July 28, 2013

Terms of Use

I logged on to Netflix yesterday to check on the available of a movie and saw this below the usual Netflix menu bar:

Because the above screen shot may be difficult to read, here is the text:

Important Reminder

Your use of the Netflix service is subject to our Terms of Use. Please take a moment to review the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy and confirm the following:
I have read and agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.
This is followed by the I agree button. The “take a moment” plea is a bit disingenuous, as I will explain below.

Presumably, I had already agreed to Netflix’s terms when I first signed up for the service and also agreed to accept any new terms Netflix decided later to impose. I noticed, for example, that the current Terms of Service includes this:

Changes to Terms of Use

Netflix reserves the right, from time to time, with or without notice to you, to change these Terms of Use, including the Privacy Policy and EULA, in our sole and absolute discretion. The most current version of these Terms of Use can be reviewed by visiting our website and clicking on “Terms of Use” located at the bottom of the pages of the Netflix website. The most current version of the Terms of Use will supersede all previous versions. We will endeavor to post prior version(s) on our website when the Terms of Use are updated. You can see changes from previous versions of the Terms of Use that we have posted by visiting our website and clicking here.
There’s good news and bad news here. The bad news is that you have no real control over the Terms of Use. The good news is that the link above provides access to previous versions of the customer agreement, and those versions include change bars, which, if correctly placed, allow readers to see the changes made from one version to another. Of course, it would be more helpful were changes from one version to another called out more conspicuously, rather than buried in PDF files three levels deep.

Netflix logo
The real problem with the Netflix Terms of Service (and most such notices) is that it is outrageously long. The link to the Terms of Service in the aforementioned Important Reminder takes you to a statement almost 9,500 words long. Embedded in this notice are other links: one to the End User License Agreement (more than 2,400 words), one to Social Terms (nearly 1,300 words), and one to DVD Terms and Conditions (approximately 2,800 words). Other links lead to information (rather than regulations), such as a hardware compatibility table. Some links seem to go to the wrong page, and several lead to a 404 (page not found) page. Some of the pages linked to from the Terms of Service contain other links. Somewhere, I found a link to Open Source Notices (another 1,000 words), but, eventually, I gave up in disgust on my project of finding everything I was supposed to agree to.

Statements like Netflix’s Terms of Service have clearly gotten out of hand. At least Netflix only provides an I agree button, rather than one, like so many agreements, that indicates that you have actually read the agreement.

An executive summary of the Netflix Terms of Service would be a great help. Or, perhaps, Netflix should employ a simpler statement, something like the following:
In return for your money, we will provide a service (or not). Everything we do is on our terms, and we will punish you in any way we choose for anything we decide we don’t like. You cannot sue us, and any disagreement will be adjudicated through binding arbitration, where, we can assure you, you will lose. Have a nice day.
Oh, and then there is the Netflix Privacy Policy to read.

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