Is a code of silence evil?

Looking at using google apps for my home email, as I want to be able to have my home machines totally turned off from time to time.

Found this interesting gem in the sign up agreement (which I have not yet agreed to :P):

11. PR. Customer agrees not to issue any public announcement regarding the existence or content of this Agreement without Google’s prior written approval. Google may (i) include Customer’s Brand Features in presentations, marketing materials, and customer lists (which includes, without limitation, customer lists posted on Google’s web sites and screen shots of Customer’s implementation of the Service) and (ii) issue a public announcement regarding the existence or content of this Agreement. Upon Customer’s request, Google will furnish Customer with a sample of such usage or announcement.

This is rather asymmetrical: If I agree to the sign up page, I cannot say ‘I am using google apps’, but google can say ‘Robert is using google apps’. While I can appreciate not wanting to be dissed on if something goes wrong, this is very much not open! A couple of implications: Everyone seeking support for google apps in the apps forums is probably in violation of the sign up agreement; we can assume that anyone having a terrible experience has been squelched under this agreement.

Le sigh.


9 thoughts on “Is a code of silence evil?

  1. Uh, I think you’re rather misreading the clause.

    It says you’re not meant to discuss the terms of service agreement (which amusingly you’re doing, good job you didn’t sign up!)

    This is obviously rather silly, as the agreement is publically accessible to anyone, however it’s hardly an evil restriction on you discussing anything *else* about Google Apps.

  2. No. You can tell anyone you want that you’re using Google Apps. You can talk about how you like it, etc. You just can’t make a public announcement about your agreement with Google (the sign-up agreement itself) or the content of that agreement without permission.

  3. of course it’s asymmetrical

    they do the work to setup google apps, they pay for the servers and the bandwidth… and you use their services for free: this “division of roles/responsibilities” is not asymmetrical either, so why should the signup agreement be symmetrical?

  4. I think I might just be legalilliterate or something, but I just don’t see how “Customer agrees not to issue any public announcement regarding the existence or content of this Agreement” means that one can’t say “I use google apps”.

    I can see how it would mean that you wouldn’t be able to post the contents of the agreement itself, like you just did in your post, but isn’t that different from saying “I use google apps”?

    I would love some clarification, if anybody would be willing to provide it.

  5. I’d love clarification too – and I know there are legalese types out there. My first cut at a title was ‘lawyer fail’ in fact.

    The bit that seems like a fail to me is that if it *is* about the specific words in the agreement, its clearly not binding until I’ve agreed to it, thus me feeling ok about posting here *before* signing up. If its not about the specific words in the agreement but rather about the service given under the agreement then it is more silencing. Either way – I’d love clarity.

    @someone I don’t object to asymmetrical deals where the difference is is related to what the parties are doing/providing. I don’t see that that applies here – the service is not a PR service, its a cloud hosted app service, but making one side offer pre-approved PR releases for the other has nothing to do with the work being put in by Google, or the risk (as the data is now out of the customers control) being taken on by the customer.

  6. You only lose your power once you make the agreement. Don’t submit to it and hope it’ll get better later.

    Send them a modified version of the agreement that you *will* accept. If they’re expecting it to be enforced like a contract, treat it like one: negotiate the terms to ones that you’re willing to live up to.

  7. These kind of asymmetrical agreements aren’t uncommon. They’re done mainly to protect the brand name and image by allowing the company to keep more control over when and what context the brand is used.

    The “Teflon” trademark (referring to the non-stick surface) is another good example of where this exact type of brand image is protected by the company. You cannot refer to the fact that your product uses Teflon unless you fork out big bucks, and even still there are restrictions around how you use it. You’re allowed to say that you use a non-stick surface, but referring to the Teflon brand outright is a no-no unless you’re approved to do so.

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