Mark Bridge writes:
There’s been a lot of talk recently about PRISM, which may allow the US National Security Agency - and anyone they choose - to access some of our personal online information if it passes through the USA. It’s unclear exactly what (if anything) is being shared with whom… and given the nature of national security, we may never know.
However, alongside the possibility of governments seeing information we thought was secure, it’s also worth pointing out that we choose to share plenty of online information ourselves. I’m not talking about social media and the hazards of speaking your mind on Facebook or Twitter. I’m talking about marketing.
Earlier this week I stopped off at a Costa Coffee shop for a drink and some free WiFi. Now, I appreciate there can be security concerns with using any public WiFi; my information isn’t just passing through someone else’s internet connection but is also at risk of being intercepted by a ‘hacker’ sitting inside the coffee shop.
But what caught my eye were the terms and conditions of the agreement for using the free WiFi, which - in this case - was offered by O2.
First of all I need to sign up with my mobile phone number, which is a simple and relatively secure process. My mobile contract isn’t with O2, so I’m slightly uncomfortable about O2 having my number on its database. Will they be contacting me on it to try and churn me from my current mobile network? Best read the rest of those terms.
Well, there’s the legal stuff, which didn’t surprise me too much. I’m authorising O2 to use any information about me and the way I use the O2 WiFi service for fraud detection, crime detection, credit control and other law-related purposes. Oh, and they can pass this on to other telecom companies, debt collection agencies, government departments plus their associated companies and partners for legal purposes, too.
What I’m also agreeing to is O2 using information about me and my internet use for marketing. It seems they’re authorised to write to me, to phone me at home, to phone my mobile, to send me text messages, to send me email messages, to send me picture messages and to contact me using ‘other means’, which may well involve a barbershop quartet outside my bedroom window at 2am or laser projection onto my immortal soul. Theoretically they could use data from the sites I visit in order to target their marketing messages. That means a 2am barbershop quartet singing about knitted coats for cats. Yes, I’m apparently agreeing to all this by using the free WiFi.
“There’s no such thing as a free lunch”, you say. Very true. And O2 UK is being perfectly clear about the terms, so I’m not complaining about the company’s behaviour.
But in a week when everyone’s talking about the privacy implications of ‘Big Brother’ spying on internet traffic, it’s worth remembering we’re also paying with our privacy for many free internet services.