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What is an Acceptable Use Policy?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 15 September 2016
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An acceptable use policy (AUP) is a document which dictates the terms under which someone may use a particular website or network. The document spells out acceptable and unacceptable uses, along with penalties for violations of the AUP. Depending on the language preferred by the people who draft the document, it may be known as a terms of service or terms of use policy. Reading an acceptable use policy is highly advised, as the document may contain important information which could be relevant to users.

In some cases, an acceptable use policy applies to a particular network, such as an Internet service provider (ISP) or school network. Acceptable use policies can also be written for specific websites or for an Internet host. In any case, the document is kept in a readily accessible location so that people can reach it without effort, and people are often required to read through the acceptable use policy before they can access the service, as in the case of someone who signs up to use a dating site and must certify that he or she has read through the terms and conditions.

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Most acceptable use policies begin with a preamble which sums up the mission statement of the organization behind the policy, and sometimes provides a few brief definitions of terms used in the document. The document continues with a discussion of what the website or network is designed to be used for, providing examples of acceptable uses under the policy. A school network, for example, might suggest that accessing academic journals would fall under “acceptable use.”

The policy also spells out what sorts of activities are not acceptable. This commonly includes anything illegal, such as distributing copyrighted content without permission, and it may also include activities such as harassment, irritation, Internet stalking, spamming, and so forth. Some networks may also ban access to particular websites or types of websites, in which case the acceptable use policy may provide a few examples of such sites so that people are warned. Individual hosts, networks, and websites may have bans on explicit images, defamatory material, and other materials they consider objectionable.

An acceptable use policy also talks about penalties for violation, which may include things like termination of someone's account without notice, reporting illegal activities to the authorities, restricting bandwidth, or issuing a series of escalating warnings. Some websites and networks take an especially aggressive stance against sending unsolicited email or using the service to host websites maintained for the purpose of generating spam.

It is also not uncommon for an acceptable use policy to include a brief discussion of safety issues and Internet etiquette. The policy may strongly recommend that people avoid passing on personally identifying information, for example.

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