The New Improved Social Contract
EULAs must die, also the lawyers that write them

The true law in the land now is the “End user services agreement”, the EULA. Being accused of violating one is enough to see your service cut off.

Non-disclosure agreements and employment contracts are truly frightening things. Mortgage agreements are stacks of paper 6 inches high.

I try not to think about all the EULAs I’ve clicked on, without reading, in order to use a valuable service. Somewhere in the (must be hundreds, by now) of the end user agreements I’ve had to navigate, I’ve probably clicked away the rights to my first-born, and any unique idea I’ll ever have, should it prove profitable, my right to my last name, and god knows what else.

This morning, I took time out to read the few agreements I’m knowingly subject to, that violating in any way would impact my ability to function in America.

I don’t read patents, in the normal case, because of the triple damages rule, and because I find reading them very depressing. Every time I’m exposed to a patent, I’m non-productive for months.


I started my morning’s reading with comcast. I wasn’t aware of this clause, until this morning:

“10.2 Comcast may update the use policies from time to time, and such updates shall be deemed effective seven (7) days after the update is posted online, with or without actual notice to Customer. Accordingly, Customer should check the above web addresses (or the applicable successor URLs) on a regular basis to ensure that its activities conform to the most current version of the use policies.”

Comcast terms of service are 17 pages long. They just released an update to the terms of service on 10/25/10, which added the following clarifications to their agreement:

  • The Service cannot be resold or otherwise made available to anyone on the Premises or outside the Premises (i.e. wi-fi, “hotspots”, or other methods of networking), directly or indirectly, unless done with Comcast’s written approval in accordance with an applicable Service plan.
  • The Service cannot be made available to anyone other than you or your authorized employees or contractors unless done with Comcast’s written approval in accordance with an applicable Service plan.
  • The Service cannot be used to send unsolicited bulk or commercial messages or “spam” in violation of the law.
  • The Service cannot be used to run servers unless you have selected a Service plan which includes a static or statically assigned IP address.
  • If you have selected a Service plan with a static or statically assigned IP address, the Service can be used to host a public website.

It’s nice that running your own web server is expressly allowed, and I wholeheartedly approve of the anti-spam proviso. It’s worrisome that running any other kind of server is expressly left a little vague, even if you have rented a static IP address. It’s clear that - at least at present - I can run my own DNS and chat servers. :whew:.

But, at a stroke, they’ve banned wifi coffee shops and throwing a 12 dollar cat5e cable over to my neighbor to share internet service. Routing ipv6 around town with my nifty new meshed nanostation M5 radios… looks impossible. I wonder how airstream wireless, in Australia, and the various mesh networks in Europe are managing to innovate around restrictions like these? Do they have similar EULAs to deal with?

For “normal” Comcast cyberserfs, it appears that many (most?) people are violating the Comcast terms of service as they stand today. Anybody that uses dynamic DNS, or a squeezebox server, even a fileserver, seems expressly forbidden now. Is it against the new terms of service to have ANY other kind of server in your house if you don’t have a static IP?

There’s a special set of rules for teleworkers. I’m not sure what they are, because they aren’t online. You have to call to get them.

If you want merely a job interview with comcast, you gotta sign a very restrictive NDA. Without a signature, there’s no interview, and there’s NO negotiation over the terms. After seeing their just-for-a-job-interview-NDA I’m sure their employment contracts make slavery or working in the food service industry look like a more appealing option.


At least in mid 2007, Google would let you get away with not signing a NDA for the job interview, as C Scott Ananian documented his discomfort at signing that one. He evidently didn’t get the job, but at least he can still talk about technology, including google, at a deep level. Others at google seem at least somewhat able to speak their mind, but I’ve spoken to some employees that have vanished into that company and don’t say anything in public anymore because they are frightened of their employment agreement.

Google maps’ terms of service are not horrible.

THEN there’s google’s terms of service for using their search API, which I’ll talk to at another time.


Craigslist terms of use, um, makes my brain dump core.

I’m aware that the vast majority of provisos in all these agreements are rarely enforced, and are there primarily to cover corporate arses, but I’d like there to be AT LEAST the following things addressed in America’s corporate culture:

1) All basic legal agreements (interview, employment NDAs, employment contracts, EULAs) posted online as a condition of being allowed to function as a corporation…

2) There be some attempt at thoroughly vetting these so people like me, without full knowledge of the law, do not have to be attached to a lawyer at the hip everywhere we go…

3) and some attempt at commonality, of thorough vetting by independent organisations - that would reduce the reams of paperwork regarding using any new service or signing any corporate contract to something sane. I’d like STANDARDs for contracts, in other words. A consumer reports for contracts. Something like that.


4) I’d like, by law, that ALL NDAs in particular, should EXPIRE in a reasonable time - like, 3-5 years - except where national security is concerned, which should be more like 10-20 years.

5) Contracts should not be able to be changed on a whim and forward updating changes accepted as part of the contract.

IANAL - but it’s my hope that the current legal landscape already includes point 5. It did, when I last reviewed the law a decade and a half back, or so I seem to remember. Taking some of the steps above would reduce the asymmetry of power between employer and employee.

I run Linux, exclusively, these days, because the terms of service in the Microsoft EULA are unacceptible to me, as are most Microsoft based products. I understand how the various licensing schemes Linux uses work - there’s only about a dozen - very vetted by various court decisions - the GPL and LGPL, and BSD licences, I rely on, and trust.

The one piece of commercial Linux software I have - fully paid for - is the cepstral speech synthesizer. After reading their agreement today, it looks like I can’t distribute an example of the cool way how I use speech synthesis with my email notification system, which is too bad, I’ve been meaning to do that…

I don’t know if there was an age, ever, where legal agreements so cluttered one’s mental landscape. All I have is a distant memory of loyalty oaths during the McCarthy era. Now, THAT, was a simpler time.

After having my eyes glaze over on the first 120 pages of agreements today I decided to not look at blogger’s and just post this piece. I remember reading blogger’s EULA 8 years ago, and it didn’t have a clause in it that required I read it again, then.

And, after retrospection, I decided to repost the same content here, on my new blog.

All my NDAs, except one of dubious enforcability, have expired. I’m glad of that. The EULAs though, are beginning to bother me.

Find me elsewhere.

Best of the blog Uncle Bill's Helicopter - A speech I gave to ITT Tech - Chicken soup for engineers
Beating the Brand - A pathological exploration of how branding makes it hard to think straight
Inside the Internet Mind - trying to map the weather within the global supercomputer that consists of humans and google
Sex In Politics - If politicians spent more time pounding the flesh rather than pressing it, it would be a better world
Getting resources from space - An alternative to blowing money on mars using NEAs.
On the Columbia - Why I care about space
Authors I like:
Doc Searls
Jerry Pournelle
The Cubic Dog
David Brin
Charlie Stross
Eric Raymond
The Intercept
Chunky Mark
Dan Luu's rants about hardware design
Selenian Boondocks
Transterrestial Musings

February 10, 2011
1317 words

rants latency usability