You need a university degree to understand terms and conditions: report

terms and conditions
Image credit: rogistok /

The crusade against companies ‘misusing’ your data is gaining momentum. A BBC report concluded that you needed a university degree to understand the Facebook or YouTube terms and conditions. It also concluded that they took over 40 minutes to read.

The BBC also did a little digging into what information these companies still harvest. Facebook ingests your location information, for instance, through IP addresses, GPS data, events you attend and when and where you check in. Twitter does the same, more or less, in fact it requires this information to “safely and reliably set up and maintain your account”.

All of that might make you say, “Well sure, it makes it all work better,” but according to the BBC, Facebook also keeps your deleted messages and tracks you even when you are not using Facebook. This is so that advertisers have a better view of you and what you are doing.

It is not just Facebook. Some time ago, at a conference on privacy, the security guy from a major international telco said that he had asked a US lawyer to look at Apple’s terms and conditions and come back to him with a report on what you can and cannot do and what Apple can do when you do or do not do things that they don’t want you to do.

The answer, from this $1,000 a minute lawyer, was that he was no wiser about what you can and cannot do, but he was pretty sure that Apple could take your house or your first born for doing almost anything they didn’t like.

The irony – and one that makes us laugh, cry and swear in equal measure – is that Facebook is now placing adverts in magazines and newspapers saying ‘Data Misuse is not our Friend’. They have become privacy crusaders, OMG!

Presumably the company’s lawyers have (a) charged them like a wounded rhino and (b) made them comfortable that what they were doing was not ‘misuse’ because we all ‘clicked to continue’.

All of which makes people angry. It even irritates us in the industry, and we have known what has been going on for years now.

And when enough people get angry, the backlash starts in earnest. Already large (huge!) companies are reviewing their advertising strategy on these platforms.

Yet the fact is that Facebook, YouTube and the rest need the advertising revenue to survive and thrive. They simply would not be able to continue if they were not allowed to use the data.

So, do we pay for Facebook?

Unlikely, certainly among young people for whom there will be many alternatives (without burdensome terms and conditions).

The answer must lie in education – which was what we should have figured out in the first place – that using some of your data, sensibly, will give you a better, more personalized experience online. And that will be hard, because we left it too late.

Maybe – as we have said before – it a role perfectly suited to telcos. After all, we pay for telco services.

Let us hope someone figures it out soon, otherwise the social media car crash could be very serious.

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