08 Gen Experts warn users to read website terms carefully before clicking ‘Accept’
The Canadian Press, January 7, 2009
It’s become a routine of signing up for email, online dating services or social networking websites: casually clicking “Accept” below several pages of dense legalese that none of us ever read. But these so-called terms-of-service agreements, which outline everything from who owns your Facebook photos to which court you’d need to fly to if you were sued, are binding contracts and shouldn’t be entered into lightly, say online privacy experts. “The public doesn’t have the time or the knowledge to work through these agreements,” says Michael Geist, who teaches Internet law at the University of Ottawa. “But yet they unquestionably set the framework for the rights that a user has if they use a website.” The issue was highlighted last month when Missouri mother Lori Drew was convicted after she created a phoney MySpace profile in a hoax that apparently drove a 13-year-old girl to suicide. The 49-year-old was essentially found guilty of conspiring to violate MySpace’s terms-of-service agreement, which forbids fake names and harassment, even though her lawyer argued that no one actually reads them. While it was an extraordinary case, it served as a reminder that running afoul of the sometimes-burdensome language inside such agreements could land users in trouble. And you might be surprised at what’s in them. Users typically retain ownership of the pictures, videos and text they post, but they often grant the sites a broad licence to use the content in pretty much any way they want. Facebook, MySpace and Google all require legal disputes – whether against users or the companies – to be fought in courts in California.