Terms & Conditions: Twitter competitor App.net’s terms of service, privacy policy explained

terms & conditions app net social media service

Check out the full Terms & Conditions archive.

Welcome to the second edition of Terms & Conditions, a weekly column where break down the terms of service, privacy policies, and other legalese we all love to ignore — but that have serious bearing on our digital lives. This week’s target: App.net.

Social media’s coolest newcomer, App.net, has been described as a more open, advertising-free, developer-friendly alternative to Twitter. The service, which launched in alpha in mid-August after a successful $500,000 crowdfunding run, currently costs $50 per year to use. And with respect for privacy and its users in general, App.net released the first versions of its terms of service and privacy policy at the end of August. To make things even more open, App.net has requested that users review the documents in an effort to refine them, a process that is taking place on Github.

At present, App.net appears to be sticking to its principles, with a ToS and privacy policy that are simple and easy to follow.

“We asked our attorney to help us craft some terms that outline, with the least amount of legalese, the important things you need to know about accessing and using App.net’s website and service (collectively, “Service”),” begins the ToS document. “These are our terms of service (“Terms”). Please read them carefully.”

That we will.

App.net Terms of Service: Part 1. Accepting terms — whether they change or not

Like all terms of service, the document kicks off by saying that you must agree to the terms to use the service. Or, to flip it around, if you use the service, you agree to the terms. Nothing odd or unreasonable about that.

App.net also reserves the right to change the terms at any time. This is probably not so they can trick you into signing over your life savings or handing over your new puppy to the App.net team. Rather, the terms will change if they roll out new services. To be a safe, vigilant user, you need to pay attention to changes to the terms of service — because if you keep using the service after they change, then you have agreed to the new terms by default.

Part 2. Accounts

Unlike Facebook, App.net allows users to create accounts that do not publicly carry your real name. You can make “pseudo anonymous” accounts. And you can make “parody” accounts, but parody accounts must be explicitly identified as such. Further, you do have to give App.net your real name — or at least the name that appears on whatever credit card you use — for billing purposes.

Furthermore, by agreeing to the ToS, you take responsibility for keeping your login credentials a secret, and accept all the consequences of not doing so.

Part 3. ‘Content & conduct’

Anything you post to App.net — links, photos, poetry, whatever — is your responsibility, “including its legality, reliability, and appropriateness.”

App.net has the “limited right” to “reproduce, modify, publicly perform, publicly display, and distribute” the content you post to the service, which basically means that you give App.net the right to do exactly what you intend App.net to do: publish the content to your followers.

Unlike some other services, App.net is quite clear about its deletion policy: You can delete any of your content, and it will immediately be taken out of public view. App.net’s servers may still retain some of the content, but only for a period of two weeks. It is then gone forever.

App.net then lists a variety of content that you man not post to the service. Their description is quite clear here, so I’ll just let them do the explaining. The following types of content are forbidden from App.net (and yes, links to pirated content and child pornography are included):

  • Content that is libelous, defamatory, bigoted, fraudulent or deceptive;
  • Content that is illegal or unlawful, that would otherwise create liability;
  • Content that may infringe or violate any patent, trademark, trade secret, copyright, right of privacy, right of publicity or other intellectual or other right of any party;
  • Unsolicited promotions, political campaigning, or commercial messages (SPAM);
  • Private information of any third party (e.g., addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, Social Security numbers and credit card numbers); and
  • Viruses, corrupted data or other harmful, disruptive or destructive files or code.
  • Use the Service in any manner that could interfere with, disrupt, negatively affect or inhibit other users from fully enjoying the Service or that could damage, disable, overburden or impair the functioning of the Service;
  • Impersonate or post on behalf or any person or entity or otherwise misrepresent your affiliation with a person or entity;
  • Collect any personal information about other users, or intimidate, threaten, stalk or otherwise harass other users of the Service;
  • Create an account or post any content if you are not over 13 years of age;
  • Circumvent or attempt to circumvent any filtering, security measures, rate limits or other features designed to protect the Service, users of the Service, or third parties.

