How the terms and conditions changed more than ten thousand times during 2016

2016 through its changes in terms and conditions

In October of 2015, we launched the first fruit of our Legal LAB, the Tracker of Terms and Conditions. It was a tool to track changes in terms and conditions. Although it wasn’t perfect, through it we were trying to reach a goal that seemed reasonable and useful: to know when and how the services change their terms and conditions.

So, the Tracker of Terms and Conditions was born.

But, why is it important to know how and when the services change their terms and conditions? Because at the end of the day, the terms and conditions are a contract. A contract that it is established by one of the parties, usually the company, and the user can only accept o reject the content. So, the user does not have the option to negotiate the terms.

tracker_of_terms_and_conditions
The Tracker of Terms and Conditions – Our first experiment in the Legal LAB

This contract creates rights and obligations for both parties, but only one party has control over them (the company). Even though the law protects the user against plenty of unfair practices that the company may try to introduce through the terms and conditions, not all of them are reported. Besides, there are modifications on the legal texts of a storing, messaging or hosting service that are important to it but not unfair.

In summary, to know when and how the terms and conditions change, can be useful and good to: 1) report unfair practices according to the law and; 2) to find out about some of the surprises that the small print can include.

We love to track how the terms and conditions change (a little too much, maybe) :p, that’s why we follow them daily and from time to time we highlight the important ones. In fact, thanks to that we “announced” that Apple had bought Topsy 5 days before the official announcement (Topsy changed its Privacy Policy too soon). In any case, during a full year plenty of changes happen, and in 2016 we have tracked more than a few. To be precise, during 2016 we have detected 10.512 changes in terms and conditions.

However, before we start looking at the data, what do we understand as a “change”? Well, when there is a modification on a legal text such as Terms of Use, Privacy Policy, Cookie Policy or some other text that could be understood as terms and conditions (more than a few).

If the change is normal (a grammar mistake was fixed, a comma added or some text was translated from English to Spanish, for example), that’s a non-important change.

If the change goes beyond fixing a mistake (it adds or modifies rights and obligations for the user), then we take into account if the date from the “Last Update” section was updated too. Because that would be useful for a user who would want to know if that text has been modified from its last visit.

Let’s not forget that the terms and conditions usually say that we should check them regularly to see if something has been added or changed. Perfect, but they should provide some sign of it, right? Well, that’s what we track.

Having said that, if the change did not modify the “Last Update” section, we tag that change as Bad or an important modification that was not notified to the user.

If the change updated the date from that section, then we tag the change as Good or an important modification that was notified to the user.

And now, let’s check some data about the changes that we tracked in terms and conditions during 2016.

 

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How to create a smart contract using terms and conditions

Translated by: Bárbara Román Méndez

Smart Contracts: theory, practice and legals aspects

Smart contracts are probably one of the most trendy terms on the new technological initiatives developed by sectors as diverse as Legaltech, which we already covered thoroughly, Fintech (projects related to the new financial industry) or Insurtech (projects related to the new Insurance sector).

The thing is, why the concept of smart contract can join together sectors so different? My idea is that the smart contract is seen as a legal tool that if it ends up being commonly used, it could seriously alter the way we trade daily. In other words, taking into account that the smart contract is software, many of the advantages associated with it (for example, promptness, predictability and automation), could end up reaching these areas on a large scale.

However, if smart contracts are the legal instrument that joins such diverse industries, there is a technological element that allows today’s smart contracts and connects even more sectors. We are talking about blockchain. What’s that? Well, the technology under which currencies such as bitcoin or ether work nowadays. In fact, some people are starting to consider blockchain as one of the most revolutionary achievements coming from the Internet.

In summary, out of this somewhat cryptic introduction we should focus on to two terms. This long post will be all about them from a theoretical, practical and legal perspective. This way, we’ll talk about plenty of theory related to smart contracts, how to make one (even mortals such us :p) and some legal aspects worth mentioning. The trip won’t be short, and although I’ve tried to simplify the content as much as possible (getting rid of important concepts in order to get a better understanding of the basics), it won’t be easy. Having said that, let’s go!

As we said, all this story revolves around two terms that we should try to memorise. We are talking about Smart Contract and Blokchain.

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Pokémon GO – 13 details about its terms and conditions

Gotta catch all your rights and obligations too

Pokémon GO went live less than two weeks ago in just a few countries, but it has already become one of the phenomenons of the year. In fact, it already is the biggest mobile game ever in USA and it is quickly approaching the level of use of services such as Google Maps and Snapchat. All of that in less than two weeks.

The concept is classic Pokémon: you gather the best Pokémon to train them later and compete against different trainers and through tournaments around the world. The huge difference here is that the world is not virtual anymore, now the real world is the playground.

The thing is that thanks to augmented reality, the Pokémon do not live in a virtual world now. Instead they live and walk in the real world. For example, the garden of your neighbor. Through our mobile devices we can locate them (the camera + geolocation), catch them, train them and then compete against the rest of the world.

That means that the immersion and interaction goes through the roof, because to catch the Pokémon you have to physically move to the places where the app points out that they are living. Something that has generated more than a few complaints from players with disabilities, whose options to play get very limited.

When all the planet is the game board and the player needs to move around to play, plenty of things can go wrong. That’s why we already have plenty of crazy stories since the launch of the game: 

And that’s just the beginning…

But let’s go to the point, what do the terms and conditions of Pokémon GO say? Well, its Terms of Service, Privacy Policy, Copyright Policy and Trainer Guidelines have some very interesting aspects.

