Reddit’s New Privacy Policy – How Terms of Service Should Be Written

Startup Schwag Bag #2 by homard.net

Startup Schwag Bag #2 by homard.net from Flickr

Are you on Reddit? I love Reddit. It’s a great way to connect with the various online communities that matter to you.

Reddit recently announced that its new privacy policy is going into effect on May 15th. You can read the text of the policy here. Seriously, go read it.

What I love about this policy is how simply it is written. It’s straightforward, well organized, and written in English – not legalese. It’s a policy that Joe Average people can read and understand how the site will use their information. I appreciate that Reddit even said that they want their users to read and understand their policies.

Reddit’s approach should be the standard way that lawyers write a company’s terms of service for their clients’ websites. They should be simple, direct, and be organized in a way that it’s easy for users to understand the site’s rules. They don’t need to be excessively long or use words that no one uses in real life.

A website’s terms of service is a contract between the site’s owners and its users. If you disagree with a site’s terms, don’t use the site. It’s important when you join a website where you will be interacting wth others or posting content that you understand your dos and don’ts as well as what the site can do with your information and anything you post.

Some people think it’s ok to simply take another website’s terms of service, change the name of the company to their own, and slap it on their website. This is asking for trouble, especially if you don’t understand the terms that you’re copying. You may be creating rules for your users that you don’t want in place. Reading other website’s terms of service is a good place to get ideas if you want to try to draft your own, but it shouldn’t be a substitute for making sure your terms of service reflect your individual or company’s needs. You never know who draft the terms you’re copying.

I love drafting custom website terms of service. I get to combine my client’s needs with what the law allows and come up with a document (in English) that will work for them. I know it sounds boring to some people, but to me it’s like a big puzzle that I get to figure out.

If you operate a website where users get to post content or interact with each other, please make sure you have a solid set of terms of service that fits your needs. If you can’t afford to hire an attorney to draft your terms of service from scratch, at least have one to review your terms of service or pay for a consultation to discuss what your provisions should be in your terms of service.

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Don’t Post Stupid Stuff Online

Gestures by Tuppus from Flickr

When I was a kid, I had a shirt that said “think” across the chest and “act” across the back. There was tiny print around the bottom hem that had a series of statements that said “think before you ________.” The shirt’s message was, “Think before you act.” If the company made this shirt today, they should modify the design to say, “Think before you post.”

Think B4 U Post by Mister Norris from Flickr

It blows my mind how much stupid shit people post on the internet, and most of the time, you can tell they do it because they think it’s funny in the moment and they don’t think it all the way through. Before you post anything on the internet, regardless of what it is and where you’re putting it, ask yourself 2 questions:

  1. What’s the worst thing that could happen?
  2. How many ways could this blow up in my face?

We all know how fast an internet post can spread like wildfire. Look at this post by a girl who lost her hat that she got from her mother who died of cancer at the Phoenix airport. I’m sure tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people have seen it. I hope she gets it back. This post went viral because her story touched people’s hearts, but other posts go viral because they’re so offensive.

Always beware of the court of public opinion. You can look like a massive ass on the internet without doing anything illegal. If you do that, be ready for your reputation to be tarnished. That offensive post could easily become the number one result when someone Googles your name, which will hurt your professional and personal lives.

And if you make an offer in a post that is believable, don’t be shocked if someone accepts it. If you post on Facebook, “I lost my phone in a cab in NYC. I’ll give $10K to whoever returns it.” You better get your checkbook out when you get it back or you might find yourself in court for breach of contract.

If you post something on the internet and it garners strong negative reactions, there isn’t much you can do if you don’t like it unless they cross the line into the realms of invasion of privacy or defamation. The only thing you can really do at that point is damage control.

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If you post something online and regret it after the fact, deleting it may not be enough to save you. Once you put something out there, you can’t control how many times it will be downloaded, shared, re-posted, and re-tweeted. It only takes a few seconds to create a post, but you may be living with the consequences forever.

The take away lesson: Think before your post…really think. Don’t put anything online that you wouldn’t put on the front page of the newspaper.

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