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.
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.
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.
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.
Last update: April 9th 2017
Legaltech in Spain? Let’s start by the beginning
According to Richard Susskind in “The Future of the Professions: How Technology Will Transform the Work of Human Experts” (he is one of the most important gurus about legal innovation in the world), when people have to face a problem, they try to avoid it or contain it before looking for a solution.
Historically, the legal sector has not been very innovative. If truth be told, it didn’t have to be because just a few had access to its pool of knowledge. That reduced competition and made things easier to control. In addition, the legal sector has always been very cautious, avoiding experimentation and waiting for change when almost everyone has already adopted it. Besides, we are talking about an area of expertise with a big focus on the past, the precedent. So, looking forward to the future has never been the usual way to go for the legal sector.
However, that stagnation has become a problem at the end of the day. Obviously, the world around the legal sector did not stop. First of all, the Internet opened up the access to the legal knowledge beyond the usual parties. Furthermore, half of the world is carrying daily a pocket computer known as smartphone. Something that has changed the requirements and requests from consumers.
The answer from the legal sector in the face of this problem has usually been lukewarm. Nevertheless, in the last 5 years something has definitively changed and a new attitude can be observed when talking about this issue. The general idea being that this is something that cannot be avoided or contained anymore.
Then you have those who see the problem as an opportunity to find a solution for the times we are living. And this is where we would say that Legaltech or Legal Technology has been born.
But, what is legaltech? Although there isn’t an official definition and the concept has been evolving the last 5 years, nowadays legatech refers to the use of technology to provide legal services. But not something along the lines of “I use email and send some WhatsAppss”. No, today legaltech can be understood as the use of technology on legal services to provide:
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:
- Places banning the hunting of Pokémon
- Infidelities being discovered through Pokémon GO
- The Mayor of Rio asking for the use of the game during the Olympic Games
- Or cops and robbers taking advantage of the excursions of the players
And that’s just the beginning…
Let’s go for it!
This is what happens when you do not update your legal terms in 4 years
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.