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ToS;DR reads Terms of Service for you

ToS;DR reads Terms of Service for you

Posting in Technology

A new project aims to fix the biggest lie on the web: 'I have read and agree to the Terms.'

Did you ever see the "South Park" episode HumancentiPad, which parodies how tediously long user agreements are with reference to the 2010 film "The Human Centipede"? In it, Kyle does not read the Terms and Conditions before downloading an iTunes update and he is pursued by Apple Inc. agents who want to perform (ahem) tests on him, which he unknowingly agreed to in the user agreement. It is an extreme example of what can happen if you don’t read the fine print before agreeing to the terms of a website or an update (and really funny if you haven’t seen it).

Fortunately, no one has to worry about anything like that ever happening thanks to a new website that reads the fine print for you.

ToS;DR (Terms of Service; Didn’t Read) is a new project to help people understand what they are getting themselves into before clicking on the “agree” button.

The website issues out report cards for Terms of Service agreements for websites such as Facebook, Google and Twitter. The user agreement ratings run from Class A to Class E, highlighting things such as protection policies, the right to leave the service and data sharing with third parties.

If you want to know more you can expand the rating for a particular website and read through the discussion or read the entire user agreement document.

For example, the sound recording and sharing website SoundCloud received a Class B rating, which means “The terms of services are fair towards the user but they could be improved.” ToS;DR gives the site a thumbs up because a user can terminate their account and because the terms are easy to read. SoundCloud received a thumbs down because the site uses persistent cookies.

The project started in June 2012 and thus far has not rated many sites, but there are some partial lists available for viewing.

And as Wired's online tutorial website Webmonkey notes, this is a step in the right direction.  "While it’s unlikely that ToS;DR will suddenly make us all hyper-aware of the dangers of giving up our rights to web services, it may well provide a way to call out some of the worst offenders. And who knows, maybe it will convince a few to mend their ways and show a little more respect for their users."

And since the aforementioned episode of "South Park" scared me into at least considering to read to the Terms of Service, I'm glad there's an initiative to make it easier.

What do you think about it? Feel free to share your experiences and tips below.

via Webmonkey

Photo via ToS;DR

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Amy Kraft

Weekend Editor

Contributing Editor Amy Kraft is a freelance writer based in New York. She has written for New Scientist and DNAinfo and has produced podcasts for Scientific American's 60-Second-Science. She holds degrees from CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and the University of Illinois at Chicago. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure