Under 18? Using Google? You May Be A Criminal!

from the whoops dept

It's no secret that people ignore the terms of service on most sites, and there are pretty big questions concerning how enforceable any such terms really are. However, Petrea Mitchell, alerts us to an odd note at the very end of some notes on a conference session where Chris Soghoian points out that Google's terms of service forbid use by those under 18. I did some looking and Soghoian actually wrote out the details about this a few months ago. Basically, Google's terms of service state:
You may not use the Services and may not accept the Terms if (a) you are not of legal age to form a binding contract with Google
But, as Soghoian notes, in all 50 states in the US, that legal age is 18 -- meaning that those under 18 may be breaking Google's terms of service. And, of course, as we learned in the Lori Drew case, violating the terms of service of a website (even if you haven't read them or done anything to agree with them!) can be grounds for making you criminally liable for "accessing a computer without authorization." That seems like a problem, doesn't it?

Now, to be fair, the chances of anyone bothering to care or enforce this is slim to none. But we saw what happened in the Lori Drew case, where prosecutors with nothing else to sue against Drew twisted the law to find her guilty of something. You could certainly see that happening in some other case as well. If prosecutors can't find anything else on a teenager who did "something" people don't like, why not charge him with "hacking" for violating Google's terms of service?


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 26th, 2009 @ 8:45am

    "Under 18? Using Google? You May Be A Criminal!"

    More like a delinquent.

     

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  2.  
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    slacker525600 (profile), Jun 26th, 2009 @ 8:57am

    wasnt this the joke

    from the microsoft commercials with the four year old claiming to be a pc. Has anybody ever bothered to read TOS. On the other side of the coin havent judges found them to be not enforceable because it is assumed that people arent reading them because they are too long and can change without warning.

    Then again, how do you expect somebody to provide a service if there isnt any way for them to enter into a binding contract with the user. Internet law really needs to be rewritten, and lawyers need to have nothing to do with it, because making everything excessively verbose for the sake of making it unintelligable to plebeians is no longer a reasonable way to approach law.

    When the only people signing contracts were the top 1% of society it made sense to have contracts that were verbose for the sake of clarity, specificity and enforceability. But the system as it exists now, is utterly ridiculous.

     

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  3.  
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    in3rtia (profile), Jun 26th, 2009 @ 9:01am

    Porn

    I honestly think this is simply Google's way to protect themselves from angry parents who want to try to sue them for Google being easy access to pornography. "You let my kid find porn on your site, I'm suing you." "Well our terms of service specifically say you have to be of legal age to use our engine, as the guardian, you are at fault, not us." etc.

     

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  4.  
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    kazanjig, Jun 26th, 2009 @ 9:15am

    No no no no no no. How can you violate Google's TOS if the TOS say you have to be of legal age to accept them.

    "You may not use the Services and may not accept the Terms if (a) you are not of legal age to form a binding contract with Google..."

    "If (a) you are not of legal age to form a binding contract with Google" then you cannot "form a binding contract" to accept Google's TOS.

    So, although you may be using Google's services without authorization because you have not accepted the TOS (because you legally cannot, according to the TOS), you're no criminal. There's no "binding contract" formed for you to be in violation of.

    Anyway, it wouldn't make you a criminal. It would be a civil violation of the TOS.

     

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  5.  
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    RD, Jun 26th, 2009 @ 9:25am

    Yes but..

    "Anyway, it wouldn't make you a criminal. It would be a civil violation of the TOS."

    Yes, but the point is, that is EXACTLY what Lori Drew was convicted of in a CRIMINAL TRIAL. Which means, anyone COULD also be tried and possibly convicted under the precedent that case just set. Which is garbage, and doesnt pass the sniff test of what is reasonable, or should even be legal.

     

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  6.  
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    Jason, Jun 26th, 2009 @ 9:33am

    Re: Kazanjig

    I would like you to review "You may not use...Google's products, software, services and Web sites...and may not accept the Terms if...you are not of legal age to form a binding contract with Google. Under the Department of Justice's current interpretation of hacking laws, every high schooler who uses Google to do homework is in theory a criminal.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 26th, 2009 @ 9:40am

    Hilarity ensues...

