NEW YORK (MainStreet) – It’s increasingly rare to find an online service or a piece of software that doesn’t require you to sign off on some sort of terms of service agreement. And it’s almost as rare to find someone who actually reads the whole thing before clicking “agree.”
“They’re usually unreadable, filled with legalese, and consumers have little motivation to read the entire thing,” says Hanni Fakhoury, a staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights advocacy organization.
Unfortunately, clicking that button is legally tantamount to signing a contract. The EFF noted in a 2009 white paper that American courts have generally held such “clickwrap” agreements to be legally enforceable contracts so long as consumers are presented with the agreement and required to click or check off that they read it. (By contrast, “browsewrap” agreements, in which terms of service are simply available for viewing somewhere on a Web site, have been held to more scrutiny in courts.)
But while consumers tend to treat these agreements as mere formalities, companies use these long documents to tip the scales in their favor in various ways, indemnifying themselves against legal liabilities and getting consumers to surrender privacy and intellectual property rights.
Consumers usually aren’t given the option of negotiating the terms of the agreement: You either click “agree” or you don’t get to use the service or software. Still, if you value your rights to the point that you’re willing to forgo the use of the service in question, there are certain terms that should make you think twice about checking the “agree” box. Here are a few of the more egregious ones.