80% of people would donate a kidney to access a social network

80% of people would donate a kidney to access a social network

Would you agree to donate a kidney in exchange for access to a social network? It seems like a bizarre question, but what if it were a clause within the terms of service of the latter, accepted without having read them? This is the hypothesis that a group of researchers from York University, in Toronto, Canada, wanted to investigate, revealing how people - even those who claim to be concerned about their privacy on the web - generally ignore what is written in the contracts online related to the terms of service, potentially accepting the most disparate conditions, from the collection of data by activating the camera or microphone, to sharing the latter with national security agencies, up to donations of kidneys, arms, legs or other “redundant organs” . The study, which was published in the International journal of communication, highlights the need to reflect on the design of access screens for digital services and to rethink the way service policies are communicated, which are often too long and complicated.

The Biggest Lie on the Internet

Many experts believe that accepting terms of service, privacy policies and other policies on online digital services is “the biggest lie on the Internet”. because you generally accept by responding to a common consent mechanism, without knowing in detail what you are consenting to. In other words, people tend to ignore what is written in digital services access policies, lying, at the time of acceptance, about their knowledge and understanding of the implications they can have, especially regarding privacy. In particular, a very common way in which this false consent manifests itself is through so-called clickwraps , digital prompts that allow the user to give or deny his consent to a policy or set of policies by clicking on a button that suggests " I accept” or “I do not accept”. For social networking services, clickwraps often appear during signup, or when the terms of service change, including a beautifully designed “Accept” or “Join” button , with a link nearby to view the terms of service and the privacy policies. In fact, the text accompanying the clickwrap generally suggests that, by clicking on the button, people accept the policies, accessible via links. What happens, though, is that people click the agree button without viewing the terms of service first, telling the digital service provider that they've accessed and understood them, when in fact they really haven't. br>
This behavior is part of the so-called privacy paradox, which is the phenomenon that encompasses the differences between what individuals say about their privacy concerns and the actions they actually take to protect it. This also happens for those who normally worry more: according to numerous studies, in fact, adults over 50 years of age declare more than other age groups to have concerns about online privacy and to be willing to engage in specific behaviors in based on them. In light of this information, the researchers wanted to investigate whether, the extent and the reasons why these people lie on online terms of service acceptance questions.

The study

To do so, the researchers involved over 500 people over the age of 50 in a survey which investigated the habits of accepting the terms of service and privacy policies of digital services; participants were then asked to log in, via a clickwrap, to a fake social media company called NameDrop.

" We conducted an experimental survey to estimate the involvement of the elderly in an online consent process and to evaluate their behavior regarding privacy. We found that the majority of them rushed, accepting the disclosure privacy policy without accessing it,” said Jonathan Obar, first author of the study.

In fact, the results revealed that 77.6% of the participants accepted the privacy policy without viewing it. Even for those who decided to view the policies proposed by the company, however, the average time spent reading them amounted to around 70 seconds, while an average of 81.4 seconds was spent on the terms of service. “The privacy policy could have been 10 or 100,000 words,” the study reads. “ You may have had information regarding the collection of personal data and its connection to future initiatives with artificial intelligence; may have mentioned connections between data use, privacy, reputation and suitability for services; may have reported information about opportunities for dissent, such as information about privacy organizations, ombudsmen, or references to applicable laws or policies." But due to the decision made by many participants to accept without logging in or reading the privacy policy via the clickwrap, the authors point out, users quickly bypassed this information, forgoing engagement and opportunities for dissent within online services and of privacy.

The extreme consequences

To highlight the possible consequences of these behaviours, the researchers included two clauses in the privacy policy: one which allowed the owner company of the social network to activate the camera and microphone of a data collection device and another that allowed the data collected to be shared with the National Security Agency and with data brokers. The latter, in particular, specifically stated that the use of the data could lead to the development of products designed to assess the suitability of the person in areas such as employment, the provision of financial services (such as bank loans and insurance) , university entrance, travel, the judicial system. The study reports that, by accepting the privacy policy, 91.4% of the participants accepted these conditions. The terms of the service also included a clause which required, in exchange for access, a donation of a "redundant organ" such as a kidney, an arm or a leg: unwittingly, 83.4% of the participants consented to this extreme clause.

According to the authors, therefore, the use of the clickwrap and the failure (or too quickly) to read the privacy policies and the terms of service are very fitting examples of the privacy paradox , which also manifests itself in older adults, who report being attentive to these issues. "Some of the attendees said they 'should' read the policies, suggesting that many want to protect privacy, but perhaps not enough is being done to support meaningful consent processes," says Obar, who says the clickwrap design it's a major reason people ignore policies.

The way access policies and terms of service are written is also a problem: In the study, participants found the policies long and complicated, which hindered their desire to adhere to the fast online services. According to Obar and Anne Oeldorf-Hirsch, co-author of the study, digital service providers should work on optimizing these two fronts, while the researchers recently launched a website to engage with policy makers, platform providers and the general public in their research on online consent, hoping that “this will help support the changes needed for the realization of positive online privacy outcomes”.

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