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Hosting: Terms of Service
As with software, and with any other service you can sign up for online, you will have to agree to a Terms of Service document, and often also an Acceptable Usage Policy, during the process of opening an account with a web hosting company. Tempting as it is to just skip straight to the "I Agree" button, the TOS and AUP can contain some nasty surprises, and since your button-clicking is as legally binding as a signature on a contract, it is worth checking out these documents before you electronically sign your life away.
Firstly, if, against your better judgement, you are signing up for a package which offers "unlimited bandwidth", make sure you find out what that actually means (I can guarantee it doesnít really mean "unlimited bandwidth"). Will you be subject to charges if you exceed a certain amount of data transfer? Will your account just be closed if they feel youíre using too great a proportion of their resources?
Note that most hosting companies reserve the right to change their TOS and AUP as they please, and many without telling you. This latter seems pretty unfair, and if it particularly bothers you, you could go elsewhere. Finding a company that doesnít reserve this right, however, will probably be difficult; donít compromise on other things that matter to you, just so that you can rely on the TOS not changing without your knowledge. Chances are they wonít change it, and if they do, they will tell you about it. Itís just something worth knowing, and it is worth re-reading the TOS now and again just in case.
Most hosts also reserve the right to temporarily suspend or even remove accounts guilty of what they refer to as "usage abuse". If the TOS or AUP is not clear about what this term means, send the company an email and ask them about it. Often it refers to usage spikes or scripts which use a lot of CPU memory, but if in doubt, just ask. The alternative is a dedicated server, which may well be worth considering, if you can afford it.
Also be aware that many web hosts refuse to host any adult content. This may only be mentioned in the TOS and nowhere else on the hostís website, so be careful if this might affect you.
Spam is also an issue. Most hosts will not permit spamming activities, but the definition of "spam" is somewhat grey and it is worth reading their policy very carefully. Emails with multiple addressees, especially to strangers, and especially with product or service information, could well be considered spam, so make sure that you know what the rules are in this regard. The hosting company will not risk their contract with their connection provider for one client, so the penalty for spamming can be instant account suspension or even deletion. Be careful.
Also read the small print regarding uptime guarantees. Some companies will automatically refund you per minute for anything less than 99.9% uptime. Others, however, will only offer a refund for consecutive periods of downtime, so that if the server was one minute up, the next minute down, for three hours, youíd receive no refund because there were no periods of five minutes of downtime together. Other companies might not count the time they spend upgrading software or hardware as downtime, because they are "improving your service". Make sure you are aware of exactly what the downtime guarantee consists of.
Finally, especially if you are going for free hosting, make sure that you arenít signing your copyright away to the hosting company every time you upload your content. There was an outcry about this behaviour a few years ago, so it is unlikely to happen now, but it is a prime example of ugly things being hidden away in the Terms of Service which make these documents worth looking at. Make sure you read them carefully Ė before you sign up, rather than afterwards.
Author: Natalie Catchpole