Tag Archives: TOS

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