Every time you sign up for a service – online or otherwise – you need to agree to their Terms and Conditions (T&C). The T&C are a set of legally-binding conditions forming a contract that takes effect when you click “I Accept”. Additionally, some contain a disclaimer that these terms could change, and maybe without notice.
SO, if this is a contract and if it could change, then we should all be reading them thoroughly and then re-reading them often. Right? If the average person reviewed the T&C for every service they use (banking, cell phones, social networks etc), it would take 180 hrs/yr. I don’t know about you, but I do not have that kind of time! In addition to length, the wording of these contacts tend to be very confusing, vague and well, boring. Studies say less than 6% of people actually read the entire thing before they sign.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
T&C typically have two purposes. Both are important.
1. The rules on using the service
Here, the service establishes that you are not doing anything illegal, destructive or potentially immoral with their system. These rules mostly protect the company but if someone is using the service to hurt you, you may be able to use these terms to your benefit too.
Example: Facebook policy includes the following “You will not post content that: is hate speech, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.”. If someone posts a picture of you or a family member that violates the rule, you can have Facebook remove that picture without argument because the poster has broken the service agreement.
Here is a sample of some of their other rules, which are typical to most social networks:
- You will not engage in unlawful multi-level marketing, such as a pyramid scheme, on Facebook.
- You will not solicit login information or access an account belonging to someone else.
- You will not bully, intimidate, or harass any user.
- You will not develop or operate a third-party application containing alcohol-related, dating or other mature content (including advertisements) without appropriate age-based restrictions.
- You will not use Facebook to do anything unlawful, misleading, malicious, or discriminatory.
2. How the service can use you
This is the one people should pay more attention to. Here the company describes how it uses your information, charges you, or what it has the rights to change.
Some typical example of terms that are in favour of the service:
Facebook: You consent to having your personal data transferred to and processed in the United States.
Google: You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services.
How am I paying for these services?
Something to keep in mind – social services appear to be free to use, but is anything in life actually free? Most of online services are not. And what they do not charge you in fees, they make up in spades in the value of your data. Case in point: Facebook announced that they generated over $2,000,000,000 in revenue in the last three months.
All services have a selection of public data available to everyone: typically your user name and profile picture. Then there are pieces of data that are not public, but are available to third party companies (those that pay for ads or make applications for the service). These companies have access to your age, hometown and often your list of connections/friends.
In additional to data you have provided to the company, a service also has access to:
- Your actions. A log of every ‘Like’, content of every status, photos you post.
- Information your friends have. Your mailing address from a friend’s address book that matches with your email address. Your location via metadata in a photo your friend tagged.
- Assumptions. The types of links you typically click on or the potential connections you have with people based on common friends.
So if you were to see your ‘personal file’ kept by any service you use, it would hold a lot more than you imagine.
So are we signing away our lives each time we click that little button?
There are two schools of thought on this one.
1 – Nothing in the T&C could be that bad because they won’t risk upsetting their customers.
In December 2012, Instagram changed their T&C to say that they had the rights to the photos you published and they could in turn sell them. A notification was sent to users to indicate that these changes were coming. Not surprisingly, there was a lot of outrage and Instagram later opted not to include this change. So there is an element in trust that they still have their customers interest in mind.
2 – There are things hidden in there because they are banking that no one reads it.
Guaranteed. The old iTunes agreement said that you could pay with credit card, paypal, your first born, or several years working in their factory facility. They also said they would charge you for the item you downloaded in addition to their current grocery bill. These are clearly comical, but what about the ones we don’t see that matter? That is where no one cares until you need cancel a membership or if you believe someone is misusing your information.
Personally I subscribe to the first school. I am hoping that the services I use have enough people to please that they wouldn’t do anything underhanded, so I trust that I am not giving away more than I bargained for. That said, when I get email notifications on T&C changes, I do read those. Recently we received an email that our airline rewards credit card had changed. On the surface, the message highlighted the positive but on closer inspection, it also said that the airline now had the rights to see where our credit card transactions took place. Hmmm. As they say, buyer beware.
To end on a high note, not all T&C are boring. Here are a few terms from Tumblr:
- “Don’t post private photos of your ex’s junk (no matter how attractive).”
- “If you’re younger than 13, don’t use Tumblr. Ask your parents for an Xbox or try books.”
- “If you want to ridicule or parody a public figure (and who doesn’t?) don’t try to trick readers into think you are actually that public figure.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION
This fun website has pulled out some key points about the Terms on the websites you may be using:
For a full set of rules and policies, try the following links:
- Facebook terms that you need to follow – https://www.facebook.com/legal/terms
- Facebook terms that indicate their use of your info – https://www.facebook.com/about/privacy/your-info
- Google – http://www.google.com/policies/terms/
- Twitter – https://twitter.com/tos
- Instagram – http://instagram.com/legal/terms/
- YouTube – http://www.youtube.com/yt/policyandsafety/policy.html
Feedback, comments and questions are welcomed below!