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How to Quickly Decide Whether or Not to Accept a Terms of Service

I read every terms of service (TOS) before signing up for a site.  Yes, I am that one person who reads them.  Companies, you wondered who that person was?  It’s me.  Hi!

I read them because I don’t want to have any regrets.  Just because a site has a terrible terms of service doesn’t mean that I won’t create an account.  It’s just that I use that site differently than I would have if the terms were different.

While it would be nice if everyone read every section of every terms of service, I also know that most people don’t have the time to do so.  So this post will teach you how to quickly scan the terms and figure out how YOU want to use their site (if at all).  Bookmark it and come back to it every time you have a new site to use.

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“You grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license”

There is language a site needs to put in their terms of service to protect themselves. For instance, they need to ask you a royalty-free license or you could claim in the future that they owe you money because you brought traffic to their site with your content. They need the license to be worldwide because they need to make sure they’re covered regardless of where their users live.

BUT… there is a red flag word in there: sub-license.  This means the site can license your content to a third party without contacting you or asking your permission (because you gave them permission with the TOS).  They do not need to be granted this type of license in order to run their site, but they do need to do this to make money in the future because your content is their asset.

Sites that tell you they can sub-license your content: Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter all have very broad licenses that state they can sell your content to third parties.  I have accounts on all of those sites, but I do not upload any images, videos, or words that I wouldn’t mind if they ended up on a billboard on I-95.  I am also cognizant that anything I upload could be used to promote a product or idea that I wouldn’t want to promote or endorse.  So… I tread carefully and consume more than I upload.

“You give us a perpetual and irrevocable license”

Before you sign up for a site, make sure you can leave a site.  And make sure you can take your content too.  What if you upload photos of your child, and then your child grows up and begs you to take their image off the Internet?  With certain sites, that won’t be a problem.  With other sites, once you upload any content, they are allowed to perpetually and irrevocably hold onto that content.  (And with the ability to sub-license, perhaps sell that content in the future.)

You can close your account at Twitter or YouTube, and you can delete your tweet or movie, but both sites are allowed to hold on and use your content in the future.  You cannot completely close an Ancestry.com account (wish you hadn’t uploaded your family tree?), Pinterest, or WordPress.com account.  (Along with many other sites.)  Before you sign up for a new account, make sure you know if you can leave and what happens to your account and content if you do.

“Customer information will of course be one of the transferred assets”

Your data is a site’s most valuable asset.  Some sites collect more personal information than others.  Some sites, such as Netflix, disclose non-personal information to third parties.  They may know X number of people watched Y film, but they don’t know the names of all the people in the X category.  Other sites, such as Amazon, admit that if they ever sell their company, they’re selling your personal information too.

It is somewhat impossible to utilize the online world without having your personal information collected.  I look for sites that are open about their practices vs. those who leave it vague.  I trust transparency.  At least I know what I am getting.

“Does not claim ownership of any Content that you post”

Make sure the terms of service state something along the lines of “You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services.”  In other words, you want to make sure that YOU retain the copyright to YOUR work, and that by uploading the content, you are not transferring your copyright to the site.

It is unusual for a site to ask you to transfer the copyright.  Usually the site will ask you to grant them a license to use your work as they wish, though the creator still retains the copyright.

“We may revise these Terms from time to time”

Be careful with sites that tell you that they can make major changes to their terms of service and the most they will do is post them somewhere on their site.  Unless you are continuously going back and checking the site’s blog or TOS page for changes, chances are, you will not know when changes take place.  Even without seeing and signing off on those changes, by continuing to use the site, you accept the new terms.

What you want is a site that will contact you when they make major changes to their policy.  That is a site that operates with transparency.  Even better is a site that will allow users to weigh in on major changes to their prior policies.

Fine Print

Do a quick scan for the term “third parties.”  You want to know how using a site connects you and your content to third parties.  Are they sharing your information with third parties?  Selling your content to third parties?  You need to know where your information and content may travel.  Will it travel?  Who can say.  But once you give a site that right, they are allowed to use it.

There are other red flags I watch for, such as giving up my right to legal action (“You agree to defend, indemnify and hold us harmless”), or the jurisdiction for any lawsuits (I’m not flying to another state in order to participate in a lawsuit).  But they’re not deal breakers.

