This is the time of year when a lot of technology companies update their products. Maybe you’ve noticed. Adobe, Microsoft, Apple, Google, and many others have all issued significant updates to their products in the last month or so. Sure, they may issue bug fixes and feature updates here and there during the year, but these are the big ones, the ones that go from version 10 to version 11, not 10.15.9 or something of that sort. These are the updates that make a difference.
What’s not terribly surprising is that along with these updates come changes in the Terms of Service agreements that companies are required to post. You have to accept the Terms of Service in order to install and use the software. There’s no getting around it. Even companies that may not be issuing updates are getting in on the act. The company that makes my cell phone issued an update to their Terms of Service this morning. No update, mind you. We’ve already had several this year so perhaps their development team is a little weary. The Terms of Service updated, though, and yes, I’ve read the small print.
What, you don’t read all that small print in the Terms of Service agreements? You’re not alone. Few people do. In fact, companies bank on the fact that less than ten percent of their users, sometimes less than three percent, actually read what amounts to a legally binding contract. Most of the time, as long as everything goes well and neither you nor the company is up to no good, we’re safe. Few companies set out to deliberately harm their user base. There are exceptions, though, and there are frequently paragraphs and phrases dropped in the middle of all the legal speak that have the potential to cause trouble for someone down the road.
For example, if you use a Samsung product, such as one of their cell phones, the Terms of Service includes this lovely bit of information:
When you share content, you continue to own the intellectual property rights to your content and you are free to share the content with anyone else however you would like. However, to use your content in our Services, you need to grant us a license for any content that you create or upload using our Services. When you upload, transmit, create, post, display, or otherwise provide any information, materials, documents, media files, or other content on or through our Services (“User Content”), you grant us an irrevocable, unlimited, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to copy, reproduce, adapt, modify, edit, distribute, translate, publish, publicly perform, and publicly display such User Content (“User Content License”) to the full extent allowed by Applicable Law.
Do you see what they did there? In one sentence, they say that the content you create is yours, you retain the copyright, and Samsung can’t use it without a license from you. In the very next sentence, you grant them that license to use anything you upload using their device. The license is “irrevocable, unlimited, worldwide,” and “royalty-free.” That means you can’t take anything back, they can use it anytime, anywhere, for any reason, and you can’t charge them for it. All those pictures of your child’s third birthday? They can use them. That embarrassing video of you throwing up on the shoes of some D-level celebrity? Yeah, they can sell that to the tabloids and you won’t see a dime or even get any credit. And those nudes you’ve been sending to that person you really like? Yeah, someone else is looking at those, too.
Before you go getting upset, understand that this cat has been out of the bag far too long to worry about who’s seeing what or which info has been sold to whom. Just assume that anything that has even been on a digital device anywhere is not private. Yes, that includes your computer. Also realize, again, that few companies are actually out to do you any real harm. Sure, if you grow up to do something that makes you internationally famous, then your pictures might “leak” their way into some form of public website. But for the larger 99% of people, there’s little risk of any nefarious activity.
Reading through all these updates this month, though, has me thinking that perhaps it’s time that I update my personal Terms of Service as well. You know, those social rules I apply to myself and how I expect others to interact with me both online and in person. We all have them, but as with those software Terms of Service, few people actually pay any attention to them. At all. They are mindlessly clicking “accept” every time they interact with us and assume they know the rules. But do they? And should we maybe start calling out those who break our Terms of Service? Let’s take a look at that.
What’s In Your Terms of Service?
I’m assuming that most people have never written a Terms of Service agreement of any kind, let alone one for themselves. So, before we start, let’s take a brief look at everything we need to cover.
- Identity. The assumption is that your identity is your name, right? But that’s not always the case. First, we identify ourselves differently based on who we are with. When I’m with the kids, I’m Dad. They’re the only ones who get to call me by that name. For anyone else to do so (which has happened) feels a little odd even when meant in the most friendly of manners. There are other times when using the honorific Mister is appropriate, such as in business dealings or if I’m at the kids’ school. Only in casual, friendly dealings is calling me Charles appropriate and calling me anything else, such as Charlie or Chuck or any derivative thereof, requires special permission I rarely extend to anyone who wasn’t in high school with me.
