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In the 'Terms of Service' for the Career site, I found the following:


Stack Overflow reserves the right at any time and from time to time to modify or discontinue, temporarily or permanently, the Service (or any part thereof) with or without notice at any time.

It seems odd to me that I would pay for a service that I'm not sure I'll get... Any comments?

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'Odd'? That kind of don't-sue-me language is all over the web. – Stu Thompson Oct 21 '09 at 14:14
Welcome to planet earth. – GEOCHET Oct 21 '09 at 14:17
@random: Added the link – Xavier Nodet Oct 21 '09 at 14:17
+1 for actually reading a TOS. We usually just click through these, and in doing so, effectively let companies trample all over us. – user27414 Oct 21 '09 at 14:44
You pay for SO???? :) – DVK Oct 21 '09 at 15:39
These are the 'Careers' TOS. – Xavier Nodet Oct 21 '09 at 16:08
I have an amazing and revolutionary idea. If you don't like the TOS, don't use the service. WHOA. – GEOCHET Oct 21 '09 at 16:11
I think his point may be not just that he may be choosing not to use it...but more that other people may also be put off by these terms, and the service may suffer because of it. – beska Oct 21 '09 at 17:08
@beska: I strongly, strongly doubt that. – GEOCHET Oct 21 '09 at 17:15
@Stu: 'odd' is probably not the best term. Sorry, English is not my mother thongue. I mean that I'm surprised to find in the TOS that SO may terminate a service for which I paid 1 or 3 years without refund. – Xavier Nodet Oct 21 '09 at 17:43
@Rich B: of course I can choose to not use the service. But either SO indeed decided that they would not refund if they stop the service, or they simply overlooked this aspect. I'd like to know which is the correct answer. – Xavier Nodet Oct 21 '09 at 17:51
Odd == not normal, hence my rhetorical question. It seems to be very much the norm for web-based services. What is 'odd' is CSO's "no questions" 90-day refund. – Stu Thompson Oct 21 '09 at 17:56

This is called Legalese. It's designed to cover the owners of a business and ensure that they are not held liable for a variety of situations both in and out of their control. By having these sorts of clauses in the terms-of-service (TOS), they are covering themselves from potential legal actions against them, as a result of a variety of conditions.

The truth of the matter is that the presence of CYA-style language like that does not imply intent. It is simply there to make sure that Joel, Jeff & the crew are covered in all situations.

Yes, the language looks scary. But it's not malicious nor evil. In fact, it's pretty boilerplate across many terms-of-service that I've read.

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What worries me most is the first sentence: in essence, we can shut down the service without notice. Where is it said that I would be refounded? Is that implied? I doubt it... – Xavier Nodet Oct 21 '09 at 16:00
No, it's not said that you will be refunded as far as I am aware. (I didn't read the entire TOS because I'm not using the careers site. Happily employed!) On the other hand, extremely similar no-refund language appears in almost every TOS I've ever had. Admittedly, I haven't spent the morning re-reading them all, but I'm pretty sure similar was in my XBox Live Gold TOS, my Comcast TOS (try getting even a partial refund out of them -- HAH!), etc. – John Rudy Oct 21 '09 at 16:38
It's not malicious or evil, but it is a cop-out. The business could just as easily make commit to refund money in the event of willful termination of the service, less a nominal administrative cost for refunding the money. There's no reason they have to book unearned subscription income as revenue, and they could let that subscription money sit in an escrow account until it's booked as earned income. For something as trivially inexpensive as Stack Overflow Careers I'm not personally worried about it, but there's no law of physics that says that a TOS has to be written that way. – Evan Anderson Oct 21 '09 at 16:50

I would find such language completely unacceptable for any service I actually paid for. At a minimum, the company should be liable to return any money paid if discontinuing the service, and should be required to offer a refund in event of substantive change in terms. (I'd accept prorating the refund, but that's as far as I'd go.) I would find even this insufficient for any service I was doing company planning around.

As it is these terms (if legal) would allow collecting money and then just skipping out with it. It's a Bernie Madoff guarantee.

These terms work just fine on sites where there is no payment. I get benefits from Google and StackOverflow and Facebook, and they sell my eyeballs to advertisers. There's no problem if either side just stops doing what they're doing. Once money starts changing hands, it's a very different situation.

