A guy walks into a bar with a duck under his arm and orders a drink. The bartender serves him and says, “That will be one hundred dollars.” The guy exclaims, “A hundred bucks! Why so much?” The bartender reaches under the bar, retrieves a thirty page document and replies, “There was a sign on the entrance clearly stating that by entering these premises, you agree to be bound to our terms of service. Paragraph 23 of Section 2 of Article 12 requires patrons to pay a $90 cleaning fee for bringing animals into the bar.”
As jokes go, that one wasn’t very funny. Yet most of us chuckle about the fact that we agree to terms of service contracts on an almost daily basis without ever reading them. I was commissioned by the American Water Works Association (AWWA) to study and report on the terms of service for 13 social media sites. I’ll be presenting the results during the “Creating Successful Social Media Strategies for Today, Tomorrow and the Future” session at ACE11 on 16-June in Washington, DC. While I’ll be covering lots of important aspects, there were three terms of service common to all sites that I thought deserved special attention.
1) You’re On Your Own
Every single one of these services expressly stipulates that the service is provided “as is,” with no warranties of fitness, completeness or reliability. In other words, “it may work, it may not work, you’re on your own.” This is no great shock and in the era of the Never Ending Beta, we have grown accustomed to this. But the problem is that we’ve grown so accustomed to this and the services have been so reliable that we are unprepared when things don’t work.
Takeaway: Don’t make these services part of any mission critical service.
2) You’re Liable for Security Breaches
Another common aspect of these agreements dealt with account security. The surprising twist (to me) is that many of these services require you to notify them if your account has been compromised. If you don’t notify them, you could be held liable for any damages caused by the breach.
Takeaway: Take account security seriously, don’t share passwords and keep an eye out for suspicious activity.
3) You’re the Last to Know
Similar to the first caveat, nearly every one of these services reserves the right to terminate your account for any reason, without notification. In some cases, they go so far as to say that in such a case, your content may be irretrievable. Facebook, for example, has been in the news quite frequently recently for suspending accounts for a whole host of reasons (including having a name they don’t like). Although Facebook is notoriously slow at resolving these issues, they generally get resolved without further harm. Nonetheless, there’s no shortage of other services shutting down suddenly and without notice.
Takeaway: Have a solid backup plan.
I’ll be sharing more insights from this research with my newsletter subscribers, so sign up if you haven’t already!