6 Terrifying User Agreements You've Probably Accepted
How many user agreements have you clicked through in your life without reading them? We're going to guess it's one for every single piece of software you've ever used, and every gadget, and Lord knows what else. You've probably signed off on thousands of pages of dense, unread legal jargon in your life. Well, guess what, you've all but signed away your soul.
We're not saying that the below companies intend to screw you over. All we're saying is that their legal teams have gone to great lengths to reserve the right to ... and to make sure you can't do a damned thing about it.
For example ...
If They Host Your Photo, They Also Own It
So you just had a great weekend with your friends, and you decide to upload the pictures to your Flickr, Twitpic, Instagram and other sites that allow instantaneous uploading and incessant Internet exhibitionism. Who wouldn't? That's what's so great about social networking. It's the perfect way to share your precious memories with only those friends and family members you deem close enou- holy shit, how did your face end up in a penis enlargement ad?
"I don't remember having tits, but thanks to Xanax that means next to nothing."
Because you didn't read the terms of service you agreed to when you joined those sites, that's how.
What You Agreed To:
At some point (most likely the second the idea of social networking popped into someone's head), it was noted that people's personal photos amounted to a virtually unlimited supply of content that could be exploited by advertisers. As a result, pretty much every social network has a clause written into their user agreements that allows them to use your pictures for commercial purposes.
"We know this is shocking, ma'am, but you did click 'Agree'."
Specifically, the stipulations you agreed to state that you're granting these companies "worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce or distribute" your private photos. But they do make it a point to clarify that you still own anything you upload. Of course, that doesn't mean you're going to see a dime when they use that picture of you on the beach last summer in one of those "Obey this one rule for a flat stomach!" ads (and not in the good way, Flabby). But still, you totally own that picture. Meaning they won't sue you if you use it elsewhere. See? What are you worried about?
"We'll even let you have a half share in the mineral rights to your bones."
And after all, just deleting your photos off the respective sites should take care of the privacy and copyright issues, right? Well ... not exactly. There's also a section in those user agreements that states they can keep the rights to those removed images until a commercially reasonable time has passed.
But remember, you always have choices. You could decide to just not use these services. But then how will everyone know what the food you just ate looked like?
"Trust me, babe. No other living soul will see those pictures you sent me, unless they work at Facebook."
You Don't Own What You Bought
If there is one thing everyone knows about buying games, music and movies online, it's that we're basically doing the entertainment industry a favor by paying for that shit at all. We could just as easily download whatever we want for free, with minimal fear of legal repercussions.
"Eat a dick, global copyright laws. I'm a literate human being with Internet access."
And, if there is one thing everyone knows about buying things in general, it's that once you pay, you own it. That's what "purchasing" means. It's not like some car that you fail to make payments on -- they can't come and repossess your purchases just because they changed their mind.
Well, not so fast. You should probably do a little more reading when that user agreement at your favorite online store pops up.
"Well, can't read this while eating." -- Everyone
What You Agreed To:
In a nutshell, a lot of these sites have a section in their terms that says they reserve the right to change, suspend or fully remove any product or content that they choose. And they don't mean remove it from their site so nobody else can buy it; they mean remove it from the device you downloaded the file to, never to be seen again. Like if one day Bruce Willis strolled into your house and grabbed all of your Die Hard DVDs and then smashed his way out through your window.
"Yippie-ki-yay, paying customer."
What many people don't realize about buying digital files online is that you aren't really buying the file; you're just buying a license to use it. Such as video games. The wording from the Steam download services says that paying full price for a game grants ...
"... a limited, terminable, non-exclusive license and right to use the Software for your personal use in accordance with this Agreement and the Subscription Terms. The Software is licensed, not sold. Your license confers no title or ownership in the Software."
So you aren't buying Rage. You're buying a Rage license.
That wording is standard -- you find the same in competing download services like EA Origin. If you are playing a game that requires access to the service and they decide to ban you from using it, your ability to play that game is gone and they don't have to offer a refund (or as they put it, "No refund will be granted, no Entitlements will be credited to you or converted to cash or other forms of reimbursement, and you will have no further access to your Account or Entitlements associated with your Account or the particular EA Service").
