We live in a world surrounded by technology. Our everyday routine has become a constant interaction with different technological substances, either they are gadgets, like smartphones, smart-devices, etc. or intangible objects like web services, applications, web portals, etc. Some of these technological creations are delivered for free (i.e. free smartphone applications, websites, desktop applications, etc.), while others come with a price (i.e. paid smart-phone applications, smart devices, etc.). However one thing they have in common is that they require the users that exploit them to agree on specific matters in order to use them; the famous terms and conditions.

Terms and conditions are there to inform users about regulations that exist and are applicable when the end-user uses a product. We could say that it is a kind of a contract between the producers/developers of a product and the end users. The rationale is that a user will read them before using a product and as soon as she agrees with them, she can start using the product. Although both parties (producers/developers and end-users) agree that this kind of contract is necessary, the majority of users simply ignore this part. The reason for this is because terms and conditions are expressed as lengthy text (usually several pages long), and they are described using a rather complex legal terminology, which is hardly comprehensible from end-users.

The situation becomes even more complex, when terms and conditions mention that some of the personal data of the user will be retrieved from the product, and sent to the producer/developer. At that point everybody starts wondering many things: (a) which data are going to be retrieved (i.e. name, mobile number, addresses, locations, photos, etc.), (b) why these data will be retrieved, (c) who will have access to these data, (d) for how long they will be stored, (e) are there any mutual benefits that the user will gain since she is sharing her data with others. Usually most of these questions remain unanswered because: (a) terms and conditions deliberately hide information that could answer such questions and (b) users do not have the possibility to debate with producers/developers of a product about these different aspects.

Our aim is to conceptualize terms and conditions, so that they can be described in a concrete and uniform way. Such a conceptualization has many benefits. Just indicatively it allows terms and conditions to be expressed using some common terms, enhancing therefore their understandability. Furthermore it allows them to be expressed using a much more compact form that quickly allow users review them and either accept them or reject them. Moreover, we want to enable users debating with the producers/developers of a product so that they can share their thoughts about their personal preferences in terms of the data they want to share, or the regulations that are described in the terms and conditions in general.

To this end we build a debate portal that will act as a communication platform and several smart applications where users define their personal privacy preferences (i.e. their personal information that they are willing to share with others), and therefore enhance their experience when using new products; practically the smart application inspects if the preferences of the user match the terms and conditions of the product, and if not it notifies the user about that and suggest similar products that fit her criteria.

Our purpose is to build an active community that will “characterize” everyday products from a privacy perspective. Everybody can (and should) be part of this. Please subscribe below and we will keep you posted.