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Summary:

Internet users who encounter a Terms of Service typically “Agree” to a lengthy legal contract that contains who knows what. A new service provides report cards and plain English descriptions of these ToS.

Report Card

If you’re an average Internet user, you’ll click “Agree” to any block of text that stands between you and the shiny thing you want to see. That is why websites often find it easy to stuff online contracts with outrageous terms.

The result can be an abusive “take it or leave it” relationship in which companies use online contracts to force users to sign away everything from their copyright to their first born child (it’s hard to know — I never read the damn terms).

That’s why it’s so welcome to see a new service that reads those contracts for us. As reported by TechCrunch, a project called “ToS;DR” is handing out report cards to companies and flagging egregious terms. For instance, picture site Twit-Pik earned a “Class E” (ie very bad) for iffy legal and copyright practices:

This new report card system comes at a time when users must “Agree” to a growing mass of contracts if they want to participate in a swelling world of apps and social media. The beauty of the ToS;DR service (let’s hope they pick a better name!) is that people can see now a plain English version of those complicated contracts.

Many of the project’s report cards are not complete. So far, though, far it appears that many of companies’ transgressions fall into the same handful of categories: copyright; data protection and ownership; law enforcement requests. As the site evolves, it should become easy to see who is following best practices in each category.

While it’s unlikely that users who encounter a new online contract will now stop and check its report card (it’s more likely is that they will “Agree” as they always do), the site is poised to provide a name-and-shame incentive for some companies to shape up.

(Image by Robyn Mackenzie via Shutterstock)

  1. Great idea. I’m surprised there isn’t somewhat of a simplification in more respects… I’m sure that 90% of most EULAs and TOS agreements are generic. Something like this really is needed.

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  2. Seven point Seven Tuesday, September 11, 2012

    We wrote about this idea last year and we’re happy to see someone actually implement it! http://sevenpointseven.com/post/26037342163/an-app-for-making-sense-of-terms-conditions

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  3. A splendid service – ToS;DR could save us five years of our lives that potentially could be spent reading all that stuff.
    The cure? Legislation to compel demands for “have read T&C” to also have a box reading “have NOT read T&C”.
    Err, have we been asked to read ToS;DR’s T&CS?

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