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Let those who worship evil’s might / Fear my legal team

Let those who worship evil’s might / Fear my legal team published on 1 Comment on Let those who worship evil’s might / Fear my legal team

First posted on ReadWriteWeb

If the minions of Satan ever want to seize your soul, they don’t have to trick you into signing it away in exchange for untold wealth, fame or a sneak peak at Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception.

All they have to do is tuck a provision into the iTunes user agreement. Something like “The Licensed Application and related documentation are ‘Commercial Items’, as that term is defined at 48 C.F.R. §2.101, consisting of ‘Commercial Computer Software’ and ‘Commercial Computer Software Documentation’, as such terms are used in 48 C.F.R. §12.212 or 48 C.F.R. §227.7202, as applicable. You further agree that your immortal soul, and all derivative works thereof, are the sole property of the Dark Lord.”

(Facebook would work, too. But iTunes has achieved special notoriety because its terms and conditions are extraordinarily long. Not excessively long, according to a CNN analysis. But long enough to occupy a pretty big chunk of Richard Dreyfuss’s time.)

But you know what? That’s how it ought to be. User agreements should be interminable, impenetrable and indecipherable, because:

  • The online economy is the only one that actually seems to be working at the moment.
  • The legal and business environment most online companies operate in demands that they impose outrageously sweeping conditions on users.
  • If we knew just how much of our freedom, privacy and personal autonomy we were surrendering, we might opt out. And at the very least, it would depress the hell out of us.

It would be the height of irresponsibility for companies to come clean with users about just how draconian those terms of service are. They would threaten both the fragile economy and the even-more-fragile public mood.

So it’s our economic and social duty not to read too closely. Instead, scroll down as quickly as you can, click “I Agree” and enjoy that brief whiff of brimstone.

When I first wrote the caption for this cartoon, it read Repeat after me: “In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight, subject to the terms and conditions in the attached user agreement.” But a quick bit of focus testing revealed that hardly anyone got it, because so few people recognize the Green Lantern oath.

Honestly. What are they teaching in schools these days?

Updated: Angus, just for you:


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This user has been suspended published on 3 Comments on This user has been suspended

Facebook has become an 800-pound online gorilla… or, actually, a 400-million-active-user gorilla. And with half of those users logging in on any given day, Facebook claims a massive share of the English-speaking web population, and recently outpaced Google itself in traffic.

The problem is, they operate with neither accountability nor transparency. I’m finding stories like this are becoming way too common:

The folks at Social Media Today have an active Facebook presence, using a Fan Page. And they’ve recently been posting a link to that page twice a day. A few days ago, when they tried to post a link, they received a message from Facebook:

Block! You are engaging in behavior that may be considered annoying or abusive by other users.

You have been blocked from sharing web addresses (URLs) because you repeatedly misused this feature. This block will last anywhere from a few hours to a few days. When you are allowed to reuse this feature, please proceed with caution. Further misuse may result in your account being permanently disabled. For further information, please visit our FAQ page.

The problem, apparently, was they were posting links too often.

So how often is too often? Facebook won’t tell them. How do they need to change their behaviour to get link-sharing reinstated? Facebook won’t tell them.

Now, I understand that Facebook is a private company, not a public utility. They’ve built an enormous user base because they’ve built a compelling platform, and because they’re run by savvy businesspeople.

They’re also spectacularly unaccountable: a closed organization given to apparently capricious decisions. And that’s not a great fit with the Cluetrain era that Facebook is supposedly helping to usher in.

There’s an arguably even deeper issue. With so many people engaged with each other on Facebook, it starts to take on the role of civic space… where a lack of accountability and a Star Chamber mentality have larger social ramifications.

Whether that begins to make the case for some form of regulation – maybe along the lines of consumer protection legislation – is up for debate. But if Facebook’s lack of openness becomes an irritant for the broader user community, and not just social media professionals, then government intervention would be the least of the site’s concerns.