Just signed up for a new Gmail account? Bet it only took a jiffy. Service providers design sign-ups to be quick and easy. Punch in a few personal details, accept the terms, and you’re ready to roll! All in a matter of seconds – unless you decide to read those terms, that is. But we bet you don’t. Like most of us. In our tearing hurry to use the service, we don’t realize that we are getting into a contractual arrangement with the vendor.
Very few individuals understand or have visibility into the terms of their relationships with various vendors. Enterprises use contract management software, such as Sirion, to identify and stay on top of the various deliverables and obligations contained in their procurement and sales contracts. To my knowledge, there is no such product that focuses on helping individual consumers manage their contracts with service providers and vendors of the various products that they use.
All sign-ups require users to agree to a set of terms and conditions. We negotiate that need by quickly scrolling down the (usually long) list of clauses to the little blank box waiting to be checked: ‘I agree to the terms and conditions.’ Most of us tick off without even giving the clauses a cursory glance. Why? What makes us so trusting of the likes of Gmail, the iPhone, Uber, Visa, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, and so on?
Some of us reckon we have no alternative to signing, so we may as well get on with it. Because we’re one of millions using the service, we assume it is alright. To a great extent, this is true. Product and service vendors use contractual terms that are well-thought-out provisos aimed at protecting both the user and the provider. Many stipulations concern product or service quality. It is in our favor for the vendor to agree to high standards.
Other terms relate to our conduct, to the provider’s interests and so on. For instance, a common clause in medical insurance policies reserves the provider’s right to cancel the contract in the event of the customer making any false or incorrect statement, misrepresentation, non-description or non-disclosure of any material fact. The onus is on the customer to provide correct information and sufficient details. The onus is also on customers to find out what they are getting into.
In response, WhatsApp argued that users had voluntarily signed up for its app, and they retained the option of opting out. WhatsApp also pointed out that the new policy did not propose to share users’ conversations.
Their effort resulted in the court directing WhatsApp to delete data of people who opt out of the service before September 25, and not to share it with Facebook or its group companies. Also the court disallowed WhatsApp from sharing data of continuing WhatsApp users pertaining to the period before September 25, when the new policy came into effect.
I would like to end by reiterating that you need to protect your rights in your relationships with service providers – whether you are a mighty enterprise signing up for a multi-million dollar outsourcing agreement or an individual signing up for a straight forward file-sharing service!