It was widely reported some years ago, how nearly 7,500 people unknowingly sold their souls to Brit online gaming software retailer, Gamestation. As a prank, the retailer added an 'Immortal Souls' clause to the terms and conditions (T&C), legally awarding itself the 'souls' of customers who bought from it. Funny as it may seem, the prank highlights the dubious nature of the terms and conditions that we agree to, most often without actually reading them. Many reports suggest that fewer than 12% of people bother to glance through the terms and conditions.
While companies need to protect their interests given the frivolous lawsuits in vogue, you should know when terms and conditions become more than standard operating procedure and turn into ransom notes. The consumer is forced to agree to the terms in order to proceed to the next step, whether it is to use a service or install software. Consider the terms and conditions listed by one of the most popular DTH service providers in India: "We reserve the right at any time, without prior notice to you, to add or vary all or any of these terms and conditions or to replace, wholly or in part, the offers made to you or to withdraw them completely."
Take a moment to read it again. By accepting these terms, you are literally agreeing to anything and everything the service provider may ask of you, now or in the future, as long as you are availing of its services. There aren't too many ways out of the situation, other than opting for another service provider. However, needless to say, it is time you started reading the terms carefully, and more frequently. Here are some of the things that you should look for before clicking 'I accept'.
Free mobile apps
Many so-called free apps for your smartphone or tablet are supported by ads. Read through the terms—the app could be accessing your personal information, mainly to deliver targeted ads. Also, as mobile ads will be delivered whenever the app is active, it will add to your data usage at the end of the month.
Photo sharing and printing websites
You own the intellectual property rights to your photographs, but what happens if you upload them to a photo sharing website? Who owns them if you upload them to a stock photo site? Or to a photo printing website? You might be shocked to learn that several photo sharing/printing websites retain the right to use your photographs in any way they see fit in a 'perpetual and irrevocable' manner. So, check before uploading.
Sharing personal information on e-mail
Ever notice how the text ads in your e-mail inbox are creepily 'right on the money'? All the baby clothing store ads appear if you've had a baby. Camera stores materialise if you're a photographer and local restaurants pop up if you're discussing a dinner date with a friend. Targeted ads, especially those with accurate location and demographics, can earn a lot of money. By agreeing to the terms, you become the conduit.
Buying online/booking tickets
This is one area that can have a lot of ambiguity. Do manufacturer warranties apply to products bought online? What happens if there is a defect or you need to return the item? If case of airline tickets, prices are volatile and you need to read the fine print to make sure that you can return and get a refund. Many 'special fare tickets' are sold on the condition that they will not be returned/refunded.
Protecting Twitter & Facebook accounts
A rising trend points towards websites allowing you to sign in and start using their services by using your existing Twitter, Google or Facebook ID. Though you skip the registration process (which encourages more users), the website identifies its visitor and gets more information. This is officially allowed using Facebook, Google connect and Twitter sign in. However, you may find automated posts and tweets being sent on your behalf. Check the permissions you are granting the site or app before allowing access to your account. If it says 'Allow app/site to post/send tweet' or 'Grant permission to post on your behalf', cancel and run.
Have you ever thought how your name and e-mail address find their way to various websites that you have never heard of? Whenever you sign up for newsletters, to comment on an article you read, or for a community forum, your personal information can be misused. Not only could this website start sending you e-mail spam (special offers, notices), but could even sell your e-mail ID to third parties without your consent.
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