Do you read the terms of service for everything you sign up for online? If you're like most people, you quickly click "I agree" without giving it much thought.

Therefore, you probably didn't realize that when you registered for iTunes or other Apple service, you agreed "not use the Software or Service for any purposes prohibited by United States law, including, without limitation, the development, design, manufacture or production of missiles, nuclear, chemical or biological weapons."

The South Park TV show, known for its parodies on popular culture, did an episode on the dire consequences of failing to read terms and conditions. Here's an excerpt:


An excerpt of episode is here. Warning: subject matter may be offensive.

Of course in the real world you would not be signing away your freedom when agreeing to a website's terms and conditions.

But if you signed up for these popular services, you agreed to the following:

Google: When you upload, submit, store, send or receive content to or through our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content...This license continues even if you stop using our Services.

The above applies not only to the Google search engine, but also to other services owned by Google, such as Blogger, Youtube, Picasa and Maps.

Yahoo: You agree that Yahoo! may, without prior notice, immediately terminate, limit your access to or suspend your Yahoo! account, any associated email address, and access to the Yahoo! Services...Yahoo! shall not be liable to you or any third party for any termination of your account, any associated email address, or access to the Yahoo! Services.”

Twitter: We reserve the right to remove Content alleged to be infringing without prior notice, at our sole discretion, and without liability to you.

In other words, if someone complains that you copied their work, Twitter can remove your content (and even your account) without due process. and Evernote: You cannot delete your account.

Amazon: We receive and store any information you enter on our Web site or give us in any other way...You can choose not to provide certain information, but then you might not be able to take advantage of many of our features.

Facebook: For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.

"Sublicensing" means that Facebook can allow others to use your content without informing you. Notorious for changing its rules without notice, Facebook reportedly added the word "research" to its terms of use months after manipulating content to test users' reactions.

Know what you are agreeing to.

Given the dense language in most terms of service contracts, the above may still not convince you to read them in detail.

  • A reasonable alternative is to check at (stands for Terms of Service; didn't read), a nonprofit organization that rates website terms and privacy policies, and highlights the main points in easy-to-read language.
  • Lifehacker has an informative article (a couple years old, but still relevant) on "How to quickly read a Terms of Service." For example, they advise looking for instructions to opt out, and how to use your browser's search function to find certain buzzwords.
  • Whenever you post articles or other professional content online, read the terms of service, to help ensure that others don't use it in an unauthorized manner. Most websites state that you hold the copyright. But some claim nonexclusive rights to use your content. That may be inconsequential for a tweet, but you want to be careful that you don't inadvertently give away rights for more substantive content.


Addendum Aug 29, 2014... It's important to check the terms of service when buying products online, as well as services. The Consumerist found a couple of sites where, when you quickly click "I agree," you've agreed to pay a fine for posting negative comments or even threaten to publicly complain about the company.