The Biggest Lies Ever Told

Welcome to another chapter of the Internet Nomad tech blog, I apologise for not having updated in some time. I have been quite busy with a contract job I’ve taken here in Melbourne and the posting frequency will slow some. That having been said I’m happy to present you with another.

Recently there have been a lot of acronyms flying around that have brought privacy concerns to people’s attention: SOPA, PIPA, and ACTA being the three most prevalent ones.  People often forget about the two most common ones though when speaking on the terms of privacy: EULA and ToS.

Just what are EULA and ToS? EULA stands for End-User License Agreement while ToS stands for Terms of Service. You might be thinking, “Ok, I’ve seen these before, what about them? They just make sure I’m not doing anything illegal with their software right?” — Sometimes it’s as simple as that sure, other times however it can be a slew of complex legal jargon which if not looked over carefully, may prove to be a bigger privacy concern than posting your information online.

A recent example of this is when Electronic Arts [EA] released their Origin software which is used as a medium for delivering content digitally to the user’s computers — You may be familiar with this type of software if you use Steam for example — The difference is however, that Origin had a very peculiar clause in it’s ToS which had a large group of users refusing to use the service until it was revised. The clause is as follows:

“2. Consent to Collection and Use of Data.

You agree that EA may collect, use, store and transmit technical and related information that identifies your computer (including the Internet Protocol Address), operating system, Application usage (including but not limited to successful installation and/or removal), software, software usage and peripheral hardware, that may be gathered periodically to facilitate the provision of software updates, dynamically served content, product support and other services to you, including online services. EA may also use this information combined with personal information for marketing purposes and to improve our products and services. We may also share that data with our third party service providers in a form that does not personally identify you. IF YOU DO NOT WANT EA TO COLLECT, USE, STORE, TRANSMIT OR DISPLAY THE DATA DESCRIBED IN THIS SECTION, PLEASE DO NOT INSTALL OR USE THE APPLICATION. This and all other data provided to EA and/or collected by EA in connection with your installation and use of this Application is collected, used, stored and transmitted in accordance with EA’s Privacy Policy located at www.ea.com. To the extent that anything in this section conflicts with the terms of EA’s Privacy Policy, the terms of the Privacy Policy shall control.”

Basically what this says is that to use their service, you have to provide them with all the above listed information: Sofware installed on your system, hardware, peripherals, along with your information you provide at registration for an account used with Origin, and allow them to monitor changes in all of that. So not only will they have your personal information on  file for “marketing” purposes, they will also have access to your computers information that will uniquely identify you when collecting data. Another difference between Steam and Origin is that Steam only collects basic information to compile demographics but remains non-invasive. Luckily for Origin users however, EA has responded to the outcries of a large group of dissatisfied users and modified the EULA for the Origin platform which can be found here: Origin EULA

This brings me back to the subject line of the article:  “The Biggest Lies Ever Told” — Want to know what they are? “I have read, and accept the Terms of Service.”  and  “I have read, and agree to the End-User License Agreement.” In fact, on the 11th of January 2011 the website “Measuring Usability” posted an article with a statistic on just how many people read the EULA or ToS of computer software and they found that out of 2500 users at least 70% of them spend less than 12 seconds reading either of them. Unless your a robot, or they are one-liners, there is no way you could read all the legal speak in that short amount of time.

This doesn’t apply just to software, but also websites. Social networks like Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, and more all have clauses which allow them to gather user information — In fact recently there have been privacy concerns about numerous Facebook applications where they have been gathering and transmitting information about their users and selling them to marketing and advertisement companies. An article recently posted on the Wall Street Journal highlights the details of this privacy breech.

All that having been said — I myself am guilty of skipping over reading all the legal jargon from time to time if I’ve used the software previously, or if it’s something I’ve heard things about from other people and I need to keep an eye out. My objective here is NOT to make you paranoid of what software you use, or what websites you take part in. My goal is simply to make users aware of the real privacy concerns that are present everywhere, and hope that people begin to read before they click “I agree”. You never know what you might be getting yourself in to.  As the old saying goes “Knowledge is power.” You have the power to agree, or disagree with the terms, and there are usually alternatives out there for most things so “Look before you leap” in to something that might be considered an invasion of your privacy.

I hope this has shed a little light on the recent privacy concerns that have been cropping up on people’s computers and online.

Until next time, this has been another posting by the Internet Nomad.

Sources:  Rock Paper Shotgun, Origin EULA, The Wall Street Journal, Measuring Usability

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