Thank you for deciding to read this article. By clicking upon it, you have agreed that your first-born child will be legally owned by The Richest. We thoroughly look forward to using your offspring as cheap labor to fetch us mugs of coffee and act as a comfy footrest while we type away and stare moodily out of windows, as all writers do. It’s no good complaining now – by reading you have already agreed to it. Just make sure that Junior is proficient at filing, yeah?
This might sound like a nightmare scenario – unless you’re sick of the kids getting under your feet – but this is the sort of nonsense you agree to every single day. On average, only 7% of people actually read the swathe of terms and conditions that come attached to the contracts that they sign. Even visiting a website can lead to you surrendering rights that you hadn’t even imagined. While not all terms and conditions will lead to your children becoming glorified tea-jockeys, many will see you giving up certain freedoms in the most awful way imaginable.
From companies that follow you around everywhere to banks that can send goons to plant a foot on your office desk and demand money, here are ten of the most morally dubious terms and conditions that you’ve probably already signed up to without realizing. Welcome to the Free World, everyone!
10. Banks Can Harass You In Person At Your Office
The banking industry have a traditional hate-hate relationship with their customers. You pay your money into them, they use it to get substantially richer than you, and then they go and crash the world economy by spending 2008 buying magic beans. Bankers are the bogeymen of the 21st century and they probably spend too much time swimming in pools full of gold coins, like Scrooge McDuck, to care. Surely you couldn’t hate them any more than you already do? You would if you were aware of what you’d signed up to.
If you’re a customer of the Bank of America, you should check your phone bill immediately. You’ve agreed that they can “turn your phone on and make calls on your behalf without telling you” . While this is an outrageous liberty to take with your consumer rights, the maelstrom of unhappiness that you face doesn’t end here. Banks can invade every aspect of your life, including the place where you surf the net while pretending to earn a living.
Capital One updated their Terms and Conditions in 2014 to authorize the right to turn up unannounced at any location they choose – including your place of employment. You can sit at home with your fingers in your ears every time the phone rings and wear dark glasses and a fake mustache every time you walk past the bank, but you’ve already agreed that you can come back from your lunch break to find Thor from Capital One sitting on your desk, idly wondering if you intend to keep up repayments on your loan, while Martha from accounts Tweets your colleagues in real time.
9. Facebook Owns Your Life
Everybody loves Facebook, or at least they did before it became something your mother thinks is cool. The social network is a hotbed of updates on your social life, selfies and a bewildering confidence in how interesting other users find photos of your cat or newborn baby. But how many videos would you post of Junior’s first steps if you realized that you no longer own them?
Absolutely everything that you post on Facebook becomes the intellectual property of the company, no matter what privacy settings you have set for your account. If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of your profile picture being used on glossy promotional material, then you should probably have flossed before you took that unfortunate selfie.
The one redeeming fact about this Orwellian scenario is that absolutely nobody, anywhere, be they blood family or a faceless multinational company, gives the tiniest of rats a**es about how hungover you are and how much you wish that McDonald’s did deliveries. Keep calm and carry on posting about the detritus of your existence.
8. Instagram Can Use Your Ideas For Free
In another case of your intellectual property becoming a free for all, you may want to think about posting photos of the brilliant new robot servant you’ve created in your mum’s basement online. Why? Because Instagram could well decide to use your photo of Robo-Farnsworth and broadcast it to the entire internet without giving you a cent of compensation.
Instagram explicitly states in their Terms and Conditions that they wish “not to accept or consider content, information, ideas, suggestions or other materials other than those we have specifically requested.” However, there is a catch – if the top brass love your idea, they are entirely free to use it for their own ends. If you have a sensational meal and think that you need to share it with everybody you know, you’re at the risk of not only giving all your followers brain rot – you may just be signing away your notions of being the first person to popularise ‘Ox Tongue Suffused With Unicorn Tears’ forever.
7. Twitter And Google Know Where You Are at All Times
There ave been many instances of cement-brained criminals being caught after ill-advisedly Tweeting their exploits after pulling off Ocean’s Eleven style heists, only to find themselves surrounded by smirking policemen minutes later. However, it’s not just foolish law-breakers that have been located as a result of being a member of the Twitterati – that friendly-looking blue bird knows exactly where you are at the very minute that you share this article.
Just as with Facebook and Google, Twitter users may find that Big Brother is watching them without them even being aware of the fact, let alone consenting to it. The company uses GPS software to track where you are. The software uses location data and sends it to a hidden database to keep track of your movements every time you use the app and create a longitude/latitude file with a time stamp.
If you find this all incredibly creepy and invasive, then tough – it really is a case of like it or lump it, or stop using all of your favorite websites.
6. Universities Can Change Your Course Without Permission
College students already have a rough deal in life. Not only do they have to cram a lifetimes worth of career-building knowledge into three years worth of education, but they often have to do so while pathetically hungover from pouring vodka lemonades into their own eye socket the night before, whilst dressed in an unflattering toga. Outrageously, they are usually expected to rise from their duveted pit of hell before 10:00 am, as well.