Later in the document, App.net says that breach of any of the rules outlined in the terms of service — including those above — may result in you losing your App.net account, and access to the service.

Part 4. App.net is not your property

Under the “App.net’s Materials” section of its ToS, the company simply says that you are forbidden from stealing App.net’s technology, or the information posted to App.net, and using it for your own purposes outside of the service itself. Do so, and you’ll probably get kicked out.

Part 5. Outside content

I’m not exactly sure whey they didn’t include this portion under Part 3. — it would certainly fit there — but for whatever reason, they’ve decided to include “hyperlinks and third-party content” in its own category.

While the first part says that you may not link to App.net or content on the service to make money, it’s the second part that really matters for most people: Specifically, App.net does not take responsibility for any lies posted by its users. Nor does it take responsibility for content outside of App.net that its users may link to; if you click on a link to something offensive or illegal, that’s not App.net’s problem.

Part 5. “Unavoidable legal stuff”

All this section says, in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS (why does legal stuff have to scream at us?), is that App.net takes no responsibility if you break its code of conduct, post illegal material, stalk someone because of information found on App.net, or otherwise bring the wrath of lawsuits down on App.net’s head. If you do, you will have to pay the consequences, and the legal fees, involved.

Part 6. Copyright

If you post links to pirated material, and App.net gets served DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) takedown notices, you might get kicked out of App.net entirely. So don’t do that. (App.net has a stand-alone Copyright Policy, which has more details about DMCA takedown notices.)

Part 7. Laws and stuff

App.net is a California company, and is therefore subject to the state’s laws.

Part 8. Settling disputes

If you and App.net have a problem with each other that relates in anyway to something covered in the terms of service, you both agree to try to resolve the matter directly with each other. If, after 60 days, you and App.net have failed to resolve the problem, the negotiations may then move into “mediation” territory, which also lasts a maximum of 60 days. During these first 120 days, neither you or App.net may sue each other. After the first 120 days, however, lawsuits may be filed.

Hopefully that doesn’t happen, and negotiations can then move into arbitration territory, which means the you’ll try to settle the dispute out of court. But, unlike the simple mediation process, a third-party will officially serve as the arbitrator, who can decide how damages are awarded, and whether anyone will have to pay the other’s legal fees. Arbitration can only last up to 90 days, except under “extraordinary circumstances.”

Part. 9 Getting kicked out

As mentioned above, failure to abide by the terms of service could result in you account being suspended or entirely disabled.

At the end of the document, App.net asks for your feedback, which you can give through the Github discussion board, or by emailing App.net at: support@app.net.

>>Next Page: App.net’s privacy policy

terms & conditions app net social media service

Like its terms of service, App.net’s privacy policy, which outlines “how information about you is collected, used, and disclosed by App.net,” is clear and straight forward. That’s good. And from the looks of things, there is far less to be concerned about here from a privacy standpoint than most social networks. Let’s take a look.

App.net Privacy Policy: Part 1. Collecting your information

You can basically assume that anything you do on App.net will be collected and recorded by the site. This is not some backhanded attempt to mine your data, as App.net does not have advertisers to sell your data to. Rather, this is simply part of using nearly any social network, App.net included.

Here is a quick list of the information App.net will likely have on you:

  • Name
  • Email address
  • Credit card info
  • Postal address (billing address)
  • Browser type
  • Which page you visited before going to App.net
  • When you access the site
  • Which pages you view on the site
  • IP address
  • What type of device (laptop, smartphone, etc) you use to access App.net
  • Operating system of that device

App.net does use cookies and Web beacons (also known as “tracking pixels, which are embedded invisibly on the site) to gather information about you. App.net claims these are used simply to make their service better, which may be true (we have to take their word for it here). If you are uncomfortable with this, you can block the cookies and tracking pixels. (More on this later.)

Red flag: App.net does say that it “may also obtain information from other sources and combine that with information we collect through our services.” This is what’s known as profile building, and definitely raises some concerns. As mentioned, however, App.net claims that any data it has on you is simply to improve its service, or offer you certain features.

