New White Paper Outlines How Click-Through Agreements Erode Privacy, Fundamental Liberties
San Francisco - Today the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) released a white paper warning consumers about how they can be harmed by end user license agreements (EULAs) for consumer electronics and online services. Many EULAs contain terms that damage consumer interests, including invitations for vendors to snoop on users' computers, prohibitions on publicly criticizing the product in question, and bans on customizing or even repairing purchased devices.
"Overbroad EULAs are one of the greatest threats to consumer rights in the high tech industry," said Annalee Newitz, EFF policy analyst and author of the white paper. "Few people realize that simply visiting a website or downloading a software update may constitute 'agreeing' to a EULA that permits third parties to monitor your communications or allows a vendor to dictate what you can or cannot do with the product you've bought. Clicking the 'I Agree' button may mean clicking away your privacy, freedom of speech, or other rights."
EULAs, often called "click-through agreements," have become ubiquitous in the technology industry. While they are supposed to bind consumers to strict terms dictated by vendors, consumers don't negotiate them, don't sign them, and in many cases can't even read them until after they've bought the product, taken it home, and opened up the package.
EFF's white paper, "Dangerous Terms – A User's Guide to EULAs," comes at a key juncture in the case of Davidson (commonly known as Blizzard) v. Internet Gateway, a lawsuit that tests whether EULAs can override public protections under federal copyright law such as the fair use doctrine. Tomorrow, lawyers for Blizzard will file an appeal brief arguing that three open source programmers violated Blizzard Entertainment's EULA by creating bnetd, a free game server whose creation was a fair use under copyright law. EFF is co-counsel to the defendants in the case, which is currently on appeal in the Eighth Circuit.
EFF is also in the process of devising legal strategies to challenge EULAs. This white paper is intended to educate the public, but also to serve as a call to arms for consumers who want to fight unfair terms in EULAs. EFF invites people who have been harmed by EULA terms, or who have been threatened with lawsuits for violating terms in EULAs, to contact EFF with their stories.
Consumers harmed by EULAs can contact EFF at: EULAharm@eff.org
Electronic Frontier Foundation