After overreaching TOS angers users, cloud provider Vultr backs off

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After overreaching TOS angers users, cloud provider Vultr backs off

After backlash, the cloud provider Vultr has updated its terms to remove a clause that a Reddit user feared required customers to “fork over rights” to “anything” hosted on its platform.

The alarming clause seemed to grant Vultr a “non-exclusive, perpetual, irrevocable” license to “use and commercialize” any user content uploaded, posted, hosted, or stored on Vultr “in any way that Vultr deems appropriate, without any further consent” or compensation to users or third parties.

Here’s the full clause that was removed:

You hereby grant to Vultr a non-exclusive, perpetual, irrevocable, royalty-free, fully paid-up, worldwide license (including the right to sublicense through multiple tiers) to use, reproduce, process, adapt, publicly perform, publicly display, modify, prepare derivative works, publish, transmit and distribute each of your User Content, or any portion thereof, in any form, medium or distribution method now known or hereafter existing, known or developed, and otherwise use and commercialize the User Content in any way that Vultr deems appropriate, without any further consent, notice and/or compensation to you or to any third parties, for purposes of providing the Services to you.

In a statement provided to Ars, Vultr CEO J.J. Kardwell said that the terms were revised to “simplify and clarify” language causing confusion for some users.

“A Reddit post incorrectly took portions of our Terms of Service out of context, which only pertain to content provided to Vultr on our public mediums (community-related content on public forums, as an example) for purposes of rendering the needed services—e.g., publishing comments, posts, or ratings,” Kardwell said. “This is separate from a user’s own, private content that is deployed on Vultr services.”

It’s easy to see why the Reddit user was confused, as the previous terms did not clearly differentiate between a user’s public and “private content” in the paragraph where it was included. Kardwell told The Register that the old terms, which were drafted in 2021, were “clearly causing confusion for some portion of users” and were updated because Vultr recognized “that the average user doesn’t have a law degree.”

According to Kardwell, the part of the removed clause that “ends with ‘for purposes of providing the Services to you'” was “intended to make it clear that any rights referenced are solely for the purposes of providing the Services to you.” Kevin Cochrane, Vultr’s chief marketing officer, told Ars that users were intended to scroll down to understand that the line only applied to community content described in a section labeled “content that you make publicly available.” He said that the removed clause was necessary in 2021 when Vultr provided forums and collected ratings, but that the clause could be stripped now because “we don’t actually use” that kind of community content “any longer.”

“We’re very focused on being responsive to the community and the concerns people have, and we believe the strongest thing we can do to demonstrate that there is no bad intent here is to remove it,” Kardwell told The Register.

A plain read of the terms without scrolling seemed to substantiate the Reddit user’s worst fears that “it’s possible Vultr may want the expansive license grant to do AI/Machine Learning based on the data they host. Or maybe they could mine database contents to resell [personally identifiable information]. Given the (perpetual!) license, there’s not really any limit to what they might do. They could even clone someone’s app and sell their own rebranded version, and they’d be legally in the clear.”

The user claimed to have been locked out of their Vultr account for five days after refusing to agree to the terms, with Vultr’s support team seemingly providing little recourse to migrate data to a new cloud provider.

“Migrating all my servers and DNS without being able to log in to my account is going to be both a headache and error prone,” the Reddit user wrote. “I feel like they’re holding my business hostage and extorting me into accepting a license I would never consent to under duress.”

Ars was not able to reach the Reddit user to see if Vultr removing the line from the terms has resolved the issue. Other users on the thread claimed that they had terminated their Vultr accounts over the controversy. Cochrane told Ars that they had been contacted by many customers over the past two days and had no way to identify the Reddit user to confirm if they had terminated their account. Cochrane said the support team was actively reaching out to users to verify if their complaints stemmed from discomfort with the previous terms.

In his statement, Kardwell reiterated that Vultr “customers own 100 percent of their content,” clarifying that Vultr “has never claimed any rights to, used, accessed, nor allowed access to or shared” user content, “other than as may be required by law or for security purposes.”

He also confirmed that Vultr would be conducting a “full review” of its terms and publishing another update “soon.” Kardwell told The Register that the most recent update to its terms that led the Reddit user to call out the company was “actually spurred by unrelated Microsoft licensing changes,” promising that Vultr has no plans to use or commercialize user data.

“We do not use user data,” Kardwell told The Register. “We never have, and we never will. We take privacy and security very seriously. It’s at the core of what we do globally.”