All posts tagged ‘ToS’

File Under: Web Services

Docracy Builds a GitHub for Service Agreements

For most of us, terms of service (ToS) are just a speed bump on the way to signing up for internet services. Terms of service agreements are often monumentally long and are almost always written in horrible legalese that even lawyers have trouble parsing. So almost no one reads them; we all just click “agree” and move on. It’s either that or don’t participate.

Further complicating the matter, services routinely, and quietly, update their terms so that even if you did read the ToS that existed when you signed up, you might need to reread it several times over the course of using a service.

But now you can use Docracy’s new Terms of Service Tracker, which does the hard work for you. The service is essentially a GitHub for ToS agreements — a way to see changes over time and keep track of earlier versions. Docracy’s ToS tracker compares versions and highlights the changes so you can quickly see which rights your favorite services have recently subtracted from (or occasionally added to) their ToS agreements.

Whenever Docracy detects a change to a site’s ToS, it’s posted to the site. There’s an RSS feed you can subscribe to, though currently it’s a firehose feed of everything, with no easy way to filter by sites you care about. Docracy also says it will be tweeting changes that are “interesting, scandalous, or just plain funny.”

While ToS agreements may be confusing, users are beginning to take more of an interest, as evidenced by the outrage surrounding Instagram’s ToS changes. Instagram is hardly alone in that regard though. Docracy has a few other highlights, like Squidoo, which removed some comedic language from their policy, but also “removed guarantees that they would never spam their users or disclose personally-identifying information.” And then there’s Geico, which recently decided maybe it will save your data and sell it to third parties. Unfortunately there’s really no shortage of examples. Check out the site for the latest changes.

If your favorite service isn’t in the list, let Docracy know, the site is still expanding its coverage. And for those who would like to know more about what a ToS agreement means, check out ToS;DR, which we covered earlier.

File Under: Web Services

No Time to Read the Terms of Service? ‘ToS;DR’ Does the Hard Work for You

For most of us, Terms of Service (ToS) are just a speed bump on the way to signing up for internet services. Terms of Service agreements are often monumentally long and are almost always written in horrible legalese that even lawyers have trouble parsing. So almost no one reads them; we all just click “agree” and move on. It’s either that or don’t participate.

But what do you give up when you agree to a service’s ToS?

That’s what a new project called “ToS;DR” wants to help you understand. The site’s somewhat awkward name is a play on the common TL;DR abbreviation — too long; didn’t read — which fits perfectly with most people’s approach to ToS agreements. As the site says, “‘I have read and agree to the Terms’ is the biggest lie on the web. We aim to fix that.”

To do that ToS;DR creates report cards for ToS agreements, highlighting any particularly nasty things you might be agreeing to. For example, the popular Twitter image sharing service Twitpic’s ToS has a provision that allows the company and its partners to use your content without giving you credit. That policy, along with some other egregious terms in Twitpic’s ToS, earn the company a grade “E” an ignominious distinction of being the worst-rated company on ToS;DR right now.

Of course at the moment ToS;DR still hasn’t graded very many companies. GitHub earns a “B”, with some good points alongside a few bad ones, like the provision — common to a great many sites — that “your account can be suspended and your data deleted any time for any reason.” Delicious earns a “D”; DuckDuckGo, popular for its policy of not tracking users, manages an “A”, ToS;DR’s highest rating.

For each site ToS;DR provides the actual text of the ToS as well as an area to quote and discuss the terms, calling out anything that might potentially take away users’ rights.

There’s also a very experimental Chrome browser extension that will display a site’s ToS;DR grade in the address bar. Click that grade and you’ll have access to the same data you’d find on the ToS;DR website. The idea behind the extension comes from TOSSOS, an earlier effort to help users understand just what they give up when they agree to Terms of Service.

Like the nascent Chrome plugin, ToS;DR is a work in progress. The vast majority of popular web services still haven’t been graded, though many do have a partial list of problematic elements.

While it’s unlikely that ToS;DR will suddenly make us all hyper-aware of the dangers of giving up our rights to web services, it may well provide a way to call out some of the worst offenders. And who knows, maybe it will convince a few to mend their ways and show a little more respect for their users.