Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Read the Terms and Conditions on Genealogy Websites

The first time I remember getting on the World Wide Web was at Scottsdale Community College in Scottsdale, Arizona. I remember that at the time, there were six websites available for viewing. You had to have a special connection to the Internet, such as the one available at the College, even to see those six websites. That would have been in early 1992 or late in 1991.  However, by that time, I had been online for quite a while using Usenet and Gopher Protocols. Also, by that time, I had also been buying and using computer programs for over ten years. I have installed and reviewed and used thousands of programs over the years.

From time to time, I have erased or discarded a program based on its terms and conditions of use. Presently, there are many online programs I refuse to even look at after becoming acquainted with their "terms and conditions." Over the years, these software and online program terms and conditions have become more and more elaborate and full of legalese and computer jargon. As I have pointed out in past posts, the courts in the United States have struggled with the enforceability of these one-sided adhesion contracts, but in the end, have upheld many of their provisions.

If you are concerned at all about whatever you call "privacy," you need to be more attentive to these, sometimes difficult to find, provisions that accompany virtually every online program and website. I am not writing about illegal, fraudulent, or nefarious online operations, I am talking about the mainline, well-known and overwhelmingly used programs and websites. For example, take a look at the Ancestry Terms and Conditions. Do you know all about the laws of the "State of Utah?" No? Well, guess what, here is what Ancestry's Terms and Conditions say about that:
By accessing the Websites, you agree to the following terms and conditions (the “Terms and Conditions” or “Agreement”). You are legally bound by this Agreement, which is between you and Operations Inc. The Agreement defines your rights and responsibilities as a user ("User") of the Websites, which are operated by Operations Inc. or its subsidiaries (together, and with their parent corporations, other subsidiaries and affiliates, “Ancestry,” “we,” or “us”). The Websites are operated in the United States of America. Access to the Websites is governed by these Terms and Conditions under the laws of the State of Utah and the United States. (Emphasis added)
Do I care? No. I live in Utah. Did I care when I lived in Arizona? No. Do you care? Did you even know that this provision existed? I am not picking on or disagreeing with the provision at all. It is a standard commercial-type contract provision setting forth the venue for any disputes arising from transactions that occur across state and international boundaries. This provision does illustrate the fact that there may be terms and conditions of any particular website that you do not agree with. In that case, you should avoid becoming involved with that website.

If you become overly obsessive about this type of provision, you could become economically and socially incapacitated. If you are reading this post, you are not likely one of those people who reject all semblance of modern society and live out at the edge of society, where ever they can find such a location, and refuse to have bank accounts, pay taxes, use electronic devices of any kind and raise their own food. But guess what? By doing that, rejecting modern society, they are actually becoming even more embroiled in the very regulations they are trying to avoid. But that is another issue and outside my genealogical concerns.

Now what does this have to do with genealogy? Have you ever read the terms and condition for the Personal Ancestral File program? Do you know what the terms and conditions are when you "like" a Facebook post?

Let me propose an analogy. Most people today either drive or ride in motor vehicles. Since my wife and I recently studied for and obtained our Utah drivers licenses, I am painfully aware of the myriad regulations imposed on Utah drivers. These are not too different than those imposed all over the country. Motor vehicle operation laws are universal in the United States. There is no place you can drive to that does not have some kind of motor vehicle regulation. But you and I get in our cars and drive across the cities and towns and states of this country without the vaguest idea about the local laws on the operation of motor vehicles. Occasionally, I become aware that a certain state or city does not allow right turns on a red light or does not allow U turns, but this is only a minor annoyance. I can usually avoid getting a ticket by being reasonable and following the signs on the roadway.

Using online and off-line genealogy programs is lot like driving across America. You know there are different laws (Terms and Conditions) but you don't really care unless they are dramatically different than those you are used to. In any event, if you keep awake and alert, and listen to what is going on around you, you can avoid most of the problems caused by using a number of different programs and websites. You generally understand the "rules of the road" and can figure out when the conditions are changing. Are there genealogical "speed traps?" Yes, but you soon learn to avoid most of those.

I guess my message here came from a comment that I recently received asking about the cancellation policy of a certain online website. My suggestion is that you read the Terms and Conditions if you are really concerned about the details of your use of the Internet or any particular program. If you are not comfortable with its Terms and Conditions then don't use it or buy it. Pretty simple if you think about it.

No comments:

Post a Comment