Terms of Service

I chose today to review the terms of service and privacy statements for four social media sites to investigate terms of services: WikiSpaces, Facebook, LinkedIn, WordPress. After a quick look at the size of the documents, and the related privacy documents, I decided to start with the WikiSpaces statement because at least I could understand it. The Wikispaces terms of service and privacy statement were surprisingly and refreshingly simple. They do not claim ownership of any content that you submit however, because of the nature of the service they have a full sub licence, royalty free, perpetual licence to use, distribute, reproduce, modify, adapt, etc. everything you submit or make available to the service. The material can be used for anything. The site is very clear about privacy and does not make any private information available to anyone. However, they will disclose private information by law, and they are an American site which means that the Patriot Act would apply. The site does collect clickstream data in log files for performance reasons and uses cookies for sessions as well as those that are persistent. I think it’s appropriate for adult students to use this site.

The next site I looked into was LinkedIn. I was surpised that it’s legal to do extensive updates to your terms of service but not have to rewrite the terms of service. They have a page of updates referencing line items in the original document so not only do you have to read a complex original document but you have to refer to the new changes on a separate page. What I determined is that you essentially own your content but they have full rights forever by licence. You can request material is deleted but have no control if someone else has used it. It has pretty much the same legal access as Wikispaces and it is also an American site but there is also part ownership in Ireland. This is a site that I would encourage my students to use because of the network of people involved in related communities of practice that they could connect with.

I moved on to FaceBook where I was surprised and maybe a little disappointed with the complexity and detail of their terms of service and privacy information. This definitely is not a site that you should request that students be members of for a course. There are a number of privacy controls but the users information is accessible through their friends and there are quite a number of third party applications that can access your information. Like the other sites Facebook has a full licence to use your content however they like, royalty free of course. I found the terms for this site the most confusing because of the amount of information. I was wishing for the simplicity of the Wikispaces terms.

Finally I moved on to WordPress – clickstream information is collected but not for performance but for ‘understanding’ how users are using the site aka marketing and they use non-identifying information in aggregate for marketing as well. The site collects personal information but doesn’t disclose it. They mention access to personal information is allowed by their staff, on a need to know basis, which made me wonder why I didn’t see this clearly stated in the other sites terms. They also mention that these staff may be located in countries other than your own and your information will be transferred to those countries but it doesn’t specify the countries. They have the typical statements that the other sites have that they don’t rent or sell your information, they disclose it for legal purposes, and they use cookies but they take the opportunity to remind users that they are in control if they want to turn cookies off on their computers but some aspects of the site may not work properly. I didn’t find any reasson not to have my learners use this site. I think it’s a valuable format for sharing information across a diverse community who may have different perspectives.

All in all this was an informative but tedious exercise that I have been putting off for a long time but glad I’ve made my way through it!

Addendum:

As part of some background research for E512 I went to sign up for an account with a social learning website “Babel” and read the terms of service more thoroughly than anything I’ve signed up for to date. I was quite uncomfortable about a couple of statements. The first was that they seem to shift more responsibility to the user for security and access. Specifically they state that the user is responsible for blocking third party applications from accessing their registration information and that the user is responsible to make sure that none of their content has any virus, worms, trojans or the like. They also make it clear that they have full rights to repackage and redistribute any content the user  uploads. This is a paid service site so I found this quite concerning because it gives the impression that the corporation can ‘steal’ from the users to repackage and format their ideas for sale to other members. I’m not sure this would happen but they’ve written it into their terms of service and I’m sure it’s not by accident. This is the first German terms of service I looked at so I wonder if this has anything to do with some of the differences.

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