Are you reading the terms and conditions of the free services you use on the Internet? If not, you could be in for a big surprise!
Initial controversy over Microsoft’s How-Old.net tool
How-Old.net is a new product that was built as a demo for Microsoft’s Build2015 developer conference. The application was conceived to show how easy it is to make applications on the Azure platform. In fact, the build only took 1 day!
This application was intended for an internal audience of a few dozen, but it unexpectedly become a viral hit — probably because of how funny it is!
How-Old.net guesses the age and gender of people in any photo — either one already out there on the Internet or one you upload yourself. The hilarious part is that while guessing gender is pretty easy for the system, it will often take some wild guesses about age.
In the midst of all the fun people were having playing around with this thing, one Tweeter noticed some scary mice type legalese that you agree to when using How-Old.net:
…by posting, uploading, inputting, providing, or submitting your Submission, you are granting Microsoft, its affiliated companies, and necessary sublicensees permission to use your Submission in connection with the operation of their Internet businesses (including, without limitation, all Microsoft services), including, without limitation, the license rights to: copy, distribute, transmit, publicly display, publicly perform, reproduce, edit, translate, and reformat your Submission; to publish your name in connection with your Submission; and to sublicense such rights to any supplier of the Website Services.
That prompted a lot of people to get concerned that their faces (if they uploaded a picture) could pop up in a future Microsoft advertisement!
Microsoft quickly responded to the growing controversy with the following statement from a spokesperson.
‘We wanted to let you know that http://how-old.net does not store or share pictures or personally identifiable information (PII). The Terms of Service are accurate and like those of other companies. Developers get to choose how their apps work. The developers of How-old.net chose not to store or share photos for this app.’
Permissions not often as scary as they seem
The reality of this is close to what we went through with my free Clark Howard on Demand app and some concern over its permissions.
For example, we have to ask for the right to modify or delete the contents of your USB storage. We’re not ever going to do that, but we need those permissions because we need to store podcasts on your phone.
Another example is the location permission my app requires. That’s for our time zone feature so we can make sure we’re playing the show for you at the right hour. Then there’s the camera and microphone access we ask for so podcasts can play on your phone.
It’s not as scary as it seems when you understand why certain permissions are necessary. Let’s say you have an app that allows you to edit and post photos. This app will require permission to access to your camera. If your app involves communication features, it will require permission to access your contacts and phone.
The bottom line is permissions are about functionality. And the wording that developers are bound to use were written by lawyers, not techies, so they can sound more insidious than they really are.