I don’t think that I have ever read a full set of terms and conditions from one of the tech giants. And I think that I am in the majority, here.
Most terms of service are extremely long, as illustrated by Dima Yarovinsky’s installation at the Visualizing Knowledge 2018 exhibition. The artist printed the terms of service from WhatsApp (green), Google (grey), Tinder (pink), Twitter (light blue), Facebook (dark blue), Snapchat (yellow) and Instagram (magenta), to represent the length of the legal documents that we ‘sign up to’, in order to use these services.
Instagram’s terms and conditions’ document has a whooping 17,161 words. If you attempted to read it all, at an average rate of 200 words per minute, it would take you close to an hour and a half. Though, in reality it would take most of us much longer than that, as those terms and conditions are not only long, but also difficult to read. According to a readability test performed by the BBC, the education level required to understand the terms of service of the most popular social media providers is ‘university’, whereas the minimum age for using many of these services is 13 years old.
Apparently, someone at the BBC has read the terms of services of some of the most popular technology providers. Here are some of their generic findings:
- These companies monitor our location, even when we turn off GPS location.
- They share our data with other companies in the same group (e.g., LinkedIn shares data with its holding company, Microsoft)
- They expect us to read the terms of services of the companies with whom they share our data, even though, generally, we are not aware of who has access to our data
- They expect parents to have read and discussed the terms of service with their children, when they sign up for those services
The BBC team also unearthed the following company specific findings:
- Tinder monitors our phone’s movement and position
- Facebook keeps our search history records, even when we delete it (or thought we had deleted it because we clicked on the button offering that option)
- Facebook tracks our online activity, even when we have logged off from the app
My reaction?! I am not surprised. And I feel tired and powerless, which is really worrying because those are exactly the type of feelings that lead my brain to trying to rationalise and normalise these behaviours.
What can I do to avoid this mental trap? What could be the surveillance-resistance equivalent of cutting my use of plastic and insolating my house to save energy?