As big tech CEOs were hauled in front of Congress last summer to face questions over the monopolization of the marketplace, anti-competitive behavior, and predatory acquisitions, question marks are appearing over the public trust in these behemoths.
A recent poll by Kew research found that 62% of the American public believes it’s impossible to go through daily life without having your data collected and that 59% have a lack of understanding about data use.
Despite this, almost everyone continues to use the services these companies provide and most people take little to no precautions and don’t bother to read privacy policies.
Given that many of these policies are more complex than works of philosophy — more on that later — it is hardly reasonable to expect people to read all of them.
So we end up in a bind — a big tech Stockholm Syndrome where we are simultaneously wary yet strangely attracted to the very people who are holding us hostage. If you’re happy living with this situation, you do you. But if you’d rather break free from the bind, there are ways to overcome.
Have you got big tech Stockholm Syndrome? The problem of trust
While tech platforms provide us with incredible tools to make our lives easier and allow us to communicate with people around the world instantly, this comes at a cost and is not without risk.
Let’s take a look at some examples.
Do you use a service to store your passwords? These handy apps allow you to use strong passwords without having to remember them all. But what happens if it turns out that storing passwords with a password manager is “no safer than storing them in a text file”?
Do you believe your data is secure because it is encrypted by your cloud storage provider? But why don’t these services offer end-to-end encryption? Perhaps they want to have access to your data. What if the company you trusted to store your data securely was selling it off to the highest bidder?
How did we end up in this position? Where it is difficult to trust the very people who you are relying on for security and privacy.
Let’s take a look at the evidence. The place where they tell you what it is they do with your data and why. The document that is supposedly laying out the ways they are protecting you.
We need to talk about privacy policies
The New York Times analyzed 150 privacy policies and described them as “an incomprehensible disaster.” The policies were ranked by length and readability — how easy they were to comprehend for the average person based on factors like sentence length and difficulty of vocabulary. Basically testing how verbose and jargon-filled they were.
The study found that Facebook’s policy ranked in between Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time for ease of understanding. While it said that Air BnB uses “vague language like adequate performance and legitimate interest” to allow for a wide range of interpretations and thereby evade legal scrutiny.
“The vast majority of these privacy policies exceed the college reading level,” the article states. “And according to the most recent literacy survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, over half of Americans may struggle to comprehend dense, lengthy texts. That means a significant chunk of the data collection economy is based on consenting to complicated documents that many Americans can’t understand.”
The in-depth investigation concluded that there is “an intractable tradeoff between a policy’s readability and length”. The shortest privacy policies packed in so much information, mostly jargon and complicated language, that they were unreadable. But the longer the policy, the less likely that readers will get through it. The best balance is perhaps to use clear, simple language at the shortest possible length to get the message across.
People don’t need to know the ins and outs of what is done with the bits and bytes, they want to know what are the real-world consequences of giving up certain rights to privacy.
The truth is privacy policies are routinely used by large corporations to confuse and intentionally mislead consumers. They are supposed to be statements detailing how they protect your data. They have become overly wordy disclaimers that do precisely the opposite. Designed to protect the company against lawsuits, rather than protect the privacy of the user.
What can you do to protect your privacy? Use a storage provider focused on privacy
Some companies do care about data privacy and want you to understand what they do with your data. So while it’s unlikely you’ll be able to avoid the problem entirely without living in a cave, you can at least make sure your cloud data is protected.
Treasure’s policy simply explains why they need access to some of your data, the extent of that access, and what they do with it. Plus the options you have available to limit the amount and types of data used.