by Ben BailesseMerit

Do you own your cell phone? How about your website? Your online reputation?

Bad news. You ticked the box that reads “I agree to the Terms of Use”, so now you never actually owned any of it. You also just gave your eldest child to Europol


The devil is in the details, and in this case, in the Terms of Use. You read it thoroughly, then had your attorney proof it, right?

Don’t despair – out of the love of these companies’ hearts, they will allow you to license it all, even including your eldest child. For a fee. But only in the ways that they explicitly allow.

In reality, Apple and Google own your phone (or BlackBerry if you haven’t moved on yet). Sure, you own the hardware (unless your mobile carrier does…), but good luck getting any use out of it without an operating system and the hundreds of thousands of patents necessary to make it work [2].

Who owns what and Fair Use [3] are hot topics in tech policy now, because it determines what you can and cannot do with products and services you use. And when you get into copying of media or using a site in contravention of Terms of Use, you get into legal gray area. It’s not for lack of controversy that piracy is in the news on a regular basis. As an absurd example of tech policy gone wrong, anyone 17 years or younger who viewed Seventeen Magazine’s website,, could be lawfully convicted of felony hacking under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act [4]. Sound reasonable?

So, who really owns your reputation? Again, bad news. If you’re using a reputation management company that uploads your patients’ feedback only to its own vertical site(s), then, chances are they own it. And if you quit paying the toll, all of that hard work will be lost. But they will gladly license its use for a fee, of course.

This business model is not a new one. Give away the razor, then sell the only blades that fit. Companies exploit your need for a platform to hold you hostage. Want to move your reviews to another review site or have them distributed amongst third-party sites? Too bad. Want to move your music from your iPhone to another device? Too bad. Want to move your website host or framework? Too bad.

I’m not saying that licensing a platform is a bad thing. Far from it. But your personal property and rights of ownership should not get swept up and tied into these platforms so that your property and data are held hostage ad infinitum.

Choose platforms that respect your rights to your own property. Don’t relinquish ownership of what is rightfully yours. It’s easy to tick a box and start a convenient service, but the true cost is far greater than at first blush.

A good platform will let you take your data with you. Do yourself a favor and ask yourself: If I were to walk away tomorrow, where would all my reviews go? What would happen to my online reputation?

eMerit respects its members and their patients’ contributions. If you did decide to leave eMerit (we hope you don’t), your data follows you and your reviews stay alive indefinitely.
Don’t give your life to those companies that turn around and license it right back to you. They might not be around next month [5].



[1] Londoners give up eldest children in public Wi-Fi security horror show

[2] There Are 250,000 Active Patents That Impact Smartphones; Representing One In Six Active Patents Today

[3] Fair Use and Intellectual Property: Defending the Balance

[4] Until Today, If You Were 17, It Could Have Been Illegal To Read Under the CFAA

[5] has mysteriously disappeared