    I say someone should investigate the family of Lori Drew's Prosecutor... wouldn't it be fun to prosecute their son/grandson with the same charges Lori was charged with?

    I would love to sit in on that trial and watch as they argue against what they said in the other case.

     

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  8.  
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    PRMan, Jun 26th, 2009 @ 9:45am

    Funny

    My kids are instructed in school on how to use Google as a MANDATORY assignment.

     

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  9.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Jun 26th, 2009 @ 9:46am

    The rest...

    "You may not use the Services and may not accept the Terms if (a) you are not of legal age to form a binding contract with Google..."

    (b) you have any intention of doing anything that might upset anyone, anywhere, (c) you weren't asked to your senior prom, otherwise known as having Fugly Syndrome, or (d) are over 65 years of age, thereby increasing the liklihood of being Ray Bradbury.

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 26th, 2009 @ 10:03am

    I finally realize why FEMA has been building all those huge prison camps around the country.

    Now I just need to figure out what those plastic coffins are for....

     

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  11.  
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    TriZz (profile), Jun 26th, 2009 @ 10:16am

    Re: Porn

    This is was going to be my exact comment. It's simply a CYA clause.

     

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  12.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Jun 26th, 2009 @ 10:18am

    Re:

    "I finally realize why FEMA has been building all those huge prison camps around the country.

    Now I just need to figure out what those plastic coffins are for...."

    Oh, come on, FEMA isn't building prison camps, stop being such a conspiracy theorist.

    FEMA is just building {content deleted by Echelon} in several geographic areas, like {content deleted by Echelon}. For God's sake, there isn't anyone spying on you, or do you also believe in {content deleted by Echelon}?

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 26th, 2009 @ 11:01am

    it used to be "kids" under 18 cannot be bound to a contract--thats how we got out of columbia house record clubs

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 26th, 2009 @ 11:13am

    Quick little thing here, in most states minors are allowed to enter into binding contracts. However in many states they have the right to terminate the contract with no penalty to themselves, up until they turn 18. So a 16 year old could go and buy a car on their own with their own money, and then they can return it right before they turn 18 could go and return it and get all their money back without any consequences under their rights as a minor*. One other point here is that as long as the minor performs their part of the contract, and does not discharge the contract, the contract is legally binding to both parties.

    The point of my story is that minors can enter into legally binding contracts, although that may be forbidden by the contract, prior to entering into it. In the case with google, the minor has the legal ability to enter into the contract so there is no real problem with this term. You are all turning a small bit of legal boilerplate that says basically " only people who may enter into a contract can enter into this contract." It doesn't really mean anything.

    *In several states the minor would be entitled to a refund, less depreciation, but this is not the case in many states. which is why many businesses refuse to sell certain items to minors.

     

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  15.  
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    demonsun, Jun 26th, 2009 @ 11:14am

    Quick little thing here, in most states minors are allowed to enter into binding contracts. However in many states they have the right to terminate the contract with no penalty to themselves, up until they turn 18. So a 16 year old could go and buy a car on their own with their own money, and then they can return it right before they turn 18 could go and return it and get all their money back without any consequences under their rights as a minor*. One other point here is that as long as the minor performs their part of the contract, and does not discharge the contract, the contract is legally binding to both parties.

    The point of my story is that minors can enter into legally binding contracts, although that may be forbidden by the contract, prior to entering into it. In the case with google, the minor has the legal ability to enter into the contract so there is no real problem with this term. You are all turning a small bit of legal boilerplate that says basically " only people who may enter into a contract can enter into this contract." It doesn't really mean anything.

    *In several states the minor would be entitled to a refund, less depreciation, but this is not the case in many states. which is why many businesses refuse to sell certain items to minors.

     

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  16.  
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    DJ (profile), Jun 26th, 2009 @ 11:20am

    Re: wasnt this the joke

    "But the system as it exists now, is utterly ridiculous."

    Shhh!! Don't say that too loud! Some lawyer somewhere might sue you for....something....

     

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  17.  
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    DJ (profile), Jun 26th, 2009 @ 11:23am

    Re:

    "It would be a civil violation of the TOS."

