Everyday in the news we read or hear about privacy on the Internet.  On any given day, someone files a lawsuit against Facebook, YouTube, Google, LinkedIn, Second Life, Pinterest, or some other social networking site.  And almost always, the lawsuit is in some way connected to the interpretation of, enforcement of, and/or coverage of the site’s Terms of Use.  Everyone talks about Terms of Use (sometimes called Terms of Service), but few know what they are or understand their importance.
This blog post is the first in a series of 4, which focuses on Terms of Use (TOU).  Here we will identify some important things you should know about them:

Terms of Use

Terms of Use

  1. Terms of Use do not exist to protect your rights – Contrary to popular belief, TOU are not there for your benefit. Whether on a website, a blog, or a social networking venue site, TOU are not designed to protect you and your rights. They are there purely for the benefit of the website owner or Internet service provider.
  2. User gives away a lot. When you click on “accept” you give away many personal rights.  You should at least read the TOU, so you are aware what rights you are relinquishing or affirmatively giving away.
  3. TOU should be read & understood.  Sometimes because of government pressure, customer insurgence, or just a change in heart, social networking sites modify their TOU.  While the law may require that they notify you of such changes, it’s up to you to read the notices when you receive them.  Reading the TOU keeps you aware of the changes that impact you and your rights.
  4. Courts uphold TOU – More and more courts are upholding TOU, much to the surprise of many Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking users.  So long as the TOU adhere to a number of requirements set forth by the court, the website owner gets a free pass. With that in mind, it’s up to you to protect yourself and your pocketbook.
  5. They create a binding & enforceable contract. Many of the sites never expressly state that when you accept TOU you enter into a contractual relationship. There are a few, however, such as Twitter and LinkedIn, which come right out and tell you by accepting their terms, you enter into a binding Agreement, and when  you “ACCEPT”, you agree to be bound. Here is an example of language from Twitter’s TOU:

It’s a Binding & Enforceable Contract

“…  Your access to and use of [Twitter’s] Services is conditioned on your acceptance of and compliance with these Terms. By accessing or using the Services you agree to be bound by these Terms….”  “You may use the Services only if you can form a binding contract with Twitter and are not a person barred from receiving services under the laws of the United States or other applicable jurisdiction. …”

Okay that’s it for today.  Our world is quickly changing, but contract law is still contract law. And as long as you adhere to the simple rules, you’ll not get into trouble.
Next time we’ll examine select social media TOU provisions, and discover how reading between the lines can keep you out of trouble.
Until next time, I’m Attorney Francine Ward helping you protect what’s yours. Feel free to join the conversation on my Facebook Fan Page; also check out a short video on this topic on my website.

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