instagram-terms-of-service

An Instagram employee takes a video using Instagram’s new video function at Facebook’s corporate headquarters during a media event in Menlo Park, Calif. (Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images)

If you had to guess what documents are most central to your daily life and to your future possibilities, I’d wager many Americans would point to works like the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence. Probably because they think that’s how they should answer.

I am the biggest fan of those documents, but that answer might not be entirely correct. Instead, I’d point you to those below-the-radar Terms of Service that populate the legal life of every app you use. And that means they populate your life too, like it or not.

I’ve written about terms of service before, and I find these tiny little, unassuming adhesion contracts to be fascinating. I wrote here about a change to the Snapchat ToS.

And for good measure, let me re-share a Venn diagram that explains the intersection of law and love. (Spoiler alert: It’s complicated.)

Very scientific Venn diagram catalogs the human condition. love technology law

Very scientific Venn diagram catalogs the human condition.

This past week I read a terrific article (by the similarly terrific Amy Wang) about efforts to make terms of service more understandable, especially to youngsters. (Hat-tip to Wayne Rainey for the lead on the article.)

The Washington Post story was driven by the January 4 release of a report called “Growing Up Digital,” which examined young people’s interactions with those ever-present tech marvels that transform—and complicate—our lives.

And where good things happen, I’m never surprised to see a lawyer in the mix. The story tells how one of the task force members was charged with trying to redraft the Instagram terms of service to make them understandable to teens and other humans.

So that’s what London-based privacy lawyer Jenny Afia did.

Here’s a bit from the story:

Lawyer Jenny Afia rewrote the Instagram terms of service so kids would know their privacy rights.

Lawyer Jenny Afia rewrote the Instagram terms of service so kids would know their privacy rights.

“Afia was a member of a ‘Growing Up Digital’ task force group convened by the Children’s Commissioner for England to study Internet use among teens and the concerns children might face as they grow up in the digital age. The group found more than a third of Internet users are younger than 18, with 12- to 15-year-olds spending more than 20 hours a week online. Most of those children have no idea what their privacy rights are, despite all of them agreeing to terms and conditions before starting their social media accounts, Afia said. The task force, which included experts from the public and private sector, worked for a year and released its report Wednesday [Jan. 4].”

If you’ve ever read terms of service (and I hope you do), the next statement won’t surprise you: “The group ran Instagram’s terms and conditions through a readability study and found that it registered at a postgraduate reading level, Afia said.”

Fascinating and important stuff. Though Instagram wouldn’t comment for the story (probably upon advice of the same lawyers who drafted their ToS), here’s hoping efforts like this make a dent in the way these important, meaning-laden documents are drafted.

Once again, here’s a link to the complete Post story.

And you can read the complete “Growing Up Digital” report here.

Apps do a lot, but have you read their terms of use?

Apps do a lot, but have you read their terms of use?

This past weekend, when I had a few spare moments, I was perusing the terms of use of my Snapchat account.

What, doesn’t everyone do that?

Probably not. But we occasionally should wonder a little more about the legal side of those app-tastic tools.

For instance, I was struck by the open approach at the very top of those terms. In fact, they highlight a binding arbitration provision you may be agreeing to. The ALL-CAPS are theirs:

“ARBITRATION NOTICE: WE WANT TO LET YOU KNOW UP FRONT THAT THESE TERMS CONTAIN AN ARBITRATION CLAUSE A LITTLE LATER ON. EXCEPT FOR CERTAIN TYPES OF DISPUTES MENTIONED IN THAT ARBITRATION CLAUSE, YOU AND SNAPCHAT AGREE THAT DISPUTES BETWEEN US WILL BE RESOLVED BY MANDATORY BINDING ARBITRATION, AND YOU AND SNAPCHAT WAIVE ANY RIGHT TO PARTICIPATE IN A CLASS-ACTION LAWSUIT OR CLASS-WIDE ARBITRATION.”

Charming, in a way—though certainly driven by courts that have looked askance at such provisions when they are hidden away, deep down in legalese. But no one who glanced at even the top sentence of Snap’s term could miss that blunt warning.

Turns out, I could have opted out of the requirement of mandatory binding arbitration, simply by sending a letter to that effect to their snail-mail address (within 30 days of these changed terms).

Did I? No, though I considered it simply as a fun exercise (and a second blog post!). I passed on the legal Bartleby moment partly through laziness. But partly also because I’m just conspiracy-theory-amenable enough that I would fear they’d take the six, or eight, or 10 decline-letters they receive every month and “accidentally” close our accounts.

Irrational? I get it. Whatevs.

And apparently, I’m not the only one fascinated by terms of service. Just this morning, the lead question in the ABA Journal’s legal-news quiz focused on PokemonGo’s TofS. So there:

PokemonGo terms of service was a subject in an ABA Journal news quiz this week. Do you know the answer? I did.

PokemonGo terms of service was a subject in an ABA Journal news quiz this week. Do you know the answer? I did.

Meantime, to add to our social media joy, how many of us are aware that social media clauses in prenuptial agreements are now a thing?

Plastic bride and groom with gavel, on white - divorce conceptIt’s true. Not only might you want to keep grandma’s stocks and grandpa’s bullion out of the hands of your formerly betrothed. Now, you want them to keep their hands off your social media assets.

Romantic, I know.

Read the essay by Jaburg Wilk attorney Jason Castle here. And follow him on Twitter @CastleAzlaw @Jaburg_Wilk

As Jason tells us:

“For example, the clause would address what and how information is shared whether it is positive, negative, insulting, embarrassing or includes flattering photos, images, or other content. I recommend keeping the clause as broad as possible to accommodate the rapidly growing technology because the technology of today will be outdated within 10 years. I also believe prior to marriage it is important for the parties to clearly understand what they each define as private and what is acceptable to be shared with others. Another component of a social media clause can include the ability to monitor the other spouse’s social media activities.”

And that’s even before he gets to the awfulness of revenge porn. I mean, people are the worst.

What new technology–law–love mashups have you come across recently? (And do you also read terms of use of your apps? Please say you do.)

Very scientific Venn diagram catalogs the human condition. love technology law

Very scientific Venn diagram catalogs the human condition.

To make the whole thing more legally accessible, I’ve created the Venn diagram above. You’re welcome. (And for all my law school professors who wondered about my legal acumen: Boom!)

Comment below or write to me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org.