Know Your Rights: Are You Using Safe & Friendly Online Services?

Do you know how the online services you choose use your data? Do they claim a broad copyright to it, remove your rights to a class-action lawsuit in the USA, or share your information with other companies? Or are they a well-behaved service that respects your rights? The answer to this is in each website’s terms of service – unfortunately, no one has the time to read those. A new service reads websites’ terms of service for you, summarizing what you need to know in a quick, bullet-point list.

Let’s be honest – no one reads every terms of service they come across, we all just say we did and click the Agree checkbox to get on with our busy lives. We’ve covered some of the more ridiculous things that can be found in EULAs and terms of services 8 Ridiculous EULA Clauses You May Have Already Agreed To Here are some of the most ridiculous terms and conditions in the EULAs of popular services. You may have already agreed to them! Read More before – one company even offered $1,000 in the middle of their EULA to the first person that contacted them about the offer. It took four months for someone to notice – that’s how few people read EULAs.

Why Not Just Read The Terms of Service?

If you think the solution is for everyone to read the terms of service, think again. A 2008 study by two researchers at Carnegie Melon found that the average web user came across around 1500 privacy policies a year. (Yes, every website you visit has its own privacy policy – these are similar to terms of service.)

The average privacy policy contains 2500 words — at an average reading rate 5 Text Reader Apps That Really Help You Speed Read Read More , it would take you about 25 days a year (24/7) to read all the privacy policies. If you took a more reasonable approach and made it your job to read privacy policies for 8 hours a day, it would take you 76 days a year to read those privacy policies.

Throw in the fact that most of these privacy policies likely say that they can change at any time and your task would be pointless. Worse yet, that was a 2008 study – it’s likely that the average person encounters many more such documents today.

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Terms of Service; Didn’t Read

Terms of Service; Didn’t Read is an innovative, smart solution to this problem. They read the terms of service for popular websites for you, condensing the terms into an easily understood bullet-point list. If that isn’t enough, they rate websites according to their terms of service, so you can see at a glance if the website respects your rights or tramples on them.

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Terms of Service; Didn’t Read also offers browser extensions for Firefox The Best Firefox Addons Firefox is famous for its extensions. But which addons are the most useful? Here are the ones we think are best, what they do, and where you can find them. Read More , Chrome The Best Chrome Extensions A list of only the best extensions for Google Chrome, including suggestions from our readers. Read More , and Safari 5 More Powerfully Useful Safari Extensions You Should Try Almost two years ago, Apple finally set up a way for developers to create extensions for its fast and easy-to-use web browser, Safari. You can access available extensions by clicking on the Safari Extensions Gallery... Read More . You can see information about a website’s terms of service right from your browser, without navigating to any other pages.

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Terms of Service; Didn’t Read is still a new project, and it will hopefully grow and thrive – the web needs a project like this, if only to show websites that they need to make their terms of service easily understood or someone will do it for them.

Why Don’t Companies Make This Easier?

If you’re wondering how these websites can actually expect us to take 25 days a year (24/7) to read these contracts, the answer is that they don’t. Terms of service are structured to make it impossible for the average person to even find the time to sit down and read them, much less understand them.

This explains how famously detail-oriented companies like Apple can release Windows software with a EULA saying that users can only run it on Apple computers 8 Ridiculous EULA Clauses You May Have Already Agreed To Here are some of the most ridiculous terms and conditions in the EULAs of popular services. You may have already agreed to them! Read More – Apple wasn’t paying attention to the EULA either.

There are some proposed solutions – Gregg Bernstein’s “I agree to _____” proposes a radically redesigned and simplified approach to the iTunes software license agreement. This approach could be used for other software products and websites as well.

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Some websites have improved a bit – Google recently merged 60 different privacy agreements into a single document Google Set To Merge All Their Services Under One Massive Privacy Policy [News] In a short while, Google will be making some huge changes to their privacy policy and terms of service. Basically, they will be placing all of their services under one giant privacy policy. They are... Read More . This is definitely an improvement, but it’s nowhere near enough – very few people will actually read Google’s privacy policy, even though it’s been simplified.

