Using 3rd Party Tools (TOS/TOU)

by MU Instructional Designers
February 9, 2023
2 min read

You may want to use external technology tools to increase student engagement and/or help students develop important digital skills. But before you adopt something new, ask yourself the three questions below (found in “3 Questions to Ask When Choosing Technology for the Classroom”).

  • Is the goal of the tool clear? 
  • Is the tool relevant? 
  • Is the tool meaningful? 

If you are confident that the technology is beneficial enough to merit using it, then the next step is to evaluate the Terms of Service, Terms of Use, and/or Privacy Policy.

Terms of Service (TOS) or Terms of Use (TOU) “are the legal agreements between a service provider and a person who wants to use that service. The person must agree to abide by the terms of service in order to use the offered service.” (Wikipedia)

Many of the web 2.0 tools that you might use for innovative projects cost no money, but keep in mind that nothing’s ever entirely free. By using these “free” services, you are often

  • Exposing yourself (or your students) to extensive advertising
  • Giving up rights to and/or ownership of content that you (or your students) create
  • Sharing information that can be used by advertisers (and possibly even hacked for more nefarious purposes)

Be cautious about what information you give away and what you agree to. When you just click “I agree” to those long TOS or TOU pages, that’s like adding your signature to a form you haven’t read. You are legally agreeing to whatever those terms are. Remember that story from the UK about an experiment where a “free” wifi service had a “herod clause” in their Terms of Service, in which “the recipient agreed to assign their first born child to us for the duration of eternity”? Yeah, people definitely signed away their kids for free wifi.

Ideally, you should read every document carefully before agreeing to terms and conditions, but realistically you and your students may not do this when using tools outside of our LMS (Canvas). A good place to start is with the tips in the article, “How to Quickly Read a Terms of Service” by Thorin Klosowski on LifeHacker. It provides some practical strategies for skim-reading and getting the highlights out of that legalese.

If you’d like to learn more, check out our Privacy & 3rd Party Tools Annotated Bibliography for more resources.