Do dark terms of service signal storm clouds?

Some IT pros are taking advantage of cloud computing, but without reading the terms of service agreement

IT professional everywhere are taking advantage of cloud computing to reduce cost, improve performance, and save time better spent on critical tasks -- like configuring the CEO's BlackBerry to receive e-mail.

But many IT pros are jumping onto the cloud bandwagon feet first without gauging the risk to their company. I believe this is widespread, although I haven't read about any major snafus yet. It's all too easy to click through an agreement that may bind you, your company, or worse, your company's data to deplorable terms you would never have thought a provider would have the audacity to stipulate.

[ The cloud services may be free, but that doesn't mean your data doesn't come with strings. Find out Savio Rodrigues' take on Google Apps and data portability in InfoWorld's Open Sources blog | Check out InfoWorld's tips on what to do if your cloud vendor disappears ]

I know you're in a hurry to go set up those new cloud-based services you've been reading about, so I'll get to the point. This is a cautionary tale is based on a recent situation that shines as an example of just how bad terms of service can be: Legendary game maker Blizzard Entertainment recently announced quite a change to the way players interact with the company's top-selling title Starcraft II.

You see, players used to be able to utilize a built-in LAN mode for multiplayer play, but now Blizzard is killing LAN game play mode in favor of the Battle.net cloud service (cough, lock-in, cough cough). Blizzard is further informing loyal customers that the company will be consolidating all of a single customer's accounts for the various Blizzard offerings into one Battle.net account. Blizzard claims this is a "safeguard against piracy." While I completely understand the company's need, and right, to defend itself against piracy, this smells like another little monetary safeguard: vendor lock-in. Let me give you a few examples from the brief "terms of service" listed on Battle.net:

NOTWITHSTANDING ANYTHING TO THE CONTRARY HEREIN, YOU ACKNOWLEDGE AND AGREE THAT YOU SHALL HAVE NO OWNERSHIP OR OTHER PROPERTY INTEREST IN THE ACCOUNT, AND YOU FURTHER ACKNOWLEDGE AND AGREE THAT ALL RIGHTS IN AND TO THE ACCOUNT ARE AND SHALL FOREVER BE OWNED BY AND INURE TO THE BENEFIT OF BLIZZARD.

and:

YOU ACKNOWLEDGE AND AGREE THAT YOUR SOLE AND EXCLUSIVE REMEDY FOR ANY DISPUTE WITH BLIZZARD IS TO STOP USING THE SERVICE, AND TO CANCEL ALL ACCOUNTS REGISTERED TO YOU.

At this point you're thinking, "Geesh, whurley, they make games, not enterprise software. Something like this would never come up in the IT-centric services I'd be signing up for." To which I implore you to read your own vendor's agreements. I bet you haven't thoroughly read many of them, if any. There are some pretty stiff terms out there that basically amount to "We own all your content. If you don't want to play our way, plenty of other saps, er, people who don't read carefully are gagging to give us their money, er, play in our cloud."

I'd love to hear about your thoughts and see colorful excerpts from your own agreements in the comments.

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