After doing this week’s reading, it’s easy to get the feeling that there’s little we can do to fight bad EULAs. And let’s be honest, there isn’t much–at least for the individual user. That said, recently there have been cases where popular services have changed their terms of service because of the public’s distaste for a few egregious terms within them. Remember earlier this year when Facebook changed it’s TOS to say that they kept the rights to your content even if you got rid of your account? People got mad, they complained, and Facebook caved and went back to it’s old TOS. Similarly, there was a situation last summer in which it appeared Google’s Chrome browser’s terms of service gave Google the rights to anything you sent through the browser–again, after people complained, it was changed. While these situations were hardly the same (it seems Google’s TOS problems were the result of a mistake, whereas Facebook’s seemed more deliberate), they share in common the fact that the problem was fixed after enough people complained about it. This of course isn’t an entirely satisfying solution, but it is good to know that if people get angry enough, companies do respond.
The other important step one should take as a consumer is to actually make some attempt to read agreements before clicking through them–even if it’s just a quick skim. While there’s not much you can do if you don’t like the terms (except perhaps give your business to someone else), at least you’ll be aware of them. And sometime’s you’ll be pleasantly surprised (I’m a big fan of Google’s affirmation of my intellectual property rights, something about which I never would have known if I didn’t read the terms). If you want to be extra vigilant, you could even check the EFF’s “TOSBack” site from time to time: it’s a site that tracks changes to various terms of service agreements (there’s even an RSS feed if you’re uber-nerdy). After all, someone’s got to notice harmful changes to these agreements in order for people can get angry about them.
Lastly, I’d be up for creating some sort of EULA hall of shame, much like the EFF’s DMCA takedown hall of shame. While there already seems to be a site that attempts to do this, it’s far from well done or thorough (check it out at http://www.eulahallofshame.com/). Such a site, if done well, would be useful in that it would draw attention to particularly bad abuses of licensing agreements. And, after all, ridiculing sketchy practices by companies is fun. Let me know in the comments if you’re interested.
In honor of Cory Doctorow, I’d like to end this blog post in the same way he has ended several of his about blog posts EULAs (and I can because Boing Boing uses a CC-BY-NC license, I’m giving him credit [Thanks Cory!], and I’m gonna go ahead and say this blog post is CC-BY-NC-SA, since I can’t seem to find a licence for the site as a whole):
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