OK, but these are games that have multiplayer elements or other features that require the online service to work. Maybe it's just that they can't ban you from the service without disabling your game, so the disabling of the game is just a side effect they can't avoid. But surely that's not the case with, say, e-books, right?
"You give up the rights to one testicle per 100,000 words."
Yep. In one recent case, a man had his entire Amazon Kindle library deleted. And for what crime, you ask? Simply because Amazon suspected that a third party may have unlawfully accessed his account. Unfortunately, that man had been a customer for eight years and had spent hundreds of dollars on Kindle books (that he also took the time to highlight and add notes to) that were now gone. Oh, and for good measure, they deleted his entire Amazon account as well, which in turn deleted his purchase history, wish list and shipping addresses. Not to mention any sassy reviews he might have posted for products he didn't like.
Kindle users were equally surprised when they found that Amazon had remotely zapped their copies of George Orwell's 1984 after Amazon decided that they had been sold by mistake. Remember when that sort of thing was the company's problem, and that all they could do was, you know, stop selling them? Not any more!
It's like something out of that one book, what's it called? Eat, Pray, Love!
Of course, don't take this warning to mean that we're endorsing the idea of you ever leaving the house to buy things again. We're just saying be careful who you share your stuff with.
They Can Turn Your Device into an Expensive Brick
We've gotten spoiled by personal computers; they'll do pretty much any damned thing you tell them to do, that's the whole fun of having one. With a PC, fiddle with the code a bit and you can play a version of Skyrim where all of the characters are nude (Google it!). Computers are like cars -- you're free to customize and tweak to your heart's content. So when smartphones came along, the geekier ones among us wanted to do the same thing -- get creative and customize them in some way the manufacturer could never have imagined.
"What this needs is a dick."
With phones, the practice is often referred to as jailbreaking, and a ruling by the U.S. copyright regulators made doing it perfectly legal. But much like Rollerblading or wearing skinny jeans, the fact that it's legal doesn't make it a great idea.
What You Agreed To:
Most companies have paragraphs in their terms of service that say you promise not to mess with the software. If they find out you did, you have effectively given them the right to unleash hell.
"We've got another jailbroken iPhone. Send a team out to shatter his pelvis."
For instance, Nintendo, after realizing people were installing software to pirate games on the Wii, released an update that would brick the system upon installation. Microsoft, meanwhile, will merely permanently ban your console from connecting to the Internet if it finds any modifications done to the system. Now, not only can you not use any of your multiplayer games or the XBox Live download service (which is most of the machine's functionality these days), but you'll be forced to go around the neighborhood and pay 12-year-old kids to scream racial slurs at you in person.
You'll find almost identical "We can remotely kill your gadget" clauses in everything from e-readers to smartphones to portable gaming systems. It's kind of like if every car came with a device that, if it ever detected you speeding, would eject the engine through the hood.
"Finally, the streets are safe!"
Hey, speaking of intrusive car monitoring ...
OnStar Is Narcing You Out
OnStar is that incredibly convenient product many drivers would literally be lost without. Its automatic crash-response system, stolen vehicle tracking and roadside assistance are just some of the features that make this system so popular. In fact, they field over 15,000 lifesaving calls per year. They're like guardian angels of the highway. So what could they possibly be doing that's so terrible?
"Global domination? We'd rather use the term 'global coverage'."
How about the fact that it's legally spying on everything you do? And it's a damned tattletale.
What You Agreed To:
First of all, just for OnStar to do what it advertises, it has to include a machine inside your car that tracks your every move. It knows where you're going, how fast you got there and can, at an instant, connect you to someone who can relay all of this back to you. In the hands of a less trustworthy company, it could amount to installing a slightly more helpful version of Big Brother right in your car's rearview mirror.
"If you want to see the future of humanity, imagine a bored woman at a desk tallying up every time you fart in traffic. Forever."
There's also a fine chance that, much like the GPS company TomTom, they could receive a subpoena ordering them to release your data to the police. And since we're talking about technology that can basically record everything you do and say inside your vehicle, OnStar offers so much more information than your typical GPS. In other words, if you're fleeing from justice, don't do it in a newer vehicle.
"No, sir, I'm afraid we don't have any models without the spying feature."
