When signing up for an online service, users are required to read and agree to the presented Terms of Service (ToS). But these terms often go on and on, and are written in such a way as to be understandable only to lawyers.
Most users agree to them even though they haven’t bothered to understand them or read them in full. It’s possible that most of them aren’t aware that agreeing to the terms means entering into a binding contract with the company offering the service.
Privacy and security-minded individuals have long pointed out the need for shorter and especially clearer and unambiguous terms of service, but as long as the current status quo benefits the companies, they are unlikely to institute changes.
That’s when sites like TOSSOS and the soon-to-be-officially-launched TOS;DR (Terms of Service; Didn’t Read) can come in hand.
The former has been around for quite some time and aims to translate “Terms of Services and Privacy Policies in plain English”, and notify users when specific terms of service have been changed. It also offers a Chrome plugin.
The latter was started in June 2012, and “aims at creating a transparent and peer-reviewed process to rate and analyze Terms of Service and Privacy Policies in order to create a rating from Class A to Class E,” with A being the best possible score meaning that these companies respect users’ rights and do not abuse their data.
The project, lead by Free Software hacktivist and law student Hugo Roy, is funded by non-profits organizations and individual donations and gets released as free software and open data.
Some companies and services have already been rated. TwitPic, for example, received an E as it allows World Entertainment News (one of its partners) to sell images uploaded by the users.
The site is still incomplete and the rating shows some inconsistencies – understandably, as it still hasn’t been formally launched – but it’s definitely promising. I think we can all use more projects like this one.