How Web Hosting Terms of Service Affect You

Tue, 6th August 2013, 18:28

Not many people actually read the Terms of Service agreements they agree to on a daily basis. Terms of Service agreements are everywhere. Almost every site you use has them, including software you use, music you listen to, and much more. Nobody reads all of those contracts. There have been several examples of companies who use their terms of service (ToS) agreements to get away with some pretty invasive practices. Of those companies, many of them are web hosting providers. Providers like HostGator and Synthesis have ToS agreements that have provisions that give you very little say in what can and cannot go on your web site, and give the provider a ton of rights to your content.


What’s Really Going On With ToS

One of the biggest examples of terms of service sections that might make your skin crawl is this section from Synthesis web hosting ( a division of CopyBlogger): 

You acknowledge, consent, and agree that Copyblogger Media may access, preserve and disclose your account information and Content if required to do so by law or in a good faith belief that such access preservation or disclosure is reasonably necessary to: (a) comply with legal process; (b) enforce the TOS; (c) respond to claims that any Content violates the rights of third parties; (d) respond to your requests for customer service; or (e) protect the rights, property, or personal safety of Copyblogger Media, its principals, employees, associates, affiliates, users, and the public.

One of the biggest consumer betrayals is a terms of service agreement with a section that says that contact information as well as data you store on the web host’s servers can be accessed by the host and will be given freely to almost any “official” who asks for it... or anyone else they deem worthy!

In some ToS agreements, you’ll also find places where the host reserves the right to advertise on your site and cut you out of the profits, like this example from’s ToS:

Advertisements. Automattic reserves the right to display advertisements on your blog unless you have purchased an Ad-free Upgrade or a VIP Services account.

That one goes even farther by preventing you from putting ads on your own site. That means no making money from the content you post. Now, of course, the rational argument is that they reserve that right because the service is free, and they need to make money. On the other hand, the ads they place on your site might not fit in with the content, and will essentially appear that you are endorsing those products, when you probably won’t be.

Almost all ToS agreements also have sections that say they can take down any or all of your content in the event someone else claims that that content violates their copyright. This can be a notification from one of your enemies; it doesn’t have to come from a court. Your only recourse in most of these situations is to get a lawyer and go through the courts, which could get very expensive.


Buyer Beware..Your Only Defense

The only thing you can do is to read the Terms of Service agreements before you sign up for any service. It will be hard because many of these agreements range anywhere from 5000 to 20,000 words, and usually is written in legalese. But actually reading it, and knowing what you agree to can keep you from being surprised when something unseemly happens later on.

Unfortunately there will be times when you need to use a service that has less than stellar terms. In those situations, you should do your best to avoid the legal mines, and keep personal information clear of their servers. 


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