I mistyped the address for Youtube.com (I left off the final letter), and got redirected to videosurveypanel.com, which managed to convince me for a considerable period of time that it was running a survey for YouTube. It wasn’t until I dug into the unbelievably one-sided contract terms that I got suspicious – it didn’t sound like Google could be this evil. And (thanks to searching on Google) I confirmed that it wasn’t.
Not only is the way they reel you in borderline deceptive — I think YouTube would have a good shot at a trademark claim since I was genuinely deceived for some time and YouTube would very likely win a UDRP action — but the contract really is an amazing piece of draftsmanship: so one-sided as to likely not be enforceable (EDIT: against the user; the user could have various claims against the company. So could the FTC.).
Here’s what you see at first:
You’ve been selected from the Miami region to take part in our annual visitor survey.
This will only take 30 seconds of your time and will enhance user experience.
Upon completion you will have the opportunity to get a free Macbook Air, Sony Vaio, or Vizio HDTV.
Even at the outset I think “get” is a bit tacky for what I presume is going to be a minuscule chance to win a drawing sometime in the far future, but hey, it’s marketing. The questions were gender, age group, number of videos watched online a week (4-10), and how much I hate ads in videos (a lot). Then on to to the register for the sweepstakes part of the show. I “chose” the flashy laptop from the option. The next screen invites me to give my email and cellphone number under a headline saying
Thank you for your response.
If you are interested, this is your opportunity to
Get your free gift
First, they can change it retroactively any time:
Second, if I give them a cellphone number (what if I don’t have a cell? presumably I’ve violated the terms of the offer?) they will spam me with ads.
By completing and submitting a registration form you are consenting to receive SMS, wireless or other mobile offering to your cell phone. You understand that your wireless carrier’s standard charges and rates apply to these messages. To unsubscribe or discontinue SMS messages, send “STOP”, “END”, or “QUIT” to the SMS text message you have received and the SMS sender will unsubscribe you from further SMS messages within 10 days of receiving such request.
Since I don’t have a texting plan, I’ll pay for each of them until I tell them to stop. Even though they have computers, it will take the squirrel in the cage in the back room ten days to do the data entry.
Third, they will sell my data to advertisers:
When you answer “yes” or “no” to a survey question, some or all of the information that you submitted during the website registration process will be transferred to advertisers that we believe may be of interest to you without providing you with another opportunity to review the information.
When you select “yes” next to an offer, we will transfer some or all of the information that you submitted during the website registration process to the applicable advertiser without providing you with another opportunity to review the information either with our own technology or a 3rd party proxy.
Surely, by saying I want the laptop, they will say I’ve agreed to the above. And even if not, they’ve still got me:
By completing and submitting a Company registration form, you are consenting to receive marketing communications from the Company and its third party marketing partners. If, after you have shared your information with the Company, you decide that you do not want to receive marketing communications from the Company and its third party marketing partners, you can discontinue the communications and following the opt-out instructions. If you have registered or submitted information under more than one e-mail account, you must submit separate unsubscribe requests for each account.
It purports to be one heck of webwrap contract:
This promotion is conducted exclusively by www.videosurveypanel.com, and is subject to participation terms and conditions. Receipt of your item requires compliance with offer terms, including: age and residency requirements; registration with valid e-mail address, shipping address and phone number; completion of user survey and sponsor offers. Upon completion of all requirements, we will ship your incentive gift to your verified shipping address. Fulfillment may be delayed based on availability.
Oh-oh: “completion of user survey and sponsor offers”. Typically that means jumping through a nearly endless series of hoops. If you find a single question too intrusive – no prize. If you miss a single complex detail designed to make you fail on a tight deadline – no prize. If you can’t prove you jumped through all the hoops – no prize.
By now I’m really puzzled: I expected better from Google. (And indeed, this turns out to have nothing to do with Google, so that’s one good thing about this.)
But let’s soldier on through the Terms & Conditions and see what they say.
It doesn’t start well:
PLEASE READ THESE TERMS & CONDITIONS CAREFULLY BEFORE USING THIS WEBSITE. BY USING THIS WEBSITE, YOU AGREE TO BE BOUND BY, AND TO COMPLY WITH, THESE TERMS & CONDITIONS UNLESS YOU OFFER DIFFERENT TERMS THAT ARE ACCEPTED IN WRITING BY www.videosurveypanel.com . IF YOU DO NOT ACCEPT THESE TERMS & CONDITIONS, YOU ARE NOT AUTHORIZED TO ACCESS OR USE THIS WEBSITE FOR ANY PURPOSE.
Leaving aside that webwrap contracts are almost certainly not enforceable if the user isn’t forced to read and acknowledge them, taken literally this language means I can’t even read the Terms & Conditions unless I agree with them. Or that by reading them, I’m agreeing to them. Sloppy and mean. And not founded in law.
The next paragraphs is no better. It seems I’m acknowledging that I love them:
Note the ominous but undefined “specified number of advertiser offers” they intend to try to make customers sign on to.
But don’t worry: if it looks like you might win a valuable prize, videosurveypanel.com reserves the right to give you a single piece of bubblegum instead:
www.videosurveypanel.com reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to revise these Terms & Conditions at any time, for any reason, without notice. www.videosurveypanel.com also reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to change the methods through which future rewards are earned. This may include changing the approval requirements necessary to receive future rewards by increasing or decreasing the number of advertiser offers that must be completed to qualify, and adding or decreasing the amount of steps to confirm that you have a legitimate account. www.videosurveypanel.com may also add or remove any product or service listed as a reward at any time. If www.videosurveypanel.com replaces a reward, the new reward may not be of equal value.
Note that by now we don’t even have a contract, since they haven’t actually promised anything at all. But if you don’t like it, well, you’ve violated the terms of service:
Please check these Terms & Conditions periodically for changes. Your use of this website following any such modification constitutes your agreement to follow and be bound by the Terms & Conditions as modified. The last date these Terms & Conditions were revised is set forth below. IF YOU BREACH ANY OF THESE TERMS & CONDITIONS YOUR RIGHT TO USE THIS WEBSITE WILL TERMINATE AND YOUR ACCOUNT WILL BE DISQUALIFIED.
(Bold in original)
And it gets worse. The “rewards” are not actually rewards.
To qualify for the reward on this particular website, you may be required to complete reward offers from the Silver, Gold, and Platinum Offer Pages. Please refer to the requirements of each reward carefully.
*Please note that available reward offers will vary. Some reward offers require a purchase. Credit card offers may require you to activate the card by making a purchase, transferring a balance or taking a cash advance.
Got that? It’s going to be a very bad deal. But you can’t back out when you want to:
(1.) Your account/reward eligibility will expire 60 days from the date you register on this website. Upon expiration, you will no longer be eligible to receive the reward.
(2.) There is no way to cancel an account. If you no longer wish to remain a part of this website, you should refrain from accessing your account.
Yes a very very bad deal indeed. A couple of pages into the (very long) document, we finally get some hints of what is in store: