#CyberFLASH: Brock professor receives grant to find what happens to your data

hacker-stolen-passwordsCheck the box to indicate that you have read and agree to the terms of service. This type of notice appears at the bottom of sign-up pages for nearly every website, application, or game many of us use on a daily basis. The question is, does anyone actually do it? We all check the box, but how many people even skim the terms of service or understand what they really mean?

Brock University Adjunct Professor of Sociology Natasha Tusikov has been awarded a grant from the office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada with the aim of discovering just what big internet companies do with information gathered online and what it means for the online privacy of Canadians. What information do they gather, what do they do with it, and how legal is it? That is not always clear.

Tusikov’s research will cover mostly the big US internet firms: Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, eBay and PayPal, along with the major payment companies, such as Visa and MasterCard.
Internet firms, “act as global regulators, controlling different types of content and activity,” says Tusikov. eBay, for example, attempts to control the sale of counterfeit goods in agreement with major retailers. Internet service providers attempt to stop their customers from downloading copies of movies, music and software in agreement with the producers of those products. The problem with most of these agreements, though, is they are non-legally binding.

“This is a pretty new and interesting area of regulation,” said Tusikov. “Non-legally binding means existing outside of law, existing outside of judicial orders, so essentially these are handshake agreements between big companies… the reasons that some of these rights holders, like Nike and the US government, wanted to go in this direction is because they felt legislation wasn’t working.”

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