Terms of Service (ToS)

My favourite thing to ignore.

I’ve never met anyone who has actually read an entire Terms of Service. I can’t blame them because, have you seen how long service terms are? They aren’t exactly the most exciting thing to read, in fact, they’re quite the opposite: dull and impenetrable. In addition, for the most part, they seem to be full of words of legalese. So, really, do companies actually expect us to read all of it?


The number of service terms I’ve blindly agreed upon sometimes scare me because, who knows, one day a ToS collector may surprise me at my front door, demanding me to give up my soul, just because I blindly agreed to giving it away. (Okay, yea I know this probably won’t happen…) But, to make myself feel more at ease, I’ll be reading the Terms of Service of one of my favourite and most-used app, Snapchat, which has been recently updated on March 29, 2016.

When reading the terms, I came across a shocking one. It was under section 3, “Rights You Grant Us,” where you’re given this statement:

“Many of our Services let you create, upload, post, send, receive, and store content. When you do that, you retain whatever ownership rights in that content you had to begin with. But you grant us a license to use that content. How broad that license is depends on which Services you use and the Settings you have selected.”

Snapchat also states that:

“For all Services other than Live, Local, and any other crowd-sourced Service, you grant Snapchat a worldwide, royalty-free, sublicensable, and transferable license to host, store, use, display, reproduce, modify, adapt, edit, publish, and distribute that content. This license is for the limited purpose of operating, developing, providing, promoting, and improving the Services and researching and developing new ones.

Hence, does this give Snapchat the right to use the photos and videos that we upload and share with them however they want? Are our private pictures not really private?


I did some research on this, as I was confused and shocked about these terms (Snapchat can’t really be stockpiling all of our private snaps, right?) I discovered that, in fact, when the previous 2015 Terms of Service came out, Snapchat received widespread backlash for “creep[ing] users out.” There were numerous scared, confused, and angry tweets, saying that they “deleted their accounts” because of it.


After all this backlash, Snapchat tried to clear up the rumours. They assured that all images, videos, and messages are deleted as soon as it has been viewed or has been expired. And when reading the Privacy Policy (linked under section 5 of the ToS), which has a whole new lengthy list of terms, I was assured that what they said was actually on the written document:

“We automatically delete the content of your Snaps (the photo and video messages that you send your friends) from our services after we detect that a Snap has been opened or has expired.”

Snapchat also made an official comment saying:

“It’s true that our Terms of Service grant us a broad license to use the content you create — a license that’s common to services like ours. We need that license when it comes to, for example, Snaps submitted to Live Stories, where we have to be able to show those Stories around the world — and even replay them or syndicate them (something we’ve said we could do in previous versions of our Terms and Privacy Policy). But we tried to be clear that the Privacy Policy and your own privacy settings within the app could restrict the scope of that license so that your personal communications continue to remain truly personal.”


However, even with these official comments and statements, there were still several crazy Snapchat conspiracy theories that have been spreading. My favourite one, which the rapper, B.o.B tweeted about, has to do with those addicting Snapchat filters. Which you can see below:


Technically and legally, this conspiracy theory would be false, as proven on that same updated ToS and Privacy Policy. So, why is that with each updated ToS, there are many who seem to blow it all out of proportions? I believe that the fundamental problem here is that Terms of Service needs to be written to be as generic as possible.

Actually, Snapchat’s ToS was praised for being free of most legal jargons. They even mention on the Terms page that they, “tried our best to strip the legalese from the Terms.” They did this so that they can get more users to read and actually understand their ToS, as there is a huge range of people using their app. They want to show users that they aren’t trying to hide anything from them, within all the confusing words. I’m glad that Snapchat tried to make this effort because it made it much easier to go through the ToS in its entirety. However, even so, as shown above (from the confusion of many users including myself), there is still much improvement that can be done.

All in all, I think that it’s a good idea to know what we are agreeing to by reading or, at least, skimming the Terms of Service. However, even though we may know this, we’re still all guilty of ignoring them. It seems that Terms of Service have a reputation for having confusing texts and an intimidating length. Hence, perhaps, a ToS that list the most important and most surprising terms should be created. It would be a short and sweet Terms of Service, consisting only of terms that the general public would want to know about and would fully understand. And of course, companies would attach a separate link with the long, detailed ToS, for whoever really cares. Doing this, can lessen any confusion that may arise and will further help us understand what our rights are.