It’s been called “the biggest lie on the internet,” or rather, the one that most of us tell when we click to agree that we’ve read the entire terms and conditions. The reality about those terms, though, is that you may be handing over a lot of your privacy when you check that little box.

Just for fun, an IT company posed a social experiment surrounding terms and conditions. Their online sweepstakes that claimed to give away a brand-new computer, and their terms and conditions were spelled out. They found that 100% of the entrants had not read the terms, despite checking the box that they had. How did the company know? One of the clauses stated that in order to be eligible, entrants had to submit a photograph of their shoes. No one submitted the photo, yet they agreed and entered anyway.

It’s important to know what many terms and conditions can include, especially if you’ll be activating new accounts in the coming weeks to go along with any holiday gifts. It’s also important to learn how to find those terms at a later date, just in case you went ahead and checked the box without reading it thoroughly.

1. Photographs and videos

If you upload your holiday photos to social media sites, you might have granted permission for the site to use it. You would still own the photo, but you would no longer control what they do with it and you would not make any money if they chose to use your photo for advertising purposes.

Be aware of a very common Facebook hoax: Copying and pasting a status onto your wall that states Facebook cannot use your photos is not a valid demand. You opted to use Facebook when you signed up for a free account… you don’t get to tell them they can’t share your photos.

Remember, even if the company itself doesn’t want to use your pictures, that doesn’t mean other social media users won’t copy and paste them and use them for themselves. Even changing your settings to Private only means there’s no “share” button, it doesn’t mean the image can’t be copied.

2. Location-based monitoring

Geotagging has gotten a lot of coverage in recent years, and technology manufacturers have responded by giving their customers the option to turn off the geotagging feature. But if you have certain options turned on, like the option to find your device if it’s lost or stolen, you’ve just agreed that the monitoring takes place anytime the phone is turned on. Presumably, that means that your phone in your pocket or purse is transmitting your location to the server that enables the find feature.

Other services, like in-car navigation systems and entertainment systems, also track your location when activated. This is how the service can pinpoint your location and give you directions, or send the police in an accident.

3. Automatic renewal

Some companies offer free trials to consumers in order to let them experience the service before they pay, but be careful. Some of the terms and conditions not only state that your service will be renewed automatically for a fee if you don’t cancel before the cutoff date, but they also bill annually, meaning you just signed up for a year’s service. You can still choose to cancel the service, but the refund may or may not occur depending on the terms and conditions.

4. Selling your information

Many companies reserve the right to use or sell your base-level information—things like your name, mailing address, or email address—and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, if you opened an account with a website, logically you might be interested in similar offers from other websites. At the same time, if the account you created was free, someone has to pay the bills. Selling your information to advertisers is one way that small companies can keep the lights on without having to charge you a lot of money for an account.

Typically, you’ll be offered the chance to opt out of newsletters, promotional mailings, or outside offers. If not, you might have granted them permission to sell your information when you agreed to the terms.

5. These terms may change

If you are one of the tech users who meticulously reads the service agreement before checking the box, great! But you still might find yourself surprised by sudden changes. That’s because many service agreements leave the door open for changes down the road; after all, if they discover that a facet of their company isn’t working out, they need to be able to fix it.

That’s why a lot of companies will send out emailed updates to their terms and conditions if they make any changes. You may find that you have to check the box again the next time you use that site or software, but you may also discover that the changes took effect whether you read the email or not. It all depends on the change and how the notification went out.


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