Be Careful When Using Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn Apps For Membership Signups

An ironclad rule for online businesses is always make it as easy as possible for users to provide their information to you. As technology advances, one area this rule is being enforced is with social media apps used to allow Risk of Social Media Automated Signupsindividuals to sign up as members of sites. While apps from Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn streamline the process, there are legal issues any website operator needs to understand.

The Apps

I love apps. Apps are a manifestation of the old joke, “Give me convenience or give me death!” Apps allow us to complete tasks and functions in a highly efficient way. As you may know by now, the law is not particularly efficient. In the case of apps being used as membership signups for websites, the two conflict harshly.

Example

You have undoubtedly seen this scenario on plenty of sites by now. You visit the site and there is a membership option, often a free one. To sign up for the site, you can just use your Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn account information. It is simple. It is clean. It is easy.

What could possibly be the problem with this approach from a legal perspective? The problem is there is no requirement for the user to actively agree to the terms of use and privacy policy of the site. In many jurisdictions, the terms and privacy policy of a website are only binding if a user takes an affirmative action to accept said contracts.

Browsewrap Agreements

Many website operators apply a passive approval approach to their terms of use and privacy policy. They place terms and privacy links at the bottom of their site template that lead to both documents. The terms then include a statement along the lines of, “Your use of this site constitutes your acceptance of these terms of use and privacy policy”. This approach is known as a browsewrap agreement.

Consider a simple question. Do you know anyone who scrolls down to such links, clicks through and reads the terms of use and privacy policy from top to bottom? It is difficult to imagine anyone other than a lawyer doing so. Courts are starting to recognize as much and are consistently ruling such an approach is invalid.

When a website operator uses social media apps for member signups, there is no active approval of the terms and privacy policy. Although incredibly convenient, these apps can get website operators into trouble unless the operator takes measures to create an additional step requiring the proposed new member to check an “I Agree” box affirmatively indicating their acceptance of the contractual terms for the site.

Why It Matters?

Why does it matter? The terms and privacy policy of a website include specific, critical language defining the relationship between the parties. Let’s consider a simple clause known as a choice of forum provision.

The web is an amazing business platform because of the reach. As a lawyer in San Diego, my physical office is really only accessible to individuals who live within perhaps 100 miles of it. My website, however, can be read by people down the street as well as in Australia.

This extended reach comes with a significant risk, however. Let’s assume I get into a dispute with someone in New York. That person hires an attorney and sues me in New York City. If I have a choice of forum clause in my website terms and the user has affirmatively agreed to the terms, I can argue the choice of forum clause in my terms applies. The clause will, of course, state that any disputes must be resolved in San Diego.

The practical impact of such a clause is the unhappy New Yorker is going to evaluate whether it is worth the time, expense and inconvenience of coming to San Diego to sue me. In many cases, it will not be and the dispute will resolve.

What if my terms of use are not binding on the person in New York? The lawsuit will proceed in the Big Apple and I will be flying there to defend myself.

In Closing

Technology is great and apps particularly so. Having said this, one needs to be very careful when using social media apps to sign up members to a website. Unless some provision is created in which the person signing up is required to affirmatively agree to the terms of use and privacy policy for the site, the apps may well lead to more problems than they are worth.

Richard A. Chapo, Esq.
@richardachapo