Navigating Privacy and User Rights Issues in an “I Agree” Era

Last fall, a New York man rented out his apartment bedroom through Airbnb, a popular website for short-term stays. Unbeknownst to him, he was breaking the law. When he returned to his apartment days later, he was facing more than $40,000 in fines. Airbnb is not legally obligated to post explicit warnings on its site notifying users of the possible legal ramifications of renting rooms for short lengths of time. Instead, this information is listed deep within the terms and conditions agreement. Stories like this are becoming all too common.dmlsra-2013-green_2_copy

Tamara Shepherd, a postdoctoral fellow at the Ted Rogers School of Information Technology Management at Ryerson University in Toronto, studies these types of Internet policy issues, specifically focusing on Internet regulation, youth cultural production practices, and new media policy. She has published numerous papers on aspects of labor in user-generated content and social media, from a feminist political economy perspective. Shepherd presented her dissertation, “Persona Rights in Young People’s Labour of Online Cultural Production: Implications for New Media Policy,” at the DML Hub’s Research Associates Summer Institute. In the video below, Shepherd speaks to the tendency for young people to too-quickly relinquish their rights when wanting to use a particular online service and the effects this has on both users and the commercial entities that capitalize on the personal data. Here are some highlights from the video, but in the full interview (below), Shepherd assesses a new type of labor — creative labor — and exposes a full set of legal implications associated with the appropriation of users’ personal information.

When you create a profile on Facebook, yes, as a user you get a lot of benefit out of that. You get to connect with people. You get to construct your identity actively in a social space. It’s very gratifying. But at the same time, the site is a commercial entity that is making money. Now with the IPO, you can see how much money is possible to generate through the appropriation of users’ personal information and all of that creative labor.

If there was some way to convey the terms and the privacy policies in ways that were much more easy to understand, and at least have people reflect on what they’re agreeing to before they click “I agree,” something like that is like building a critical digital literacy — literacy around rights issues, not just literacy in terms of skills or how you use this technology.

Under that [postindustrial] model it makes sense to say that young people need to learn new technologies so they can be competitive in this marketplace. But at the same time, the dominance of that means that any other approaches to technology get put on the wayside for the service of this industrial goal. What gets lost is the whole richness of how people learn and how technology enhances our lives in different ways.

Tamara Shepherd – DML Summer Institute 2012 from DML Research Hub on Vimeo.

Video production credit: Marc Bacarro

Image credit: smileham http://www.flickr.com/photos/smileham/3387867021/