What even are Terms of Service agreements?
The Terms of Service are a set of rules and regulations set by the organization in charge of the website that the user must follow to continue their use of their product. The Terms of Service is a legally binding contract unless it violates federal or state laws. In most cases the Terms of Service will change as the product changes and will then notify its users of those changes.
What does that mean to You and Me?Many of us have just scrolled down to hit that "I Agree" button to get to the content we want to see and use without reading into these agreements. You can think of these agreements like a special pass to a club that you can only enter once you've agreed to their house rules. This also means that if you were to break any of those rules they're allowed to kick you out forever if they feel the need to. In most cases these rules are a set of rules that you shouldn't break for your own safety and the safety of the organization behind the product.
Let's take a deeper look into these agreements!At first when looking into the Terms of Service of any given website or web-service the site will notify you that you are reading the Terms of Service and are then agreeing to their terms. As you continue down their contract they will notify you of the appropriate age that the user must be to use their website. In most cases the user must be of at least the age of 13, but in some cases in more professional business focused website the user must of age 18 or older. These are restrictions are put up to protect people of that age and lower from any possible harm.
Who's content is it anyways?For many websites and web-services the users have the ability to post appropriate content. In the Terms of Service the site grants their users ownership of content that originated from the user themselves, but will grant ownership of any copyrighted content to the rightful owner. Meaning as a user you are allowed to post your own original content to share, but you may also post copyrighted content without attempting to take ownership. In many cases if a piece of copyrighted content is posted and the rightful owner wishes it to be taken down then the website is more likely to take down the content without contacting the poster prior to the take down.
Moral Code and Protecting People's RightsThese are guidelines that the service providers wish that users to follow to maintain an orderly website for users to enjoy. These guidelines are there to protect yours and others' rights. Meaning all users should not violate or infringe another user's privacy, copyright, trademark or rights as a person. Nor should any user participate in bulling, harassing, intimidating, defaming, spamming or soliciting to other users. Websites are very strict at upholding the safety of their users in the public and private parts of their site.
Disclaimers and Lawful LiabilitiesIn many cases the website will put a disclaimer explaining that their product will not last forever and may at sometime no longer continue to exist. As apart of this disclaimer the website points out that the actions of their users do not reflect nor do they take responsibility of such actions. This includes any sort content created or posted onto their website by users that may cause legal prosecution. As a user it is important that just because you are using their website doesn't mean you are free of the real dangers of legal troubles. In many cases the service providers will try to remain not associated to any legal actions taken or made by their users.
Is it worth the read?In most cases the Terms of Service of one website or service will be similar to another, but all vary to a degree specific to their own specialized purpose. It is important to understand why sites have Terms of Service agreements and how they work in the general everyday user experience. Reading a Terms of Service agreement is very dry and unpleasant, but it is important to have at least one and try to understand what they mean. In the event you do not understand what certain terms or phrasing means you should research and come to your own educated conclusion as to what they meant to keep yourself safe.
Here are a few Terms of Service of popular websites: