What are you really agreeing to when you click that fateful “agree” button? Terms & Conditions cuts out the legal lingo to spell it out in plain English.
Since its launch last weekend, the blistering-hot new cloud storage and file-sharing service Mega has already rocketed into the top 150 websites on the Web. With more than 1 million early adopters, the service promises users 50GB of free storage space – a generous offer – as well as file encryption to keep the contents private. Premium users can pay $10, $20, or $30 per month for additional storage and bandwidth. And users are able to share their files with other users via email or auto-generated links – all of which makes Mega sound much like any other cloud storage service, like Dropbox or SugarSync.
But, of course, Mega is not just any other cloud locker. It’s the latest brainchild of Internet anti-hero Kim Dotcom, who is currently awaiting possible extradition to the U.S. for criminal copyright charges stemming from his last cloud locker service, Megaupload. So whether Mega and Dotcom can survive the flying hammers of Hollywood and the U.S. Justice Department remains to be seen. What we can do is check out Mega’s Terms of Service to see whether Mega a safe bet.
Overall, Mega’s Terms have both strengths and weaknesses. The text is written in plain English, so there’s not too much to dissect. But it’s also very long, which likely means nobody’s going to take the time to read it and understand what’s in it. Fortunately, that’s what T&C is for. Here are the key bits of Mega’s Terms.
Your data: Responsibilities and caveats
Play it safe
Mega makes it very clear that you and you alone are responsible for keeping your data and your encryption keys safe. If you don’t, that’s your problem. That means not saving your encryption keys on your computer or – gasp! – emailing them to yourself. Why? Because that’s a great way to get hacked. Furthermore, Mega suggests you “to use robust anti-virus and firewall protection” to better protect yourself and your data.
Also, make sure you don’t lose your Mega password – there is no password reset. If you forget it, or lose it, that’s also your problem. And you can kiss your files stored there goodbye. Unless, of course, you…
Make sure you have at least one copy of the files you upload to Mega. This is vitally important because, as Mega states, the company does “not make any guarantees that there will be no loss of data or the services will be bug free.” It’s also important because there’s a greater likelihood that Mega’s servers will somehow end up in the hands of law enforcement than with other cloud storage services, which means you might not have access to the files you upload.
To each his own
Despite the whole “delete the duplicate” thing, Mega makes it clear that the files you upload to the service are owned by you. By uploading, you only give Mega the right to use the files to provide the services that make up Mega.
One of the reasons Mega is able to offer all users 50GB of free storage is that it does not actually store every individual file uploaded to its servers. Instead, the Mega system scans uploaded files, and if it finds one that is identical to a file that’s already been uploaded, it will delete the copy. That means, essentially, that multiple users are sharing files. Mega makes this clear in the Terms by saying, “Our service may automatically delete a piece of data you upload or give someone else access to where it determines that that data is an exact duplicate of original data already on our service.”
If you’re a free users and never plan to pay for the service, feel free to skip this part. If not, read on…
When you sign up for a Premium account, you have to pay the amount you owe right away. If you fail to make a monthly payment, Mega reserves the right to charge you 10 percent interest on your payment, and could slap you with covering the cost of legal fees if the company is forced to track you down to get its money. Your Mega account could also be automatically deleted.
Encrypt yo’ neck
Encryption is the main feature that sets Mega apart from other cloud storage services (even if it currently leaves something to be desired). Your account is encrypted, and the files you share can also be encrypted (but don’t have to be). Part of this means that even Mega can’t see what files you’ve uploaded.
This is important for two reasons, and both of them have to do with copyright infringement. First, because Mega cannot know what you’ve uploaded, the company is protected from law enforcement accusations that it is “knowingly” aiding copyright infringement. Second, Mega’s self-imposed ignorance means there are fewer instances in which the company would be forced to rat out your movie-sharing pastime to the fuzz.
That said, Mega clearly states – as it must – that it is against illegal file sharing of any kind, including the copyright infringement kind. Also, if you decide to share copyright-protected files that you don’t own on a large scale, and a copyright holder issues Mega a takedown notice, the company will have to remove your file. There is a chance that it could also be forced to hand over your personal details to law enforcement, which the company clearly sates that it will do. So share that copy of The Life of Pi at your own risk.
Take it or leave it
Mega is technically still in beta, which means the company is constantly making tweaks, changes, and improvements. Because of this, Mega’s Terms repeatedly state that the service may have bugs, and could even become completely unavailable. If this happens, you don’t have the legal right to sue Mega.
Furthermore – and I’m including this mainly because it’s funny – Mega states that it “will not be liable by reason of any failure or delay in the performance of our obligations because of events beyond our reasonable control, which may include, without limitation, denial-of-service attacks, strikes, shortages, riots, insurrection, fires, flood, storm, explosions, acts of God, war, terrorism, governmental action, labour conditions, earthquakes, material shortages, extraordinary internet congestion or extraordinary connectivity issues or failure of a third party host.”
That is definitely the first time I’ve seen “riots” and “acts of God” in a Terms of Service document.
Damn you, auto-delete
The most disappointing part of Mega’s terms is what I call the “auto-delete” provision, which states that Mega may “terminate or suspend our services or any part of our services, for all users or for groups of users, at any time and for any reason or no reason.”
This provision is found in a disturbing number of Terms, so it shouldn’t be a surprise. But there you have it: Your Mega account could be deleted at any time, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
The rest of Mega’s Terms basically say “if something goes wrong, that’s just too bad.” And you can’t sue Mega if anything goes awry.
So that’s about sums it up: Mega has some cool features, but the service if far from perfect. So use it at your own risk.