In fact, very few terms are deal breakers for me when it comes to using a site.  Will I upload content if I don’t love the terms?  Hell no.  But will I create an account so I can follow other people and read along, yes, and I’ll upload content that I’m okay with being out of my control.  Sort of.

I’m not a lawyer; I’m just an online user who is very interested in the way sites collect information and do business.

August 21, 2014   1 Comment

Blogging Advice: Write to One Reader

I grew up mostly carrying on conversations with one person.  Just me and another human being, taking turns making our thoughts come out our mouths.  Due to practice, I got fairly decent at one-on-one conversations.  Yes, misunderstandings arose from time to time, but we usually addressed those misunderstandings within the conversation and put closer on the verbal gaffe.

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So you can imagine, as an old dinosaur in communication-land, accustomed to speaking to one person at a time, that I don’t always do a great job when addressing a multitude of people via my blog or Facebook or Twitter.

As long as I stick to innocuous topics, I do okay.  I can talk about finally trying Newman’s Own cinnamon mints or reading the twins Harry Potter, and the vast majority of people don’t want to beat me senseless or scream “fuck you” at the screen.  They may be bored by the conversation, but I’ll never see them yawning.

They may not contribute to the conversation, and that feels a little awkward but understandable.  I mean, yes, when I see the number of comments and compare it to the number of people who read the post according to Sitemeter, I feel a bit like a raving lunatic, waving her arms around and screaming while everyone politely side steps around me.  But I also know that I do this to everyone else too: politely listen and then click away without answering the question or commenting on their thoughts.

But the moment I attempt to express my opinion, especially if it’s not an opinion that the vast majority of people hold (eg. nutella is yummy, puppies are cute, or iPads rock!), I run the risk of being a single-person conversationalist in a multiple-person conversation.

In other words, I have single-person conversational skills, and I’m trying fit those square skills into round holes.  What works when looking someone in the face and saying something solely to them doesn’t apply when trying to address thousands of people at once.  And yet I haven’t really learned multiple-person conversational skills yet.  And I would argue that the vast majority of people I interact with online do not hold these necessary skills, either.

Until we develop these skills, we need to find work-arounds.

Choose a single audience member and direct your thoughts to that one person a la Stephen King.  He doesn’t write his books with everyone in mind.  He write his books with his wife Tabitha’s tastes in mind, and by declaring her the “ideal reader” and framing the story to reach her, he ends up writing a book that is appealing to everyone (at least, everyone who enjoys horror stories) because Tabitha stands in place for all of us.

It’s not a bad practice with blog writing as well.  Choose one reader, one person you know who reads your blog.  And write your blog post to that person.  Would they be offended by what you’re saying?  Would they be interested in the topic?  If so, proceed.  If not, tailor your message to reach that one person.  In turn, you will end up reaching a lot of people and leaving behind minimal damage.

It is too much to try to write to everyone.  So just write with one person in mind.

And don’t choose your partner or your best friend or anyone else who loves you to bits.  Choose someone critical.  A reader you could potentially lose if you’re not circumspect, and someone you care if you lose.  Choose someone who has challenged you in the past.  Someone who you respect.  And then picture that person every time you sit down to write a blog post, and write the post as if you were speaking directly to them.

There is not much we can do about other social media sites except tighten our privacy settings and send out status updates to smaller groups within our friends list. (I’m looking at you, Facebook.)  People in my generation can deliver a speech, we can deliver a lecture, we can impart information to lots of people at once.  But we can’t have a conversation with hundreds of people at once.  Because we grew up without this skill; it just wasn’t necessary in our formative years.  Once we recognize our limitations and behave accordingly, the world will be a happier place.  At least, the online world will be.

August 20, 2014   5 Comments

Show Up and Write

This is what I do.

I show up.

Even when I don’t feel like writing, I sit down and write.

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It may not sound very profound… probably because it’s not… but sometimes I still need to remind myself to do it because I am a human being and get caught up in all the things that stop me from showing up.

If I let myself, I could distract myself indefinitely.

