13 things you didn't read in the terms and conditions for popular websites

Updated July 11, 2018

The website Terms of Service; Didn’t Read calls the statement “I have read and agree to the terms” the “biggest lie on the web,” and even in a cyberspace awash with magic “skinny pills” and “weird tricks that doctors don’t want you to know,” they’re probably 100 percent right. Nobody has the time to plough through 50-plus pages of legalese before you start using an everyday service like iTunes, and most don’t have the expertise to really even know what these things mean anyway. And companies know it, which is probably why many websites keep the terms so long and complicated in the first place. So we just agree, without so much as trying to read it. Is this a mistake? What are we really consenting to when we accept the new Facebook terms and conditions? Here are some of the many things you didn’t read before you agreed to them.

\#1 – Tons of websites own the content you post there

Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, Delicious, TwitPic, Google, 500px and Couchsurfing, undoubtedly among many others, either effectively own the content you provide them with or have wide-reaching copyright rules that go beyond what’s needed for them to operate their service. For instance, Facebook can transfer the copyright license for your content or license it to others under their terms, and unless your content is deleted by everybody else too, they keep the license even if you stop using the site. YouTube is similar, and can use content without limitations to promote their service. On TwitPic, their partners can use your content without even giving you credit; they effectively own it.

When you try to be an ethical consumer and actually purchase something from somewhere like iTunes rather than illicitly downloading it, you still really don’t own the content. You’re basically buying a right to listen to music or watch a movie, but not the actual product. The same goes on Steam – you don’t really own your games. On iTunes, it gets a little more mean, since their terms and conditions state, “Products may be downloaded only once and cannot be replaced if lost for any reason. Once a Product is downloaded, it is your responsibility not to lose, destroy, or damage it.” In other words: if you lose the data on your hard drive with your paid-for music collection, you can’t re-download it, it must be bought again.

Related: CNN: What you should know about iTunes' 56-page legal terms

Streaming service Spotify doesn’t really care if you’re happy with the quality of service you receive: their terms and conditions state that if it doesn’t meet your expectations, you still pay. Even if the software is too buggy for you to use, they offer no help, instead just advising you to uninstall it.

\#4 – Netflix accepts no liability for improper access to your information

Netflix argues that because no security can be completely and utterly secure, they aren’t responsible for any improper access to your information. This amounts to saying, “we’ll keep information on you, but it’s not our fault if we don’t adequately protect it.” It doesn’t mean your data will be improperly accessed, but it hardly builds confidence.

\#5 – Some sites don’t tell you if they share your personal information

Sites including Spotify, Grammarly and Netflix won’t even notify you if there’s a government request to disclose your personal information. As well as government requests, Netflix is happy to disclose your info (and not tell you) if they believe in good faith that it’s necessary to protect your rights or theirs, as is Grammarly. Netflix also reserves the right to disclose information to “detect, prevent, or otherwise address illegal or suspected illegal activities, security or technical issues.” It goes without saying that detecting and preventing security and technical issues is an ongoing job.

\#6 – Deleting your YouTube videos doesn’t really delete them

YouTube claims the right to retain – but not display or distribute – copies of your content, even if you’ve deleted it. Similarly, images you delete from Twitpic aren’t really deleted. Closing your account might not make a different to copyrights on content either – on both Twitter and Google services, deleting your account doesn’t remove their rights to your content.

\#7 – You can’t use pseudonyms on Facebook

Facebook requires you to use your legal name, meaning you can’t operate an account under a pseudonym or pen name. This is particularly problematic for people living in countries with limitations on freedom of expression, although how well this policy is really enforced is debatable.

Related: The Verge: Facebook's fake-name fight grows as users skirt the rules

\#8 – Google keeps your searches and other information indefinitely

Google stores a lot of information, on yourself, the Google ads you click and the stuff you search for, but previously stated that IP addresses were made anonymous after 9 months and cookies were after 18 months. These time limits are now gone from the terms and conditions, meaning they keep your identifying information indefinitely.

\#9 – You can’t delete your Skype account

On Skype, it’s impossible to delete your account – if you have one, you’ll pretty much always have it. The same goes for Gravatar, where you grant a perpetual right for them to perform their service, and you must have an email address tied to your username. Additionally, Delicious “may retain an archived copy [of your account] for legitimate business purposes.”

Spotify, Netflix, GitHub, Couchsurfing, Valve (Steam) and 500px can all simply delete your account for pretty much any reason, or in some cases even no reason. In the same way, Google can stop providing services to you, with no notice or explanation as to why.

\#11 – YouTube can remove your content at any time, without notice

YouTube can basically remove any content they deem to be in violation of the terms of service, which isn’t limited to copyright infringement or sexually explicit content – even content that’s simply about pornography or obscenity can be removed, and you don’t have to be notified. In the same way, Apple can also delete your iCloud data if they deem it inappropriate or “objectionable.”

\#12 – Facebook automatically shares your data unless you opt-out

Opting into sharing makes more sense than opting out, but with their in-no-way-terrifying goal of creating a “more open world,” Facebook take it upon themselves to automatically share your information with sites including Bing, TripAdvisor, Scribd, Rotten Tomatoes and Yelp, unless you manually opt-out.

\#13 – Some sites change their terms without telling you

So we’ve all agreed to some pretty underhanded stuff that’s buried in a nigh-unreadable wall of text, but the worst part is that some sites – like Netflix, Couchsurfing and GitHub – update things without even telling you about it, taking your continued use of the site as acceptance. For GitHub, any changes to the privacy policy will be notified, but you won’t get any advance warning.

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

Lee Johnson has written for various publications and websites since 2005, covering science, music and a wide range of topics. He studies physics at the Open University, with a particular interest in quantum physics and cosmology. He's based in the UK and drinks too much tea.