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Terms and Conditions May Apply

by Casandra Laskowski

With the myriad of different websites and services, it is impossible to be informed of the terms and conditions and privacy policies for each. One study found it would take 76 work days to read all of the privacy policies we encounter in a year. Another study found that understanding the terms and conditions required14 years of education, on average. And we are often subject to multiple agreements for each interaction.

Kialo, a discussion platform, lists each third-party service they use to handle aspects of the business with whom they might share your data. “The third-party services we use to provide Kialo includes Amazon AWS, Zendesk, Sentry, Google Analytics, Loggly, Slack, PagerDuty, and Postmark.” So for one website, we are possibly bound by eight additional privacy policies. Regardless, I still appreciated that Kialo was this transparent about its practices—not all companies are.

Thankfully there are a few great tools and several pushes for change.  An interesting campaign is Dark Patterns. First coined by Harry Brignull, Dark Patterns are “tricks used in websites and apps that make you buy or sign up for things that you didn't mean to.” The campaign leverages Twitter (#darkpatterns) to raise awareness of shady tactics and pressure the companies to change.

Terms of Service; Didn’t Read is a browser plugin that grades terms of service from A to E. Duck Duck Go gets an A while Youtube earns a D. Not all websites are in their database, but it is still useful to flag sites you may want to approach with caution.

Privacy Badger, created by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, blocks trackers and provides you with some control over what you do or do not allow. Ghostery is another plugin option for similar functionality. For the more tech-savvy NoScript (FireFox) and ScriptSafe (Chrome) prevent any script from running on a page without express permission. It can be tedious to run, but it provides the greatest deal of control. Whether you are worried about your privacy as you browse the web or not, keeping aware of the hazards and control over them where possible ensures you engage however you want to.

Copyright 2018 by Casandra Laskowski.

About the author: Casandra Laskowski is a Reference Librarian and Lecturing Fellow at Duke Law. She received her J.D. from the University of Maryland School of Law, and her M.L.I.S. from the University of Arizona. Prior to pursuing her career as a law librarian, she worked as a geospatial analyst in the United States Army and served a fifteen-month tour of duty in Iraq. Her areas of interest include privacy, censorship, and the intersection of national security and individual liberty.