How often do you read the T&Cs before agreeing to install software, download some content, or access free WiFi? Let’s face it very few people, if any, do. And if you do, you’d have to wade through the equivalent of a short novel written in what seems to be another language.
There’s an interesting technology piece on the BBC website, ‘What price for free WiFi?‘ about a technology that can track users in a shop or building using their mobile devices. People are also offered free WiFi, and in return, the provider of the service is then able to de-anonymise your trace (including your past year’s visit to the location).
The service is soon to be rolled out on a city-wide basis in York, which takes it to a new level in terms of coverage, data harvesting, and potential uses for the data, as anyone with a mobile device within the coverage area will be ‘anonymously’ tracked.
There are of course many ‘good’ uses that this kind of tracking can be used for and the provider of the service makes a clear case for the value trade between ‘free WiFi’ and access to your movement data. We are, after all, used to this kind of value trade as:
- many millions of us have store loyalty cards and get awarded points in return for the tracking of our purchase patterns; and
- in carrying a mobile phone then we in all likelihood have given permission for our network provider to anonymise and consolidate our location data for onward sale
While today most people are relatively unaware of what they sign up to in this area, there is a growing realisation amongst consumers which, if not addressed, could lead to a backlash which would impact the ‘good’ uses that could be beneficial.
Whilst technology in the area of big data develops at a pace, we seem to be missing investment in a key piece of the jigsaw. The T&Cs.
As the saying goes, ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch’, and often the value trade in the data space, as with the York WiFi opportunity, is that in return for free, or discounted, access to a service, we allow tracking rights. This trade is increasingly being challenged in the public perception: who can use the data; for what purposes; etc..
Yet the terms of the trade are usually hidden deep in the T&Cs where very few people can find them, which potentially causes suspicion and mis-trust, and will likely hold back progress in the area of big data. What’s required is a new way of ‘contracting’ in this space which demystifies the ‘trade’ by bringing the key terms to the surface using plain, intelligible language to provide transparency and trust.
There are increasingly some good examples of commercial innovation in this space, such as the user conditions for Tumblr and LinkedIn, however, if we are to gain trust and buy-in in this area or risk losing the trust of users which will take a long time to recover.