Part 2. How App.net uses your personal data

App.net provides a fairly clear outline of how it uses your information. There are some uncertainties here, but compared to Facebook, for instance, there’s very little concealed behind ambiguous language. Here are the ways App.net uses your info, in its own words:

We use information about you for various purposes, including to:

  • Provide, maintain and improve our services;
  • Provide services you request, process transactions and to send you related information, including confirmations and invoices,
  • Send you technical notices, updates, security alerts and support and administrative messages;
  • Respond to your comments, questions and requests and provide customer service;
  • Communicate with you about App.net;
  • Provide news and information we think will be of interest to you;
  • Monitor and analyze trends, usage and activities in connection with our services;
  • Personalize and improve our services; and
  • Link or combine with other information we get from third parties to help understand your needs and provide you with better service.

Part 3. How App.net shares your data with third parties

Fortunately, App.net does not have advertising, which means your data is not being sold to advertisers, or provided to advertisers as a way to make either App.net or its (non-existent) advertisers money. That’s good. There are some instances where App.net reserves the right to share your information, but they are all extremely standard for any business, online or offline. For instance, App.net may share your information with a credit card processing company in order to process your subscription fee. It may also share your information if App.net is bought by another company.

Red flag: The one area that may give users pause is App.net’s policy with regard to sharing information with the government or law enforcement. The privacy policy states that App.net may share your personal data, “If we believe disclosure is reasonably necessary to comply with any applicable law, regulation, legal process or governmental request.” This is, of course, an unavoidable provision. Businesses must abide by the law, after all. What’s not clear is whether App.net will think it “reasonable” to share your private data with law enforcement authorities who do not obtain a search warrant for the information — and that’s something I believe the company needs to explain further.

Part 4. Third-party analytics

Like many websites out there (Digital Trends included), App.net may use a third-party analytics service, like Google Analytics, or Chartbeat. Your viewing data — your IP address, web browser, pages viewed, time spent on pages, links clicked and conversion information — will be accessed by these third parties through either cookies or tracking pixels. If you choose not to block these, you are agreeing to those companies’ terms or service and privacy policies, as well as App.net’s. So keep that in mind.

Part 5. Security

App.net promises to take “reasonable measures” to keep your private data secure. Whether these measures really are reasonable will become glaringly obvious if App.net is ever hacked. If not, then we can presume them to be reasonable.

Part 6. To block, or not to block

As mentioned, App.net makes clear that you can block cookies and tracking pixels, either by setting your browser to not accept cookies, or by using a third-party privacy plugin, like Ghostery or Do Not Track Plus. However, if you do so, App.net warns that the service may not function as it should due to this blockage.

App.net lets you “update, correct, or delete” any information you intentionally provided to the service by modifying your personal profile. (Data like which browser you used to access the site, or your IP address, cannot be modified by you.)

You can suspend or permanently delete your App.net account by emailing the company at support@app.net. However, App.net may not delete all of your information due to legal requirements or for “legitimate business purposes,” like keeping track of how many users it has, and things of that nature. App.net warns that some of your information may be retained “for a certain period of time,” probably about two weeks, as mentioned in the terms of service.

App.net says that it may contact you for promotional and non-promotional purposes (like if you account is hacked). You can opt out of any promotional communications, though it’s not clear from the privacy policy how to accomplish this. (Perhaps in the email?)

Finally, if you live in California, state law allows you to request all information App.net has on you — but not if it will allow you to opt-in or opt-out of having that information shared. Weird. However, App.net says that you can forbid the company from sharing any of your personal information with third-parties for “direct marketing purposes” if you email the company (support@app.net). So you might just want to do that.

Conclusion

As promised, App.net’s terms and privacy policy are extremely straight forward and as non-intrusive as possible for an online business. We do want to know specifically how the company will respond to law enforcement requests for your personal information. But since the company has made these policies open to public comment, and promised to give the documents a thorough quarterly review, we expect them to make this clear as time goes on.

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