Identity is also important for anyone who might be non-binary, trans, or identifies as queer in some manner. Declaring which pronouns you prefer used is important to feeling accepted. Using a person’s chosen name, not their “dead” name, is critical and can sometimes affect a person’s safety. Identity is important and declaring such helps others avoid making an error, at least some of the time.
- Authority. Under what auspices do you claim the authority to initiate these terms and what steps might be undertaken to address grievances or problems. With most software contracts, this is where one is likely to find the company’s state of official registration, such as Nevada, New Jersey, or Washington. Closely following that one often finds a statement of mandatory arbitration, voiding any claim of civil suit before there’s any issue. This ultimately works in favor of a company because a), arbitration doesn’t cost as much as defending a civil suit, and b) arbitrators are more likely to side with the company that hired them.
When creating a personal statement, however, none of that really applies, does it? You are under the authority of whatever state you happen to exist in at any given time, regardless of where your residence is. Any law you or anyone else might break is adjudicated according to the laws of that city and/or state. We can’t force people into arbitration for personal grievances because a), they have probably not agreed to that remedy before interacting with you, and b), it is an extreme response that doesn’t make sense for most personal situations. Instead, it probably makes more sense to set boundaries for how you plan to respond to people, boundaries that you can enforce without needing to consult an attorney.
- Services. What are you going to do and under what circumstances will you do them? When dealing with electronics, this is where the company says that X provides Y within a certain set of limitations and if you, as the user, attempt to operate the device outside those limitations the company isn’t responsible for what happens. There can be pages full of legal speak designed to cover the company’s ass in case someone behaves either stupidly, which is most common, or maliciously, which is not uncommon. For example, you can’t get upset with Samsung if your smartphone doesn’t autofill your dating profile with your best qualities if they never claimed to have that ability.
From a personal perspective, think of this as letting people know what to expect from you. If you’re perpetually late for everything, say so. If you are painfully OCD or ADHD, claim that shit, don’t hide it. Treat it as a feature, not a bug. Are you curious and ask a lot of questions? What foods do you like? What allergies do you have? If there are places you won’t go or activities in which you refuse to engage, let that be known. Be real and get honest not only with those you encounter but yourself. This isn’t a place to brag because you don’t want overstatements to create expectations you can’t fulfill.
- Acceptable Use. What do you expect from people who interact with you? With software and digital electronic devices, the first thing usually listed is a license to use the product within given limitations. That part is typically straightforward and no more than a paragraph or two. What follows, though, is pages upon pages detailing not only what you can do with the product, but what happens, or doesn’t happen when you do those things. This is where that section on you providing “an irrevocable, unlimited, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license” comes into play.
When creating your own terms, this section can be tricky because there’s a limit to the degree we can control the actions of other people. Yes, we can set limits and boundaries, but we also have to give people sufficient space to be themselves, do the things that are normal and natural for people to do, such as get angry, or cry, or, depending on their age, poop their pants. Where corporations can be a bit hardass in their terms, as individuals we do better to create this section with a heavy dose of compassion. Afterall, look at whom they’re choosing to interact with. We’re far from perfect so don’t expect perfection in return.
- Limits, Liabilities, and Termination. This is where corporate terms can become absolutely unintelligible. Referencing the Samsung terms again, one is likely to see paragraphs in all caps that start something like this:
TO THE MAXIMUM EXTENT PERMITTED BY APPLICABLE LAW, WE WILL NOT BE LIABLE FOR ANY INDIRECT, INCIDENTAL, SPECIAL, CONSEQUENTIAL, OR PUNITIVE DAMAGES, OR ANY LOSS OF PROFIT, REVENUE, GOODWILL, BUSINESS, OPPORTUNITY, OR DATA, WHETHER INCURRED DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY, OR ANY OTHER INTANGIBLE LOSSES.
Want to terminate your association with Samsung? There are hoops you have to jump through. If you die, there are instructions for how to terminate your account. The whole thing can get rather ridiculous.
