Most of us never read the terms of service of any website or software product. If absolutely necessary, we scroll to the bottom and click agree and off we go to use the software or browse the site. Until now, I was one of those individuals. This time I decided to read the terms of service for those organizations that sent me a notice as well as some that I just randomly selected because once I started I found it hard to stop. I was curious. What have we been missing? Are the secrets of the universe contained within the terms of service? Have we been missing important information that could impact those organizations that we represent? What I found was quite surprising.
Note that for the purpose of this article, I have not included any opinions or information from the privacy policies. I will save that for a separate article.
The Windows terms of service did not contain any surprising news. It was pretty much what I think we all expect from a “terms” document from a large monopoly in that one can almost picture the room full of lawyers who were engaged in its production. It refers throughout to “other” terms that may apply, although there really is no trail to those other terms. There is a very confusing section pertaining to remote access that I reread about 15 times and still could not understand what it was that they were trying to say. Not surprisingly, the user consents to the “transmission of certain information” during use. One can only surmise what “certain” information is transmitted. Overall, this one supports the claim that terms of service are difficult to read and understand and are there strictly for the advantage of the producer.
If you look closely at Facebook’s terms of service, you will notice that the link states “old policy.” It’s not. Here is the link to the old policy. You will note that the link to the old policy states “new policy.” It boggles the mind. Nonetheless, one has to at least commend Facebook for evolving. The new policy is not really that easy to find as all searches point to the old policy, I suspect this is because someone, somewhere, mixed up the website addresses. It couldn’t possibly be intentional, could it?
The old policy is quite funny because it begins by stating how important our privacy is to them. Walk the walk, Facebook, walk the walk. That said, it’s not a horrible document. It’s not difficult to follow and there really isn’t anything contained in the document that isn’t common sense. Rather than referencing “other” terms there are links at the end of the document.
Salesforce.com is a cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM) platform. I mention it because most of my friends and colleagues who work in an account management capacity seem to use this particular tool. Second to Facebook, this was my least favorite in terms of putting all accountability into the hands of the user. First of all, they blatantly state that the user should have no expectation of privacy. They also state that at any time they can choose to charge a fee and that they have the right to reproduce, store, copy, transmit, broadcast, modify, exhibit, etc…etc.. any content that you post. BUT, if you choose to communicate with them, THAT will be kept confidential. Nice. They state that they will not bother listing the things people should not do on their site, but then they go on to state that if you do something they decide you should not have done, then you will be liable. I’m seriously not making this stuff up.
Should we bother reading terms of service?
Overall, including the terms of service documents referenced above, I read roughly a dozen documents from as many companies. I found that most were not the scary confusing legal speak documents that I was expecting. In the case of Netflix, I even learned some useful technical information. In the case of Google, it actually made me feel more comfortable with that product. Although there were a few that I did find rather onesided, I now understand that being aware of the content is not only extremely important from an enterprise perspective but will in the future be a measurement that I include when selecting a vendor or a product. In addition, from this point forward I will be including familiarity with terms of service documents as a project task for the entire team. Terms of service should not be something to fear and avoid. It should be a proactive factor in your decision process, not a reaction to a challenging experience.
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