You can’t set a timer for the new arbitration clause
Self-destructing images and videos, once thought to only be found in the Mission: Impossible universe, can easily be created and dispersed by individuals through the popular social networking app called Snapchat. Owned by Snap, Inc., the app has come a long way since its humble beginnings as a project for a Stanford University class. During its half-decade long existence, it has grown from a popular messaging app among teens to a juggernaut that boasts 10 billion daily views of short videos.
To keep up with the ephemeral attention spans of app users, Snapchat has evolved to include a number of features, the most popular of which is known as “filters.” In short, these filters give a Snapchat user the ability to superimpose an image onto his or her face. Users have the ability to look like animals, change their voice, and even, for some inexplicable reason, vomit a rainbow. Yours truly is guilty of warping and putting funny hats on an image of our new president using Snapchat’s filter feature.
While the app certainly provides a fair amount of fun and entertainment, many users may be unaware of the contract that they agree to with Snap, Inc. simply by downloading and using the app. A user automatically agrees to the terms of service, which were recently updated on January 10, 2017. Given that there are over 150 million daily users on Snapchat, many people will be affected by the new changes to the terms. But what changes were made, and why should you care?
First, it is important to understand Snapchat’s eventful 2016 year. Just like any large up-and-coming company preparing for its IPO, Snapchat is entangled in various lawsuits. One such lawsuit alleges that Snapchat routinely serves sexually explicit content to minors without warning. In another suit, Snapchat’s “speed filter” was blamed in a highway crash, though this case was recently dismissed. Despite being hindered by lawsuits, Snapchat managed to generate approximately $400 million in ad revenue this past year.
Many of the changes implemented on January 10th of this year were introduced to give Snap, Inc. a smoother 2017. Users must now be at least 13 years of age to sign up and access a Snapchat user account. Later on in the terms, you will find a section titled “Rights You Grant to Us,” which is, unsurprisingly, approximately four times longer than the previous section titled “Rights We Grant to You.” The rights that users grant to Snapchat allow the company more control and longer use time of images that you introduce into the app, including camera roll images and videos that you send to your friends of your recent vacation. Snapchat now has the right and ability to use these images for marketing, research, and other uses. Further, Snapchat has the right to use your image and likeness, and even allows access to these by any third-party business partners.
While some people may find worrisome many of these given rights, the biggest change to the contract you have with the company is found further down in the Terms of Service: Arbitration. Simply explained, this section requires all disputes between a user and Snap, Inc. to be resolved through arbitration, rather than through the U.S. or state court system with a bench trial, jury trial, or even a class action lawsuit. This new dispute resolution amendment is not limited to disputes from January 10, 2017 forward. A clause later in the section states that “all claims and disputes” also includes claims and disputes that “arose between us before the effective date of these Terms.” Now that you have a better understanding of exactly what the arbitration section means for you, it is time to become better acquainted with the arbitration system.
Without the court system, what are you left with? Arbitration is led by an arbitrator, an appointed individual independent from both sides. Imagine a court room drama without all of the formalities and, frankly, the drama. There are many benefits to arbitration, including the fact that it is cheaper, faster, and simpler than litigation. Further, arbitration proceedings are usually kept private and the final resolution is often confidential. With that said, there are many negatives, especially to an individual facing a company. In the court system, if the decision that is made is not to your liking, you have the right to appeal. That is not the case in arbitration. A majority of the time, you will be stuck with the final decision without any means of recourse. Also, unless you are Warren Buffet or Bill Gates, the odds are that the company can stay in the arbitration and spend more money than you can, giving the company the option and ability to strong-arm any disputers.
Even though arbitration results are not binding legal precedent, they can be used to influence similar matters. Uber made news recently regarding recent results of an arbitration involving a driver attempting to be treated as an employee rather than an independent contractor. Uber Technologies, Inc. requested that a state judge grant a stamp of approval, which is believed to be a strategic move to influence similar present and future cases.
Keep in mind that just because a contract says that disputing parties “may” proceed through arbitration, does not necessarily mean that you will be given a choice. Simply put, if Snapchat wishes to proceed through arbitration, then you have no choice but to proceed.
You have the option to opt-out of the Snap, Inc. arbitration agreement, but it must be done within 30-days of agreeing with the new terms. This means that if you signed into your Snapchat account on January 10, 2017, then you have until February 9, 2017 to opt-out of arbitration by sending an e-mail or letter to Snap, Inc.
More often than not, clicking “accept” on constantly updating terms of service can be harmless and just a formality. However, every now and then companies will introduce changes into their terms of service that are worth knowing and reading over. It is important to stay aware of what rights you are giving to different companies. Users must decide if giving Snap, Inc. the rights to images and videos is worth the few seconds of amusement from face-swapping your face onto a pineapple.
Copyright © 2017 Kevin Peek