Media Business Strategies

The Blog of David Polakoff

I’m Not A Lawyer; and I Don’t Play One on the Internet

Posted by David Polakoff on August 24, 2009

The Windmills of My Immediate Mind

Media Business Strategies – David Polakoff

I’m Not A Lawyer; and I Don’t Play One on the Internet

I visited Victoria Falls and at the behest of a friend, signed-up to fly over the Falls in a microlight (basically, a hang glider with a lawnmower engine and a propeller) and was handed the Liability Waiver and was asked to sign-it.  Knowing that it was not negotiable and that if I didn’t sign it, I wouldn’t be going for a ride, I read it; then signed-it.  The desk clerk remarked, “You’re the first person I’ve ever had read it.”

In the history of the world, no one has ever washed a rented car – this is largely attributed to then Harvard President, Lawrence Summers.  In the history of the world, no one has ever read an internet’s site Terms of Service or Privacy Policy.  If I was on a jury and a defendant violated a website’s rules, in a non-malicious way, and the plaintiff argued that the defendant acknowledged the website’s terms of service by checking the box, I’d not necessarily hold that person responsible; no one reads these rules/terms because they’re written by lawyers, to (somewhat ironically) hold up in court; not to guide a user as to what’s appropriate and not. If the lawyers insist upon writing a document that requires a law degree to understand, then the average consumer shouldn’t be expected to adhere to it.  The company sales/marketing people should accompany the legalese with the Reader’s Digest version, which I would propose goes like this…

  1. Our Website – This is our website and you are being allowed to use it as long as you do so as it is intended.  We own everything on our website and the underlying software; you don’t.  We are not responsible/liable for any errors or for anything we’ve omitted.

  2. You – If you are under 18, you have parental/guardian permission to use this website.  Regardless of age, you are using this website because it is legal to use it where you are.  You will represent yourself truthfully at all times.  We can ban you from using our website for any reason.  You will not try to disrupt our website or its other users or be malicious or harmful in any way to us or them.  You use our website at your own risk; we are not liable for any unintended use or consequences, including interrupted service.

  3. Your Information – From your data input and website usage habits, we collect information about you, some of which comes from us putting Cookies on your computer.  Grouped with other users, we may anonymously use this information, at our company, and provide it to outside services and advertisers.  You and people with similar user information may receive data and advertising customized to your user habits.  We safeguard the data you provide us, but we’re not liable for cyber and other theft.

  4. Information, Data, and Photos – You will use the information provided by our website in a manner consistent with the law (such as copyright, trademark, interstate commerce, import/export, etc.).  Any information, data, and photos that you post to our website are yours and you represent that you own the content and the rights to it.  You are not violating any laws by posting this data to our website.  You are granting us a license for whatever you post to our public forums. We have no responsibility for what you post publicly to our website and for any use thereafter by other users.  We may remove anything you posted, at our discretion.

  5. Other Websites – There are links/access to other websites via our website.  We are not responsible or liable for anything to do with the other websites.

  6. These Rules – These are the summary rules; you’re still subject to the version written by our legal department.

So this is written a bit tongue-in-cheek, but websites want users to conduct themselves in a certain manner, but make no attempt to communicate the rules and guidelines in laymen’s terms.  Consumers should really know that the information they input at the website registration, along with their input/clicking/surfing activity on the website, is all being captured to build a profile so that the website can actually enhance the user’s experience.  However, websites should explicitly and readily outline this practice and note how one’s privacy is protected (and easily give users the opt in/out choice).  Most consumers will likely be pleased with a richer, customized user experience but would appreciate knowing how it all works and how “private” their identity remains.

While websites strive to provide value to its users, the lack of transparency and respect for the user can easily create the badwill that so many consumers associate with certain traditional businesses (If you said cable company, telephone company, or airline, “You are correct!).

My professional experience includes years of collaborating with many lawyers.  The most enjoyable experiences are those working with lawyers who think outside of the law book; those that understand the business’ relationship with its good/services providers and its consumers.    In this day and age, risk management is vital, but empathizing with the consumer experience must always remain at the forefront.  My work is in financial, strategic, and operational consulting for media companies, but I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t “play” one on tv (the internet or whatever the media business of my clients).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: