ToS;DR Explains Those Ridiculous Terms Of Service You Agreed To

a stack of paper in his hand...
a stack of paper in his hand...

Quick: If the government asks Facebook for information from your account, does Facebook have to inform you of the request? If you delete your Twitter account, does Twitter still own the content of your tweets? Can Google appropriate your content for use on its other services without notifying you or asking your permission?

You probably don't know the answer to these three questions off the top of your head, but you did claim to know the answers when you agreed to the respective Terms of Service (ToS) agreements upon signing up for these three popular websites. Facebook doesn't have to inform you of government requests; Twitter will own your tweets after you deactivate; Google can use any of your content; and you signed off on all three by consenting to the ToS.

Yes, Terms of Service agreements are long, jargon-filled, functionally-unreadable documents, which is why we're so excited for a delightful new website called ToS;DR that seeks to simplify and explicate these beasts for all of us. ToS;DR is a play on the Internet acronym TL;DR, which means "too long, didn't read" and which could be applied to almost all ToS contracts. The website consists simply of an unadorned list of all the terms you've agreed to when you signed up for any given service online, 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. ToS;DR is also in the process of ranking each service, as a whole, based on how user-friendly its ToS is judged to be.


ToS;DR ranks each clause within a firm's Terms of Service and determines how fair the Terms of Service contract is as a whole. On the clause side, 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 (a good-to-know neutral gray). The holistic rankings, meanwhile, tally up those clause rankings and judge each service on a range from Class A ("[T]hey treat you fairly, respect your rights and will not abuse your data") to Class E ("The terms of service raise very serious concerns"): Thus far, alternative search engine DuckDuckGo has earned a Class A label, while image hosting service Twitpic has been marked with the dubious distinction of a Class E.

The rankings on ToS;DR are completely crowd-sourced, and anyone can join the conversation on a Google Group message board, where the community moderators hang out and debate the relative merits of each rule and restriction. So far, the site has parsed the user contracts of 32 services, including social media biggies like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram; mobile carriers AT&T and Verizon; and tech behemoths Amazon, Microsoft and Apple. On its homepage, the ToS;DR staff has put out a call for help, especially from contract attorneys who can help affirm their judgments and analyses.

The site is still in its fledgling stage -- it was launched in June 2012 -- and one assumes more services, with more information and rankings, will be added as time goes on and more volunteers contribute to the process. If you want to be a contributor -- especially if you have some legal expertise -- you can assist ToS;DR here; otherwise, you can visit the website and read up on the terms and privacy policies you've agreed to here. Because you never do quite know what you're signing yourself up for when you consent to these things without reading.



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