And all of that terrible stuff is just covered in the first update to their terms of service. Things get even more police-state-like with the second update. See, even if you decide that having a set of eyes monitoring you from inside your vehicle and waiting to tell the feds every time you send a text message at a red light is more than you're willing to put up with, it might be too late to do anything about it. Because that second update basically states that, even if you cancel your OnStar service, they'll still probably go ahead and keep watching you.
A forensic scientist recently canceled the service and found it extremely difficult to sever the data link between his vehicle and the OnStar headquarters. And that guy is a scientist! Regular people would probably have better luck just driving their car straight off a cliff than trying to figure that shit out.
So before you click "I Agree," make sure you've got nothing to hide. Because you are being watched.
iTunes Knows Who You Are and What You're Doing
Buying Apple products does feel a little like ass-to-mouth sometimes.
So let's boil it down for you: Apple can use iTunes to watch you. All the time.
What You Agreed To:
It's called geo tracking, and it means that, once you agree, Apple is able to see your precise location. Basically, the location data your phone has been storing is sent to a hidden database file and syncs it to your computer whenever you connect your phone. This means that somewhere hidden on your computer is a log of everywhere you've been with a longitude/latitude coordinate and a time stamp. Probably two of them, if you're dating a crazy person. Officially, Apple says that the purpose is to "improve our services, content and advertising," but godDAMN it's eerie.
If for some reason you object to a company demanding to know where you are every second of the day in exchange for nothing more than the right to buy (oops, we mean license) Coldplay songs for $1.29 a pop, no problem. It just means you can't ever use the iTunes Store.
Even turning the built-in GPS off probably won't help matters, because Apple's terms never explicitly state that they'll stop tracking you once the GPS is turned off. And it's been proven that they don't.
"IOS will never be able to read Flash, or your fucks."
What if you don't own an Apple handheld, but you just like iTunes for your music? Bad news: They're still watching you. The service agreement overtly states that iTunes takes data from your device or computer. So even if you don't have a handheld device of theirs tracking your every move, they can still see where you are when you're using your computer.
Of course, they're only sharing this info with their "Partners and Licensees." That narrows the list down to just about anyone who wants to be a part of Apple's affiliate program. So rest easy knowing that your data is only potentially being shared with damn near every company on the planet.
Oh, quit whining. It's not like you were using your private location data anyway.
You're Almost Always Giving Up Your Right to Sue
Have you ever gotten so pissed off at the way a company was jerking you around that you just wanted to sue them for every penny they're worth? Of course you have. That's what the justice system is for, to help you get sweet vengeance when you've been wronged. The courts level the playing field between us regular Joes and the boardrooms full of millionaires who would screw us 24 hours a day if they could get away with it.
"If we lube their whole bodies up, we'll see a 30 to 70 percent bump in violation efficiency."
And that's why the aforementioned millionaires have gotten you to sign away your right to sue.
What You Agreed To:
Damn near every user agreement now includes a clause about arbitration. In short, this means that in exchange for using any given service, you agree not to sue should a dispute arise. Instead, your case will be taken in front of an arbitrator who will listen to both sides, one of which will include a team of high-powered lawyers. The other side, of course, will just include you. But on the bright side, you'll finally get a chance to put everything you learned from years of watching Matlock into action.
Sadly, no amount of training can mimic those eyebrows.
And this isn't some fine-print thing, either. It's very clearly laid out on your agreement page. Usually it will be something simple, along the lines of "You agree that, by entering into this Agreement, you and _____ are each waiving the right to a trial by jury or to participate in a class action."
Netflix, for example, was getting sued out the ass, so why not update the terms and take away people's right to do it? And remember when the PlayStation Network got hacked? Sony remembers. That made a lot of people mad -- mad enough to go to court. That's why they changed their terms to prevent your disputes from ending up there.
"We haven't heard any complaints about the new rules. I'm sorry, did I say 'heard'? I meant 'listened to'."
You will find similar terms in the online contracts of PayPal, eBay, most cellphone contrac- you know what? Just assume it's every company.
Again, we're not saying these companies are going to screw you. They've just made sure that, legally, they can if they ever feel like it.
Erik Germ is the owner of hugefrigginarms.com and would love for you to follow him on Twitter.
For more companies that got screwed before they starting screwing you, check out 6 Global Corporations Started by Their Founder's Shitty Luck. Or learn about the ones that just decided to screw everyone in 6 Companies That Rigged The Game (And Changed the World).
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