Social Media: What the Lengthy Terms of Service Really Mean

While most social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook give users the ability to choose how they share their posts, with options such as followers, friends, or public, most users do not realize that terms of service allows the sites to reproduce the content for marketing purposes. The terms of service that users are required to agree to in order to sign up for a social network are often lengthy and comprised of complex legal terms, resulting in many users agreeing to terms they do not fully understand.

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology recently released the findings of a study that analyzed the terms of service agreements of 30 popular social networking and creative community websites, and found that 11 of them require users to allow the sites to license users’ content to a third party.

The study included sites such as LinkedIn, Pinterest, Flickr, IMDb, Wikipedia, YouTube, Facebook, Fanfiction, Remix64, Twitter and Google+.

The researchers reported that with Craigslist, “people who wanted to post were obliged to give the site license ‘to copy, perform, display, distribute, prepare derivative works from (including, without limitation, incorporating into other works) and otherwise use any content that you post,’” reports The New York Times.

According to NYT, the researchers wrote that a small fan fiction site, Asianfanfics, allowed “for the site to essentially do whatever they like with whatever is posted there without any notice or attribution to the creator.”

Although this is stated in the terms of service, readers rarely read them due to their extreme length. The researchers calculated that for someone reading at an average adult pace of 250 words per minute, it would take them about eight hours to read the agreements of all 30 sites in the study.

The researchers said that Facebook’s terms of service use extremely complicated phrases that users would have trouble interpreting such as, “You grant us a nonexclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook.”

Pinterest was the only site whose terms of service are written in plain English, and simply state that if a user posts content on Pinterest, they are allowed to show it to others but users will retain ownership of the information.