Over the course of the past month, you may have noticed an email or notification update like one of these:
These are not random. Tech services from Facebook to Soundcloud are all acting in direct response to a recent update, and it may not be the one you’re thinking of. Many would initially point to Mark Zuckerberg’s hearing with Congress and the widespread concern over Facebook’s privacy policies and personal data protection practices as the primary catalyst. While the hearing indefinitely played a role, the real cause is the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) passed in Europe in 2016, but set for official enforcement later this month. The GDPR imposes a series of updates concerning the accessibility of tech firms’ “Terms and Conditions” agreements, as well as increasing transparency regarding what personal data is being collected and how it’s being used. While the GDPR regulations only apply to European countries, many tech firms are taking proactive steps and adjusting their US privacy terms and user agreements accordingly.
We’re all familiar with the drill. Before getting to the core features of any new app or online service, we’re dropped into the “Terms and Conditions” sheet, which unloads pages upon pages of legalese that the average person wouldn’t fully understand even if they did take the 30+ minutes to read through it all. We hit ‘Accept’ and forget about it as we finally enter the application and gain access to its features. Whether you’re aware or not, a transaction has just taken place. And even if you didn’t give this app your credit card number, you have given it a commodity. As any young tech entrepreneur would tell you, Daily Active Users (DAU) are all any VC wants to hear about. And by agreeing to the cryptic terms and conditions to any new app or service, you likely gave them full fledged ability to monetize your information.
While the monetization of customer data is not going to change in the wake of the GDPR, the ability for tech companies to sneak their terms by you is going to drastically change. According to a section of the GDPR, “it has to be as easy to opt out as it is to opt in,” in regards to how users allow, and adversely, deactivate service permissions. Moving forward, terms are going to be given much greater emphasis and will be broken down into more matter-of-fact language, to ensure users are aware of their implications, and whether they are on or not.
At first glance, this is a big victory for the common consumer. Terms and conditions aren’t going to be as cumbersome anymore, and we’ll have the details of how our information is being used more simply laid out. Additionally, our privacy and security settings are going to be more prominent and easier to adjust. But these changes will only have their greatest impact if people take the time to go through and educate themselves on what’s happening behind the scenes.
So what do you really need to know?
- Terms, conditions, and privacy settings are going to be easier to find and more simply stated
- Even though terms, conditions, and privacy settings are being made simpler, your data may still be tracked, collected, and monetized by default on various online services
- If you don’t take the time to read through and update your settings, nothing will change
- By opting out of some tracking/ data collection measures you may lose access to certain app features
In the end of the day, there will still be terms, conditions, permissions and settings that will have to be read through and decided on at an individual level. If we continue carelessly selecting the default settings and moving on, these product updates will not have their intended outcome. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking tech has automated another service that we’ll never have to think about again. But what needs to happen is the complete opposite. This should be seen as an educational moment for anyone who’s ever created an online account. Whether you’re exchanging funds or email addresses, no online service is 100% free. We live in the Age of Information, where data is becoming an ever appreciating asset. Now that the dreaded “Terms and Conditions” are being broken down into human terms and delivered front and center, it’s our responsibility to understand and adjust them accordingly.