I Have (Not) Read the Terms of Service
Remember opting in to that psychology experiment Facebook performed in early 2012? Well you did, according to their terms of service.
In January 2012, Facebook manipulated the news feed posts of approximately 700,000 users to highlight either negative or positive emotions, to see if this would influence those users’ moods and status updates. After publishing the results last week, Facebook claimed that their terms of service (which all Facebook users must agree to) include the right to use any data they collect for research.
Based on the immediate reaction that this caused, this was news to many Facebook users. Considering the terms of service would take at least 2 hours to speed-read (go on, try it), it’s doubtful many people caught that sentence nestled in the middle of the Data Usage Policy.
Facebook’s “research” clause is probably going to enter a long list of online TOS mishaps – here’s some of the highlights:
Instagram – In late 2012, Instagram attempted to add the following language to their TOS: “You agree that a business may pay Instagram to display your photos in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions without any compensation to you.”
Backlash against what was seen as Instagram selling users’ photos was immediate, and Instagram was forced to publish a clarification less than a week later (which included removing the clause from their TOS).
General Mills – In April 2014, the New York Times reported that an update to the General Mills TOS included a clause that “interacting” with the brand online would forfeit your right to sue. This included downloading coupons or posting to their Facebook page.
To make matters worse, after contacting them for the story, General Mills further implied that simply purchasing a General Mills product would bind consumers to the TOS. It took less than 2 days after the Times published the story for General Mills to revert their terms back.
Facebook: Naturally, this isn’t the first time Facebook has had issues with their TOS. One of their first large settlements came from their “Beacon” service, which has been defunct since late 2009.
Even after logging out of Facebook, users’ data (including purchase info) from Fandango, eBay, Overstock.com, and other sites were collected and used in advertising by Facebook. Even after introducing an opt-out feature in December 2007, users found it hard to find.
Despite users technically “agreeing” to the service by signing up for a Facebook account, Facebook lost a class-action suit and as a result, has since had to explicitly ask permission from users before collecting their information from 3rd party sites.
Finally, here’s a happy note to end on – in 2005, a company called PC Pitstop added a clause to their TOS offering “financial compensation... to a limited number of authorized licensees.” It took 5 months – and 3000 customers – before someone called in to claim their $1000 prize for actually reading it. But at least someone did!