Combating the disturbingly short attention span for online privacy

Over the weekend, Instagram’s new terms of service went into effect. If your head wasn’t buried in the sand in recent weeks, you may have heard that the company instigated quite a brouhaha over its updated legalese. The proposed changes included what most saw as an assertion that it had the right to sell users’ pictures at will, without consent or compensation. “How dare they?!” shouted the interwebs.

Instagram officials responded to the outcry by saying this was a miscommunication and reverted that section back to the original language. As we pointed out at the time, the previous wording was far more vague and gave Instagram greater leeway over its access to and use of your images.

But, once again, a full grasp of online privacy eludes so many. Because, while there was significant backlash over this singular aspect of the updated terms of service, very little attention was paid to the rest of the changes. For example, Instagram can now freely share user data with Facebook.

When companies share information about customers/users, they say it is only so they can filter out spam and unwanted features and deliver services more in line with what people want. For anyone who believes this altruistic explanation, I’ve got some swampland in Florida for sale. Seriously, it’s a great investment.

No. They use this data to learn everything they can about you in an effort not to make your life easier, but to make more money. Now, every business is meant to turn a profit. But, it’s not okay that we allow them to invade our private lives in order to do so. And if we don’t set the boundaries regarding what they are allowed to access, share and use about us, how likely do you think it is they will make protecting online privacy their number one priority?

In the future, if one item stands out as objectionable in a service agreement, address it but don’t get sucked in by it to the end that you miss other potential problems. Look through everything because if there’s one, there’s likely to be more.

John Sileo is an online privacy expert and keynote speaker on social media privacy, identity theft and fraud. His clients included the Department of Defense, Pfizer, and Homeland Security. See his recent work on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox Business.