When interacting with other people, though, there’s little reason for this section to be very extensive at all. What is probably most important is defining various forms of termination: The end of an immediate conversation with the expectation that others may occur at a later date, complete termination of a relationship, and death, which is rather morbid to have to think about, but you might want to declare the circumstances under which you plan to haunt someone.
If that sounds like a lot, it is. When we stop and consider all the various ways in which we interact with other people, and the reasons we have for making those choices, the whole matter becomes quite daunting. To question whether creating a personal Terms of Service contract is necessary is an appropriate consideration at this juncture. If you’re pretty much a hermit, have always been a hermit, and plan to continue being a hermit, then maybe you don’t need any Terms of Service at all.
We also don’t need to concern ourselves with all the legalese that comes with corporate TOS contracts. The greater majority of our interactions are casual and should be treated as such. I rather doubt that a personal document is legally binding even if you insist that everyone you know blindly accept your terms the way software and digital companies do. Reason is limited when we’re discussing interpersonal relationships. There’s no excuse for cruelty.
So, with all that in mind, let’s take a look at my personal Terms of Service, something I’ve created just this week as I’ve been preparing this post. Feel free to use it as a template for your own, or perhaps create a better one.
Terms of Service: The Basics
Effective November 7, 2021
Hi, my name is charles i. letbetter. No, my name is not capitalized. That is a personal choice reflective of the fact that I am not a capitalist. That doesn’t imply devotion to any other particular economic system or theory, just that I have definite opinions about capitalism and the harm it inflicts on society.
You may call me charles, or old man, or Dad if you’re more than 20 years my junior, mr. letbetter if our relationship is more formal and business-oriented, and terms of endearment are acceptable in most situations. My preferred pronouns are he/him. You can refer to me as liberal so long as no direct political party affiliation is attached. You may not call me Chuck unless we went to high school together. You may not call me Charlie ever under any circumstances. The same applies to any derivative of those names. The use of any derogatory terms in reference to my personage is taken in context to the conversation and is not considered offensive unless delivered with such specific intent.
By interacting with me on any level, you are confirming that you accept these Terms. You also confirm that:
- You’re not a complete asshole and have no particular intention of becoming one;
- You are not currently engaging in activity that might prove harmful to myself or others;
- Your intent is not to deceive, embarrass, fool, or inflict hardship upon me or any member of my family; and
- You are not engaging in any religious proselytization in any form.
These Terms of Service constitute a non-binding casual agreement between you and I, including all conditions and exceptions included below.
Governing Authority/Dispute Resolution
I am the sole and determining authority over my self, my body, my emotions, my health, and my personal interests. I am generally subject to the laws and regulations of the United States, the state of Indiana, Marian county, and the city of Indianapolis but maintain the right to dispute such subjectivity wherein said laws and regulations impose themselves unreasonably upon my person and the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
All disputes with me shall be resolved through reasonable and sober conversation void of yelling or any demonstrative gestures or activity. Any dispute arising out of financial concerns, including but not limited to matters of debt, shall be conducted according to the American Arbitration Association (AAA) Commercial Arbitration Rules applicable to financial disputes and is entered pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act.
I will make reasonable attempts to avoid any type of disagreement. However, if any person or corporate entity insists upon being pig-headed, ignorant, racist, homophobic, xenophobic, transphobic, deliberately insulting, exclusively political, aggressively religious, emotionally or physically abusive, knowingly insensitive, or otherwise offensive in any manner, I reserve the right to aggressively challenge such acts utilizing any means of direct, indirect, private, or public communication deemed necessary according to the situation until satisfactory resolution is achieved.
