Devil is in the details
Social network sites know more about you than you realise, writes Jennifer Dudley-nicholson
THEY know who you are, they know where you are and they may even have the right to alter and sell your photographs. Social networking websites are gathering an unprecedented amount of detail about the people using their services, from the mobile phones they use to the people they call and how long they spend on the phone with them.
One blogging app was even caught uploading users’ address books to its web servers without permission.
But experts say the websites could be acting with immunity, as users simply keep clicking ‘‘ Next’’ on terms of service without reading what they’re signing up for.
Online privacy again leapt into the spotlight last week after 13 phone users launched a lawsuit against 16 internet and technology companies, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Foursquare, Rovio, Electronic Arts and Apple.
The class action by the Apple iphone and Google Android phone users from Austin, Texas, alleges the companies are mining users’ address books without permission and seeks an injunction to stop this.
‘‘ The defendants — several of the world’s largest and most influential technology and social networking companies — have . . . made, distributed and sold mobile software applications that, once installed on a wireless mobile device, surreptitiously harvest, upload and illegally steal the owner’s address book data without the owner’s knowledge or consent,’’ the complaint reads.
The lawsuit follows news last month that popular phone blogging app Path had secretly downloaded contacts from its users’ phones and saved the details on its computer servers.
Chief executive Dave Morin apologised to users, telling them the company was ‘‘ deeply sorry if you were uncomfortable with how our application used your phone contacts’’.
Twitter also came under fire for its app’s use of smartphone address books in its Find Friends feature.
The new policy, described below, even reserves the right to monitor a user’s phone calls, from the time they were placed to their duration.
But Curtin University information systems school head Dr Peter Dell says that, even if apps and web services do ask for permission to access a user’s most sensitive data, most users simply agree without reading the requests.
‘‘ I don’t remember the last time I read the terms of service for an app, a shareware pro- gram or even shrink-wrapped software I purchased from a store,’’ he says. ‘‘ You just see the terms and click ‘ next’ . . .
‘‘ Those 13 people in Texas might have read the fine print, but most people don’t.
‘‘ People don’t seem to realise that once the toothpaste is out of the tube you can’t put it back in,’’ he says.
Switched On surveyed lengthy privacy statements from four of the top social networking sites to deliver a taste of what you may have already agreed to share. Information grab: Tech companies such as Facebook and Google are gathering vast amounts of data about their users.