Terms of Service - they're everywhere. But how many of us actually read them?
When you log on to the WiFi at Starbucks, download a new app, or watch a streaming video service like YouTube, Hulu or Netflix, do you take the time to read the Terms of Service you are required to sign off on before gaining access to the site or program?
If you did, you might notice what a recent study by the New York Times uncovered - that, on average, most companies retain the right to sell the data they've collected on you if they should ever sell the company or merge with another.
For companies like the ones mentioned above, that data can include not only your name, address, email, and phone number, but also your credit card information, history of web sites visited and videos watched, what devices you own and use, and where those devices are located.
For some more social sites, that data can even include who your friends are, the health conditions you're concerned about, your religious or political leanings, and your employment history.
But wait, you say - all of the companies I have accounts with like Facebook or Instagram or Netflix, they promise not to sell my information to anyone.
While yes, that's usually true, the New York Times found that there is a tiny disclaimer in an average of 85 percent of companies' Terms of Service that allows them to sell that information only in cases of mergers or acquisitions. Problem is, only about 15 percent of companies promise to alert you or give you the chance to opt-out if this happens.
Detailed in a recent New York Times article about the study they conducted with the aid of Internet analytics firm Alexa is a list of 100 companies' Terms of Service they examined - a list that included big names like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and LinkedIn.
You may have noticed that, the more user accounts you sign up for on sites such as these, the more spam and junk mail you get as time goes on. That's obviously no coincidence.
Some lawmakers are attempting to fight back against shady Terms of Service such as these. For example, the state of Texas' assistant attorney general Hal F. Morris helped stop the former online dating site True.com from selling data on all its customers - data which included names, birth dates, sexual orientation, race, religion, criminal convictions, photos, videos, contact information and more, on tens of millions of people - to a dating service in Canada when the company was put up for sale. Two million of those customers lived in Texas, and the company was based in Texas.
Morris' lawsuit on behalf of the state was successful, as the New York Times described.
Among the few sites that the Times discovered promise to alert customers and allow them to opt-out in case their companies are ever sold or merged, requiring that customer data go with it — craft sale site Etsy.com, and the site and app for Weather.com.