Friday, March 18, 2005

AOL's EULA: Fear, confusion and a fanatical devotion to legalese ...

The editorial staff of the Harvard Crimson have produced an opinion piece related to the AOL Instant Messenger privacy fuss. Though the focus is on jargon-laden EULAs (end-user license agreements), privacy notices have may of the same characteristics:

The Harvard Crimson Online :: Opinion:

"You've Got Jargon: AOL’s two main weapons are fear, confusion, and a fanatical devotion to legalese


We do it without a moment’s thought. We click the box and accept the “terms” without pause. What are the actual terms? No one really knows—and, more often than not, no one really cares. But perhaps we should pay more attention to the content of these curious provisos—these End-User License Agreements (EULAs) that accompany most any piece of software. If the new changes to the terms of service of one of America Online (AOL) Inc.’s most popular applications are any indication, it’s easy to pull a fast one on unassuming customers without any real accountability. In their current, indecipherable form, however, it’s safe to assume that people will continue to “agree” to these terms without thinking. It is essential that EULAs be more up-front and comprehensible; they should be written in “plain English” to avoid any underhanded policies that might require signing away one’s soul—inadvertently.

The changes in question affect something very dear to almost any Harvard student, and increasingly almost any person who owns a personal computer, cell phone, or other trendy technological device that allows for epistolary e-interaction. And it stirs paranoia in anyone who generally enjoys the world of impersonal, anti-social online banter. That is, it affects the users of the ubiquitous AOL Instant Messenger (AIM).

AOL’s new terms, affecting anyone who downloaded AIM after Feb. 4, 2004 as well as anyone planning to update the program in the future, explain that, “by posting content on an AIM Product, you grant AOL, its parent, affiliates, subsidiaries, assigns, agents and licensees the irrevocable, perpetual, worldwide right to reproduce, display, perform, distribute, adapt and promote this content in any medium. You waive any right to privacy.” Frightening words, indeed....."

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