Orkut’s privacy policy and terms of service


It was bound to happen sooner or later. I was invited to join Orkut. But before clicking Submit, I always read the fine print: their Terms of Service and their Privacy Policy. (Oh great, you have to have scripting enabled just to read their Terms of Service and Privacy Policy!)

Notice, for example, the terms for changes to their terms of service:

We also reserve the right to modify these Terms of Service from time to time without notice. You are responsible for regularly reviewing these Terms of Service so that you will be apprised of any changes.

(Emphasis mine.) Notice that they do not say that they will notify you when the Terms of Service change. It is your responsibilty to check the Terms of Service. So tomorrow, they could quietly amend their Terms of Service to read, "By agreeing to these Terms of Service, you also agree to pay orkut.com a fee of $50 per day in perpetuity, and you grant that orkut.com or its agents are authorized to use physical force or threats of force to compel such payment," and it is your responsibility to notice this.

And even if you do manage to notice this, their termination clause says

Once your membership terminates, you will have no right to use the orkut.com service. Our proprietary rights, disclaimer of warranties, indemnities, limitations of liability and miscellaneous provisions shall survive any termination of your membership.

Suppose you alertly notice that they changed their Terms of Service and you quickly contact them to cancel your membership. Does that relieve you of your $50/day habit? Nope. The $50/day fee survives termination of the membership. Even though you lose your right to the benefits of membership, they retain the rights to exploit your membership (that you don't have any more but are still paying for).

Of course, any interpretation of the above paragraph is meaningless since they can totally write their Terms of Service at any time and hold you to the rewritten version.

What about the privacy policy?

We reserve the right to transfer your personal information in the event of a transfer of ownership of orkut.com, such as acquisition by or merger with another company. In such an event, orkut.com will notify you before information about you is transferred and becomes subject to a different privacy policy.

Note that there is no way to opt out of being subjected to a different privacy policy. So Orkut could be bought by vast-left-wing-conspiracy.com, whose privacy policy reads, "We reserve the right to use all information gathered about you, both aggregate and personally identifiable, for any means whatsoever, without compensation or recourse. The terms of this policy remain in effect even after membership is cancelled."

And now vast-left-wing-conspiracy.com can sell your name to hate groups and you can't do anything about it.

I find it interesting that there are no provisions in the Privacy Policy for changes to the Privacy Policy.

Comments (23)
  1. moo says:

    Unless its compliant with contractual laws, EU directives, human rights and all that hoopla and both parties sign off on it. It has as much meaning as an EULA click thru. Bugger all.

  2. moo says:

    Not to mention the EU data protection laws.

  3. senkwe says:

    I was reading this post via the weblogs.asp.net site so I had to chuckle when I realized it was an MS employee voicing privacy concerns :-) Guess I’ve been reading too much "/."

  4. Mo says:

    The question is.. did you click "Submit" anyway? :)

  5. Relax Raymond says:

    I think you’re a bit paranoid Raymond. I mean, after all, you work for a mega-corporation that collects all kinds of interesting data about its customers. Who knows what you guys do with it or who you sell it to? You’re right in that we should always be cynical about Terms of Service of Privacy Policies. However, what’s with the sudden revelation that Orkut in particular may try and sell your name to hate groups? I mean, a bit paranoid today are we not Raymond? ;)

  6. Raymond Chen says:

    I carefully read the Passport and MSN agreements too. And I also refused to sign up for Microsoft’s internal classified ads system because I didn’t like their privacy policy. I’m paranoid about Microsoft as much as I am about other companies.

  7. McGroarty says:

    I wrote a bit about this here:

    http://www.livejournal.com/users/mcgroarty/172132.html

    In a nutshell, all of the above bothers me. But tack onto that the fact that Google is ready to IPO.

    There’s a relatively new school of marketing that seeks to find the most influential people in groups and blast the hell out of them with marketing. With the combination of your search queries and a view of your social standing, based on your Orkut friendship network, select users will suddenly become a very, very, very valuable commodity for advertisers. And a post-IPO Google would probably be all but required to capitalize on that.

    Thanks, but no thanks. I don’t want to be the target of doubleclick 2.0.

  8. ko says:

    As discussed on the jos forums, another part of the terms of service includes:

    By submitting, posting or displaying any Materials on or through the orkut.com service, you automatically grant to us a worldwide, non-exclusive, sublicenseable, transferable, royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right to copy, distribute, create derivative works of, publicly perform and display such Materials.

    It gives them a license to use anything you do through orkut.

  9. Peter Torr says:

    I think Orkut should be bought out by http://www.freeflixtix.com

    http://weblogs.asp.net/ptorr/archive/2003/12/29/46320.aspx

    (Yeah, I’m not keeping it a "secret" any longer :-) )

  10. J Suen says:

    Actually, it only explicitly says that "proprietary rights, disclaimer of warranties, indemnities, limitations of liability and miscellaneous provisions" survive termination.

