Written on May 5, 2019
In which I muse about the consequences of how we are forced to lie when we use the internet and our gadgets.
Perhaps the ancient tribes of Judea predicted Facebook. They wrote
You shall not spread a false report.EXODUS 23:1, first published in approx. 1446 BCE by Ancient Scholars. All rights reserved.
But before you read on, please confirm the following:
I have read and agree to your terms for reading this article.
Warning: if you happen to be in Burkina Faso, and you found this article using a Yahoo search through Safari, then I am afraid the people in Apple’s legal department want to talk to you. You have just violated section 16 of the agreement that you read and agreed to. (Article 16 only allows you to use Yahoo search in Argentina, Aruba, Australia, Austria, Barbados, Belgium, Bermuda, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Cayman Islands, Chile, China mainland, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Colombia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Romania, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, The Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, UK, Uruguay, US and Venezuela.)
Wait, Apple’s lawyers don’t want to talk to you:
6. Termination. This License is effective until terminated. Your rights under this License will terminate automatically or otherwise cease to be effective without notice from Apple if you fail to comply with any term(s) of this License. Upon the termination of this License, you shall cease all use of the iOS Software. Sections 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 12 and 13 of this License shall survive any such termination.
Apparently, even if in a moment of weakness you agree to the terms, but then change your mind, you are still bound by sections 4 through 9 and sections 12 and 13 of the agreement. How can this make any kind of sense? By the way, most of these survival clauses are just silly. For example, notice that section 6 (Termination) remains in effect after termination. I am unable to understand what this can possibly mean. The other early clauses concern consent from you to Apple to use certain information that you have provided through use of the software. Well, even if you change your mind about this agreement, you cannot ask Apple to erase any information they (legally) gathered before you terminated the agreement.
Let me be clear, though, this is not to bash Apple. Their agreement is probably no different from many other agreements you have “read and agreed to”. Adobe, for example, have many agreements, and, while they are shorter and better written than the Apple ones, they have their own share of strangeness. For example, Photoshop users have agreed, section 6 paragraph c, not to:
(c) use the Software to construct any kind of database;
I really have no idea at all what this means. And yet I have to agree to it. Surely my collection of photographs, the very reason I use Photoshop in the first place is some kind of database?
My randomized research project (that is, travelling on the Canada Line train) reveals to me clearly that the vast majority of people who use iPhones and similar gadgets are way (and I mean a long way) younger than you and me. Let’s pick 14 year old Charles over there, happily doing something on his iPhone XS. Apparently, he read, comprehended, and agreed that:
The iOS Software contains functionality that allows it to accept digital certificates either issued from Apple or from third parties. YOU ARE SOLELY RESPONSIBLE FOR DECIDING WHETHER OR NOT TO RELY ON A CERTIFICATE WHETHER ISSUED BY APPLE OR A THIRD PARTY.
Or how about this:
(a) The iOS Software is licensed under the MPEG-4 Systems Patent Portfolio License for encoding in compliance with the MPEG-4 Systems Standard, except that an additional license and payment of royalties are necessary for encoding in connection with (i) data stored or replicated in physical media which is paid for on a title by title basis and/or (ii) data which is paid for on a title by title basis and is transmitted to an end user for permanent storage and/or use. Such additional license may be obtained from MPEG LA, LLC. See http://www.mpegla.com for additional details.
What? Charles, we need to talk. Because I don’t understand these two sections that I read and agreed to. Perhaps you can explain them to me.
On your behalf, dear reader, I decided to visit “mpegla.com”. This was not helpful. For one thing, my brain has become accustomed to shutting down every time I see the phrase “The world’s leading whatever” and MPEG LA, it turns out, claim to be the world’s leading “packager and provider of one stop licenses for standards and other technology platforms.”
Actually, I don’t think it was hard for them to make this claim, because as far as I and Professor Google can tell, they are the only such “packager and provider”.
Lets talk about Cookies. Due to legislation in Europe, by well meaning officials, web sites that offer content in Europe are required to obtain a users consent before storing cookies on your computer. It turns out that this bit of legislation is universally mostly ignored. If an organization wanted to be fully compliant, then the first time you visited them, you would have to land on a cookie-free page that asked your consent before you could proceed to their actual content. No one does this. Instead, there are various compromises. I like this one, placed on the bottom of the page:
This is in actual violation of the law, because that web site stores a cookie whether or not you close the box. It is in violation because of Section 5, paragraph 3 of the relevant EU directive which says:
3. Member States shall ensure that the use of electronic communications networks to store information or to gain access to information stored in the terminal equipment of a subscriber or user is only allowed on condition that the subscriber or user concerned is provided with clear and comprehensive information in accordance with Directive 95/46/EC, inter alia about the purposes of the processing, and is offered the right to refuse such processing by the data controller.
Much worse, of course, are the sites that ask you the “I have read and accept” intrusion.
So-called “Surveillance Capitalism” is forcing you, your friends, and your children to lie. Often. Perhaps we should call it Wink-Wink Capitalism. We are all complicit, know what I mean, nudge-nudge, wink-wink?
Now I think there are technical ways to improve cookie treatment, but I will leave that to a possible future article. What worries me mostly are the long-term psychological consequences of what has become routine lying. Of course, this kind of lying is not restricted to web pages. Do you believe this:
Please listen carefully, as our menu options have changed
Due to higher than expected call volumes, there may be a longer than usual delay
How about this recent press release:
Today Hootsuite communicated organizational changes in order to drive greater alignment with our growing company’s strategic priorities that best serve our customers. Unfortunately, this included some reductions to our staff.
Perhaps this gives new meaning to the phrase “half-truth” – the part about “reductions”, also known as termination of employment, is true.
Most of us grew up with the belief that telling the truth was important. We were allowed some exceptions, called “white lies”, mostly if it seemed necessary to avoid inflicting unnecessary hurt.
Sadly, the internet has habituated us to lying. If you are someone who has actually read the terms and conditions of every piece of software before you checked the box, then… I don’t believe you. It just is not reasonable to expect you to do this.
The question that I leave you with is simply this. Can we do better?