Digital Surveillance in the Age of FAGMA-Field Guide Part 2 - How to read a Online Business Privacy Policy

Digital Online Surveillance exists because we agreed to allowing our data to be collected by an external source. (I am not counting the facial recognition software that is being used in China to rank and identify people- that is another discussion entirely.) We clicked agree on a policy. But how many of us know what to look for? How do you read those Privacy Policy Statements and Policies that most of us just skip so that you understand exactly what aspects of your online privacy you are giving up? This is not just for Facebook but for retail chains (remember that loyalty card you signed up for?) that want to know your buying habits.

Always remember, you are the product and the consumer at the same time.

First, most of the privacy policies are written to make you just click to agree. They are dense, often filled with legalize and confusing terms. According to a study from Carnegie Mellon in 2012, in order to read all of the privacy policies that come our way would take 250 hours a year. That's 6 years ago and privacy policies have all had to be updated because of the rulings about privacy in Europe. So that is a lot of reading. And we've become an alliterate society of people who while they can read, don't want to. Companies are counting on the fact you will just sign and not read.

Do Not Do That!

Here are some tricks for getting quickly through the policy and safeguarding your privacy.

This great article by Elijah Sparrow  helps you understand the actions and terms used by the people who want to track you. Written in 2014, all of the terms are still current.

Key Words:
Key words are what to look for. Words like control, such as, not, opt out, marketing, arbitration, waiver and third party are some of the triggers for you to look more closely at what the company is hoping to do with your data.

If something is in bold pay attention. It will probably be important. Use these key word to manually search the privacy document to do a quick check of the most important items that will affect the privacy of your data.

Ask the Right Questions: 
According to Rachel German, from University of Texas at Austin there are six questions you need to ask to check if this privacy policy will  protect your data and not sell it. 
  • "Is your data used for secondary use; i.e. for uses other than that for which you are explicitly providing it?
  • Is your data shared with third parties? If so, does it specify for what purposes? (For example, it's often a red flag if the policy states that data sent to third parties is used to deliver ads; that could equal a lot of spam in your inbox.)
  • What are the terms for sharing your data with the government and with law enforcement?
  • Is your data protected in all phases of collection and storage?
  • Does the service allow you to delete your data?
  • Does the service use your data to build and save a profile for non-primary use?"
Location Information:
 Also, check if the privacy policy of the company is asking for location information. Companies don't need your location information to operate. They want it so they can make money. Location Intelligence is now part of a successful business strategy and depends on you providing that information. Don't. Companies don't need this. Not even Google Maps. They know where your device is. That's all they need to provide mapping information.


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