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Why No One Reads the Fine Print

December 3, 2011

In today’s “information society” the majority of services we use online are free. Facebook, Google, Twitter, yada yada. But we all know that these services aren’t really free. Free is the lazy person’s way of saying “read the fine print.” Only no one seems to want to read it.

Most of us sacrifice our privacy for convenience on a daily basis. With data portability it’s only getting worse. People who lead a digital life allow their personal data to be public to virtually anyone or any organization. But how do we know that this data won’t be used against us in the future, for entirely different purposes?  Yes, it’s efficient and convenient to use social networking. But where do you draw the line?

For some there is a “creepy line.” Dave Winer of Scripting News last month. Here’s why:

I know from experience that it’s bad to depend on a for-profit company to give me a free service that is supposed to not feel like it’s free. Facebook makes it difficult or impossible to maintain an archive copy of the stuff you post there, so, knowing this, I never posted anything there that wasn’t a copy of something I posted elsewhere or something I just didn’t care about. And I hate the idea that they devise ever-more-sneaky ways of tracking you on the web. And I’m not one of the people who uses the word “hate” when I mean “mildly dislike.

The future of social media will be baked into everything we use. Our personal privacy is at risk, but we remain nonchalant, even compliant. Why is there such a lack of concern?

The reason is Groupthink: the dark side of social media. This CBS article defines Groupthink as “when individual creativity, uniqueness, differences, and independent thinking is secondary to the group’s cohesiveness and mission. The stronger and tighter the group, the easier it is for groupthink to rear its ugly head. In other words, groupthink is what happens when its members check their individuality and ideas at the door and succumb to the will of the group.”

It’s simply “uncool” to be concerned about privacy or security, or to show your concern about privacy to your social networks. Because the cliques in your social network are too busy sharing and “fitting in” to care. It doesn’t fit into the Groupthink mold. The more you share, the more you fit in.

Reading the fine print requires questioning the status quo. It requires thought and healthy skepticism. Is this too much to ask for these days?