Terms and Conditions

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Every time you sign up for a service – online or otherwise – you need to agree to their Terms and Conditions (T&C), also known as Terms of Service or Terms of Use. 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 about 200 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 are the rules set up to protect you, the user, so that people continue to use the service.

Example: Facebook and Instagram policies 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/Instagram 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.
  • 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 they use 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.

This one is very important to non-US citizens because the PATRIOT ACT in the US allows their government to access data with limited restrictions when stored on their soil, and regardless of the nationality of the user.

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. 

This one essentially says you own the material, so Google can’t turn around and sell the song you posted on YouTube BUT they can use the video of the song anywhere they like to collect revenue off of ads on that site, and you cannot revoke their rights to do so.

How am I paying for these services?

Something to keep in mind – social services and some apps 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.

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/followers.

In additional to data you have provided to the company, a service or app also has access to:

  • Your actions. A log of every ‘Like’, content of every status, photos you post, and links you’ve clicked within the service.
  • 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.  Your interested based on the types of links you typically click on or the potential connections you have with people based on common friends.

If you were to see your ‘personal file’ kept by any service you use, it would hold a lot more than you imagine.

T&C agree

Are we signing away our lives each time we click that little button?

It’s a value proposition. Ask yourself if your data is worth what the service is offering. I use a grocery store points system. The membership card I scan ensures that the grocery store knows exactly what I have purchased from them. In return, I have earned hundreds of dollars in points. To me, the trade off is worth it. This said, I wouldn’t trade my location for a free fitness app, or my contacts to install a free game. If a service or app is not charging you money then they are charging you with use of your data and you should think twice about installing or using it.

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. If nothing else, visit this site:

For a full set of rules and policies, try the following links:

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