Imagine the pain involved in finding out that the course you’ve signed up for has suddenly changed before your very eyes, while you were trying to construct a beer bong. When you accept a place at a University, you are signing a contract where the content and location of your education can be altered without your permission. In the UK, it is permissible for universities to change the content of the course, move lectures to different location and increase fees at will, all with your agreement, which you have given when you signed up to attend.
5. You Can Be Trapped With An Inadequate Service
It’s one of the frustrations of living in the future, with all its newfangled Skyping and Netflix – buffering. You can sit down to watch the latest episode of Sons Of Anarchy or video call your cousin in Australia when disaster strikes. Your broadband speed is so slow that your internet usage becomes a throwback to the days of dial-up connections (ask your parents, kids). Once you’ve finished slamming your modem off the wall in frustration and called up your service provider to ask if the hamster is on the wheel, you get…precisely nowhere.
Though the regulator has promised to review the situation by 2016, there is currently nothing at all to stop broadband providers advertising a service that you simply don’t get when you sign the contract. Although 83% of households were found to have a service that runs at nowhere near the advertised speed in a survey by Which?, the contract is valid as long as at least 10% of customers receive the stipulated service; there are no grounds to break the contract.
It isn’t just broadband providers who can get way with providing an inferior service and still meet the Terms and Conditions of their contract – it happens in almost every area of retail. Be sure to check every line of the small print when you sign that contract.
4. You Don’t Own What You’ve Purchased
Imagine if you loaned one of your favorite books to a friend because they were going on a long bus journey. Your pal is barely past the first chapter before you receive a knock on the door. When you open it, a gentleman from WH Smith runs past you and starts emptying your entire bookcase into a large sack, before sauntering back out into the street, leaving only a dog-eared copy of Angels And Demons behind, because even repo guys have taste.
This may sound unlikely, but this could well be happening to an Amazon Kindle owner right now. There have been instances of Amazon deleting entire libraries from users’ Kindle accounts without warning, simply because they suspected that the files had been accessed by somebody other than the account holder. Not only that, they can delete your entire Amazon account if they suspect you have not abided by strict Terms and Conditions about licensing. The problem most people face when playing games online, purchasing books or watching films on Netflix is that they don’t actually buy the item, just a license to use them. In most cases, the company retains the right to remove this license without notice and you’re not entitled to any kind of refund.
3. Apple Stalk You…
Where Twitter and Google can track your movements through their geo-tracking software, at least you’re accessing the app when they watch you. Apple takes things one step further – if you’re reading this on your computer or mobile phone, they know exactly where you are. iTunes has the geo-tracking device built into its software but you don’t need to be listening to music for Apple to watch you. Their service agreement states that they take data from your computer, meaning that you don’t have to be on the move or even using iTunes for the data to be made available to them. Worse, you can’t turn off your device’s GPS to stop them – their Terms and Conditions make no mention of the fact that they can and possibly do track you even when the GPS is turned off.
At least it’s only cuddly old Apple watching you, right? Wrong. The company reserves the right to share its data with “partners and licensees”, meaning that any company, big or small, that does business with Apple can potentially access the records of your movements and activities.
2. …But You Can’t Nuke Apple In Retaliation
Seriously. The Terms and Conditions set out by Apple are stuff of legend, running to 56 pages of dense, dull prose that is updated at intervals as regular as once a fortnight. Anybody foolhardy enough to try and read them in one sitting would probably look as knackered and emotionally shattered as Jack Bauer at the end of a particularly unpleasant season of 24. One condition stands out amongst the rest though: you’re explicitly banned from using Apple products for mass terror events.
Nestled among the 17,697 word iTunes user document are the words, “you also agree that you will not use these products for any purpose prohibited by United States law, including, without limitation, the development, design, manufacture or production of nuclear missile, or chemical or biological weapons”.
If you’re still upset about being tracked by Apple, it’s probably wise just to stick to a strongly-worded letter, or stop using iTunes altogether. At the time of writing, there is no confirmation of the status of Kim Jong-Un’s iTunes account.
1. If You’re Unhappy, You Can’t Sue Anybody
If any of the entries in this article outrage you and make you feel as though your civil liberties are being stomped all over by a big corporate boot…tough luck. When you signed the contract to use the services, you have probably already agreed not to file a lawsuit. Better Call Saul will forever remain just a great TV show to you.
The vast majority of companies now include an arbitration clause in their contracts. This basically means that, instead of getting your day in court to rail against The Man, you will simply have your complaint looked at by an arbitrator who listens to your side of the story – and that of the company’s crack team of lawyers. Companies such as Netflix and Playstation have updated their contracts to include this clause after having multiple lawsuits filed against them in the past.
This clause is prominent in most contracts that you sign, rather than being hidden away in the minutiae of fine print that trips so many people up. The best advice that you can receive is to thoroughly read every contract that you sign and be sure that you’re happy with the terms and conditions because, if you’re not, you’re pretty much out there on your own.