Joshua Bennett | firstname.lastname@example.org | October 10, 2018
Everyone knows that when you sign up for the latest amazing web service, the website will ask for your name, username, email and password. Most people just type them in, not even thinking about what the company will do with them. People are then offered a chance to figure out exactly what will be done with their personal information, in the form of the Terms of Service. Instead of reading them, however, everyone just clicks “Agree” without thinking, not even aware of what they might have given up.
Companies can, and have, put (almost) anything they want into the terms of service. One example of this is when in 2010 one British online games retailer added the following clause to their Terms of Service:
“By placing an order via this Web site on the first day of the fourth month of the year 2010 Anno Domini, you agree to grant Us a non transferable option to claim, for now and forever more, your immortal soul. Should We wish to exercise this option, you agree to surrender your immortal soul, and any claim you may have on it, within 5 (five) working days of receiving written notification from gamesation.co.uk or one of its duly authorized minions.”
In a whole lot more words, it says that by using the website, you agree to give them your immortal soul, should they ask for it. Luckily, this was an April Fools prank (“the first day of the fourth month of the year 2010 Anno Domini” (or April 1st, 2010 for non-lawyers)).
Another, more down to earth, example is Google’s terms of service, which has the sentence “When you upload, submit, store, send or receive content to or through our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content.” Yes, that is one sentence. This means that Google can do anything they want with any information you put into any of their services.
Another section says “Our automated systems analyze your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customized search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection. This analysis occurs as the content is sent, received, and when it is stored.” Effectively, this means Google can read your email and docs. So if you email someone your personal information, to do something like, you know, converse, then Google now knows that too. Or if you store some personal details in a Google doc to remember them, Google remembers them too. Wouldn’t you say that’s bad?
I know reading through long legal documents is the last thing most sane humans want to do, but it is still a good idea so you know what you’re getting into when you sign up for FaceInstaChat or whatever the latest trend is. It would be pretty embarrassing if you posted some personal photos on a service that can sell all of your data, and these photos wound up somewhere you wish they hadn’t. I suggest you do what I do, and read the terms of service for all the services you use. You can often just skim them, because a lot of the parts are the same everywhere. If you are even lazier, you can go to https://tosdr.org and get a really fast summary of the most important parts. But for now, I hope you will be weird like me and read the terms of service before you sign away your soul.