There are very few moments when a Terms of Service agreement gets the spotlight.
They crop up during the signup process then linger in the footer of a web page. On occasion, whenever the terms change, you might receive an email notification to let you know. Many people click through these terms with equal parts automation and trust, believing that the company behind the terms will be doing the right thing by them, the customer.
This is exactly the trust we hope to engender at Buffer, and we feel that transparency, among many other company values, is a key part to establishing that trust.
With this in mind, we wanted to take a step outside the industry norm with the recent change to Buffer’s terms of service and make the changes as transparent and clear as can be. Any time we make changes to the product that may affect customers, we feel that the customers deserve to know exactly what and why.
I’m happy to go through the changes to the Buffer terms and highlight the edits we made, why we made them, and allow our Terms of Service a moment in the spotlight.
Why we’ve made changes to our Terms of Service
This latest update to Buffer’s Terms of Service went live on December 18, 2017. The previous most recent change occurred May 22, 2013 — four and a half years ago.
A lot has happened in terms of compliance, copyright, trademark, and more since then.
The biggest “why” behind our change in Terms of Service was simply a matter of bringing everything up to date. Including a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) provision in particular proved to be an important nudge we needed to kickstart this process (more on DMCA changes below).
With the need to bring our terms up to date, we also took the opportunity to rethink the rest of the terms and ensure that everything was as clear as could be and that it lined up with the way we choose to do business at Buffer. You can see the difference between versions here.
What did all those updates mean in practice? Here’s a look at three of the most notable edits.
Notable changes to Buffer’s Terms of Service
1. We explicitly disallow hate speech sent through Buffer
When you agree to the new Buffer Terms of Service, you agree to the following terms for the content that you post:
… your User Content could not be deemed by a reasonable person to be objectionable, profane, indecent, pornographic, harassing, threatening, embarrassing, hateful, or otherwise inappropriate.
In previous versions of the Terms of Service, we did not call out these types of content in such an explicit way. The only one we listed was pornographic content (“Buffer does not support the distribution of pornographic content.”) As it related to hate speech in particular, we tended to default to the following statement in our previous terms:
Buffer may terminate your access to all or any part of the Website at any time, with or without cause, with or without notice, effective immediately.
This change to a more explicit definition of inappropriate content is one we were eager to make, as we found ourselves more and more butting up against the limits of what was deemed appropriate. Having these clear guidelines will help.
Our mission is to give a greater voice to the good on social media; we believe in the positive power that social media can have in the lives of others and recognize the very negative impact that amplifying hate can have. When it comes to situations of hate speech, harassment, threats, and the like, we have zero tolerance. Recently this came to light with a hate group, Britain First, who was a Buffer customer. When we were alerted to this and noticed the content being published, we were able to suspend and delete the account.
2. We added a DMCA provision (here’s what that means)
The DMCA is a U.S. copyright law that protects content creators from having their content used without permission. If you’ve ever heard of a DMCA Takedown notice on a website, it’s likely that the site was hosting someone else’s created content. The DMCA creates a standardized process for copyright holders (including software developers) to ask Buffer to take down infringing content.
The copyright law extends to the servers and networks hosting the content, not just the sole person posting the content. This is where our previous Terms of Service was lax. (Our previous terms made little mention of DMCA.)
The updated DMCA provision contains information on how people should get in touch with us to file a DMCA Takedown request. For any request, we provide our email and postal addresses, and we ask for the following:
- an electronic or physical signature of the person authorized to act on behalf of the owner of the copyright or other right being infringed;
- a description of the copyrighted work or other intellectual property that you claim has been infringed;
- a description of the material that you claim is infringing and where it is located on the Service;
- your address, telephone number, and email address;
- a statement by you that you have a good faith belief that the use of the materials on the Service of which you are complaining is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law; and
- a statement by you that the above information in your notice is accurate and that, under penalty of perjury, you are the copyright or intellectual property owner or authorized to act on the copyright or intellectual property owner’s behalf.
3. We clarified how information is used
- We made it clear how you can unsubscribe from marketing emails. “You may also opt out from receiving commercial email from us by sending your request to us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
- We added a reference to click tracking and other analytics that we do on the website and in emails. “We may also automatically record certain information from your device by using various types of technology, including “clear gifs” or “web beacons.””
- We included mention of third-party tools and how they may interact with certain user information. This includes things like Facebook “share” buttons and Facebook’s tracking pixels for ads.
