Our View: Read the terms and conditions

Everyone knows the protocol: whenever you download a new app or make a new profile and the “terms and conditions” page pops up, you immediately click “accept” and move on with your life. Nobody has the time to sit and comb through pages of fine-print rules and regulations. We all just assume that those really don’t matter.

But, when you think about it, just about anything could be in those terms and conditions. We could all be signing our houses over or signing up for some type of experiment without even realizing it. Of course, that’s probably not what’s going on. But what is at stake when we so freely “accept” terms and conditions is our privacy.

Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been under fire recently for the site’s privacy policy. It’s something few users ever read, but it holds clauses and information most users should want to be aware of. Every tagged photo, comment, like, friend added, friend unfriended and every ad you have clicked on is collected by Facebook and is sold to advertisers to target your interest. It also manipulates your newsfeed and helps the site determine which post would be more enjoyable to you. However, the information has also recently been used by Cambridge Analytica, the Trump-affiliated political consulting firm, to create profiles to influence voters.

Although this is an alarming use of what should be our private information, this is just the tip of the iceberg for how Facebook collects and shares details about our lives. By signing up for Facebook, we are essentially participating in a dating game show: Facebook uses all our interest, our searches, and our purchases and matches us up with advertisers to sell to us. So, next time you Google a pair of shoes you want, and then an hour later those same shoes are being advertised on the sidebar of your Facebook profile, know that it’s all a part of your agreement to the site. You can actually download the information Facebook has about you and read word for word your “profile” that the site has been developing over so many years.

Facebook isn’t alone in this strategy, either. Our online activity is tracked by firms who specialize in target advertising. The buying and selling of user information is common practice in the media industry. Data brokers, those who collect information about sites we visit, things we search, and what we buy, sell that information to other companies. Without reading fully and understanding the terms and conditions and the privacy policy, there’s no telling what we have all agreed to.

In 2012, Obama proposed the Privacy Bill of Rights, an effort to make data collection more transparent and to give users more control over their profiles and information. Congress didn’t pass it. If we’re offered little protection from governmental laws and regulations, what can we do to prevent tracking?

Most browsers have an option in the privacy settings to allow you to block third party cookies, but you should also delete cookies as well. You can also change the privacy settings on your phone to “Limit Ad Tracking.” It would also help to log out of all social media as you are surfing the web.

Although having the internet at our fingertips at all times is beneficial, the reality of our vulnerability is often forgotten. It’s easy to overlook what may be in the fine print, but if you’re wary to having your information collected and sold, it may be helpful to know what you’re signing up for.

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