Privacy Policy Panic: Why You Should Read The Fine Print

Last week, popular messaging service WhatsApp blew up on our newsfeeds and local websites for their latest app pop-up. The message essentially says that you need to accept the new Privacy Policy regulations or you'll be denied access to the platform from early next month. When last did you pay such close attention to the privacy policies of anything? Normally, we click 'accept' and carry on with our day. So, while the panic surrounding the new WhatsApp policies might be premature - still to be seen, of course - it's not a bad thing that the news has forced us to sit up and take note of what we're agreeing to when we accept company T&C's. Here are a few reasons why it's so important to always read the privacy policy fine print...

Privacy Policy Panic: Why You Should Read The Fine Print

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.

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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.

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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

This is one of the biggest reasons to read the fine print in a privacy policy. No one else is going to look out for your best interests, so it's important to do it for yourself. Decide what you're comfortable with and find out if a service's policy is in line with your values. If information is censored on a site, do you think that's a good or a bad thing? Do you still want to be part of it? Do the privacy policies protect you as a user as well as the company itself? How is your information protected or encrypted? Rather than learning the hard way, decide to protect your right to privacy from the start.

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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.

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