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Snapchat's User Agreement: The Latest Update in a Scary Saga

Nobody reads the Terms of Service for their technology, right? Duh, of course not. This is so widely understood that the joke about clicking “agree” to God-knows-what is now cliché. But the truth is, some people do actually read the Terms of Service. They just don’t care.

If you were on Snapchat anytime in the past week, you probably noticed that they’ve updated their user agreement. Users have been freaking out about it, claiming that agreeing to these terms of service allows the app to save and do anything with every snap you ever take. And that is what it sounds like. “We may access, review, screen and delete your content at any time and for any reason,” the new agreement reads.

Snapchat addressed the hubbub in a public statement on Sunday, explaining that snaps are deleted from the server once they disappear. They did admit, however, to adopting a broad license to user-created content, and the ability to “host, store, use, display, reproduce, modify, adapt, edit, publish, create derivative works from, publicly perform, broadcast, distribute, syndicate, promote, exhibit, and publicly display that content in any form and in any and all media or distribution methods.”

The idea that Snapchat is hoarding and distributing your nudes is horrifying, but talking about whether it’s true or not is pointless. What’s more interesting is what happens after we acknowledge terms as unfair—we click Agree.

In 2012, Instagram updated their Terms of Service, saying that it could now share users’ information with other companies and sell users’ photos to advertisers. People were outraged, and rightfully so. They felt violated, and many threatened to delete their accounts. A few outlets even went so far as to call the new Terms of Service “Instagram’s Suicide Note,” assuming that no one could possibly want to continue using the app after knowing what it can do with their photos. The only thing is, no one really stopped using it. That was three years ago, and Instagram is bigger than ever.

We like to be vocal about our beliefs; we want to make sure everyone knows just how principled we are. But we’re kind of all talk and no game. For years, people have been copy-and-pasting slightly different incarnations of one Facebook status, which is peppered with nonsensical legal jargon and declares that that by posting it, Facebook can no longer use or distribute any of the poster’s personal information. It doesn’t take long to realize that this status is a hoax, and has no legal bearing. Making a declarative status does not exempt you from the user agreement. That’s just not how it works. You agree to them by having an account. If you are really upset by the terms, don’t create an account.

Is it better to be informed, or blissfully unaware? To spend a solid half-hour reading the Terms and Conditions, or to blindly accept them? Turns out, it doesn’t really matter, since we’re going to click Agree either way. And while the ethics of the length and font size of Terms of Service are debatable, one thing is increasingly apparent: no matter how mad we get about privacy violations one minute, we are more and more willing to forget about it completely the next.

Stay tuned to Milk for more updates.

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