conveniently take screenshots of web page content. It was a very popular extension with over 1,2 million users and tons of good reviews. But the problem is that the vendor seemed to get revenues by uploading user behavior, mainly visited web links, and monetizing on that data. The data upload was not very visible in the description, but the extension’s privacy policy did mention it. So the extension seemed to be acting according to what had been documented in the policy.

Some people were upset and felt that they had been spied on. They installed the extension and had no clue that a screenshot utility would upload behavior data. And I can certainly understand why. But on the other hand, they did approve the user terms and conditions when installing. So they have technically given their approval to the data collection.

Did the Webpage Screenshot users know what they signed up for? Let’s find out. It had 1 224 811 users when I collected this data. The question is how many of them had read the terms. You can pause here and think about it if you want to guess. The right answer follows below.

 

webpage screenshot
Trying to access Webpage Screenshot gave an error in Chrome Web Store on April 7th 2015.

 

The privacy policy was provided as a shortened URL which makes it possible to check its statistics. The link had been opened 146 times during the whole lifetime of the extension, slightly less than a year. Yes, only 146 times for over 1,2 million users! This means that only 0,012 % clicked the link! And the number of users who read all the way down to the data collection paragraph is even smaller. At least 99,988 % installed without reading the terms.

So these figures support the claim that “I have read the terms” is the biggest lie. But they also show that “nobody reads the terms” is slightly incorrect.

 

Safe surfing,
Micke

 

PS. Does F-Secure block this kind of programs? Typically no. They are usually not technically harmful, the user has installed them deliberately and we can’t really know what the user expects them to do. Or not to do. So this is not really a malware problem, it’s a fundamental problem in the business models of Internet.

 

Images: Screenshots from the Webpage Screenshot homepage and Chrome Web Store

 

 

3 Comments

Yes yes I think about this every time I click to accept after only skimming and not really understanding it all either. A list of click boxes would perhaps be more preferable. I know its a legal thing but its as though companies don’t want you to understand it really or they would make it more user friendly.

This sympathetic attitude towards long click through agreements and responsibility shifting to consumers seems like an odd position to take. Would the world really be a better place if consumers spent hours every day studying click through agreements and privacy policies? Most consumers aren’t totally unequipped for the legalese due to lack of background or language skills.
I find it very hard to understand this pro-click trough attitude.

The right way for society to handle this is to stop pretending these are enforceable and have safe privacy legislation.

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