Last night I got an email from a company called "ApplyYourself" informing me that one of my former students was applying to grad school, and could I go to their site and fill in a letter of reference for her? ApplyYourself appears to be a web-based reference-letter-management system that contracts with a number of universities, which seems like a sensible enough idea — I've been on all three sides of the reference-letter headache (writing them, evaluating them, and soliciting them) and that's definitely a part of the process that could stand to have some automation.
And ApplyYourself did a perfectly fine job of managing this process, except for one gigantic turd in the punchbowl: in order to leave a letter of recommendation for my former student, I had to enter into an end user license agreement in which I waived a bunch of my rights:
Limitation of Liability. In no event will ApplyYourself or other third parties mentioned at this site be liable for any damages whatsoever (including, without limitation, those resulting from lost profits, lost data or business interruption) arising out of the use, inability to use, or the results of use of this site, any web sites linked to this site, or the materials or information contained at any or all such sites. Some jurisdictions do not allow the exclusion or limitation of incidental or consequential damages, so the above limitation and exclusion may not apply to you.
This is the standard ridiculous EULA junk (we can be as negligent as we want and you can't ever sue us, no matter what), so after I sent in the letter for my student, I immediately fired off an email to the address listed, explaining that I didn't agree to this non-negotiated "agreement" and closing with my standard anti-EULA:
READ CAREFULLY. By reading this email, you agree, on behalf of your employer, to release me from all obligations and waivers arising from any and all NON-NEGOTIATED agreements, licenses, terms-of-service, shrinkwrap, clickwrap, browsewrap, confidentiality, non-disclosure, non-compete and acceptable use policies ("BOGUS AGREEMENTS") that I have entered into with your employer, its partners, licensors, agents and assigns, in perpetuity, without prejudice to my ongoing rights and privileges. You further represent that you have the authority to release me from any BOGUS AGREEMENTS on behalf of your employer.
Since then, I've been having an hilarious, robotic exchange with some nameless person(s) at the other end of the email bank, where they keep sending me this:
Thanks for your message. I apologize for the inconvenience you experienced. We are not able to release you from the term and conditions via this email.
The purpose of the Terms is to protect you, the institution and ApplyYourself (as their partner) in the event a user inappropriately uses the Recommendation form. If you are using the form as intended, none of the offending items are relevant. Many websites that collect important information have these types of statements primarily as a protection of their users, such as yourself. Our intent is not to make you uncomfortable and we tried to reflect that in the language that is being used.
And I keep answering back, "No, you don't understand — you've already released me, just by reading my email! And that's also for your protection as well as mine, OK?"
I know it's tilting at windmills, but this is insanity. It's a matter of principle. You shouldn't have to agree to three screens' worth of legal junk in order to send a letter of reference to a university.