Tag Archives: Terms of Service

Hosting Company Terms of Service (TOS), Part Three: Bandwidth & Utilization

 

front view of the cluster of Wikimedia servers...

Here it is, everyone … and, I know, the suspense has been maddening for all of us: Part Three, the final chapter in my series on web hosting terms of service (TOS). I will return to the conceptual admixture of Part One, capping off this trifecta with further thoughts not just on contracts, but on sentiments as well. As noted in that initial installment, the four places in which expectations are established between customer and client in hosting are in deals & offers, service level agreements (SLA’s), terms of service (TOS), and love letters sent by the company to its clients.

Let’s again briefly review what’s been covered to this point before moving forward:

  1. Introduction (company name, contact details, and an explanation of how parties will be identified in the document)
  2. Legal Compliance (an establishment of the notion that the company will not be held accountable for unlawful or rule-breaking behaviors by clients)
  3. Prohibited Usage (disallowance of adult content, plagiarism, software piracy, overages that infringe on others, interference with company tracking, etc.).

Today, we will move forward with additional provisions often included in the category of Prohibited Usage. Then we will move on to Bandwidth & Utilization. Again, these particular topics – both broad and specific – are not included in every hosting contract but allow an overview of stipulations and language you will typically see.

To create a distinction between the TOS and the love letter, the TOS is typically written in very specific legal language. The love letter your hosting company will send you is written in the language of the heart and sung in your best French accent (as all romantic literature should be), in a 3/4 time-signature, accompanied by maracas and sobbing.

Prohibited Usage (Continued)

As stated in Part Two, though prohibition is annoying for clients (no one wants to hear “no”), these guidelines are actually not all bad. Do you really want someone who is in the same hosting network that you are participating in hacking or high-malware industries such as pornography? If you answered maybe, well, that’s a better response than I get to most of my marriage proposal web hosting postcards: “Customer Survey: Will you marry me? (Check One.).”

The three standard sections left to cover are billing, mail, and customer support.

Billing

A hosting company will often specify that customers cannot use other people’s credit cards (what?!) or create a technological workaround to prevent the system from billing them correctly (double-what?!). Obviously, hosting companies like the purchase of their services to be an honest transaction. My love letters, similarly, are honest above all else. It’s with sincerity that I write, “I can’t stop thinking about your beautiful elbows.”

Mail

Typically provisions related to e-mail focus heavily on the prohibition of spam – technically called unsolicited commercial e-mail (UCE). Spam can be a difficult issue, because in some cases, companies send an initial e-mail asking for an “opt-in” from recipients. However, because people are so sick of unwanted e-mail, many will complain just based on the initial query e-mail.

Since mass-mailing is such a crucial part of online business, there are several things you can do to make sure you don’t become categorized as a spammer by your host:

  1. Implement double opt-in (good for marriage proposals as well).
  2. Include a note to recipients reminding them that they signed up for the list
  3. Make unsubscribing simple.

In addition to anti-spam provisions, the TOS may also state that mail will not remain on the hosting company’s servers longer than a specified time period, such as 90 days.

Support

Terms of service will also often include a section requiring that a client maintain a respectful, non-harassing relationship with the company’s support staff.

Bandwidth & Utilization

This section details what is allowable with regards to the following:

  • bandwidth – the “stream” through which your Internet traffic runs
  • utilization – usage of server storage and other resources.

 

Here are a couple of standard provisions:

Non-Transference & Reselling

Typically a hosting company will state that the client cannot use its space on the server to store materials that are unrelated to the specific website(s) listed in its account with the host. Additionally, the customer must use the company’s authorized reseller program if they want to resell the space allotted to them to other clients: it’s not okay to set up a system oneself to resell pieces of the hosting package. Similarly, I notify clients in my love letters that I am hooked and will no longer be reselling pieces of my heart to the highest bidders at Plenty of Fish (not the dating site – a fish market in Sacramento).

Hot-linking can be a problem regarding this provision. You might want to set up tools to prevent that. Generally speaking, you want anyone who is using images from your site to download the image and upload it to their own server rather than simply linking to the image on your site. Linking to your image may not be malicious, but it uses your bandwidth to populate the image on the Web; for that reason, it’s typically considered a form of “bandwidth theft.”

Conclusion

That’s it for our explanation of terms of service. This series has really been a small sampling of the types of content that is included in these documents. However, you should now have a reasonable understanding of the typical contents, tone, and scope of the web hosting TOS. Finally, let’s go to a baseball game. I want to ask you a question on the Jumbotron.

by Kent Roberts and Richard Norwood

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

 

English: National Intellectual Property Rights...
National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center Logo

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.
  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.

