Fact: We can’t be bothered to read the Terms & Conditions of any website we visit, and so we just click the ‘Agree’ button to get it out of the way.
However, no matter how much we deny it, it is the Terms and Conditions of the websites we use that enclose our rights and responsibilities as users, and if we simply agree to them without understanding them, we may not know what we’re getting ourselves into (Facebook and Cambridge Analytica fiasco ring a bell?).
It is considerable, though, how tedious it can be to read them, especially when it entails endless scrolling of our devices and eye strain. There’s a tweet that trended recently comparing the length of the Terms and Conditions of each popular social media site. Aren’t they tiring to look at already?
— Mika (@hailmika) May 4, 2018
Thankfully, a website called Terms of Service; Didn’t Read (ToS;DR) has been launched. It’s a young project that started in 2012 and, as per their own wordings, aims “to help fix the ‘biggest lie on the web’” by going over the Terms and Conditions of some of the top visited websites and rating them from Class A (very good) to Class E (very bad). They’ve also added further details as to why they came up with such ratings.
So far, ToS;DR has rated seven websites and has given their feedback on a lot more others. Here are their ratings and feedback on the most commonly used websites today; in other words, the terms and conditions of our favorite sites, simplified.
Google (Class C)
With a Class C rating, Google’s Terms and Conditions are “okay, but some issues need your consideration.” For one, Google keeps our search history and other personal information for a period that’s undefined. It also uses our content for all their existing and future services, share our personal information with other parties, and keeps the rights to any content we upload on the site even when we stop using the service. Additionally, Google tracks us on other websites and collects our device fingerprint. It may also stop providing us their services at any time, without giving us prior notice or reason.
Among the good feedback include a copyright license that we grant to them for our content that is only limited to “operating, promoting, and improving” existing and new Google services. It also enables us to get our information back when a service is terminated. Google also posts a 14-day notice of changes to the Terms, and keeps a partial archive of its versions.
YouTube (Class D)
A Class D rating makes YouTube’s Terms and Conditions “very uneven or there are some important issues that need your attention,” like they can remove our content at any time without giving us prior notice, and keep the videos we have deleted from our profiles. The copyright license we grant them is too broad – it’s worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicensable and transferable, provided that it’s still connected with YouTube and its successors and affiliates. There is also a one-year time limit required for us to file legal action against an act related to the service. It also processes our personal information such as email, device info, location, and phone number. They may also change their Terms at any time without informing us.
The only redeeming thing about their Terms is that, when we receive take-down notices, they allow us to defend our right to keep the content. However, we must do so in front of the jurisdiction of California.
Facebook (No Class Yet)
There is no class rating for Facebook yet, which means that ToS;DR hasn’t sufficiently reviewed their Terms yet. Nonetheless, they’ve already provided initial feedback. Facebook, like YouTube, has a copyright license to our content that’s broader than necessary, allowing them to transfer or license it to others (which is what it means to sublicense). This license also does not end when we stop using the service unless our content gets deleted by everyone else. Facebook also tracks us on other websites, and does not allow us to use pseudonyms – both of which violate our right to privacy and freedom of expression. It also shares our data with many third parties automatically unless we manually turn off the feature.
However, Facebook explicitly states that our data continues to be under our ownership. It also allows us to comment on any changes to their Terms.
Twitter (No Class Yet)
Like Facebook and YouTube, Twitter has a very broad copyright license to our content, which also includes the right to sublicense. Upon account deactivation or suspension, Twitter still keeps the rights to your content, but then starts to delete our accounts after 30 days. It also uses third-party services, like Google Analytics, that may collect our information. There is also little users’ involvement when it comes to changes to the Terms – they can change them any time they want, and they may also inform us about it however they want.
There are numerous positive comments about Twitter’s Terms compared to the other websites mentioned. Twitter deletes any tracking data it collects from third-party websites with Twitter widgets after 10 days, and we can even opt out of being tracked by enabling the Do Not Track feature. It also allows us to retrieve an archive of all of our tweets, and keeps a separate archive of their Terms and its versions.
Instagram (No Class Yet)
Instagram has one of the longest Terms and Conditions yet, which includes yet another broad copyright license to our content that allows them to transfer or sublicense it. Upon agreeing to their Terms, we also waive our right to class action, which means we can only file cases against them on our own behalf, and not as part of a class action or as a representative of any other claim.
They do notify us of any changes to their Terms, although our continued use of the service already constitutes acceptance of the changes.
ToS;DR has also given their feedback on the Terms and Conditions of Netflix, Spotify, Soundcloud and a lot more websites. You may visit their website to read them. After that, ticking that check box after Terms and Conditions won’t feel that much of a lie anymore.
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