You may also be interested in EULAlyzer, a free Windows program that automatically scans end-user license agreements for programs you install and alerts you to certain phrases in them.

How do you approach understanding the terms for the online services you use? Do you look up what other people are saying about the websites, or do you throw caution to the wind and ignore the terms of service entirely? Or are you the rare person that actually tries to read these documents? Leave a comment and let us know how you deal with this confusing mess!

Image Credit: Holding a Pen Ready to Sign a Contract via Shutterstock, Male Businessman Sitting Behind a Laptop via Shutterstock

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  1. Alex Perkins
    October 7, 2012 at 5:07 pm

    Wow.... Will definitely be checking Didn't read out. Thanks.

    October 4, 2012 at 8:54 am

    That's what i was looking for. I will definitely share it with others.

  3. Anthony Monori
    October 3, 2012 at 8:52 pm

    I found ToS;dr about a month ago, and I'm constantly checking the site whenever I sign up for something. Really usefull! I guess we should start considering what are we agreeing to and which services we want to avoid.

  4. Harish Jonnalagadda
    October 3, 2012 at 11:45 am

    Terms of Service: Didn’t Read is awesome! Cannot believe I had not come across this before! Makes life so much easier as now I understand what I'm actually sharing. Thanks a lot.

  5. Igor Rizvi?
    October 2, 2012 at 8:06 pm

    Too much tekxt in terms of service lol

  6. Abdelkader Hadjaissa
    October 2, 2012 at 4:26 pm

    Thank you for this extension, reading terms of services is time consuming

  7. Scutterman
    October 2, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    I used to read the ToS and privacy policy of any site I gave information to - whether it was just registering or whether I was posting information to a forum or blog. I don't think I've read any since the Facebook one when I joined a few years back. They're all so similar it's hard to justify the time.

    • Chris Hoffman
      October 22, 2012 at 5:41 pm

      Yeah, and they say they can change at any time, so there's no point. Even websites you just visit have their own privacy policies, so it doesn't even matter if you're not creating an account -- it's crazy.

      • Scutterman
        October 22, 2012 at 6:11 pm

        To be fair, most will email you when they change. But too few make it easy to see what's changed, and most just say "It's changed, click here to read the whole thing".

  8. salim benhouhou
    October 2, 2012 at 12:28 pm

    Terms of Service : Didn’t Read is a great tool. Thank you I will be using it .

  9. Austin
    October 2, 2012 at 4:48 am

    This is crazy, I literally just finished writing an essay on this topic for my University Writing class, where I examined the privacy policies of Google and Facebook and suggested a simplification to inform users better of their rights, then open up Google Reader and see this article! What a weird coincidence, and I'll remember ToS;dr and point that out in a later draft as an example of a good way to present the information.

    • Chris Hoffman
      October 22, 2012 at 5:40 pm

      It's definitely a big topic these days. The only people that don't seem to care are the legal departments.

  10. Ashwin Ramesh
    October 2, 2012 at 4:22 am

    A good tool to have in your browser :)

  11. Ramon Mondragon
    October 2, 2012 at 3:51 am

    Great! will definitely be checking these out.

  12. Mah Yar
    October 2, 2012 at 12:46 am

    Imagine, a web site or service with heaps viewers/users, what are the chances of ending up in a lawsuit. Therere ppl out there looking for shortcuts. Just given a chance and they're ready to ruin you and suck out the last penny in ur account. Those web services should protect themselves and by that I don't mean putting up a rediculasly long, meaningless, not user friendly terms.

  13. Mah Yar
    October 2, 2012 at 12:36 am
  14. Richard Borkovec
    October 2, 2012 at 12:31 am

    Terms of Service; Didn't Read looks like a great tool. Thanks! I will defintely be checking it out.

    • Macwitty
      October 2, 2012 at 12:32 pm

      Agree, think it is time to not just click "Agree" on everything

      • Chris Hoffman
        October 22, 2012 at 5:39 pm

        If people start paying more attention to the TOS with tools like this, websites will be forced to make them more reasonable.

        At least, that's what I'd hope.