To read the rest of the story, you must agree to our

terms of service.

Hmmm, have you considered what you are agreeing to?

  1. Once you agree to the terms of service for a site, you have agreed to whatever the service provider has included in those terms.

  2. You can be sure that those terms have been written by lawyers to withstand legal scrutiny. It's like signing a contract that you don't actually get to negotiate.

  3. Facebook's terms of service and data policy alone are almost 7,500 words long including headers. When you sign up for Facebook, you agree, among many other things:

    • To only provide accurate information about yourself;
    • That while you own content you upload you also "grant [Facebook] a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free and worldwide licence to host, use, distribute, modify, run, copy, publicly perform or display, translate and create derivative works of your content (consistent with your privacy and application settings)"; and
    • To give Facebook the right to "use your name and profile picture and information about actions that you have taken on Facebook next to or in connection with ads, offers and other sponsored content that we display across our products, without any compensation to you."

      The company's data policy notes that:

    • The company collects data on pretty much everything you do on Facebook and other platforms it owns such as Instagram; and
    • It retains detailed information on the device you use to access Facebook, incuding operating system, device IDs and identifiers, information about nearby wi-fi access points, your location if you have location tracking turned on, your time zone, mobile phone number, and browser language.

    All of this helps Facebook personalize what you see, including targeted ads, to test and improve Facebook's products, and "help advertisiers and other partners measure the effectiveness and distribution of their ads and services, and understand the types of people who use their services and how people interact with their websites."

  4. Google's terms of service require you to provide it a similar worldwide license to use your content and provide you with a limited license to use its software and products. Its privacy policy notes, among other things, that when you are not signed in to your Google account, basic information on your browser, application or device are kept and when you are logged in, information is tied to your account. The company stores infomation on such things as:

    • The search terms you use, videos you watch on YouTube, how you view and interact with Google content and ads, your voice when you use audio features, the people "with you you communicate or share content"; and
    • Your location, through such means as GPS, your IP address, "sensor data from your device" and "information about things near your device, such as wi-fi acess ponts, cell towers and Bluetooth-enabled devices."

    All of this is used to provide, maintain and improve Google services, the company says, as well as target you for advertising. Google helpfully advises uses not to use its services on mobile phones such as "to distract you and prevents you from obeying traffic or safety laws."

  5. Both Facebook and Google provide users with controls over some of the ways their information is used, in their respective settings.

  6. Allowing data collection and use is the price of getting these services for free.

  7. If you open an account on a freemium or paid site, then you are more directly the customer. By paying a monthly or annual subsription fee, you pay for the service you are getting. Such sites also have terms of service, but you are less likely to be agreeing to the collection and use of your data for commercial ends.

  8. You get what you pay for. It's just the currency you pay in that's different. Money. Or data on you and your interactions.

  9. Few people likely read these documents, which can get quite long. Maybe they should.

The information about policies above is current to May 31, 2018.

No account for you, but no data tracking either

  1. When you decline the terms of service for a web site or social media service, you will not be able to sign up for an account or use the service.

  2. On the other hand, you will also not have your information collected, your location tracked or your interactions logged.

  3. Put simply, the company needs your data, your information. That's the business model. If you don't agree to have yourself sold to advertisers as an audience, then the site isn't interested in you.

  4. This is the fundamental bargain that users of social media and other sites make.

Terms of Service

  1. Well, actually, these aren't really terms of service. In fact, this little web application is the story. So, don't worry, we won't bind you to anything.

  2. While there are no firm figures, it's likely most people signing up for social media or information sites never actually read the terms of service. So you're doing better than most.

  3. You don't actually have to read the terms of service to be bound by them. The fact you click "Agree" or "Create Account" is legally enough to bind you.

  4. When you agree to the terms of service you are entering into a contract with the service provider. It lays out the terms by which you receive service, such as the ability to connect with others by posting content to the site, and what the service provider gets to do in return.

  5. For Facebook, Google, Twitter and others, the main thing you agree to give them is data, information about what you post, what you do and with whom you interact.

  6. Every click, every post and every like is recorded.

  7. The companies use the data to target you with content and ads to which they think you will respond. It's a tremendously lucrative business, especially for the most successful services.

  8. If you are getting the service for free, the companies have to make their money some other way. And that's most easily done by selling you, to advertisers.

  9. If you refuse to agree, you don't get to create an account.

  10. Some see that as a rather one-sided deal.