Let’s go for it!

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37 contradictions between WhatsApp and its terms and conditions

This is what happens when you do not update your legal terms in 4 years

WhatsApp, the indisputable king of worldwide messaging, is celebrating a curious anniversary: the 7th of July its terms and conditions (Privacy Policy included) turned 4 years without being updated. Yes, they are very outdated.

Bu why is this significative? We have talked about it before, but the important thing to remember is that the terms and conditions are a contract formed by clauses previously established by one the parties (the company), where the other party (the consumer) can only accept them. That means that the user cannot negotiate those clauses, having just the option to accept them or not.

This kind of contract is used by multiple services that regularly need to sign an agreement with a huge amount of users. Those contracts, the terms and conditions, in summary say: “This is what we do, do you take it or not?”

The legal protection for this kind of contracts is more extensive. For example, to protect the users from unfair clauses that could try to impose the user a conduct or an action that they did not have the power to negotiate.

For that reason, the law compels the companies (the parties that usually establish the terms and conditions), to be very clear, transparent and precise about them. In fact, if the user does not have a real chance to read those terms when the contract is being entered into, those clauses wouldn’t be part of it (according to art. 7 a) of the Spanish Ley sobre Condiciones Generales de Contratación).

WhatsApp has been adding new features to the service for the last 4 years. More than a few of them have important effects on the rights of the user, for example its privacy (the blue double check, the VOIP calling service, the buyout by Facebook or the end-to-end encryption of the chats).

However, those and of more aspects of the service are non-existent on the terms and conditions accepted by a user when registering in WhatsApp. In fact, some of the clauses totally contradict what the user can do on the service.

Having said that, let’s take a look at those absences and contradictions.

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4th Anniversary – Now with a widget for the terms and conditions changes

Cuarto Aniversario de Términos y Condiciones

4 years ago I started writing Terms and Conditions. Time goes by and the life events that come with it even more…

If truth be told, this have been quite a trip so far. Thanks to Terms and Conditions I’ve had the chance to meet some very interesting people, to access to some good professional offers, to reach out to mass media that sounded too good to be true and even to contact with institutions that seemed unattainable. Any bad things? Yeah, sure. In any case, I’ve learnt from them the same or even more than from the good ones. So, nothing to complain about.

All in all, and even taking into account everything that has been done so far, I still think that this is just starting. There is still a long way to go. In fact, I have the feeling that this 5th year is going to be specially intense. ;-)

But let’s check what we have in store for today, we are debuting the widget for the Tracker of Terms and Conditions! Developed by the great Alberto de Rodrigo.

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13 services already mentioning the online dispute resolution European platform

Resolución de Conflictos Online

On March 15th, that means today, we celebrate the World Consumer Rights Day. By coincidence, the European platform for online dispute resolution (or ODR) went live just a month ago.

But, what is this platform about online dispute resolution developed by the European Commission?

The ODR is a one-stop counter for those cases where a user from the European Union (EU) bought online from a service based in the EU, and something went wrong. If the user wants to submit a complaint against the trader (in some countries it can happen the other way around too), and he or she wants to reach an out-of-court settlement, the platform is the meeting point for all the parties involved: the one submitting the complaint, the one receiving it and the dispute resolution body that will deal with it.

This way, the consumer who lives in the EU, that bought something online and who wants to complain for a problem related to that deal, can reach out to this European platform for online dispute resolution so:

  • He or she can submit a complaint.
  • He or she can choose a dispute resolution body to deal with the complaint (although both parties have to agree on and taking into account the country where the consumer lives).
  • The dispute resolution body handles the complaint.
  • The complaint has an outcome.

All of that without abandoning the platform, in the 23 languages from the EU and being always up to date on the complaint or even future ones.

You can find here all the different stages in the procedure.

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MailChimp wants to squeeze more data from its users | Starts rating your spam

MailChimp y tus Datos

MailChimp, the popular email marketing service, updated its terms and conditions last week: Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and the Acceptable Use Policy.

The changes are many and some of them with special significance on a day-to-day basis.

First of all, it seems obvious that MailChimp wants to get the most information out of its users. For starters, by linking all the information already gathered to our accountas well as other data that could be collected (probably from external sources). Second, an important paragraph has disappeared on the subject of advertising. MailChimp said that if someday a Privacy Policy change to use or share more personal data happened, and the reason was for marketing purposes, you would be able to opt-out without termination. Apparently, that will no longer be possible.

Third, to improve the service and to guarantee its quality. Now a new clause allows MailChimp to have access to the subscriber data, totally or partially, to detect abusive or illegal behavior related to the distribution lists and spam.

Even then, MailChimp still shows an interest for protecting the privacy of its users: Do Not Track is partially accepted, there is a new email address specifically related to the privacy subject and they guarantee the right to access the personal data free of charge (when that’s not the case in every country).

What’s more, another significant change is setting up percentage rates to establish if the services, products or content that we are promoting through MailChimp can be or not the subject of an investigation, to the point of suspending our account. The thing is that if we have a hard bounce rate over 5% or a spam complain rate over 0,1%, our account can be reviewed, throttled, suspended or disabled.

Some other interesting changes are related to Safe Harbor, charges for add-ons or its mobile app.

Now let’s take a closer look to all those changes. I’ve included a comparative of every document, taking into account the snap from the Tracker of Terms and Conditions.

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