The Importance Of Reading The Fine Print

If you have an online business, you have a website. Most likely, you also have a blog, a mailing list, and a shop (with an associated shopping cart and payment processors) of some sort to showcase and sell your products and services. Your website data is hosted somewhere, you most likely have social media accounts, and an e-mail hosting and auto-responder service for your mailing list management needs.

  • What happens with one of those services if you violate your terms of service unwittingly? Or of you were reported for doing so?
  • What happens if the service suspect you of violating the Terms of Service because of “suspicious activity”?
  • How much trouble would you have if a part of your business, a part dependent on an outside provider, is suspended, terminated or locked?


“Terms of Service” don’t mean the text heavy pop-up you click on to get to the installation-proper, or finish the sign-up. TOS mean the fine print that sets the rules for you signing up to use a service or a program.

TOS means : “The rules a person or organization must observe in order to use a service. Generally legally binding unless it violates federal or local laws, the terms of service agreement (TOS) may change from time to time, and it is the responsibility of the service provider to notify its users of any such change. A Web site that provides only information or sells a product often does not have terms of service. However, Internet service providers (ISPs) and all Web sites that store personal data for a user do; in particular, social networking sites, online auctions and financial transaction sites.”

“Acceptable use policy” covers the conduct the company expects from users of their service. To wit: “[…]ISPs and other online services provide their customers with an acceptable use policy (AUP), which may prohibit spamming or commercial usage.

Also called an “acceptable use policy/Internet use policy” (AUP/IUP), schools and universities provide AUPs for students using the computer lab, which defines unacceptable behavior.”

A business is made up of interconnecting aspects, covering things like sourcing, production, shipping, tracking and monitoring. It also includes marketing, communication, and public and customer relations.

Giant corporations may have departments that can attend to these things in-house, but smaller enterprises usually tap other service providers to supply these things for them, covering everything from web-hosting and newsletter management to project management software (think virtual bulletin board, group calendar, online meetings and document sharing), social media platforms, data protection and security, and licensing rights management.

Hey, you built a business, right? You set things up, tapped resources, signed up for services to support your business and run the thing.  Now:

  • When you make a system that works for you, you need to remember that the components in that system makes up a network. Things run smoothly and work together, and a problem with one thing can affect the others depending on it.

What happens if your Facebook page gets suspended? How can you get in touch with your followers to update them? What if your Twitter account got shut down? (Ditto). What if you forget to update the credit card that pays for your web-hosting, and their billing is declined? How long do you have before they pull the plug , so to speak?

It’s not just social media, mind you. What about Adsense, Aweber, or Asana? What about Godaddy or WordPress or LinkedIn? What about Paypal? Think.

How many accounts do you have that enable you to run your business, talk to your team and your customers, track your inventory, manage your business and handle your money securely?

A network is a web. A good one is usually resilient enough to weather changes, but all the components in it are connected in one way or another. Knowing how to take care of and respond to each component is only part of good business practice. One aspect goes down or is blocked from functioning, how will it affect the others?

That’s why savvy business-owners have protocols and contingency plans in place to address possible weak spots and shore them up, as well as keep them running optimally. Reading, understanding, and more importantly, understanding the terms of service is akin to having read the freaking manual. (RTFM). You know how it works, you’ll know how to work it. “Acceptable use,” remember?


Here’s a first-person account of how Naoki Hiroshima had his Twitter account stolen through social hacking: How I Lost My $50,000 Twitter Username. He was one of only 26 people who were able to snag the single letter Twitter handles when the service opened.

Granted, his account was not suspended or terminated, but the succeeding lessons from the event can set you to brainstorming countermeasures to protect your own various accounts, with things like 2-factor authentication and good password hygiene. (More information can be found with these follow-up news articles.)

Here are a few more links that explain what not to do with your social media accounts, and then how you can use them in a way as to level up your business

  • How To Get Your Facebook Account Suspended is a first person account of how one person inadvertently locked himself out of his own account in trying to protect it. Lesson: Know how the authentication process works for your account, and change your passwords on a regular basis.

Reading the fine print may be a pain, but the information is still important enough to warrant paying serious attention to. The bits you may dispute are the ones that can provide you protection and defense when it comes to wrangling your accounts back into life should something bad happens.

Bonus link: Two Factor Auth (2FA) lets you see which service you’re using has 2-factor authentication, and covers social, email, retail, finance, backup and sync, as well as many other kinds of services.

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