Is Our Privacy Being Pirated?

“Please read and agree to Terms & Conditions”: everyone’s favorite phrase when downloading or updating an app. Don’t lie to yourself, you’ve only read about eight combined words in all of those policies you’ve agreed to. Trust us, you’re not alone. Virtually no one reads those things.

Online privacy

A UC Berkeley study found that only 1.4% of people thoroughly read through these agreements. It doesn’t get much more minuscule than that. Why is it that we do not do it? Are we too busy? Do we not care? Are they just too long? It might be all of the above.

In order to read the privacy policies of websites they use, it would take the average person approximately 30 working days. Furthermore, the time it would take to read the policies would cost people money, around $781 billion combined. The aforementioned Berkeley study also found that most people felt comfortable not reading the policies simply because they felt the company was being responsible by having one. If only our naivety wasn’t misleading us.

While claiming to be under “significant pressure”, companies with access to consumer information have begun mining and packaging relevant data in order to turn us all into statistics. Over a year ago, Verizon changed their privacy policy to say they could share anonymous information with outside parties. In knowing how few people read them, the wireless provider felt comfortable making this policy change with no fear of losing its tens of millions of customers.

Then there is CISPA, the Cyber Intelligence and Protection Act. The controversial act is designed to allow private companies and the government to share information in the event of a cyber attack. However, opponents believe the standards are not strict enough, which could allow the government to freely monitor citizens’ browsing histories, emails and text messages. Essentially it means that companies cannot promise to protect people’s privacy. This is apparently some people’s idea of a solution to the annoying policy reading dilemma; get rid of them and freely release information.

Are there any companies trying to help consumers realize the potential dangers?

Well, Microsoft has launched a new campaign to help make consumers more aware of their internet usage as well as how to protect their personal data. The goal is to make users feel more empowered and in control of their private information. Though it is also designed to help market and sell products, it is nice to have one major corporation help make people more cognizant of what happens online. Additionally, some internet browsers have “Do Not Track” features aimed to help insure some browsing privacy.

Credit card information, home addresses, social security numbers; as we freely browse web pages and apps, most people do not realize that they are being mined. This once private information could be in the hard drives of any number of strangers. Hopefully more companies will be willing to help increase awareness rather than take advantage of consumers. Either way, we all need to take action in order to better protect ourselves online.

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