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This is what stops me from showing up:

  • Waiting for people to arrive to read before I’ve written something worth reading.
  • Worrying that not enough people are reading what I’ve written and therefore wondering if it’s worth writing more.
  • Feeling insecure about what I’ve written.
  • Feeling good about what I’ve written but wondering why my writing is not getting the response that someone else’s writing is getting, and therefore returning to what is the point if I can’t get that response.
  • Checking email or social media or other people’s blogs.  Harvard Business Review is correct in that this is an insane way to exist and expect to be productive and get work accomplished: “Suppose each time you ran low on an item in your kitchen—olive oil, bananas, napkins—your instinctive response was to drop everything and race to the store. How much time would you lose? How much money would you squander on gas? What would happen to your productivity?  We all recognize the inefficiency of this approach. And yet surprisingly, we often work in ways that are equally wasteful.”

All those things, if I don’t hold them at bay, stop me from showing up.  Because they all make me doubt myself or waste energy in comparisons or wonder the point.

Here’s the point of writing: to take something out of my head and put it down on the page.  To tell myself a story.  To create a character or plotline that holds my interest.  To make sense of my thoughts.

None of those reasons contain anyone else except myself.

And that’s important for me to remember because I cannot control whether anyone publishes my books.  I can’t control whether anyone reads my posts.  I can’t do anything except show up and hope that what I have to say resonates with someone else.

So I show up.

I sit down and open a blank blog post screen or bring up my manuscript on the computer.

That’s how I get myself to sit down, day after day, and write.  Even on days when my brain tells me that dedicating my time to writing makes no sense.

August 19, 2014   7 Comments

How Will Our Children Survive the Zombie Apocalypse if They Don’t Have Home Ec?

When I was in middle school, I took Home Economics (lovingly abbreviated to Home Ec).  I learned how to cook, balance a budget, sew, and… for some unknown reason… create a blueprint for a house.  Maybe this skill was helpful for Pa Ingalls to know when it was time to make his little house on the prairie, but as someone who planned to move into houses that other people had already constructed, this skill seemed like the least helpful unit.

But I digress.

In the cooking unit, my teammates and I had to follow a recipe, starting with sending someone on the team to the local grocery store to compare prices and purchase ingredients within the budget.  I learned how to cross-compare unit prices, choose the best produce, and substitute in a pinch.  We made bulgogi and served it on the school’s corelle-like plates.  We made black bottom witches pie.  We shook up vinaigrettes inside glass carafes.  I tried nothing that we cooked, but that’s not the point.

We learned how to sew, and I still have a hideous pillow in the shape of a guitar to prove it.  We made Bermuda shorts, and I didn’t line up my pattern properly so the colours changed when you got to the seam.  The blue stripe on the back of the shorts matched up with the red stripe on the front, the green stripe matched up with the orange stripe, so on and so on.  My sister asked me if I was actually going to wear my creation in public.  Yes.  Yes, I was.  I was going to walk proudly through the hall in my malformed Bermuda shorts.

If the zombies came, I was going to be prepared.  I would be able to cook a meal, sew my own clothes, balance our weapons budget, AND draw up a quick blueprint of a house so we could visualize our escape plan.

LIFE SKILLS, PEOPLE.

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As far as I can tell, they’ve removed Home Ec from the curriculum.  The twins will still learn these life skills, but they’ll have to learn them at home, lest they become like Josh who still hands me his pants whenever he loses a button and says, “can you fix this?”  Josh, you’re first to the wall when the zombies come if you can’t even re-attach a button.

I get it.  I know there is a lot to cover in the school day.  I know that you can get by not knowing how to make a pair of Bermuda shorts.  But I’m really sad that the twins will never know the joy that was the cleaning unit.  Or learn how to set a table (during school hours).  Or the embarrassment of exiting the Home Ec room, reeking of whatever you were cooking, and needing to sit in biology class while everyone around you sniffs the air and asks, “did you just have Home Ec?”

Did you have Home Ec at your school?  What did you learn?

P.S.: I particularly miss our teacher, who was a youthful-looking middle aged woman who dressed in clothes from the Limited and wore her hair up in a banana clip.  She liked us to think of her as “just one of the girls.”  One time, she sat down at our table and said, “So girls, what are you all doing this weekend?  Hitting a party?”  My friends and I all exchanged glances and then one of us said, “We’ll all be at home this weekend with our parents.  Since we’re 12.”

