Fine Print: Take three steps before you “Agree” to Terms of Service

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Inspiration.”

An inspiring reading of the opening of iTune’s user agreement:

(Or click here.)

Do you read Terms of Use before downloading apps and updates?

step6 (1)
Yep. Read every word.

If not, you’re not alone. One company hid a clause in its license agreement promising a thousand dollars to the first person to find it and contact them. Three thousand downloads and four months later, someone finally claimed the prize.

The iTunes agreement is fifty eight snoring pages long. PayPal? Longer than Romeo and Juliet. To read the fine print in privacy agreements that most of us agree to each year (forget Terms of Service Agreements, End User License Agreements and Licensing Contracts), it would take a month. So, we don’t.

Does it matter? Maybe.

What’s in there:

1. If anything goes wrong it’s not the company’s fault. 

Take WordPress, the application that hosts my blog.

Limitation of Liability. In no event will Automattic, or its suppliers or licensors, be liable with respect to any subject matter of this agreement under any contract, negligence, strict liability or other legal or equitable theory for:  …  interruption of use or loss or corruption of data …    Item 18, WordPress “Terms of Service.”

Translation: If my blog posts disappear, it’s not WordPress’s fault and they are under no obligation to recover them.

2. Definitions. Property law, statutes of limitations and other such language. For instance, as iTunes agreement explains, when you buy a song you don’t own the music any more than you own the words in The Sorcerer’s Stone. You have a right to play the music, on certain devices. That’s it.

3. Privacy Agreement. You agree to be tracked online, in exchange for whatever is on offer — template, article, software update, game. Also explains how your privacy is protected, but hackers can get into just about anything. So can the CIA.

WHAT TO DO:

Most of the language is as benign as it is mind-numbing, but to avoid losing data, getting ripped off or getting your computer gummed up with spyware, take these three steps:

(1) See if someone else has summarized/condensed the agreement in plain English. Useful resources: “ToS:DR” (Terms of Service: Didn’t Read), rates and lists key features of agreements for many companies. Here’s a summary of iTunes’ terms (a little dated, but still shows highlights). Here’s a warning that PayPal may be tricking customers. 

(2) Watch out for sites you’ve never heard of. If it’s a scam, someone has probably written about it online, so take time to research.

(3) Don’t leave your credit card number, or a large balance that can be drawn from. Don’t give out your Social Security number, ever, to anyone other than the IRS.

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Photo Credit: HubSpot at Flickr.com

Still not inspired? Take it away, South Park:

12 comments

  • Great information, thank you. Who has time to read these things? And I imagine the folks who create them are well aware of that. Some probably even take advantage of that. It seems you can’t do anything online nowadays without ‘agreeing’ to something.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Aagh! It drives me crazy when I’m forced to ‘accept terms & conditions’ before I can even step inside the door. I’m not so sure these periphrastic convolutions are legally enforceable in Europe any longer though. I recall hearing that some change in legislation was due to be implemented wherein T&C’s had to concise, clear, and if not, then were rendered invalid in law. Whether it happened yet I’m not sure. I do know that the big American corporations have to operate slightly differently in the EU from a legal perspective.

    Like

  • Good heavens, that South park skit was a gut buster. So funny, JB. And also, yep, totally scary and likely not horribly far from the truth. Seth Godin is a favorite writer of mine and once did a blog post on legalese and contract mumbo jumbo. As consumers, we deserve to have plain speak presented to protect us. I understand that ignorance is no excuse, but an attempt to purposefully confuse and muddle any attempt at clarity is unfair.
    A worthy post, indeed!

    Liked by 1 person

  • I am far enough behind on the reading I WANT to do – but I agree, I should read the EULA’s before I click yes. I love the South Park parody. The problem is that no company wants liability for something going wrong, so they write those long-winded EULA’s which few folks read – myself included, because if you don’t click agree – you can’t use the software. I recently bought a gas range and the first line in the manual states, “please read the entire manualbefore installing and operating the range. by installing and operating the range you indicate you have read and are aware of the instructions and warnings.” Shakespeare was right, in respect to lawyers. Thank you for the laugh, I needed it today.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So glad you read every word of those gas range instructions. Anyone who writes those things are full of gas. Hope they don’t blow up. Cheers! Now hope you have time to get to the reading you really want to do.

      Like

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