Terms and Conditions May Apply

If you’ve not heard about the film ‘Terms and Conditions May Apply’ then you ought to go look it up. Better still, go watch it (it’s currently on Netflix, and probably elsewhere on the web in full too). Here’s the trailer:

YouTube: Terms and Conditions May Apply

As you can guess from the title and from the number of times, like me, you’ve signed up to something online, or clicked the ‘I agree’ button on a program install,  it’s a film investigating the terms and conditions on websites. Primarily looking at the T&Cs on websites and services from Google, Facebook, and Twitter, it’s a message we, as educational technologists, should take to heart … not only when we sign ourselves up for new services and tools, to try them out (have you had your ‘Ello’ invite yet?), but also when we recommend other staff and students that they ‘must’ have this new tool or system as part of their teaching strategy.

Are we fully appreciative of the risks we put our own digital selves and personal data when we sign up online, and are we also fully appreciative of the risks we are passing onto colleagues and students? I fear, like in the film, we are totally oblivious. In the film they highlight one example, the UK shop ‘GameStation’ changed their T&Cs, for only a very short time, to include the text that you are signing away your immortal soul’! They had over 7,500 people agree to the T&Cs while it said that!

While we may like these websites and systems and Apps, and we often don’t pay anything for them, we are clearly paying in ways we never thought we would: it’s not a monetary transaction we take part in, but the transfer of something far more valuable – our personal details. In the first days of the Internet I remember the articles and books written about online privacy and how protective we need to be of our details. Yet here we are openly and actively giving away something far more valuable – browsing history, search habits, buying preferences, family and friend contacts, locations, etc. … everything bout ourselves that we used to protect from fraudsters and, personally, from sales staff. I don’t like being sold to, either online or in a shop, so I ignore as many ads I can,whether they’re on websites, TV, billboards, etc. Yet my online activity is leaving so many traces of who I am and what I like that the ads are getting cleverer, more targeted, and far more personal.

There doesn’t seem to be any way around this though, that we have to give this information over when we agree to the T&Cs when we sign up so we can evaluate new tools and new systems, for both personal and professional uses. But how can we do so safely? Do we actually have to read the 60+ pages for  iTunes, App Store, website update, etc., each and very time they decide to change it? Can we be as smart as Max Schrems as interrogate these companies on exactly what data they hold on us, and how they use it (and delete it, or not)? Do we even have the time? The film starts by saying that, if we read all the T&Cs we said we read, it’d take us one month, in every year, just to keep up to date!