Services/Forms of Interaction
As of the date of this document, I am currently open and willing to provide the following Services:
- Friend (platonic with long and short term options; benefits provided according to availability and interest)
- Lover (short term, noncommittal)
- Play partner (within previously agreed-upon levels of consent)
- Ally (specific to LGBTQ+ relationships)
- Parental substitute (limited to persons at least 25 years younger than myself)
- Therapist (unlicensed, limited to matters of casual advice)
- Conversationalist (when you really want to talk about a specific topic of mutual interest)
- Photographer (deprecated January 1, 2022)
- Digital artist
- Business marketing consultant
- Writer (fiction and nonfiction)
- Taxi (limited to persons sharing the same residence, compensation requested when necessary)
- Grandparent (limited to offspring of sufficient age and maturity, hint, hint)
I reserve the right to add, subtract, or modify Services as I see fit without any previous warning or indication of interest. Services are provided at will and may be blocked or discontinued for any person found to be in violation of these Terms. Services may be suspended universally due to extenuating circumstances, random acts of deity, exhaustion, mental or physical illness, inclimate weather, disinterest, scheduling conflicts, surgery, wide-scale frustration, impatience, financial inconvenience, excessive requests, parachute failure, unexpected opportunities, conflicting interests, old age, holiday observances, familial obligations, and/or death.
This list of Services, their qualifications, limitations, and any necessary prerequisites are subject to change without notice, without reason, and without regard to consequences whether personal or external to myself because I alone am in charge of me and will make decisions in the moment based on what I feel is best for the specific situation.
Interaction may take place in person, via text, through any social media to which I am subscribed, and utilizing mutual friends as a means of passing along communication. Do not call without permission. Ever. Emergencies are an exception, but emergency is defined as a situation in which a family member is in immediate need of assistance and unable to communicate for themselves. Other than that, texting is a more reliable means of interaction.
At no point am I obligated to respond to your attempt at interaction within a given time frame. I reserve the right to turn off all forms of interaction when it suits my needs and desires and no apologies are offered for delays in communication caused by my need to not be bothered for unspecified periods of time. Interacting with me should always be considered a privilege as I regard my interaction with you in the same manner. No one, at any time, under any circumstances, can claim an inherent right to unfettered access to my person or any form of media through which communication might be relayed.
Preference for interaction is given first to immediate family members currently conscious and present, followed by extended family not physically present. Interaction with all others is based on the quality and subject of the communication and may be extended or denied at will.
Using Our Services
We grant you a limited, non-exclusive, non-transferable, and revocable license to use our Services. You may only use our Services for personal and non-commercial purposes, according to these Terms and the instructions we provide in our Services. All references to our Services include all related content and any other materials used to implement and provide access to our Services, including updates, upgrades, enhancements, modifications, revisions, or additions to our Services we make available to you.
Yes, I copied that paragraph directly from the Samsung Terms of Service because it is 100 percent applicable and I’m going to assume that it’s passed through the hands of enough attorneys to be reasonably enforceable. The availability of my Services may depend on one’s relative physical proximity to myself as not all Services can be adequately performed in any circumstance other than directly in person. If you find yourself in need of those in-person Services, any related cost and transportation is your responsibility and is not a matter for which I am liable unless agreed to under a separate contract.
I do my best to make my Services available in reasonable and sustainable quantities so as to maintain the quality of the Services in addition to consideration for my personal health and well-being in addition to concerns for the health and safety of my family and our pets. To help me fulfill those Services in the manner desired, you agree that:
- No means no, even if there had previously been a yes and even if that yes was only five seconds ago.
- You will not deliberately attempt to use our Services to cheat, steal, misinform, malign, or in any way impugn the integrity of myself or any member of my immediate or extended family.
- You will make no claim to represent my Services to any third party, known or unknown to myself.
- You will not infringe upon my human or civil rights, nor the rights of my intellectual property, nor the same or similar rights of anyone else.
- You will not use my Services in any manner deemed illegal by any authority to which I might be subject without explicit agreement and consent on my part to engage in such activity.
- You will not use my Services in any manner that could damage, disable, overburden, or compromise my interaction and/or relationship with any other person, known or unknown.
- You will inform me at your first opportunity upon the discovery that an interaction between us, in-person or through digital media, has inadvertently, without ill intent, exposed me and/or members of my family to any form of disease, virus (biological or digital), infection, allergen, poison, or legal liability, or the explicit or implicit risk of such.
