Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Websites: there oughta be a law

A list of web practices that I wish were outlawed:
  1. Data mining. There are far too many abuses possible when large dossiers are compiled on individuals. Easy marks for con games, blackmail victims, people with unpopular political views—you name it, they can find you. And everyone is vulnerable in some way, when the dossier is large enough; if they can't get you, they can get your friends. For the sake of individual freedom, I want to see the compilation of large numbers of dossiers by anyone outlawed.
  2. Internet stalking. This is what the big social media sites like Facebook, Google Plus, and  does, whenever you visit a site that has their button on it, unguarded, it records your presence there. Ever had a scary ex? Suppose they worked for Google. Scared now? Likewise, I want to see this outlawed.
  3. Abuse of social media access by monopolists. The condition for socializing ought not be the rights to use what you say or your images in any way, or stalk you.
If a web site or, especially, a smartphone app asks you to accept a big long “agreement,” odds are it's a ripoff, either of your intellectual property or your personal data. This is most major corporate sites, alas. But it may also be your doctor's office.

A medical center I work with employs a major third-party service provider as their "secure" e-mail service. In its terms of service, it claims that data passed through it is not covered by HIPPA, the US medical privacy law. It claims the right to use your correspondence and records data in any way, though it does promise to conceal your name. Medical records are as individual as fingerprints, so one is no more anonymous than one is if one gives a photograph of oneself. And, finally, it uses web bugs to track your web activity. So this medical e-mail provider is compiling a dossier on you which it can sell in any way, it stalks you, and abuses social media access. I do not advise accepting the Terms of Service.

[Added] UPS now requires one to agree to a 79-page ToS document in order to track packages. Hmmm, guess I'll just wait for the packages to arrive. [Update 2014.03.09] This turns out not to be correct; you are shown the "agreement" when their web site gets confused. However, their subscription services require that you accept that agreement.