Terms and Conditions May Apply

Ever wonder what happens when you agree to the end user licence agreements (or EULAs) that you must abide by to use modern technology? This past weekend, I watched a documentary that explores the chain of events you set in motion when you click things like the “Submit” button behind Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s shoulder in the image below.

Check out the two-minute trailer here.

There’s no way I’m the only person in the world who does not read these agreements. The documentary claims that if people were to read every single set of terms and conditions attached to the technologies they use, they would spend, on average, more than 150 hours per year just reading terms and conditions.

I’ve often wondered about what I agree to when I click buttons that read “I Agree,” “Submit” and so forth, so I decided to check out several of the agreements I’ve agreed to (without really agreeing to them).

I won’t bore you with all the crazy things I’ve agreed to. Instead, I’ll list one item from just two agreements I’ve “signed” over the years that I suspect you’ve signed too. Don’t hate on the company that publishes these terms; chances are, all the other services you use also come with the same conditions.

Microsoft Services Agreement

I’m referring to the agreement as it was updated in August of 2015. Even though Microsoft made efforts to simplify it, this agreement still ranges more than 12,000 words – and hyperlinks scattered throughout the main agreement lead to even more pages of explanations.

Here’s a long paragraph on:

5. Using Third-Party Apps and Services.

Our Services may allow you to access or acquire products, services, websites, links, content, material, games or applications from third parties (companies or people who aren’t Microsoft) (“Third-Party Apps and Services”). Many of our Services also help you find Third-Party Apps and Services, and you understand that you are directing our Services to provide Third-Party Apps and Services to you. The Third-Party Apps and Services may also allow you to store Your Content or Data with the publisher, provider, or operator of the Third-Party Apps and Services. The Third-Party Apps and Services may present you with a privacy policy or require you to accept additional terms of use before you can install or use the Third-Party App or Service. See section 14(b) for additional terms for applications acquired through the Office Store, the Xbox Store or the Windows Store. You should review any additional terms and privacy policies before acquiring or using any Third-Party Apps and Services. Any additional terms do not modify any of these Terms. You are responsible for your dealings with third parties. Microsoft does not license any intellectual property to you as part of any Third-Party Apps and Services and is not responsible for information provided by third parties.

The last part of this paragraph tells me that it isn’t enough to read Microsoft’s agreement. Microsoft produces products like the Windows operating system that enable me to use products from other companies, and if I do, I need to read their agreements before using their products.

Facebook Data Privacy

The title of poster child for sketchy privacy practices seems split between Google and Facebook. That makes sense, since the masses of data their users provide forms the foundation for many of their revenue streams.

Facebook is trying to turn this around by offering members its privacy basics tool, something it announced when it updated its terms of service in January 2015.

I checked out Facebook’s privacy policy (by the way, Microsoft has one of these too). Now, it makes sense that Facebook would have access to this information, but they COLLECT (their word) this information. Here’s something I wouldn’t have thought of right away:

Device information.

We collect information from or about the computers, phones, or other devices where you install or access our Services, depending on the permissions you’ve granted. We may associate the information we collect from your different devices, which helps us provide consistent Services across your devices. Here are some examples of the device information we collect:

  • Attributes such as the operating system, hardware version, device settings, file and software names and types, battery and signal strength, and device identifiers.

  • Device locations, including specific geographic locations, such as through GPS, Bluetooth, or WiFi signals.

  • Connection information such as the name of your mobile operator or ISP, browser type, language and time zone, mobile phone number and IP address.

Device identifier. Operating system. Mobile phone number. Facebook would conceivably use some of this information (like the operating system) to serve the account holder things that the person wants, but when it gets down to a device identifier and phone number, all I can ask is: Why collect this stuff?

Concluding thoughts

There is some good news. Many companies are making the language of their agreements friendlier. Fewer companies are using sans-serif fonts, all-caps and tiny print to make these blocks of text as uninviting and difficult to read as possible.

I’m not saying any of their terms aren’t reasonable, but the sheer number of terms has gone beyond reason. Chalk it up to a litigious society, to a desire to “monetize” people’s information.

I look forward to the explanation for gathering device IDs and phone numbers.

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