Feb 28, 2019

Axios Login

I'm back in San Francisco just in time for the Lesbians Who Tech conference, which kicks off tonight and runs through the weekend. I'll be there along with folks from the Axios tech and recruiting teams — say hi if you see us.

1 big thing: Barely anyone reads privacy policies
Expand chart

Data: Survey Monkey poll of 4,048 U.S. adults conducted Feb. 6-11 with a margin of error of ±2.5%; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios

If you aren't reading the privacy policy before you click "accept" you're not alone, Axios' Kim Hart reports.

Most people say it's important to have a clear understanding of a company's privacy policy before signing up for its service online — but in practice, most people skip right to the "I agree" box on a privacy policy without actually reading it, according to an Axios/SurveyMonkey poll (methodology here).

Why it matters: Consumers are increasingly aware that companies share and sell their personal data in exchange for free services, but consumers' privacy concerns aren't translating into concrete action to protect their data.

By the numbers, of people who say it's important to have a clear understanding of privacy terms before signing up for services:

  • 87% say it's either very or somewhat important to have a clear understanding.
  • Older adults aged 65+ (91%) are more likely than younger adults aged 18–24 (75%) to say this is important.
  • Yes, but: 56% of respondents say they either "always" or "usually" accept the privacy policy without reading it.
  • Even those who say it's important also say they sign up without reading the terms "every time" or "most of the time." (53%)
  • Younger adults are more willing to skip reading the privacy policies: 46% of 18–24 year olds say they will accept the terms without reading them "every time," compared to 15% of seniors aged 65+ who say they will skip reading them.

The income gap: A majority (67%) of people with household incomes under $50,000 say it's "very important" to have a clear understanding of privacy policies before signing up for services. Meanwhile, only half (50%) of those with incomes of $100,000 and above say it's "very important."

The big picture: The public's indifference to privacy policies may stem in part from how long, legalistic, and unintelligible they typically are. And, as the New York Times editorial board pointed out in an opinion piece this month, many people feel powerless over them.

Why would anyone read the terms of service when they don’t feel as though they have a choice in the first place? It’s not as though a user can call up Mark Zuckerberg and negotiate his or her own privacy policy. The “I agree” button should have long ago been renamed “Meh, whatever.”
— NYT editorial

Go deeper:

2. TikTok predecessor gets record FTC fine

Photo: Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images

TikTok, a short-form video app owned by Chinese tech giant Bytedance, has agreed to a $5.7 million settlement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission for illegally collecting personal data from children, Axios' Sara Fischer reports.

Why it matters: It's the largest settlement from a violation of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) in the law's 20+ year history.

  • While $5.7 million may seem small, it's significantly larger than the next biggest COPPA violation, which resulted in a $3 million settlement by Disney-owned social games studio Playdom in 2011.

Details: The complaint, filed to the FTC by the Justice Department, alleges that Musical.ly (a karaoke app that was acquired and integrated by TikTok's parent company in 2017) obtained the personal information of children under 13 years old without consent.

  • "This ruling underscores what we have long known: Companies like TikTok do not consider children’s personal information out of bounds," said Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), an author of COPPA.
  • "This fine may be an historic high for a COPPA violation, but it is not high enough for the harm that is done to children," Markey added.
  • In response to the settlement, TikTok said it updated its app to include additional safety and privacy protections designed specifically for younger U.S. users.

Be smart: TikTok has built a mobile empire and is beginning to compete with the likes of Facebook for the attention of young users.

  • A new report from Digiday finds that TikTok's U.S. user base has grown to 26.5 million monthly active users, who on average open the app 8 times for a total of 46 minutes per day.
  • New figures from data insights firm SensorTower suggest that TikTok has surpassed 1 billion downloads on iOS and Android.

Our thought bubble: While conversations around children's privacy have increased over the past year alongside the national privacy debate, this case will certainly draw even more attention to the way tech giants mine data through apps targeted to kids.

3. State rules prove sticky in privacy debate

Sens. Roger Wicker and Maria Cantwell. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Federal preemption of state laws will be the sticking point to watch as the debate over national privacy rules proceeds in Congress, lawmakers made clear this week.

Why it matters: State lawmakers aren’t waiting for the feds to get their act together, Axios' David McCabe reports. There are many privacy bills floating around statehouses nationwide — and next year California will implement a sweeping law it has already passed.

Details: Lawmakers in the House and Senate went back and forth at two hearings this week over what it would take to override state laws.

  • Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the top Democrat on the Commerce Committee, said that she found the rush to preempt state laws “disturbing.”
  • Some Republicans echoed industry’s calls for a blanket preemption of state law. Rep. Greg Walden, the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said that a single “state should not set the standard for the rest of the country,” per CNET.

What to watch: Look for the kinds of compromises a group of bipartisan senators who have been working on a bill for some time can settle on — if they can settle on any approach at all.

4. BlackBerry sues Twitter over messaging patents

BlackBerry on Wednesday sued Twitter, alleging it infringes on several messaging-related patents.

The big picture: Having seen its once-popular BBM service fade from the messaging scene, BlackBerry has launched a series of lawsuits against today's leaders.

5. Take Note

On Tap

Trading Places


6. After you Login

Toni Harris of Detroit became the first female non-kicker football player to sign a letter of intent to play college football.