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 individuals 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.
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 an extremely 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.
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.
Why It Matters?
Why does it matter? The legal documents 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 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, require the resolution of all disputes to occur in San Diego.
The practical impact of such a provision 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.
Richard A. Chapo, Esq.