It’s an experience every computer or smart phone user has had. After downloading new software or an app, a window pops up with a legal agreement. At the bottom is an “I agree” button. One click, and it’s gone.
Most users have no clue what they’ve agreed to.
That single action can empower software developers to extract reams of personal information – such as contacts, location, and other private data – from the devices. They can then market the information.
Even as privacy erodes in the digital era, little outcry arises over the digital tracking and profiling of consumers. Only slight murmurs are heard on Capitol Hill.
But a handful of security researchers, lawyers and privacy watchdogs voice increasing concern that consumers might one day wake up in anger at the collection of data by software companies winning rights to do so through “end user license agreements,” also known as EULAs. One researcher says the data collection potentially poses a national security threat.
Gary Reback, a Palo Alto, California, antitrust lawyer who has tangled in legal battles with Google and Microsoft over data privacy issues, said data harvested from consumers has led companies to create individual profiles, often at a level of detail that even family members may not know.
“When an online profile is created of you, which you never really get to see, it’s not just kind of what you buy, it’s who you might vote for,” Reback said in a recent telephone interview.
An old saying goes that when a consumer gets a service or product for free, the consumer becomes the product. His or her profile becomes an item to be marketed.
“You may think your identity is, you look in the mirror and that’s what you see, but it’s really not. Your identity is what they’ve compiled,” Reback said. “That is kind of scary when you think about it. I just don’t think people think about it enough.”
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