Home Why You Should Get Mad About AOL’s New Terms Of Service

Why You Should Get Mad About AOL’s New Terms Of Service

AOL is making some changes to its terms of service, the legal documents that Internet users almost never read yet that bind them with restrictive agreements.

On September 15, AOL is implementing new terms of service, which include an arbitration clause which allows AOL to avoid class action lawsuits.

AOL is also giving itself the right to call users with automated, prerecorded messages:

When you sign up for Services and provide us with your telephone number or mobile phone number, you agree that we may contact you from time-to-time about the Services.YOU GIVE US CONSENT TO USE AUTODIALED AND PRERECORDED MESSAGES TO CONTACT YOU AT THE NUMBER YOU PROVIDE TO US.We may use the phone number that you provide to us when you open your account, when you add a telephone number to your account information, when you provide it to one of our employees or customer support, or by contacting us from your number. If you provide us with a mobile number, you consent to receive SMS or text messages at that number. You may stop further text messaging by simply texting “STOP” per the instructions we provide to you. Standard telephone minute and text charges may apply if we contact you.We will not share your phone number with non-affiliated third parties for their purposes without your consent, but we may share your phone number with our service providers, such as billing or collection companies, who may contact you using auto-dialed or prerecorded message calls or text messages. 

Chances are the majority of people who use AOL aren’t planning on suing them, so they’ll likely shrug off the new arbitration clause. But the idea that AOL will be robocalling anyone who uses its services is likely to rile people up.

See Also: LinkedIn’s Latest Lawsuit Is A Great Reminder Of How We Give Up Our Own Privacy

AOL may argue that it wants to place automated calls for billing inquiries, but the terms as written actually allow AOL to call you for any reason, including trying to sell you on new products and services.

The other troubling thing about the changed terms of service is that AOL, unlike other companies trying to push through arbitration clauses, isn’t allowing users to opt out of arbitration. Using its services equals consent to the new terms, according to AOL.

Online file-storage company Dropbox included an arbitration clause in its terms of service updated in February of this year, but it allowed users to opt out of the arbitration clause up to 30 days after agreeing to the new terms.

It’s especially alarming that AOL is trying to bypass class-action lawsuits, given its history. AOL settled a class-action lawsuit for violating users’ privacy by releasing search data last year. It’s also faced lawsuits over billing practices and ads inserted into email footers.

Class-action lawsuits are the main way consumers can get recompense for relatively small harms done to a large number of people, like privacy violations or billing errors. Some legal advocates think the arbitration process inherently favors companies.

AOL’s new terms offer no such option.

Update 2:08 p.m.: AOL spokesperson Caroline Campbell gave ReadWrite the following statement in response to our questions: “Arbitration clauses are increasingly common place in our industry. Arbitration offers an easy and speedy resolution of a consumer’s dispute.” 

Image via Renato Ganoza on Flickr

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