To try and help consumers answer these questions, researchers from the University of Toronto, including Andrew Hilts, the Executive Director of Open Effect, have created a new program called Access My Info.
The online tool lets Canadian consumers ask the people behind the apps and sites they use what they know and who has access to the data.
Hilts explains: “It’s hard to know what to ask about your data without first knowing what is being collected about you.
“With Access My Info, you can spend a few minutes and create a custom-made letter that asks careful questions of your telco, your dating app, or your fitness tracker about how data is collected and used.”
These letters were written by policy experts working at the Citizen Lab at The University of Toronto, where the app was built, enabling consumers to ask the right things about where their information goes.
Although most apps and websites ask for their users to agree to a set of terms and conditions, in the majority of cases, people will just tick the “I agree” box to access the app as soon as possible, says Professor Ronald Deibert, Director of the Citizen Lab.
As a result, he feels there needs to be big changes amongst consumers around their attitudes to the information they give online, and how companies use it.
He said: “Access to information is a fundamental human right. Yet, research has shown most Internet users are either ignorant of, or apathetic about, the data they give away and what companies and governments do with it.
“When faced with lengthy and confusing terms of service, most users simply click ‘I agree’,” s
“It will not be easy to change this disposition, to cultivate a curious citizenry and a user base that takes stewardship over the data they entrust to companies and governments.”
“However, tools like Access My Info, in which consumers exercise their privacy rights to inquire how companies handle the data they collect on them, will help both bolster these rights and let companies and governments know we are watching.”
Access My Info is currently only available in Canada, and to find out more about the tool, please click here.