Conclusion

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

Hosting Company Terms of Service (TOS), Part One: Introduction & Legal Compliance

 

New Facebook Terms Allows Confiscating Furniture
New Facebook Terms Allows Confiscating Furniture (Photo credit: HubSpot)

Let’s talk terms of service, y’all. What’s the TOS? It’s a legal document you are signing when you create a web hosting account (typical for most online services, such as the increasingly popular Internet babysitter application).

To put this in context, this piece on the TOS is a follow-up to a two-part series on the service level agreement (SLA). To review, there are essentially four ways in which the relationship is established between a hosting company and a client:

  1. Sales copy – the informal offers & guarantees established on the homepage, in advertisements, etc.
  2. Service level agreement (SLA) – a brief explanation of the rights and responsibilities of the web host and of the client
  3. Terms of service (TOS) – a thorough explanation of the legal relationship between host and client
  4. Love letters/postcards – often a hosting company will send sweet nothings (such as elaborate epic poetry featuring dense, esoteric technical jargon) sealed with a kiss to their clients, via postal mail.

 

Obviously the sales copy is very punchy and inviting. The SLA is a little bit more balanced, with more focus on potential client violations that can result in termination of contracts, etc. The TOS is the most verbose and stringent, essentially CYA paperwork for the hosting company that does not usually come into play. Finally, the only rule of love notes is that there are no rules, baby.

Regardless of the fact that the TOS is complex, written in legalese, and doesn’t usually come into play, we will give you a basic sense of what’s in these standard industry contracts below. Perhaps it’s worth something. The content of our love letters to our clients, needless to say, is staggeringly valuable (as proven by the sale of our romantic postcard archives at a Sotheby’s auction in New York for $9.7 trillion to a Saudi Arabian Prince).

Introduction

Let’s look at typical hosting TOS clauses. Obviously these differ from one company to another, but they’re fairly standardized. First, let’s look at the introduction. The introduction establishes the basic what and where, along with parameters for identification:

  1. Name of company & incorporation status
  2. How the document refers to you and to the company (such as “The Customer” & “The Company”); these broad terms simplify the language (well, a little) and allow the contract to apply to each individual customer
  3. Date that the contract was originally created and/or (if applicable) date it was last modified; you should be notified by the hosting company if any provisions in the terms of service change
  4. Physical address of the company – which you can of course also find in the return address on the love letter envelopes I’ve been sending you
  5. Contact details, which are typically an e-mail address and/or phone number – for clarification, disputes, etc.
  6. State laws referenced – Any legal contract falls under the laws of a specific state or territory, so the TOS will typically indicate what state that is
  7. I love you – The terms of service may or may not state explicitly, “Look… I feel this is a bit unprofessional, but I just have to say it… I love you. Please refer to article 6, section D, to find out how much I love you, and why.”

Legal Compliance

Man: “Will you marry me? Will you fulfill this contractual obligation? Will you legally comply?”

Woman: “Do I get to keep the ring if you become professionally unsuccessful?”

Man: “You are twisting my arm, but sure.”

Woman: “All right, then I am a strong maybe. I’ll text you later with my answer.”

The section on compliance with the law states that if you do anything that is illegal through your website or that does not agree with the terms of service, the hosting company is indemnified. Essentially this provision means that you are responsible if you are found to be breaking the rules/laws; the hosting company will not suffer any loss or other damages, financial or otherwise, as a result of your actions. This clause says, “I still love you, but I need you to go out and experience the full weight of the American judicial system by yourself, honey.”

An example, which might be stated explicitly, is if you are republishing copyrighted content. Come on, dude. Seriously? Who are you, Carlos Mencia (if so, hi, I love “your” “work”)? With intellectual property as an example, you can see why hosting companies need to protect themselves from potential lawsuits resulting from client behavior.

Probably you also can see that the terms of service document is essentially stating the obvious. Most people do not need to worry about it, unless they are the type of people who videotape their television set and then publish the video on YouTube (assuming their viewpoint of the TV is their intellectual property?).

Conclusion

So, we have made our initial ascent toward the summit of the mountain that is the terms of service. Fear ye not that it be a volcano! It is a humble, well-intentioned, snow-capped mountain of glorious beauty and wonder.

Again, today we covered two sections:

  1. the introduction (basically who the company is, where it’s located, how you and the company will be referenced in the document, etc.)
  2. legal compliance (making the hosting company unaccountable if you do anything illegal or that is outside of its codes of conduct within the TOS).