    If you think about it, its quite reasonable: if they disclaim liability now, you should not be able to quit then turn around and sue them or take their data. The only way they could make you keep paying $50/month is if they could pass it off in court as a "miscellaneous provision", which is probably unlikely, given the word "miscellaneous" and that the other items in the clause deal with their liability to you.

  11. Marco Nova says:

    You’re not the only one concerned about this issue, Adam Fields (http://www.livejournal.com/users/fieldsnyc/14089.html) have a good summary of the implications and a reasonable "answer" on why do they act this way.

  12. dk says:

    Why are you worried about these provisions? Maybe you have something to hide? Let’s all just get along. Click and be happy.

  13. Raymond Chen says:

    J Suen: "Proprietary rights" is anything they put in the "Proprietary rights" section. So if they say that they have a proprietary right to your wallet then that’s what you agreed to. They already claimed a proprietary right to your name, your picture, and your email address. The wallet can’t be far behind.

  14. Joe says:

    The Register notes another problem with their TOS (http://www.theregister.co.uk/content/6/35375.html): They claim "a worldwide, non-exclusive, sublicenseable, transferable, royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right to copy, distribute, create derivative works of, publicly perform and display" any materials that you post on or through the Orkut service. The Reg notes that this is similar to wording that MS had to change in its Passport TOS a little while ago.

    Particularly troubling here is the "through" part. Does this mean that if I put something up on my site, and have a link to that site in my Orkut profile, they can claim these rights on those materials?

  15. Zenon Panoussis says:

    I don’t think you’ve read orkut’s privacy policy properly. The terms you fear in vast-left-wing-conspiracy.com’s PP are already in orkut’s policy. To wit:

    We will never rent, sell, or share your personal information with any third party for marketing purposes without your express permission.

    This means: we reserve the right to rent, sell or share your personal information with any third party for any purposes except marketing.

    And more:

    When you invite new members into your network or send messages through the orkut.com service, we collect and maintain the information associated with those messages, including email addresses and content…

    Did you read that? orkut keeps a copy of every e-mail that is sent through it. The contents of your personal, private e-mail are then subject to the next condition (from the terms of service):

    By submitting, posting or displaying any Materials on or through the orkut.com service, you automatically grant to us a worldwide, non-exclusive, sublicenseable, transferable, royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right to copy, distribute, create derivative works of, publicly perform and display such Materials.

    You understand? Not only do they keep a copy of every e-mail sent through them, but you also grant them the right to sell it wherever they please *and* without paying you a penny.

    The fact that intelligent people who even have read these terms still sign up fills me with awe.

  16. Jason says:

    Joe, take a look at this bit of the terms:

    "Other examples of illegal or unauthorized uses include, but are not limited to:



    directing any user (for example, by linking) to any Materials of any third party without such third party’s prior written consent"

  17. Stephen Jones says:

    You do need to agree to Orkut using what you post, otherwise you could demand a comment on a forum be taken down, and all comments on the forum that quote it also be taken down.

    There is also the question of moving the cache to another machine.

    The wording could be rephrased to protect orkut’s rights though, without threatening yours quite so much.

  18. Interstella says:

    I still wonder what the point about sites such as Ryze, OpenBC and Orkut actually is. Orkut is the weirdest of them: Social networking for sake of social networking, but why am I supposed to be there? Where’s the benefit? It’s a tool for – well, what exactly?

    I liked Ryze better, since they do mention the business-oriented purpose of their site. But it turned out to be plagued by the locusts of MLM and network marketing. Their forums are full of "I found the next big thing, join my downline, now!"

    The guys at openBC are my current favourite. They’re based in Germany with EU data protection laws, have reasonable terms of service and they obviously hate MLM and spam on the site. They seem to try to make it a mostly a no-nonsense business tool. Most users are German (so am I), but it seems to attract international users, too. Their forum software is a major let-down, though, and their Blog-integration lacks. They also seem to add recent features in a hurry, so let’s see how they will cope with the growth of a SN site…

  19. Geek Style says:

    I’ve been playing with Orkut for past couple of days, and I am somehow addicted to it for now. Its way better than Friendster. The very first interesting thing is that though they are affiliated with google, but they use…

  20. Chris says:

    Orkut is a pointless honey pot in which hapless users become trapped. It offers nothing but social interaction for the sake of it, lots of fluff and air. It’s like Club Nokia – offers nothing but the cliquey feeling of belonging to a special club. Why would any company invest money in such a pointless thing? For the demographics and users. Take my advice and give it a wide berth, and stick to services which actually offer something tangible, for the sake of your own privacy and liberties.

    Chris

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