For one of our blog assignments in our Big Data class, we were instructed to examine the Terms and Conditions of an app we frequently use. I explored the Terms and Conditions of an app that I use on my phone called, Zomato. This app provides you with information on what restaurants are close to your geographical location at the moment. It also provides restaurant menus, restaurant hours, and pictures of the atmosphere as well as the dishes. This app also allows you to directly search for a particular restaurant and will display the closest one in distance. The first surprising term that I discovered was that the app is able record the call made between you and the restaurant, if you are using their link to the restaurant phone line. Although this was initially shocking, I could definitely see how this information could be useful in improving customer service at the restaurant’s end. Perhaps the restaurant could incorporate changes to their business utilizing the feedback they receive through phone calls. Another surprising term was the fact that they retain the right to change or amend the terms and conditions at any point in time. Perhaps this is common to all terms and condition forms, but I have never personally noticed this. This is surprising because if the company amended their terms, what you agreed to originally might not be what you would agree to now. This ability is probably beneficial because it allows the company to change certain things if they are receiving negative feedback from the allowance or exclusion of a particular term. However, it is frightening because the app does not alert you when the terms have changed. In my opinion, this would be a more fair way to go about this, sending a notification through the app if the terms have changed. I think it is absurd to expect the user to periodically reread terms and conditions to make sure nothing has changed. The final term that I was surprised by was actually an eligibility term that stated the user must be at least 18 years of age. At first, this seemed like an obvious statement, as most apps require a certain age for eligibility. However, it made me ponder as to why this is. Does the app procure so much information that it wouldn’t be morally right if it were being gathered on somebody who wasn’t yet a legal adult? It also made me realize another obvious fact: nobody pays attention to the terms and conditions of apps. I know a vast amount of people who use Zomato who are most definitely not 18 years of age. Anybody with a license at 16 is likely to use this app since they are capable of traveling to places where they may not know about local restaurants.
However, I don’t think any of these facts should be considered unethical because, as users, if we click “agree” to the terms, than the app has the right to assume we have actually read said terms. Even though some of these terms may seem unfair, it is entirely our own decision to hit accept. If we are that concerned with the possibility of a privacy breach, then it is our responsibility to decipher the terms and then decide if the app is really worth it. With that being said, I think it should be mentioned that it is important for the company to supply clear and concise terms and conditions. The companies should use jargon that the common individual can read and understand. In one of our previous classes, we discussed how it should not require a law degree to decrypt the term and conditions of a particular app. Using simple and clear language is critical because it avoids the possibility of the user being taken advantage of due to something he or she physically does not understand.
Discerning these ethical issues through the lens of a hacker is a very interesting perspective to take. Edward Snowden was one of the better-known hackers we discussed during class. Snowden was a former CIA employee who leaked classified information from the NSA to the public. If I was in his position, I like to think I’d conjure the bravery to act similarly because the exposed information revealed a myriad of hidden truths and corruption within our government pertaining to mass surveillance. Snowden stood by the idea that everyone has the moral obligation to act when the law no longer reflects the morality of society. Most of the nation was probably completely blind to the fact that the NSA obliterates the concept of privacy, conducting global surveillance, accessing phone records, intercepting text messages, and even cracking encryptions. These are things that I would feel obligated to expose to the public, however, I am not sure I would sacrifice my life and career in order to reveal that information-which is exactly what Snowden did. In my opinion, this was a very brave and altruistic thing to do. I believe he was doing this for the public good and should not be incriminated for using controversial means to expose a monumental and eye-opening truth. In this case, the “end justifies the means,” and our society needs to focus on the bigger problem at hand- the power vacuum of the NSA. In an interview with The Stanford Daily, Snowden explains the mindset of a whistleblower, “I think the driving principle is that you have to have a greater commitment to justice than fear of the law.”
The Panama Papers is another example of exposing corruption through illegitimate means. This situation revealed the disturbing truth that globally elite companies have been hiding millions of dollars in a network of offshore banks and firms, the main one being Mossack Fonseca. This may be something that citizens have assumed or questioned in the past, but the exposure has officially confirmed these assumptions. Offshore banks can indeed be used for legitimate reasons; for example, citizens from unstable countries can use them to store their savings in. However, this particular usage of offshore banks is not legitimate in the least. This corruption has allowed major companies to avoid taxes by hiding their wealth. The ethics of this situation walk a thin line, since the exposed information was retrieved through illegitimate means, (hacking). However, I think the exposed corruption poses a greater issue than how the info was actually obtained. Therefore, I don't think it would be ethical to incriminate the hackers themselves, since the information they exposed is so much more damaging than the controversial means they used to get it. In this case, the hacker was anonymous. This leads me to the thought that there should be development of better protection for whistleblowers. When people see situations unfold like the Edward Snowden case, they probably are less likely to act out of fear. I find it interesting to get my mindset in line with a hacker because in some cases, their ultimate goals are to reveal a hidden truth that is likely to shock society. In this way, they are working for a common good, a reason that is much bigger than the breach of privacy they may have committed.