Okay, so two more parts to go in this series. By the way, I’m sorry I haven’t sent you a love letter recently. I’ve been very busy with my soap sculptures of poultry – which, as you know, I am passionate about.

by Kent Roberts and Richard Norwood

Web Hosting SLA, Part 1: Why it Matters & Core Components

The SLA is something that many people look for when they are considering different hosting solutions. One might argue that it is, in fact, the first thing you want to check out. Why? Well, for one, because it is incredibly boring. Reading nauseatingly boring stuff is an important part of being a grown-up (sorry to alienate any of the six-year-olds reading this piece).

In addition to being awesomely boring, the SLA is good to read because it states clearly what your relationship is with a hosting company. It’s like a marriage contract. Without a marriage contract with your hosting company, you could end up like Matt Damon in Behind the Candelabra: unable to point to any real, solid specifications set forth by Michael Douglas. When your love for Douglas (your hosting company) evaporates, you will be stammering, surrounded by judgmental lawyers, bewildered and confused. “I’m sorry, Matt Damon,” the hosting company will say to you, “but you are going to have to leave. You’re a drug addict, and I, Michael Douglas, don’t want you here anymore.”

SLA in a Nutshell – A service level agreement (SLA) is a formal written agreement between two parties. It is a legal document, so if a company does not uphold its end of the arrangement, you can hold them liable. What the SLA allows is a certain set of expectations that is stated in hard language.

Let’s take a look at what the typical aspects of an SLA are, along with its general role in the hosting industry.

Typical Clauses within an SLA

First, keep in mind that an SLA does not necessarily take a particular form or contain particular types of information. It will be as broad or detailed as the hosting company wants it to be, much like Behind the Candelabra director Steven Soderbergh determines the level of specificity of Matt Damon’s doe-eyed dream sequence, in which he adoringly watches Michael Douglas ascend into the heavens to play his glittering piano for the angels.

That said, a service level agreement will typically include a number of standard pieces of information; this applies to any SLA (we will get into the SLA as it relates to hosting below). Here are the basics:

  • Different types of service that will be performed
  • Performance levels and exceptions (such as uptime percentage guarantees, which allow tiny percentages of downtime)
  • How the company will compensate or otherwise account for service disruptions and other failures to adequately deliver on SLA specifications
  • Types of support available for clients
  • Basic expectations for clients
  • Conflict resolution (whether arbitration will initially be used in lieu of court battles, etc.)
  • How services are ended.

The SLA may also contain a clause that guarantees Matt Damon a lock of Michael Douglas’s hair in perpetuity.

Guarantees, Terms of Service (TOS), & SLA

Guarantees are typically presented in three different places on a hosting company’s website:

1. Marketing language (such as sales copy on the homepage)

  • Money-back guarantees
  • Uptime guarantees

2. SLA

3. Terms of service (TOS)

The latter two are of course much more formal and provide more thoroughly defined information. Actually, the SLA is kind of a midway point between the sales copy and terms of service. It’s a quick, though careful, statement of expectations; and it’s “meant to be read.” The terms of service, on the other hand, is that 10-page document that most people never read.

Fun fact: Though Michael Douglas could not give Matt Damon a prenuptial agreement, he did give him a pre-snuggle agreement. It was 700 pages long and sprinkled with rose water.

SLA’s in Web Hosting

In the web hosting space, the following parameters are often seen in the service level agreement:

  1. How you will be compensated if the uptime guarantee is not achieved
  2. What type of support is offered for various service packages (dedicated versus virtual hosting, for example)
  3. What’s required to cancel service
  4. What kind of content (such as pornographic) and file types are unacceptable.

Either the web host or the client can point to the SLA to establish how the other party did not meet stated expectations. The Matt Damon/Michael Douglas Behind the Candelabra SLA, for instance, guarantees 30 minutes of pillow talk following any “roughhousing.”

Client Protections

These are some standard protections you might see in an SLA, though this information may be in the terms of service instead:

  1. Account termination processes, cancellation notices, & rights to refunds
  2. The maximum amounts of resources you can use
  3. Billing information
  4. Basic agreements you are making when you sign up for an account.

The SLA between Matt Damon and Michael Douglas also stipulates that what happens behind the candelabra … stays behind the candelabra … except for movie rights.

Conclusion

That’s the gist of what to expect in an SLA. The main point here is: read it (six-year-olds, do your best). It’s typically pretty quick. I will continue this discussion in a second piece, in which I will cover lack of an SLA, what to do in the event of a breach, and provisions within our SLA and that of Cornell University’s IT department.

Hey, what’s that behind the candelabra? It looks kind of like a candle.

by Kent Roberts and Richard Norwood