Cellular TOS

May 6, 2014

Recently, I decided to read in more detail the terms of service (TOS) that I signed with my cellular carrier/provider. Within the TOS I read the following:

“Violation of this Acceptable Use Policy

As set out in the Terms, we have the right, but not the obligation, to monitor or investigate any content that is transmitted using the Services (other than voice Services) or the Equipment; and to access or preserve content or information in accordance with the Terms. We prefer to advise subscribers of inappropriate behavior and any necessary corrective action. However, if the Services are used in a way that we, in our sole discretion, believe violates this AUP, any of the Parties may take any responsive actions they deem appropriate. Such actions may include, without limitation, temporary or permanent removal of content, cancellation of newsgroup posts, filtering of Internet transmissions, and/or the immediate suspension or termination of all or any portion of the Services or your account.

I also found that my TOS clearly outlined behaviour that would be considered a violation which included:

  1. obscene, profane, pornographic content;
  2. defamatory, fraudulent or deceptive statements;
  3. threatening, intimidating, abusive or harassing statements;
  4. content that violates the privacy rights or intellectual property rights of others;
  5. content that unlawfully promotes or incites hatred;
  6. content that is otherwise offensive or objectionable; or
  7. any transmissions constituting or encouraging conduct that would constitute a criminal offence, give rise to civil liability or otherwise violate any municipal, provincial, federal or international law, order or regulation.

The above noted underlined section of the TOS, and their “Acceptable Use Policy,” became a focus point of interest, given my work in the area of online safety advocacy, and all the issues surrounding digital peer aggression. As most of us are aware, our youth are moving away from desktops and laptops and turning to mobile as their number one way to access the internet and social networking. In fact, this boom in mobile has created billions of dollars in profits to cell network providers in North America.

As I continued to research all the cellular carriers/providers in Canada, and their TOS’s, I learned that all had paragraphs in their TOS that basically mirrored those I located in the TOS that I had signed, and this is when I had a “lightbulb moment.” For years now we have been trying to get social networks to police themselves when it comes to online peer aggression (cyber-bullying), with very limited success. What if instead of just focusing on the social networks that are usually outside of Canadian jurisprudence, we also focused on the Canadian cell carriers who were providing cellular connections to these social networks, given that all had TOS’s that clearly outline that users can not use their service for digital peer aggression.

Many online safety advocates, myself included, have stated that cell phones are the digital keys to the digital highway. Well, if the phone is the digital “key,” then the TOS that are signed by parents or youth, in my opinion, become the digital “drivers licenses.” Much like in the real world, if you violate the Motor Vehicle Act (a form of a TOS) when driving, then there are consequences that could include fines and even the suspension of one’s driver’s license. Why can’t this same analogy be applied to those who are using cellular networks to target others for digital peer aggression?

Obviously, there would have to be an administrative process that Canadian carriers would have to adopt to make this work, but I do not think that this process would be insurmountable. As an example:

  • Police are called to a school to investigate a digital peer aggression incident
  • Investigation finds that proceeding criminally would not be “reasonable,” BUT given the nature of the incident it clearly violated the TOS of the cellular provider that a student used to target another student.
  • Police then contact the cell carrier and advise them of their investigation and bring to their attention the violation.
  • Depending upon severity of the breach of the TOS, the cell provider can now provide a scale of consequences ranging from a letter advising that if there is a second occurrence the student’s service will be terminated; or even immediate termination of the services for a specific amount of time which can again be very scalable.

I am a big believer in Restorative Justice (RJ) and the above noted process could be implemented into a RJ initiative, BUT for this to work, the Canadian cellular carriers/providers would have to come on board to make this happen. Many of these companies already support online safety and anti-bullying education initiatives, so why wouldn’t they also support a “TOS Digital Drivers License” initiative, when they themselves have not only clearly spelled out what is not tolerated in their TOS, but also what the consequences could be if violated. Without measured consequences to actions where appropriate and reasonable to do so, there is no impetus for change.

For this to work, it means that cellular providers will have to spend some money, which in itself could be a non-starter for them. Given that this industry is bringing in billions of dollars in profits, are our Canadian youth not worth spending a small percentage of these profits on to ensure their safety, not just through educational programs, but also through enforcement of their own TOS initiatives where appropriate and reasonable to do so?

I also wonder if these cellular companies are being “willfully blind” to their own TOS. Could the CRTC, the CCTS, or the Office of Consumer Affairs that over-watch this industry in Canada place pressure on these cellular providers to enforce?

I also believe that this process will now place more pressure on social networks to police them. Why? Because when social networks don’t police themselves, it will have a financial cause and effect on a multi-national cellular carrier’s profit margins here in Canada. As a result, I can assure you that these multi-national cellular companies will connect with these social networks because MONEY talks, and they depend upon each other to make their profits.

I have always prided myself on being an asymmetrical thinker. When it comes to dealing with online digital peer aggression, like they do in medicine when fighting a virus, we need to attack the challenge of online peer aggression from a variety of different vectors. Education is key, in my opinion, but so are consequences to actions where appropriate and reasonable. Youth, and even adults, understand that if they abuse their driving privileges they will lose their drivers license, thus why the majority stay in compliance. I think the same analogy could be applied to cellular TOS.

If you think this article makes sense, then please forward it to as many individuals as you can. Let’s crowd source this idea and percolate a discussion here in Canada or even North America, on how to make this happen. I personally would love to sit down with Canadian cellular providers to synergize some ideas to make it happen. I’ve tossed the ball, now let’s see who will catch it and run with it. Remember this is about our kids!

Digital Food For Thought

Darren Laur

AKA “The White Hatter”


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