    That was the average citizen's understanding of TOS violations...until Lori Drew got CRIMINALLY convicted for violating MySpace's TOS.

     

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  18.  
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    DJ (profile), Jun 26th, 2009 @ 11:24am

    Re: Funny

    hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

     

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  19.  
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    DJ (profile), Jun 26th, 2009 @ 11:28am

    Re:

    " only people who may enter into a contract can enter into this contract."

    That is exactly the kind of circular logic that criminal lawyers will use to convict someone who hasn't actually done anything wrong; which is the whole point here.

     

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  20.  
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    Jason, Jun 26th, 2009 @ 11:31am

    Re: Funny

    Call the police.... somebody quick...

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 26th, 2009 @ 12:42pm

    19 in Nebraska. In Nebraska you can't sign a legal binding contract unless your 19...

     

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  22.  
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    fshope, Jun 26th, 2009 @ 12:51pm

    Implied agreements

    Quote: "even if you haven't read them or done anything to agree with them!" (from the post)

    Not true. Myspace and many similar sites require you to read and agree to the TOS in order to create an account. Since Lori Drew did this intentionally and violated them also intentionally, she is guilty of fraud and violation of the TOS.

    Now, in my humble opinion, whether or not this is a prosecutable violation of TOS is another matter entirely. How many internet surfers/hackers/what-have-you have never signed up for accounts using fraudulent information?

    The way the case was handled was ridiculous, but I agree with the intent of the prosecutors. Harassment that causes or strongly influences someone's suicide should not be ignored. Violation of the terms of service should at least warrant a termination of the account.

     

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  23.  
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    Clay, Jun 26th, 2009 @ 1:10pm

    Criminal, no.

    Smooth criminal? Definitely.

     

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  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 26th, 2009 @ 1:45pm

    Re:

    The point of my story is that minors can enter into legally binding contracts, although that may be forbidden by the contract, prior to entering into it.

    Umm,no. They may enter into contracts, but those contracts are not binding on them.

    However in many states they have the right to terminate the contract with no penalty to themselves, up until they turn 18.

    Because the contract isn't binding on them.

     

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  25.  
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    lulz, Jun 26th, 2009 @ 1:53pm

    Re: Implied agreements

    Even on sides where they make you click on a TOS link first (not many), one can still just scroll through it without reading. Maybe people would read all of the legal stuff if it was crammed into a few readable paragraphs without the law vernacular. I can't stand EULAs for that reason.
    Something concise that explains what one can and can't do is the only way anyone would get me to read it; otherwise I'll keep checking the box that I understand the TOS and think of consequences later.

     

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  26.  
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    lulz, Jun 26th, 2009 @ 1:53pm

    Re: Re: Implied agreements

    *sites

     

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  27.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Jun 26th, 2009 @ 1:53pm

    Re:

    Try telling the local military recruiting center that...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 26th, 2009 @ 1:57pm

    Re: Implied agreements

    Since Lori Drew did this intentionally and violated them also intentionally, she is guilty of fraud and violation of the TOS.

    She wasn't convicted of fraud, so why are you declaring here guilty of it?

    Here is the indictment accusing her of "Unauthorized Access",
    http://www.wired.com/images_blogs/threatlevel/files/my_space_lori_drew_indictment.pdf
    but that isn't fraud.

     

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  29.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Jun 26th, 2009 @ 2:06pm

    Re: Implied agreements

    Not true. Myspace and many similar sites require you to read and agree to the TOS in order to create an account. Since Lori Drew did this intentionally and violated them also intentionally, she is guilty of fraud and violation of the TOS.

    Er, that's a bit of revisionist history. She did not create the account, so she did not agree to the terms, and yet she was found guilty of violating them. I'm not sure what you mean by "intentionally," but it does not appear that she violated anything intentionally.

     

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  30.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 26th, 2009 @ 5:02pm

    Re: Implied agreements

    The way the case was handled was ridiculous, but I agree with the intent of the prosecutors.

    The intent of the prosecutors was to prosecute someone for something that was not illegal. You may agree with that, but I do not.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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