The Fine Print

Over the weekend, I was talking with some people, who thought that when you accept the terms of service or some other contract that has its terms in really fine print, then the terms do not really apply.  This, unfortunately, is untrue.  There are certainly some consumer protections, but you should always assume you will be bound by the terms of any contract you sign.

Furthermore, if you were to actually read many of these contracts, you would find many terms you would actively resist.  Waivers of rights to class actions and mandatory arbitration are two provisions that are worth resisting.  Not only that, when consumers tell companies that they won’t sign these provisions, the companies tend to take them out.  Certain credit card companies retreated on mandatory arbitration.  Contract terms are something companies can compete on, if you make them.  Blindly agreeing to any provision someone puts in front of you, is simply a foolish thing to do.

This is especially problematic in terms of data collection. Companies like Google specialize in reading your emails and tracking your every move in order to sell you advertising. They promise you free email service, free storage and the like, but then they use it to sell you stuff.  Worse, advertisers and others can then gain access to your private information.  Facebook is quite similar.

Furthermore, as this article makes clear, your private information is an asset to be bought and sold and it might end up being owned by a company you never even heard of.  Regulation of these practices should be growing, but it probably won’t, so you must protect yourself.

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