Patrick Twomey

When downloading an app, creating an online account, joining a rewards program, and doing countless other things online, one will often be asked to agree to terms of service, or terms and conditions. Terms of service are a set of guidelines and permissions to which you and the other party involved (often a website or app) are agreeing. Frequently, these terms of service will be multiple pages long, with small print and large words. It is not uncommon for a person to skim through it quickly or not even read them at all, many do not even know what they agree to. When studying surveillance, a common theme is power, and terms of service are vital for big companies like Facebook and Google gain power over users. By agreeing, the users are essentially signing a contract with the other party. These documents can grant access to your photos, contacts, allow a company to sell your data to other companies. In almost every case, you will not be able to use a new account, or app without first agreeing to their terms of service. But once a user accepts the terms of service they are giving power to the other party. Users rarely pay attention to these agreements. According to Naughton (2014), there was a study performed by f-secure (a Finnish computer science company) free Wi-Fi to anyone who accepted the terms of service. The trick was that the terms of service granted F-Secure rights to the persons first born child. Everyone that was offered Wi-Fi accepted the terms. F-Secure was obviously never going to take the people’s children, they just wanted to show that we should be more careful before blindly hitting accept.

An example of terms of service making causing controversy occurred in 2012. Instagram changed their terms of service, informing their users of the following, “You agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos without any compensation to you” (Pogue, 2013, p.35). Many users expressed outrage at the change. Many people make a living off of Instagram, so this was possibly detrimental to their careers. Luckily not everyone skimmed through the terms of service and attention was brought to the problem. In response, Instagram changed their policy back to what it had been originally.


Naughton, J. (2014, Dec 13). State surveillance is enabled by our own sloppy habits- Our willingness to accept outrageous terms and conditions allows the Security Services to do as they wish. The Observer. Retrieved from https://infoweb.newsbank.com/resources/doc/nb/news/15250CC0AC000DA8?p=AWNB

Pogue, D. (2013). Term of confusion. Scientific American, 308(3), 35.


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Key Concepts in Surveillance Studies Copyright © 2019 by Patrick Twomey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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