"I ACCEPT" and personal privacy in the Cloud

This post first appeared on my personal blog, published on 15/8/2012.

It's already been a few months since the Privacy Commission's "Privacy in the Age of Big Data" Cloud privacy forum (videos of my statements: one, two) as part of Privacy Awareness Week in May 2012 at which I had the privilege of representing the views of the Free and Open Source Software community. In my brief statement during a panel discussion on Privacy in "The Cloud", I drew attention to the farcical nature of software End User License Agreements (EULAs) for just about every cloud-based service, on which nearly all users inevitably click "I ACCEPT" despite not having read even a line of what it is they've accepted... They then wonder why their privacy has been infringed, their sense of trust breached, and their sensibilities offended.

At the time, I suggested it might be possible to create a means of crowdsourcing reviews of various cloud services' EULAs and then publish human-readable warnings and classifications of the terms to help users identify the "liberties" any particular cloud service might want to take with our personal data. The general response from the audience was incredulous laugher at the idea of it... 

I was therefore rather intrigued to stumble upon (as one does on the web) this TechCrunch article (thanks to Ben Kepes for the pointer) which describes a couple efforts that appear to do just what I've suggested:

I plan to investigate these a bit more... but it looks like a very interesting development, and one which - as I always like to see - is starting to shed more light on the shady practices of corporations operating on the Web.


By the way, Bruce Schneier also took part in the forum. He's a bit of a rock star in the field of Internet and computing security and has always been a bit of a hero of mine... His statements (one, two, three) during the forum were very interesting, and he made a very a couple very quotable statements:

  • Google knows more about me than my wife does.
  • Data is the pollution problem of the Internet age. (It's easier to save everything and search it, than it is to decide what to throw away)
  • [The Internet is] an information marketplace. Remember, you are not Google's customers. You are the product that they sell to their customers. (video two, at 2:00)
  • Surveillance used to be "follow that car". Now we can follow every car.

There's a list of most of the videos from the Privacy Forum.

I should point out that he absolved me when I made a rather bold statement about the US sacrificing liberties and "sliding towards fascism" (segment one above) - he walked into the auditorium at that same moment, and when he heard my statement, he nodded vigorously (many in the audience recognised him, and know he's originally American like me, and so wouldn't acknowledge such a statement lightly). We even had a combined interview with Radio NZ after the forum, but sadly the interview was never broadcast, although some brief excerpts of our statements in the panel were broadcast...