- You will not engage in the in-person use of these Services if you knowingly are running a fever at or above 101 degrees fahrenheit, infected by any contagion of any kind, under active investigation by legal authorities for crimes classified as a felony, nor any other condition that might cause harm to myself and/or my family and pets.
- You will communicate prior to any in-person communication if you are missing any vaccination recommended by the American Medical Association for persons of your age and physical condition. Such communication may result in the limitation of in-person Services depending upon the proximity of anticipated interaction.
- You will not knowingly cause me to ingest more than five grams of sugar nor more than 20 grams of combined carbohydrates in any form without providing sufficient warning of such.
- You will bathe and groom yourself to a sufficient degree that avoids an unpleasant aroma prior to any in-person interaction unless the conditions of your personal circumstances inhibit such activity.
- You will not drink the last cup of coffee nor the final shot of scotch without expressed verbal permission to do so.
As of the date of this contract, I am limited by medically diagnosed Type 2 Diabetes, Hypertension, Anxiety, and Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL). These conditions may at times limit what food and drink I can safely consume, my levels of physical activity, and determine specific sleep minimums. These conditions do not generally impact nor interfere with the Services described herein. Should such a situation arise, communication of such limitations will be made at the earliest possible opportunity in private and/or public formats. Changes in these conditions and limitations will be noted in updates to these Terms.
DISCLAIMER OF WARRANTY
TO THE MAXIMUM EXTENT PERMITTED BY APPLICABLE LAW, OUR SERVICES ARE PROVIDED “AS IS” AND ON AN “AS AVAILABLE” BASIS, WITHOUT WARRANTIES OF ANY KIND FROM US, EITHER EXPRESS OR IMPLIED. TO THE MAXIMUM EXTENT PERMITTED BY APPLICABLE LAW, WE DISCLAIM ALL WARRANTIES OR OTHER TERMS EXPRESSED, IMPLIED, OR STATUTORY, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, IMPLIED WARRANTIES OR TERMS OF MERCHANTABILITY, SATISFACTORY QUALITY, WORKMANLIKE EFFORT, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE, RELIABILITY OR AVAILABILITY, ACCURACY, LACK OF VIRUSES, NON-INFRINGEMENT OF THIRD PARTY RIGHTS, OR OTHER VIOLATION OF RIGHTS. SOME JURISDICTIONS DO NOT ALLOW EXCLUSIONS OR LIMITATIONS OF IMPLIED WARRANTIES, SO THE ABOVE EXCLUSIONS OR LIMITATIONS MAY NOT APPLY TO YOU. NO ADVICE OR INFORMATION, WHETHER ORAL OR WRITTEN, OBTAINED BY YOU FROM US OR OUR AFFILIATES SHALL BE DEEMED TO ALTER OUR DISCLAIMER OF WARRANTY REGARDING OUR SERVICES, OR TO CREATE ANY WARRANTY OF ANY SORT FROM US.
LIMITATION OF LIABILITY
TO THE MAXIMUM EXTENT PERMITTED BY APPLICABLE LAW, WE WILL NOT BE LIABLE FOR ANY INDIRECT, INCIDENTAL, SPECIAL, CONSEQUENTIAL, OR PUNITIVE DAMAGES, OR ANY LOSS OF PROFIT, REVENUE, GOODWILL, BUSINESS, OPPORTUNITY, OR DATA, WHETHER INCURRED DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY, OR ANY OTHER INTANGIBLE LOSSES. IN NO EVENT SHALL OUR AGGREGATE LIABILITY FOR ALL CLAIMS RELATING TO SPECIFIC SERVICES EXCEED THE AMOUNT YOU PAID US FOR SUCH SPECIFIC SERVICE. THE LIMITATIONS OF THIS SECTION SHALL APPLY TO ANY THEORY OF LIABILITY, WHETHER BASED ON WARRANTY, CONTRACT, STATUTE, TORT (INCLUDING NEGLIGENCE), OR OTHERWISE, AND WHETHER OR NOT WE HAVE BEEN INFORMED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF ANY SUCH DAMAGE, AND EVEN IF A REMEDY SET FORTH HEREIN IS FOUND TO HAVE FAILED OF ITS ESSENTIAL PURPOSE, AND EVEN TO ANY CLAIMS YOU MAY BRING AGAINST ANY OTHER PARTY TO THE EXTENT THAT WE WOULD BE REQUIRED TO INDEMNIFY THAT PARTY FOR SUCH CLAIM. SOME JURISDICTIONS DO NOT ALLOW LIMITATION OF LIABILITY FOR PERSONAL INJURY OR OF INCIDENTAL OR CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES, SO THIS LIMITATION MAY NOT APPLY TO YOU. YOU ACKNOWLEDGE AND AGREE THAT THESE LIMITATIONS ARE REASONABLE GIVEN THE BENEFITS OF THE SERVICES AND YOU WILL ACCEPT SUCH RISK AND/OR INSURE ACCORDINGLY.
