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Understanding Terms and Conditions

Be sure you read a website's "fine print" before you use its services

Remember that an important aspect of making choices about sharing information is your trust in the company you’re interacting with. Its terms and conditions can help you decide how much you trust it. For example, you’re probably far more comfortable sharing your financial information on a banking site because its terms state that it holds the information in the strictest confidence. However, you may be uncomfortable with posting information or images on a social networking site that has terms that state that it owns and can use any content you place there in any way it likes.

Every service you use should state its terms and conditions of use. The statement should include a clear itemization of the type of information they collect about you and the rights you grant them if you choose to use the service. Although we realize that reading the fine print is about as much fun as watching laundry spin, reading this fine print for any site where you want to share personal information is important because there are significant differences in services.

Look at these two examples:

  • Read the terms and conditions that the social networking site Bebo ( uses for content ownership. It clearly states that it has no ownership rights to your material, may not sell your material, and that you retain full control of your material.
  • Now look at the terms that another social networking site, Facebook (, imposes. It claims full rights to your material, to sell, reuse, and distribute it. It also claims this right even if you remove your content because the site can retain and use archived copies.

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