It May Be Funny, But Reading T&Cs Before Clicking 'Agree' is a Good Idea

Agreeing to Apple's Terms of Service without reading them has been lampooned twice in different places recently, but it's really no joke: you should know that you are agreeing to a lot when you click the Agree button without reading the Terms of Service.

First, South Park's premiere episode this year set up Kyle as the fall guy: he didn't read the terms of service of iTunes when he installed the update, and thus became the middle of the new HumancentiPad Apple product.

Meanwhile, Seth Meyers, hosting the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner, joked that many in Congress and the Senate vote on bills without reading them. He said the following: "I think you guys vote on bills in the same way the rest of us agree to updated terms and conditions on iTunes."

It's true, however, and not just with iTunes, that most almost no people read the Terms and Conditions for any product. Who wants to read through pages of legalese? After all, they are not really going to make us into a HumancentiPad, are they?

No, they are not, but there are many things that people probably ought to know before clicking Agree to any ToS agreement. To find out exactly what people should know, CNN contacted two attorneys, New York technology attorney Mark Grossman, and Jonathan Handel, a Los Angeles-based entertainment attorney who specializes in digital media, technology and intellectual property.

For one, clicking Agree is the same as signing on the dotted line in a contract, due to a law passed in 2000. It is just as valid as typing your name in an e-mail or signing a document using a pen.

So what exactly do people miss when they don't read Apple's terms and conditions? CNN asked for the two attorneys to give them the highlights. However, as we said previously, this applies to more companies than just Apple.

1. The Genius Feature: most users know that the iTunes Genius feature not only groups songs of the same genre together, but also recommends new songs to download by going through a user's personal playlists.

The terms state, "When you use the Genius feature, Apple will use this information and the contents of your iTunes library, as well as other information, to give personalized recommendations to you."

Grossman said, "Some people would say, 'Oh my god. They can look at my play history.' If you care [about that], you should disable it."

2. Geotracking. Although Apple said it didn't use the file that was at the heart of its recent location tracking SNAFU to actually track users, it's true that both Apple and Google do track users' locations when their location tracking services are used. Grossman said, "It's a long-winded way of saying we can figure out where you are through your IP address. You should assume that everything you do is tracked or trackable."

3. Loss of purchases: The terms state, "Products may be downloaded only once and cannot be replaced if lost for any reason. Once a Product is downloaded, it is your responsibility not to lose, destroy, or damage it, and Apple shall not be liable to you if you do so."

In other words, if you have it on a computer, and something happens to the hard drive, you are out of luck, or could be, if Apple chose to hold you to the conditions. It's for this reason that some, like us, have multiple backups not just on their LAN but in the cloud.

[Of course, Apple's rumored iCloud service may make this all moot.]

Grossman said, "The argument is, you could have backed it up. The contract clearly says 'we are not responsible,' and it's firmly established in the law."

4. Licensing: Many know this one already. When you buy something from iTunes, you don't really own it. The terms state, "You agree that the Service, including but not limited to Products, graphics, user interface, audio clips, video clips [and] editorial content ... contains proprietary information and material that is owned by Apple and/or its licensors, and is protected by applicable intellectual property and other laws, including but not limited to copyright."

Handel explained it as follows: "When you buy a book, you own the copy of that book but not the actual material. What you are buying here is right to use music on certain devices."

One problem with Apple's (and once again, other companies' terms and conditions are their length. Handel said it would be much more beneficial for end users if the terms would highlight important points at the start of the document. He said they should say "Here's what you are getting, here's what you are not getting. If you do lose something, who you can call? That's what needs to be highlighted."

Of course, that assumes one thing: it assumes corporations are really interested in the customers' rights and everything they do is for the consumer. In reality, as a corporation, the first thing on the minds of a corporation is their shareholders.