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StackCareers has a 100% money back guarantee. What more do you want from them? – GEOCHET Oct 21 '09 at 15:54
Tell us what online services you pay for, and we'll show you the "we can close it if we want to" language. – Stu Thompson Oct 21 '09 at 16:06
This guarantee lasts 90 days, not forever... – Xavier Nodet Oct 21 '09 at 16:06
I haven't read the TOS, and didn't know about the money back guarantee, which covers most of what I wanted. I pay for online services on a monthly basis, except for my cell phone plan (standard AT&T iPhone plan, please show me where they can discontinue or materially change the service without giving me a chance to void the contract immediately), and not a whole lot of money a month. Still, why don't you check World of Warcraft TOS and let me know what it says (I can't do it from work). – David Thornley Oct 21 '09 at 16:24
A one payment web-based service (like CSO is) is not an 1 or 2-year long contract where you can run up costs left and right, have hardware in your possession, etc. WoW is much closer. I'll go look up the WoW ToS after dins. – Stu Thompson Oct 21 '09 at 17:44
Wow, hehe, it is long. But on section 12 ( "Blizzard reserves the right, at its sole and absolute discretion, to change, modify, add to, supplement or delete any of the terms and conditions of this Agreement at any time, including without limitation access policies, the availability of any feature of the Game or the Service, hours of availability, content, data, software or equipment needed to access the Game or the Service, effective with or without prior notice;" (And that is just half of this section.) – Stu Thompson Oct 21 '09 at 17:48
@Stu Thompson: Thanks for digging that up. Still, the fact that it's a monthly bill makes up for much of that. They can't screw me over for more than a month. However, I don't understand your claim that a one-payment service that's supposed to cover services for years is like WoW rather than a contracted service. I'd think that's exactly what it would be. – David Thornley Oct 21 '09 at 21:53
Do you really want monthly billing on CSO? The beta price is ~$1/month! What's WoW run? (Regardless, Jeff Atwood has expressed a strong distaste for automatic recurrent billing on the podcast.) What I said is that CSO is closer to WoW than the AT&T iPhone contract, which you did compare with. Much closer. – Stu Thompson Oct 21 '09 at 22:14

I doubt they have changed the TOS significantly since the introduction of, and prior to that there was no services being paid for, meaning it didn't matter if they shut down tomorrow or next week or next year.

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That's my point: the previous service were free, but this one is not. – Xavier Nodet Oct 21 '09 at 14:19

When you subscribe to a service like this you're taking the risk that the business offering it will cease operations, or simply discontinue it. Given the low cost of the SO careers service, that's not much risk. If this was an expensive service you might want better assurances that you could reclaim the "unused" portion under these circumstances.

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It's wrong for a company not to take responsibility for the services they've contracted for. Many businesses will be dependent on these services, in fact SE only businesses will be completely dependent on these services. It is the modern trend, especially in the software business, for a company not to take responsibility for their actions, but it's not a good trend.

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Who is Kev and why does he hate Madhoff? Anyway, sorry David Thornley of suspecting you. – Stu Thompson Oct 21 '09 at 17:51
And purged again. Awesome. – GEOCHET Oct 21 '09 at 17:52
I've never been purged before. I feel cool now. – Stu Thompson Oct 21 '09 at 17:53
@Stu: Hanging with the cool kids will do that to you. – GEOCHET Oct 21 '09 at 17:56
@Stu: Me neither, as far as I can remember. I leave this thread to go do real work an have a spot of lunch and I come back to find my comment (which I thought was actually on topic and not detractful/disrespectful) gone. I suddenly feel like I'm in the "in crowd." :) – John Rudy Oct 21 '09 at 19:11
@John, I missed all the action while I was out of the office also, so much for my daily thrills. – Lance Roberts Oct 21 '09 at 19:18
Some of the comments were pretty inflammatory, and are better off deleted. (And no hard feelings, Stu. I've been misunderstood on the Internet before.) – David Thornley Oct 21 '09 at 21:54
It's all irrelevant now. My seemingly benign comment had been deleted (to my shock) which sorta trashed whatever thread we had. I had assumed you were the primer for that. (Did you flag my comment?) Rich B suspect someone else, hence the apology. My comment above was a mere second or two after the Great Purge of October 21, 2009. Alas...I was never going bananas over any of it then or now. (The purge has inspired a whole thread on moderation and accountability, it seems.) – Stu Thompson Oct 21 '09 at 22:19

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