When’s the last time you actually read the terms and conditions (T&Cs) for free WiFi service before clicking that “I agree” box? Not just the first paragraph or two, but the entire thing? If you’re like most people, the answer is “never.”
WiFi provider Purple recently got 22,275 people from the U.S. and 31 other countries to agree to carry out 1,000 hours of community service in return for free WiFi service — including cleaning dirty festival porta-potties, hugging stray cats, and painting snails’ shells.
Purple added the “joke” term to the T&Cs on its own network of branded hotspots to illustrate the widespread lack of consumer awareness of what they are signing up for when they access free WiFi. According to Purple CEO Gavin Wheeldon, a shockingly high 99.996% of the users tested failed to detect the fake term.
Hidden among Purple’s usual T&Cs for two weeks was a Community Service Clause: “The user may be required, at Purple’s discretion, to carry out 1,000 hours of community service.”
According to the T&Cs, “community service” may include:
- Cleansing local parks of animal waste
- Providing hugs to stray cats and dogs
- Manually relieving sewer blockages
- Cleaning portable toilets at local festivals and events
- Painting snail shells to brighten up their existence
- Scraping chewing gum off the streets
All users were given the chance to flag the term and win a prize. Only one person out of 22,275 spotted the joke term during the two-week test, which took place June 19 – July 2, 2017.
“This test was not intended to be mean spirited or poke fun at users,” said Wheeldon. “We’re trying to make the point that today more than ever it is critical that consumers read the terms before signing up to use a free WiFi network. What are they agreeing to, how much of their personal data are they sharing, and what license are they giving to providers to use that data? Our test shows that it’s all too easy for ordinary consumers to tick a box and unwittingly give up their privacy in exchange for free WiFi.”
In related news, Purple recently announced it is the first global WiFi provider to comply with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)—almost a year ahead of the EU’s deadline.
This legislation, which goes into effect on May 25, 2018, has been hailed as the most important change in data privacy regulation in 20 years. Its intent is to harmonize existing data privacy laws across Europe. It is expected to reshape the way organizations approach data privacy not only in the EU but even in the U.S. given the reach of many global organizations today.
Purple believes that one of GDPR’s headline rulings, the introduction of “unambiguous consent” before users’ personal or behavioral data can be used for marketing purposes, is one that should be standardized across the industry on a global basis.
“We welcome the strengthening of data protection laws across Europe that GDPR will bring, but we also plan to roll the same level of consumer transparency to our U.S. market,” said Wheeldon. “This initiative will give ordinary consumers more awareness of the risks involved in using free WiFi. Further, we hope it will ultimately raise the level of trust in a digital economy that is increasingly finding ways to mine and monetize our personal online behavior. Purple’s Profile Portal means that all end users have the comfort of knowing they can control how their data is being used. And if they’re happy to hug a few stray dogs at the same time it’s a win-win.”