Why you need to read privacy policies
1). A 'free' service is never really free
Think you've hit the jackpot because the majority of the sites, platforms and services you use are totally free? Well, you know what they say about something that's too good to be true. Everyone needs to make money, so if you're not paying actual dollars and cents to use a service, be sure you're paying in another way - usually with your data. We live in a big-data world where everyday companies can collect, use and sell our information. With our permission. Most platforms ask for basic details like your name, physical address and e-mail address, but even this can be used to a company's advantage. On free services, the fine print is more important than ever.
2). Understand how your data is being used
This is one of the major concerns with the new WhatsApp update. Partially because we don't understand how our information is currently being used, so any changes to data policies are immediately met with suspicion. Are companies using or selling your data - or both? If so, who are they selling it to and for what reason? Often, information is shared between other companies in the group, which could result in things like targeted advertising and better integration - if you're using related platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp.
It's also important to know what information is available to be accessed by other parties. Is it message content? Usually, not. Or, is it information like your profile photo and status? If you're not comfortable sharing any of this data, make sure there's an easy opt-out option.
3). Your information could be stored for a long time
Because we sign up and sign in to so many services - from messaging platforms to news sites - we might lose track of how many services have our details. And how long they keep our information for. You might have stopped reading those newsletters, or even opted out of receiving promotional material from a company, but they'll still have your data on file somewhere. If you think a platform is storing your information for too long, there's nothing wrong with unsubscribing and moving on to a different service? The critical thing here? To read the fine print and find these details in the T&C's.
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4). You need to protect yourself
Perhaps this is the best thing to come of the WhatsApp/Facebook saga. And, when you sign up for a new platform or decide to migrate to a competitor service, you'll know what to look out for. They might be long and difficult to decipher, but privacy policies are there for a reason. You might as well read them.