Sunday, August 12, 2012

ToS;DR and TOSSOS Makes Sense of Long ‘Terms of Services’ You Didn’t Read

As with desktop software, online services such as Facebook and Twitter requires the user to read and agree to their terms and conditions before signing up for an account. But very few people actually read the entire Terms of Service before they click “I agree”. Most people don't care about terms or Privacy Policy and even if they do, they usually don’t have the time or patience to read the long, jargon filled document.

A new service called Terms of Service; Didn't Read or ToS;DR in short seeks to fix this problem by making complicated Terms of Service of major websites readable by highlighting the most important clauses and offering a rating system that lets users quickly judge how fairly the service treats users and respect their data.

ToS;DR explains in plain language the gist of a web service’s terms, with a one-sentence explanation of each term you've agreed to and a brief judgment of whether the term is beneficial for the user. Each term is labeled as either Good (with a green thumbs up), Mediocre (with an orange thumbs down), Alert (with a red X), or informative (with a neutral gray icon). There is also an overall ranking that judge each service by Class ranging from Class A for the best terms of services (“they treat you fairly, respect your rights and will not abuse your data”) to Class E for terms of service that “raise very serious concerns”.


By this classification, DuckDuckGo has earned a Class A label, while image hosting service Twitpic has been marked with Class E. All services are ranked through a peer-review process and anyone can join the discussion on a Google Group message board.

Right now, the site includes ToS of 32 services, including major social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram, mobile carriers AT&T and Verizon, and tech giants Amazon, Microsoft and Apple. However, not all services are equally scrutinized and most of them has not been assigned a class yet. If you can spare a few minutes, go join them and help them rate their terms of services.

ToS;DR was launched in June, but just a few weeks earlier another service with the same goals was launched.Called TOSSOS, this service too was built to help people understand what they actually agree to when they use products and services. Like ToS;DR, TOSSOS highlights important clauses in a ToS document using color codes to distinguish between a good clause and a bad clause. You can click on the clause summary to read an extract from the original terms and service.

TOSSOS even lets you compare terms of services of two different web services/companies.


What’s great about TOSSOS is that it has a Chrome plugin. When you visit a site and you want to check out the site’s privacy policy or terms, you hit the TOSSOS plugin button and if the site has been reviewed by TOSSOS, it will display the summarized terms in a little pop-open window.

Both ToS;DR and TOSSOS are based on a wonderful concept and has the potential to be a great educational tool. Hopefully in time they will reach a wider audience and if enough people are made aware of the practices of these service providers, maybe we can exert pressure on them to be more open and reasonable with their terms.


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