Hosting Company Terms of Service (TOS), Part Two: Prohibited Usage


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Here we go again! In case you didn’t get enough from Part One of this series on web hosting TOS documents (a.k.a. terms of service), I’m going to be dishing it out hot and heavy today. I will fill your plate with the mashed potatoes that is terms of service, and then I will pour on some gravy… which is… the world’s best defense against the blandness of the potato.

To rehash from the last piece, we covered two typical clauses of the terms of service:

  1. Introduction (name of company, contact information, designation of terms to denote parties referenced in the document, etc.)
  2. Legal Compliance (indemnification of the company – to clear them legally and financially – if the client does anything illegal or contrary to the TOS).

Today we will cover what types of usage of the services provided by the company are disallowed, a section that’s typically called something like “Prohibited Usage.” Everybody hates prohibition. There is a reason we wandered off to speakeasies in the roaring 20s (and I remember my carefree flapper days like it was yesterday).

For clarity (as stated in Part One), the TOS’s used by different hosting companies tend to be fairly similar, but they certainly aren’t identical. What’s written below is simply an overview and explanation of provisions and language that you often come across.

Prohibited Usage – Overview

Often this section of the terms of service is almost ridiculously broad in scope. Like some other sections of the document (and as is typical of business contracts), the TOS could really also be called the company’s CYA against getting beaten up by frivolous lawsuits (such as when Clarence Thomas hit me with a sexual-harassment suit for peeking under his cloak … where I found a secret, second cloak!).

However, if a company specifies what you can and cannot do, that TOS is (obviously) much easier to understand. In turn, you know exactly what you need to do in order to comply with the company’s expectations.

General – Pornography, Malware, Pirating & Fair Use

  1. Adult & Malicious Content – Disallows content related to pornography and gambling; also specifies that the client cannot use malicious or unlawful software (hacking programs, etc.). It also might state that you cannot promote or link to sites with warez content (essentially proprietary software that is illegally shared with a broader audience).
  2. Intellectual Property & Pirating – This section disallows you from having any content on your site that disregards intellectual property rights, such as copyright; it also might disallow pirated software. You could get in touch with a copyright infringement lawyer to gain the in-depth info on where you stand on this aspect; they can also help you battle any copyright violations with respect to your company’s trade secrets.
  3. Restriction of Fair Use – Though often the language of this provision is a little vague, it primarily applies to shared hosting environments; it prevents users from engaging in activities that generate huge spikes in traffic, bumping other clients off-line or regularly making their sites extremely slow.

Back when I was an elementary school principal, I used provision #3 to expel more than 200 children (the entire second grade class, actually) for getting in my way while I was trying to get to the cafeteria. I was subsequently fired, but it was worth it, because it was the right thing to do (I was hungry).

Network & System

  1. Malware Intrusion – If malware enters the network through your site, the hosting company has a right (and often an obligation to its other clients) to quarantine you and possibly eject you from its service.
  2. DDoS, Hacking & Fraud – Hosts will often include several different provisions related to criminal misuse of their network, including entering other users’ accounts, installing bots for distributed denial of service (DDoS) or other hacking efforts, and scanning of ports.
  3. Alteration of Monitoring & Tracking – A client may not do anything that will interfere with the way that the hosting company collects and analyzes tracking data; note that often your own monitoring and analytics software could interfere with this provision, so it’s important to know whether or not you are in compliance.
  4. Negative Impact & Usage – You may also see broad provisions that allow the hosting company to determine what it deems is harmful and unacceptable; provisions like this allows huge leeway for account termination.

Back when I was a high school football coach, I used provision #4 to have the school mascot (a moose named Chester) forcibly removed from the stadium for a repeated display of poorly executed cartwheels. I was subsequently given a huge raise, a reward for a vehement and take-no-prisoners display of my manhood.


Terms of service: they are long and unwieldy, but it’s good to know what we’re getting into. After all, better to know than not know, so we don’t accidentally make a misstep that gets us booted off a hosting service.

To review, today we covered two subsections of usage prohibition:

  1. General – Disallowance of “adult content,” malware, and pirating; and disallowance of activities that interfere with other clients’ usage (sudden traffic spikes, etc.)
  2. Network & System – Disallowance of hacking; and disallowance of anything that interferes with the host’s monitoring/tracking or that otherwise negatively impacts the company.

That does it for the first half of prohibited use, which we will continue to explore in the next piece of this series (the final of three), after which I will be given a raise and then immediately fired (that’s my hunch).

by Kent Roberts and Richard Norwood

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