ToS – Who Needs Them? Who Reads Them?

Terms of Service (ToS) are something lots of us encounter every day.’  Probably, few people actually read what these agreements actually say before signing up for a web site or installing a new piece of software.’  But, because of what happened last week, I’m wondering if perhaps we need to be more aware of what these agreements say and also converse with teens a bit about what it means when they agree to ToS for a web site or piece of software.

The reason that this became something to consider over the past week, is because of the verdict turned in in the Megan Meier cyberbullying case. As readers might know, this case revolved around the suicide of Megan Meier. She killed herself after being harrassed by an adult, Lori Drew, in MySpace. As reported by Ars Techica:

The jury is in: Lori Drew has escaped felony convictions for her role in a cruel MySpace prank that turned tragic when its target, teenager Megan Meier, killed herself after getting a vicious message from the fictional online “boyfriend” drew and her friends had concocted. But the jury found that her violation of MySpace’s terms of service counted as a misdemeanor under computer hacking statutes.

Meier’s death prompted plenty of public outrage, but prosecutors were hard pressed to find a law under which the perpetrators of the MySpace prank could be charged. So they advanced a novel theory: Creating a phony account, barred by MySpace’s ToS, counted as “unauthorized access” to a computer under federal computer intrusion law….

The Ars Technica post goes on to say that the problem with this ruling – whether or not one thinks that Drew should have been convicted of more major crimes – is that it takes breaking ToS of a web site to a federal criminal level. Of course this is one case and one ruling, but imagine if courts started to bear down on everyone’s use of sites and software and how ToS are even un-knowingly broken.

This brings me back to why it’s important to talk to teens about this case, the verdict rendered, and what it means to them.’  No doubt, it means something in terms of cyberbullying and online behaviors. But, it also means that teens need to think about what they are agreeing to when they use technology.’  While I don’t expect teens to read every ToS, I probably won’t start doing that, they still need to be aware of what the clicking of the agreement checkbox can mean to them in a court of law.

There is lots ot ponder related to the Megan Meier verdict and there have been several good articles and blog posts about the verdict. You can learn more by checking them out:

About Linda W Braun

Linda W Braun is a YALSA Past President, the YALSA CE Consultant, and a learning consultant/project management coordinator at LEO: Librarians & Educators Online.
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