P.P.S.: We also had to take woodworking.  And typing.  And computer skills which included learning how to turn on the computer AND create a rocket ship in BASIC out of the letter E and have it take off on the screen.

P.P.P.S.: Can you tell how much I love PicMonkey?

August 17, 2014   18 Comments

507th Friday Blog Roundup

I want a secret treasure room.

It doesn’t even need to be a secret.

It could be a completely-out-in-the-open treasure room.

I loved the story this week about the couple who kept the door to a crawlspace hidden from their child for four years, and then turned it into his own secret hideout.  The finished product may be a little claustrophobic for my taste, but this is my fantasy:

Somehow we find a hidden, unused room in our house.  (Not in the basement.  There could be a cricket in the basement.  So any floor but the basement.).  It’s fairly large.  We fashion a speakeasy-like hidden entrance by placing a bookshelf door in front of it.  You pull a certain book off the bookshelf, and the door swings open to reveal my hideout.

The hideout has blue walls.  A muted, grey-ish blue.  And cinnamon-y orange, cozy chairs.  Maybe two of them?  And a little wooden table to rest your drink.  There is a computer on a desk in the corner.  This fantasy space could double as my workspace, I don’t mind.  There are bookshelves where I’ve culled out my favourite books such as Harry Potter or Hitchhiker’s Guide or anything Jasper Fforde.  (I still haven’t had his love-child… crap.)  And there would be one extra hour built into the day — an extra 25th hour — to spend in the room, reading and playing games on the iPad or watching a movie.  It would be completely silent in the room except when I turned on the sound on the iPad.

I want my treasure room.

What would be in your treasure room?

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Yes, this is your weekly reminder to back up your blog, social media accounts, and email.

Seriously.  Stop what you’re doing for a moment.  It will take you fifteen minutes, tops.  But you will have peace of mind for days and days.  It’s the gift to yourself that keeps on giving.

I started using BackWPup, a plugin on WordPress, this week.  So far it’s a bit confusing.  I’ll let you know if I figure it out.

As always, add any new thoughts to the Friday Backup post and peruse new comments in order to find out about methods, plug-ins, and devices that help you quickly back up your data and accounts.

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And now the blogs…

But first, second helpings of the posts that appeared in the open comment thread last week.  In order to read the description before clicking over, please return to the open thread:

Okay, now my choices this week.

Serenity Now has a post about opening yourself up to love.  It makes you vulnerable, letting someone into your heart.  They could always leave or treat your heart poorly.  Or they could stay and cherish you right back.  My favourite part of the post came at the end: “When I find myself getting stressed or anxious, I’m going to stop what I’m doing and hug someone.”  What a perfect solution to a temporary moment of panic.

Kmina’s Blog has a post about her son turning four.  It’s a tiny slice of a life, and I love this line: “They know not to touch things that we do not buy, for example, like fruit or bakery products, or bottles, that can break, yet sometimes it is such a fun thing to run in the booze aisle, open arms.” She thinks she has nothing to blog about, but obviously, she does.  Sometimes life in general makes the most interesting post.

It’s not an IF post, but… it feels like she’s part of the community?  I loved Jodifur’s final post on her blog, enough that I’m quoting from it twice in one week.  She writes, “People stopped commenting, and maybe stopping reading, so she stopping writing.  Sometimes fairy tales don’t end the way you want them to, but they end anyway.”  Replace blogging with any other endeavour you attempt in life and it is the perfect way to sum up life: how other people’s actions matter as well as finding your own ending.

The death of Robin Williams brought out a lot of people in the community writing about mental illness.  I want to highlight three posts: “Why Suicide Isn’t Selfish” (No Way to Say It), “Robin Williams, Death, Life, and Freeing the Genie” (BioGirl), and “The Thing You Never Knew” (The Kir Corner).  All three posts were beyond moving.

The roundup to the Roundup: What would your secret treasure room look like?  Your weekly backup nudge.  And lots of great posts to read.  So what did you find this week?  Please use a permalink to the blog post (written between August 8th and August 15th) and not the blog’s main url. Not understanding why I’m asking you what you found this week?  Read the original open thread post here.

August 15, 2014   6 Comments

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