You agree to indemnify, defend, and hold harmless us, our licensors, our agents, and all officers, directors, and employees from any and all third party claims, actions, losses, damages, liabilities, judgments, grants, costs, and expenses (including reasonable attorneys’ fees) arising from: (i) your use of our Services or use by any person that you allow to use our Services that is not in accordance with these Terms, (ii) any breach of this Agreement by you or by any person that you allow to use our Services, or (iii) any violation of any laws or regulations or the rights of any third party by you or by any person that you allow to use our Services.
TERMINATION AND SURVIVABILITY
You may terminate these Terms at any time by ending any and all contact and communication with us and our immediate family.
I may terminate these Terms or suspend or limit your access to my Services if we determine that you have violated these Terms, you demonstrate that you do not intend to comply with these Terms, I decide to end any individual Service, I am required by Law to end any specific Service, or I die.
Any provisions within these Terms that by their nature should continue to be in effect shall survive the extermination of these Terms regardless of the means by which they were dissolved.
Upon the event of my inevitable death, all rights, copyrights, trademarks, and any other intellectual property shall remain the jurisdiction of my surviving family. No rights to access are extended unless specifically spelled out in other notarized documentation. Do not bug them. I will haunt you.
Set Your Own Terms
The whole purpose of this exercise is to emphasize the control you have not only over your body but over everything about you, who you interact with, how you interact, the limitations of your interaction, and your right to terminate contact with anyone. Maybe you share your terms with others, maybe you don’t. That’s all up to you. What the exercise does is force us to look at ourselves, our relationships, our means and methods of communication, and decide what limits and boundaries we need to set. We cannot be all things to all people and trying to meet everyone else’s needs without acknowledging your own is certain suicide.
I’m posting a downloadable copy of my Terms of Service for you to use as a guide. Copy what you want. Make changes so that it works for you. There are no rules as to how long it has to be. If your life experience means you have to establish 37 pages worth of rules and limitations, then make sure you’re not leaving anything out.
We live in a modern world where the metaverse is rapidly becoming an inevitable part of our reality. As that continues to develop and more of our relationships and interactions are conducted through digital formats, we need a way of letting people know who we are, what we do, and when it’s okay to interact with us. We have to be responsible for setting our boundaries because you can be damn sure that no one else is going to do it for you.
Give it some thought then get started. (File download is below the donation section)
We Need Your Help
Life hits everyone hard but over the past three months, our operational expenses have jumped 40%! At the moment, this is all coming out of charles’ pockets, pockets that were already pretty shallow. We would be extremely appreciative if you would consider helping us out.
We’ve changed donation methods, for now, to hopefully make it a little easier and more transparent. You can pay directly through PayPal using either a credit card or your own PayPal account. If you listen to these podcasts, if you enjoy what charles writes, perhaps you see the value in donating, maybe even on a monthly basis rather than trying to do a lot all at once.
We would also appreciate you helping us spread the word about these podcasts. charles puts a lot of work into each one and annoys the family to no small end when he’s recording them. Growing our audience increases the opportunity to meet our goals.
Whether you donate today or not, thank you for listening and/or reading. We appreciate you being here.