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Summary:

If you’ve been using web applications for any length of time, you may have found yourself dismayed at unreasonable Terms of Service (TOS) agreements more than once. If you’re like many users, though, you probably don’t read them at all. Ignoring TOS agreements can be a […]

If you’ve been using web applications for any length of time, you may have found yourself dismayed at unreasonable Terms of Service (TOS) agreements more than once. If you’re like many users, though, you probably don’t read them at all. Ignoring TOS agreements can be a mistake, especially as they often change without notice and can have serious implications for data ownership and privacy. That’s why it’s good to see the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s (EFF) new site TOSBack. The EFF has a long history of advocating user rights online, and its new site tracks 44 Terms of Service agreements at many of the web’s most widely-used sites. Here’s how it works.

You can learn about TOSBack here. TOSback keeps track of TOS agreements for popular web sites and apps, and highlights whenever they change — so that if a site decides to make an unreasonable change to its content ownership policy, for example, you’ll be notified and can decide to stop using it.

Among the sites with policies that TOSBack tracks are Yahoo, Facebook, Flickr, Google, GoDaddy, Twitter, MySpace, Amazon, eBay and more. The site does just what it says. If there is any change in, say, Facebook’s published privacy policy — as there was on June 2nd according to the TOSBack site — then a change notice will be posted. TOSBack does a nice job of presenting the Before and After views of policy changes when they occur, as you can see here, and in the screenshot above.

Many high-profile sites have gotten in hot water over TOS issues in recent years, with Facebook probably generating the highest profile issues. More than once, Facebook has reverted to previous Terms of Service policies in the face of backlash from its enormous user community. Google, too, drew fire when it first released its Google Chrome browser, due to overly loose language regarding how the company would treat data on usage patterns. It’s surprisingly common for TOS agreements to be unreasonable. TOSBack looks like one of the most far-reaching efforts to police the problem yet.

Let us know your thoughts on TOSBack in the comments.

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  1. Boston Margy Tuesday, June 9, 2009

    I had a TOS run-in with a new site, not currently followed by EFF. You really do have to be careful about these things if you’re a content provider.

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