Shucking Oysters: I don’t Agree

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Mouse Cursor Clicking Accept for Terms and Conditions Agreement. 3D illustration

Shucking Oysters: I Don’t Agree

By Alex Allen

If you’ve never been asked whether you are a “robot” or clicked on an “I agree” box, then you must be blissfully disconnected and free. Online we are inundated with digital terms and conditions and privacy policies which are designed — just like the Internet — to numb our brains. They are excessively long and complex, discouraging us from actually reading the terms, let alone understanding them.

First off, these check boxes cover Big Techies asses in court if they ever need to prove that a customer agreed to the terms. Known as “clickwrap,” most of us get “wrapped in” these oppressive contract terms by simply clicking on the “I agree” box. As long as the statement makes it very clear, with no doubt, what exactly we are intending to agree with, Big Tech can use whatever wording they want. 

When was the last time you actually read an online agreement and then ticked the box? We all have the same responses: Takes too much time to read. Or we just don’t care. The length and complexity of these digital contracts are ridiculous. At an average reading rate of 240 words a minute, Spotify’s terms are estimated to take about 36 minutes, while Microsoft’s would take over an hour. As someone wrote, “for comparison, reading all of Chinese war strategist Sun Tzu’s, The Art of War, would take only 50 minutes.” A study by two law professors in 2019 found that 99% of the 500 most popular US websites’ terms and conditions were written with as much complexity as academic journals.

Just to show how we are loath to read the legal terms and conditions, some proved this with humour. In one study, 98% of participants agreed to give up their first born child after supposedly having read the fictional terms and conditions of an agreement online. In 2017, when 22,000 people clicked the “I agree” box for free wi-fi, they also agreed to perform 1,000 hours of community service, which involved cleaning toilets, scraping gum off sidewalks and “relieving sewer blockages.” The company offered a prize for anyone who found the clause in the terms and conditions and only one person claimed it. Out of 22,000.

At the cryptically named website “tosdr.org” which means “Terms of Service; Didn’t Read,” you can install browser extensions to get instant information about the terms and privacy policies of the websites you visit. They give grades from A to E. Not surprisingly, some marked E were: Facebook, Amazon, Redditt, YouTube, Paypal, Pinterest, Spotify, and CNN. 

When Microsoft asks you to provide personal data, you can decline. But read the eloquent fine print: “Many of our products require some personal data to provide you with a service. If you choose not to provide data — required to provide you with a product or feature, you cannot use that product or feature.” 

And closer to home, Rogers Communications (Fido, Chatr, etc). Interestingly, their privacy policy “does not apply to those who are interacting with the Toronto Blue Jays or customers of Rogers Bank.” I’ll leave you to ponder the true meaning of “interacting.” 

Essentially, Rogers’ policy applies to: “your name, address, email, how you pay for your services, how you use our products including … websites, network use, and information gathered from third parties, such as credit bureaus. It also includes IP addresses, URLs, data transmission information, as well as the time you spend on websites, what advertisements you follow, and your time on and use of our apps.” 

Rogers allays your feelings of discomfort, by asserting that “they primarily collect information about you, from you.” Which means everything is tailored to YOU to “provide a positive and personalized customer experience.” One example, knowing your GPS location, Rogers will send you promotions “from carefully chosen third parties based on your current and historical personal location information.”

As Shoshana Zuboff wrote in her must-read book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, we are not users, we are products. The precise moment we click “is also the precise moment at which our lives are plundered for behavioral data, and all for the sake of others’ gain.” 

Zuboff warns that “everyone is swept up in this new market dragnet, including the psychodramas of ordinary, unsuspecting fourteen-year-olds approaching the weekend with anxiety. Every avenue of connectivity serves to bolster private power’s need to seize behavior for profit.” We are surrounded. 

They tell us what to buy, like, wear, eat, drink, and even how to vote. We are being exploited as “human natural resources.” Human behavior is herded and penned. Zuboff writes, “the collective exerts pressure on each organism to go with the flow, stay with the herd, return to the hive and take flight with the flock.” Life in the Internet “hive” favours those who blindly respond to the virtual nudges rather than those who have their own thoughts, feelings, and sense of personal identity. 

I will fade off with further warning from Zuboff: “As the dream dies, so too does our sense of astonishment and protest. We grow numb, and our numbness paves the way for more compliance.”

TIG
Author: TIG