Online privacy: the devil is in the fine print

Many users are up in arms about Facebook’s continued squeeze on their privacy, including the recent proposal to combine user data with Instagram posts and loosen restrictions on emails between members of the social network. Public reaction has also been less than welcoming to news that Facebook is pushing to end users’ voting rights (something few people are aware of in the first place), which allows users to vote on major changes to the way it manages user data and privacy.

Social sites like are even driving collective action against these changes. But when was the last time you read the fine print on your other online accounts? How about the license agreement with your internet provider? It does, after all, define what they do with all of your data and online communications.

Ronald Deibert, professor at the University of Toronto and Director of Citizen Lab explored this topic in his recent TEDxToronto talk. He cites the privacy policy from Yahoo! to illustrate the point:

When you register for a Yahoo! account, your registration information and other data will be transmitted to the United States and/or other countries for processing and storage by Yahoo! and its affiliate. In addition, we may provide your personal information to a Yahoo! affiliate worldwide for the general purposes described above under “Information Collection and Use.” For example, various Yahoo! affiliates may be responsible for processing and storing your information in order to deliver content and services to you. In these situations your information may be subject to the legal jurisdiction of these countries.

Subject to the legal jurisdiction of these countries? As Deibert points out, “Which countries?? What if it’s Iran, Pakistan, Mexico or Thailand, and I‘m an exile journalist living here in Canada?”

Check out Deibert’s TEDxToronto talk. What you hear might convince you to start taking a much closer look at the fine print.