Very few start-ups dream of establishing a site like Ashley Madison: the Avid Media’s venture is unappealing in service and (now more than ever) reputation.
Among the many practices to be avoided at Ashley Madison would be an emulation of that website’s terms and conditions: those terms attempt to waive liability on the company’s part for fraudulent conduct.
Over at the Guardian, Alex Hern parses the t&cs, and here’s just part of what he finds:
However, in the terms and services of the site, it explicitly warns would-be cheaters that many users of the site subscribe “for purely entertainment purposes”. It continues:
You acknowledge and agree that any profiles of users and Members, as well as, communications from such persons may not be true, accurate or authentic and may be exaggerated or based on fantasy. You acknowledge and understand that you may be communicating with such persons and that we are not responsible for such communications.
As it turns out, the terms were drafted this way because Ashley Madison’s client base of women was, well, not so very big. See, How Ashley Madison Hid Its Fembot Con From Users and Investigators @ Gizmodo.
In this respect, the t&cs weren’t overbroad: they were properly tailored to the improper business practices of the company.
(Quick note: I’ve written previously that Ms. Newitz’s concern about Reddit’s terms of service seemed unjustified to me, and that Reddit’s terms were properly broad. In the Ashley Madison case, by contrast, I think Ms. Newitz’s discoveries are compelling. It’s a solid discovery for which she deserves considerable credit.)
Ashley Madison is facing civil suits in more than one country, but that’s only a part of the site’s problem. Deceptive practices open the company to both civil administrative and criminal actions.
There’s an easy fix for problems like this: avoid fraudulent practices, and (2) don’t believe for a moment that terms and conditions that waive claims against fraud will insulate a company from liability.