What Does Your User Agreement Say?

by Jay Deragon on 08/01/2008

Linkedin recently released an update to their “user agreement” which expands their authority to “control” how people and businesses can use their network. The newly revised “user agreement” basically states that Linkedin has at their discretion the authority to deem if a users behavior and/or use of “their” network is considered inappropriate then they have the right to terminate your membership.

So in other words using their network, not your network, presents a risk to users who rely on “the network” to advance personal or professional objectives. The risk is that for whatever ambiguous reason or unintended cause your membership may be terminated and subsequently you could loose future use of the network and all your contacts if you haven’t backed them up regularly.

Whose Network is It?

Now one can understand why the major network operators, i.e. Linkedin, Facebook and others, would want to protect their brand from abuse but protectionism could come at a cost.

The value gains to network operators are driven by the number of users and frequency of use. Operators continually add new functions, features and partnerships as an attempt to create attraction, traction and market differential. So the brand value of a network operator is largely driven by the number of people who use the network. In other words it is people and usage that create the brand value. If the brand value is driven by people and usage one would think a brands relationship with the people ought to be considered with a balanced respect for one another, just maybe.

What Other “Networks” Do You Use?

We all use numerous “networks” to communicate and relate to other people on a daily basis. We use the “mobile and landline” networks to converse via phone. We use ISP networks to converse via the internet. We use broadcast networks to receive media. We use financial networks to facilitate transactions. We use “networks” of every kind to accomplish our daily routines both personally and professionally. In other words “networks” have become an integral part of living and relating.

Now imagine if any of those other interrelated “network” operators had user agreements that enable them to decide one day that your use of “the network” is somehow hurting their brand and subsequently your phone, internet and televisions, bank accounts, credit cards were all disconnected for some ambiguous reason. Hmmmmm….guess I better go read all the tiny print in all the user agreements of the multiple networks I rely on to live.

The more I think about it just maybe I need a “user agreement” between my spouse, my children, my friends, my business associates and all the service providers I use. Oh yeah, what about all the institutions and organization that I have a “social relationship” with? Do they have user agreements?

Now imagine having to create your own user agreement and saying to your spouse; Honey, I need to protect my brand from anything I deem as possibly hurting my brand at anytime and for any reason. Here is my “user agreement” and you don’t have to sign anything because simply by having a relationship with me you agree to my terms. Let me know if you have any questions but my “user agreement” cannot be changed.

Honey wait, please put down the gun!

What say you?


me August 1, 2008 at 10:25 pm

The problem is that most people would never read the terms and if they did they wouldn’t believe they were giving anything up until it bit them hard. That’s the problem. I refuse to sign up to websites that think they “own” my IP. That’s why I have a minimal Linkedin profile: I need to be there for the sheep but I won’t give Linkedin my hard earned IP.

By the way, 2nd paragraph, last sentence typo in the word LOSE.

John Stephen Veitch August 1, 2008 at 7:55 pm

LinkedIn doesn’t understand what it’s business is. LinkedIn isn’t in the social networking business in the way that Ryze and Xing are. LinkedIn’s business is much more the business of a utility company, they provide a basic search capability to find the people who you DON’T KNOW, who might be useful to you in your personal and business life.

A very large user base and the ability to search that user base in a discriminating way is the key service LinkedIn supplies. That is a service that LinkedIn owns, and that they have every right to turn on and off.

Users place their personal information on LinkedIn so that people doing searches can find “me”. They want to be “found” by people who don’t know them, and when appropriate they want the person who doesn’t know them to make a direct connection. LinkedIn says that this PRIME PURPOSE of LinkedIn is against the user agreement. If LinkedIn is to be taken seriously there is no purpose or value in being a member.

LinkedIn claims that they own all the data on their servers, and that I have no “right” to the names, email addresses and business details of the people I have connected too on their network. LinkedIn will not guarantee my access to the information, claiming that they “own it” and that I have no rights to a data record that I have invested an lot of time and money in creating. Besides they forbid me from using a product like LICM to back-up my own connections.

The new LinkedIn user agreement would I believe have NO FORCE in New Zealand law because it’s and agreement that is grossly unfair and biased in favour of LinkedIn. LinkedIn might think they have been very clever, but this one sided document is a travesty of consumer rights. I’ve committed thousands of hours to LinkedIn, so I’m trapped by that, but LinkedIn is inviting competition, and believe me people will change to the new opposition in a flash, if they are disgruntled with the way LinkedIn in fact behaves. Once a legitimate rival appears, and the move from LinkedIn begins, the future for LinkedIn is all downhill. People moving to another service and expressing dissatisfaction with LinkedIn, won’t be enticed back.. I’m sure, since this has been a problem for many months, that the new rival for LinkedIn is sitting in the wings. It may already be too late to save LinkedIn.

Heather Gardner August 1, 2008 at 1:35 pm

This is an excellent topic for discussion. I’d say this new “user agreement” has opened up new can of worms. If you fish or garden, worms can be good.

I personally am far more interested in the discussions around the new “user agreement” but see it more as an “ultimatum”.

The bottom line is my network is my network. If I chose to keep it all on LinkedIn, I would be limiting my possibilities – I suppose this would support the idea of layering and diversity when using social media. This will be a good test for some of us on how we nurture our contacts.

Great topic Jay! I look forward to reading the replies.

Heather Gardner

Margaret Orem August 1, 2008 at 7:33 am

I can appreciate disabling an individual’s network access for using it to spam or other abuse, etc. However, if a social network does that, should they make the contacts available to that individual?

Who has the greater decision right to continue contact here – the abused or the abuser? Does a network need permission to release data of a connection to someone who no longer enjoys permission to participate?

Who owns that network–the social media platform, the individual, the individual’s company as we have seen asserted, etc.?

We are moving quickly into ethical and moral questions as we become more dependent on social networks to conduct business and develop social and business relationships.

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