Privacy Policy: 3 Things to Consider Before You Click ‘I Accept’

As shown in the recent Oscar-winning documentary Citizenfour, people were up in arms about the NSA tapping people’s phone calls under the pretense of protecting the freedom of American citizens. Whistleblower Edward Snowden’s primary mission was to point out that personal information was unethically being handed over to the government without the permission of millions of U.S. citizens.

But what about when you do give permission?  

The debate on whether data is good or evil is still ongoing. Companies are sometimes referred to as unethical if they collect and use first-party data to (mostly) better understand their users and ultimately provide a more customized experience. The truth of the matter is that data in itself isn’t good or evil. Data is simply neutral information, but it has the potential to be used for good or evil depending on who has access and how they use it.

And if you’re anything like the people in this video, you often hustle through the ‘I Accept’ part of the privacy policy so you can start playing trivia games with your friends, or find your future soulmate, or regulate your fitness routine. Users tend to gloss over privacy policies so they can quickly engage with a new app that in some way makes their life better, or more entertaining at the very least.

Users have a responsibility to understand what they are agreeing to when they accept a privacy policy. Companies have a responsibility to ensure that when they request information from users it’s in layman’s terms. And big data companies have a responsibility to ethically collect first-party data and only work with companies that agree to use this data within certain confines. 

Here are a few things that companies and users should be doing before the data transaction begins:

Understand Exactly What Information Companies Are Collecting

Typically, companies will list out the segments they want access to if you agree to their privacy policy. Location information, login information, personal data, and cookies and anonymous identifiers are some common data points that companies will log. Last November, Facebook made headlines when they revamped their privacy policy in response to customer complaints about their Privacy Policy being too confusing. Ultimately, it’s the company’s responsibility to clearly state all the identifiers that they will be collecting in a way that makes sense to their users.

Get a Clear Understanding of What Your Data Will Be Used For 

Companies should reveal what they plan on doing with your information. For example, Umbel recently worked with ASICS to get a better understanding of their users’ demographics and interests to create a more customized fitness training experience for their users. When you review their privacy policy it clearly states how the information will be used. 
Source: Asics Privacy Policy

Samsung on the other hand, was recently under fire for being accused of snooping on private conversations at their customers’ homes through their SmartTV that uses voice-recognition to respond to user commands. In response, they updated their privacy policy from being totally evasive to moderately clear. In this case, their Privacy Policy states that they are collecting your data, but it’s not quite evident what they plan on doing with your data.

Source: Samsung SmartTV Privacy Policy

Decide Accordingly

The FTC has sanctions in place to ensure that companies are abiding by their privacy policy. Also, think about the company itself. Is it generally a company that you trust with a good reputation? Or has a company been consistently ambiguous about what their intentions are with your data? Unlike the NSA, corporations have been more upfront about collecting user data, however it’s usually hidden behind confusing legal jargon that nobody understands. But as the big data space evolves and more users speak up, ethical companies will eventually be expected to provide transparency around data usage to their clients just the way they’re expected to provide good customer service.

All that being said, I Accept