Do 'terms of service' have to be visibly linked to on a website in order for the expectation that they be abided by to be valid?

by lemoncakeandchill. Posted on Sep 16, 2020    12    14


(Sole Proprietress/Indie Creative)

I recently had an account suspended and compensation withdrawn by a company due to their assertion that I had breached their terms of service. I challenged that assertion due to the fact that I was in no way in breach of anything under the 'Terms' link displayed on their website (Plus, that's not something I would ever do!).

They responded by providing a link to a different page of terms that says it was last updated in 2017. There are no links to this page on their website and it does not come up in an internal search of the site. Using Wayback Machine, I was able to confirm that the website has never visibly linked to the page in the 17 years that this domain has been crawled.

It's essentially a ghost page. It's on their website. It comes up on Google. But there are no links to it on the website and no way to know it exists unless you have the exact url or are doing a specific Google/web search.

When I asked how I was expected to be aware of those specific terms when they aren't linked anywhere and weren't brought to my attention at any point, I was told that I should have Googled the page. I repeatedly asked (very confused) how it would have occurred to me to randomly Google an additional terms page that I didn't know existed, but could not for the life of me extract a clear answer and was continuously given the run around.

The even more frustrating aspect is that their assertion that I breached the terms displayed on the ''ghost' page is based on an internal miscommunication that appears to have occurred as employees transitioned out & priorities changed, but that's a whole different discussion. *sigh*

Keeping my question limited to the 'ghost' page, is this really a thing that companies can do without repercussion? Thanks!


Comments

monkey6

“Compensation withdrawn” - can you tell me more about that?

What type of site / business was this? Are you the customer or a contractor?

VegasOldPerv 1

This would be a question for r/legaladvice

jmizzle 2

That sub is trash and not even run by attorneys.

  lemoncakeandchill 3

No one replied there, unfortunately.

VegasOldPerv 1

>is this really a thing that companies can do without repercussion?

Sort of, yeah. There's no law I'm aware of requiring them to display their TOS. However they most likely would not prevail in court if they sued you for violating TOS that they did not make readily available. You would have to have grounds to sue them, which you may have for the suspended account and loss of income. However I think it would have to be in superior court and you'd want/need an attorney. Depending on the value of your loss it probably isn't worth the law suit.

Disclaimer: IANAL and you should consult with one if you feel you are due compensation of if compensation is demanded of you.

  lemoncakeandchill 1

> Sort of, yeah. There's no law I'm aware of requiring them to display their TOS.

That's so disheartening. I have no clue how to process all of this emotionally. (Thank You for taking the time to respond.)

addvilz 2

>Sort of, yeah. There's no law I'm aware of requiring them to display their TOS.

TOS is a form of a commercial contract. You can't really agree to terms of a contract without having a chance to review it, don't you?

VegasOldPerv 2

> You can't really agree to terms of a contract without having a chance to review it

Correct. If they decide to hold you to their TOS they need to make them available. If they don't make them available, then your recourse is a law suit. IFAIK there is no requirement for them to be posted. Legitimate companies require you to agree to them to continue. The company OP is referring to has two sets of TOS. You could argue implied breach due to the TOS not being readily available. But again, that would require a law suit.

addvilz 3

In this specific case, imo the second TOS is null and void. First TOS was probably the one OP agreed to when registering/using the platform. Second TOS was hidden / unlinked, and never explicitly or even implicitly agreed to. Imo just emitting a new version of TOS is just not enough, parties should be duly notified etc etc.

procrux 2

Well on reputable websites, I get an email telling me that they've updated their terms. So, I'd think they're in the wrong here!

hollth1 2

It will depend on specifics, such as what industry. what country, jurisdiction it falls under, why you were removed etc. For many, the general rule of thumb that you've pointed out is correct that companies must provide terms and conditions that are accessible. If the link to the disclaimer did not work, that would generally fall on them.

However, you would need to discuss with a lawyer to more accurately reflect the circumstances of your case, potential fees and costs, if it is worth pursuing, other options you may have.

carpbasher 2

Depends on your country, however a websites terms can state what they wish, a tick box doesn't actually count for accepting these in a legal setting.
Also there terms don't trump the law so you still are protected by your consumer rights.

addvilz 6

Sounds like a scam. You can't be legally required to abide by a commercial contract you did not review and agree to abide to, especially one you have no access to. That would be ridiculous. Imagine then, any website could have hidden terms and conditions that could stipulate the weirdest things. Not only is that not true, the TOS needs to be publicly available and easily reachable, and they need to notify you about every change they make to TOS policies.

Screenshot everything in the page, including the terms and conditions that are public, and the link they sent in private, and then talk to a lawyer. If the conversations are happening not-by-email, screenshot all of that too. In fact, screenshot everything that might be relevant.

WhatVengeanceMeans 6

It sounds to me like these guys are running a grift. They can't do this, but they're counting on most of the people they deal with to not know that.

You need a lawyer. I can't recommend strongly enough, if you're going to freelance, that you watch this talk in it's entirety: https://youtu.be/jVkLVRt6c1U