You skip over them all the time, those electronic hurdles standing between you and your favorite websites and apps: user agreements.
That said, those agreements can contain some surprising traps. Here are asome examples that have come to light recently.
If you “like” us, you can’t sue us.
“In exchange for the benefits, discounts, content, features, services, or other offerings that you receive or have access to by using our websites, joining our sites as a member, joining our online community, subscribing to our email newsletters, downloading or printing a digital coupon, entering a sweepstakes or contest, redeeming a promotional offer, or otherwise participating in any other General Mills offering, you are agreeing to these terms.” (emphasis added).
Some analysts read this to mean that anyone who even “liked” the brand on Facebook would be subject to the terms. Less than a week later, General Mills reversed its position, removing not just the offending language but the entire mandatory arbitration clause. Though the company stated that at “no time was anyone ever precluded from suing us by…liking one of our Facebook pages,” the company (wisely) decided it was better just to end the controversy.
Your name and face will appear in advertisements and reviews on the Internet.
Still, other companies have included similar clauses in their policies, including Google. Google’s current terms of service includes the following clause:
“If you have a Google Account, we may display your Profile name, Profile photo, and actions you take on Google or on third-party applications connected to your Google Account (such as +1’s, reviews you write and comments you post) in our Services, including displaying in ads and other commercial contexts. We will respect the choices you make to limit sharing or visibility settings in your Google Account. For example, you can choose your settings so your name and photo do not appear in an ad.”
Although Google says that you can “choose your settings,” the burden is on you — the policy requires you to opt-out if you do not want your name and photos to appear in commercial advertisements.
You agree that you will not write a negative review…or we’ll sue.
Though rare, companies have included terms in their policies that subject users to fines or liability when writing a negative review about the company. In 2008, a user who wrote a negative review on KlearGear.com received an email from the company stating that she had to pay a $3,500 fine if she did not take down the review. The company argued that the user accepted this policy when she agreed to the following term: “Your acceptance of this sales contract prohibits you from taking any action that negatively impacts KlearGear.com.” Though several analysts recognize that the $3,500 penalty would not be upheld in court , this does not stop some companies from including the language in their contracts and forcing users to resolve the dispute in court.
BONUS: If you read this term, we will send you $1,000.
Recognizing how rarely people read the fine print of user agreements, a company called PC Pitstop once buried a term that promised $1,000 to the first user who found the language and emailed the company. After 3,000 software downloads and more than four months, a user finally found the term and got the promised reward.
We often tend to skim over long user agreements, but they are in fact legal contracts that bind you regardless of whether you actually read them. Remember that the next time you’re tempted to skip the reading!