- We added a note about the data we send to various software tools that help us perform jobs like analytics (Looker) and email marketing (MailChimp).
Many of these changes reflect the technology that drives a lot of our business insights, be it through analytics, marketing, or research. For a look inside our tech stack, you can read through our transparent pricing blog post. Another neat tool is a Chrome extension called WhatRuns, which analyzes any website and reveals the underlying tech. Here’s an example of WhatRuns from the buffer.com homepage:
If you have any questions about these tools or how we use information, I’d love to help answer them in the comments of this post.
A quick overview of Buffer’s Terms of Service
The full Terms of Service document now runs 10 pages in PDF form, covering 17 different sections, and is available on our website. You’re welcome to read it through and ask any questions on the particulars. Here’s a quick overview of what each section contains.
1. Buffer Service Overview
A brief sentence on what the Buffer product does.
A paragraph on the requirements for people to be eligible to use the product. Essentially, we ask that you haven’t been previously suspended or removed from Buffer and that you’re legally able to use the service. Oh and we ask that all Buffer users are at least 18 years old.
3. Accounts and Registration
This section explains that we create an account for you and that the account may contain personal information: your name, email address, and other contact information.
4. General Payment Terms
There are four subsections to the Payment Terms, including things like pricing (we won’t change your price without first telling you), authorization (signing up to a paid plan and giving us a credit card allows us to charge the card), cancellations, and delinquency. For cancellations, we ask that you cancel your Buffer account prior to the next start of your next billing cycle so that you are not charged for the cycle. For delinquent accounts, we reserve the right to terminate a paid subscription at any time if it has not paid.
In this section, we a) gladly allow you to use Buffer, b) ask that you not pose as Buffer or manipulate the Buffer product, and c) let you share any feedback you might like, provided you’re okay with us using the feedback to improve the product (and disavowing us from paying any royalties to you for the idea).
6. Ownership, Proprietary Rights
This paragraph states that we made the product and we own the product
7. Third Party Terms
This section describes the third-party relationships with other services and websites that are necessary for the Buffer product to work effectively. Assuming you and Buffer are the first two parties, a third party service or website may be something like Facebook or Twitter, where we (Buffer) post your updates on your behalf.
8. User Content
This section is one of the larger areas of the Terms of Service, covering six separate points about content. This is the section that references our terms against hate speech (8.4.c) and also includes many provisions for copyright and licensing. One important note — and one of the few places in the terms we use bold — is this:
You retain any copyright and other proprietary rights that you may hold in the User Content that you post to the Service
9. Prohibited Conduct
Similar the above agreements about content, this section outlines the requirements we have for conduct on Buffer: chiefly that you do not use Buffer for anything illegal, that you do not harm the Buffer app with security risks or viruses, that you do not intentionally overload servers, etc.
10. Digital Millenium Copyright Act
This section provides protection for content creators (see above for more on the DMCA).
11. Modification of These Terms
Here we grant ourselves the rights to change the terms at any time and ask that you check them periodically. (In practice, we aspire to always be fully transparent about any changes that we intend to make — even going so far as to write them up in a blog post like this.) :)
12. Term, Termination, and Modification of the Service
In these points, you agree to when the terms take effect (as soon as you begin using Buffer) and what happens if you violate the terms (you can’t use Buffer anymore).
“Indemnity” is a word used to absolve a person of legal responsibility. In this case, the terms state that you will indemnify Buffer and the Buffer team if your actions cause any claims to be brought against Buffer.
14. Disclaimers: No Warranties
Here we say that you are purchasing Buffer “as-is” and that we do not offer any warranty protection (like you might receive with a washer and dryer or larger device).
15. Limitation of Liability
This section removes Buffer from liability to you for any damages related to using the Buffer app.
16. Dispute Resolution and Arbitration
What happens if you want to bring a claim against us? (Or vice versa?) These paragraphs explain the details about how we’d like to resolve things, requiring in most cases that we work through binding arbitration rather than a lawsuit.
17. General Terms
The several statements in this final section are fairly generic, explaining how the terms are to be agreed upon and which laws allow us to apply the terms. Buffer’s terms fall under California law since that is where our mailing address remains (we have no physical office headquarters anymore).
Over to you
I hope this has been an interesting peek inside the way our Terms of Service works. If you have any questions about the changes we’ve made or the way our terms work, I’d love to help answer them.
- What has been your experience with Terms of Service?
- Have you had many experiences with hate speech or the DMCA?
Looking forward to hear from you.