Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Get Notified When a Website's Terms of Service Change

Privacy policies and terms of service are those documents that lay down the rules, the contracts between you and the company whose service you use. You would never sign a document from your bank or insurance company without reading them first. But when was the last time you read the privacy policy and terms of service of a website before you signed up? Right, never! Just because you don’t pay to use these services doesn’t make their ToS less important because they still have access to all the information you share on these sites. Terms of service are a lot like EULAs, but with one major difference – EULAs don’t change after you have agreed to them.

You may recall that back in December, Instagram caused a huge commotion when it made changes to its privacy policy, which effectively allowed them to sell the photos you upload. It made front page news, but not all such changes get that kind of attention. Large sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Google get their privacy policies scrutinized possibly everyday. However, other sites are able to “fly under the radar”, effecting changes to their policies that may catch their users unawares.

Companies are not legally obligated to notify users about these changes. So how do you keep track of privacy policies of your favorite websites, and most importantly, how do you know whether the current terms of service are the same that you agreed to?

Docracy Terms of Service Tracker is a new service from Docracy - a socially curated repository of contracts and other legal documents – that tracks terms of nearly a thousand sites, showing exactly what's changing and when it changed.


The Terms of Service Tracker works by crawling the terms of service and privacy policy pages of all the websites it tracks, similar to the way Google bots scraps website pages for indexing in search. Pages are then compared, and when the site notices a change, the changes are reproduced publicly for all to see. Removed sections are highlighted in red while additions highlighted in green.

The tool currently tracks 1,025 websites with the most recently changed documents appearing at the top of the home page. Docracy also offers an RSS feed so you can monitor the latest changes in your favorite RSS reader.

Many of the changes that Docracy has caught now are trivial, “but tracking the changes for even a few weeks shows how quickly company promises can evolve”, wrote Russell Brandom on The Verge. “The vast majority of Terms-of-Service changes are like this — small, incremental, not worth noticing — but together they chip away at user privacy in a way that’s hard to deny.”


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