Yet when it comes to your privacy, ownership of your content, and the safety protections a site provides to users, online services are not created equal.
Most people never take the time to read the fine print, but knowing what you are agreeing to when you put a check in the acknowledgment box is actually pretty important. These terms outline the services’ rights and responsibilities, as well as your rights and responsibilities when using the site.
You may be surprised at how various services – even within the same category of service do, or do not, respect you and your rights to your own content.
The rights a service claims to your information
Grant of License to Your Content
A. You warrant and represent that you own the rights to or are otherwise authorized to post, display, perform, transmit, or otherwise distribute and sublicense the material you submit, post or display on or through the Services ("Your Content"). You retain ownership of all right, title, and interest in Your Content. However, during the course of your use of the Services, you grant [company X] a license to use and distribute Your Content. More specifically, by posting, downloading, displaying, performing, transmitting, or otherwise distributing Your Content on or through the Services, you are granting [company X], its, parent company, and their affiliates, assigns, employees, agents and licensees the nonexclusive, worldwide, royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, sublicenseable and transferrable right and license to reproduce, display, distribute, adapt, prepare derivative works of, promote and perform Your Content in any medium and through any media channel for the purpose of (a) making Your Content available on the Services, (b) conducting [company X] internal business affairs, and (c) advertising, marketing and business development purposes.
B. In addition to the rights, licenses, and privileges granted above, you agree that [company X] may use and refer to your trademarks, service marks, trade names, image, character, logos, domain names and other distinctive brand features or identification in marketing material, presentations, customer lists, website materials, and other media now known of hereafter discovered in connection with the marketing, advertising and promotion of the Services.
In short, the company has the right to use anything you place on their site; in any way they choose – including the right to identify you by name and through photos and video.
There is a reason the company has chosen to legally give themselves these rights to your information – they expect to make money off of it at some point. Whether or not you have heard of anyone whose information has been used by the company yet is irrelevant. What matters is that they have claimed this right.
It is also important to note that the terms of service for this site do not include a clause that would allow you to remove your information from the site if sometime in the future you wanted content removed.
The question to you is, are you comfortable with their owning and reusing every single thing, including your identity, you have put, or will put, on their site? If not, don’t use it. If you are comfortable, go for it. Just don’t complain later.
Companies’ terms include clear legal responsibilities if when you use their services
Username and Password
A.You must use a valid email address in order to register a username and password. When registering your username and password, you may not (1) select or use a username of another person with the intention of impersonating that person, (2) use the username of anyone else without authorization, (3) use a username in violation of the intellectual property rights of any person or entity, or (4) use a username that [company X] considers in its sole discretion as being inappropriate.
B. You are solely responsible for the use and maintenance of your username and password. You may change your password at any time. You agree to notify [company X] of any unauthorized use of your username or any other breach of security, and to ensure that you exit from your Account at the end of each session.
A.Certain Services are only available to users who have created an "Account" by completing a registration application and registering a valid username and password. You must be at least 14 years of age if you wish to create an Account. You must be at least 18 years of age and capable of forming a legally binding contract if you wish to use any fee-based Service.
Zero Tolerance Policy
A. Cyber-bullying, Cyber-stalking – using the Services to threaten a user’s reputation, earnings or employment in a deliberate and hostile manner is strictly prohibited. It is also a crime, and in addition to having your account terminated and your IP address permanently banned, you may also be criminally prosecuted.
B. Nudity and Sexually Explicit Content – using the Services to expose yourself, to broadcast a pornographic video, or to otherwise show nude or sexually explicit content is strictly prohibited. If you are, or appear to be under the age of 18, and you expose yourself using the Services, you are creating and distributing child pornography, and in addition to having your account terminated and your IP address permanently banned, you may also be criminally prosecuted.
Restrictions on Posting Content
A.You are solely responsible for all of Your Content and all content posted under your account, including, without limitation, photographs, audio files, video files, and live streaming video, as well as any communication with other members via the instant message service and internal email service.
B. You may not post or transmit, whether publicly or privately, any material that:
i. Is false, misleading, deceptive, deceitful, or constitutes "bait and switch";
ii. Employs misleading email addresses or forged headers or otherwise manipulated identifiers in order to disguise the origin of the content posted;
iii. Contains viruses, Trojan horses, worms, time bombs, cancelbots, or any other harmful programs;
iv. Harasses, threatens, or abuses another person;
v. Is libelous, defamatory, invasive of privacy or publicity rights, vulgar, obscene, profane, indecent or otherwise objectionable;
vi. Violates any applicable law restricting the export or import of data, software, or any other content, or encourages conduct that would constitute a criminal offense;
vii. Gives rise to civil liability;
viii. Advertises any illegal service or the sale of any items the sale of which is prohibited or restricted by any applicable law;
Most sites absolve themselves from monitoring behavior on their service
In addition to the problem of consumers not knowing what they have agreed to in terms of decent behavior when registering for a service, most companies fail to adequately monitor their services because they don’t want to pay for monitoring. Basically, companies say they have the right to monitor, but that they have no duty to do so.
No Duty to Monitor Content
[Company X] in its sole discretion shall have the right (but not the duty) to monitor the material posted on or through the Services including, without limitation, the content of any communication that occurs on or through the instant message service and the internal email service. [Company X] reserves the right to remove content that, in its sole judgment, does not meet its standards but [Company X] is not responsible for any failure or delay in removing such content.
This failure to monitor is what lets some users get out of hand – bullying, lying, cheating, and being generally nasty – and ruins the online experience for other users. Failing to monitor the behavior on a service increases everyone’s chances of negative experiences. Failing to monitor is particularly unfortunately on sites where users are likely to be minors as a moderator with a sharp eye and quick discipline can really help youth develop into responsible ethical users.