Digital Makeover: Find Out What's in Terms of Service Agreements #30DaysofGOOD

Do you know what you're consenting to when you agree to a site's policies? Take some time to find out.

30 Days of GOOD (#30DaysofGOOD) is our monthly attempt to live better. This month we're focused on improving the way we use technology.

Terms of service, end-user license agreements, and privacy policy statements. You come across at least one of these documents every time you sign up for a new service or start using a new piece of software. You might spend a few seconds scrolling through the legalese, but it's more likely that you just click "accept" and move along.

You're not alone. A few years back, a software company called PC Pitstop proved that hardly anyone takes the time to read the fine print by including a note deep in its EULA saying it would pay $1000 to the first person to notice it and contact them about it. It took four months for anyone to get in touch.

It's no wonder nobody reads the things: According to a report (pdf) by researchers Aleecia M. McDonald and Lorrie Faith Cranor, if the average Internet user fully read all of the privacy policies they reflexively agree to over the course of a year, it would take them 250 hours. And that's just privacy policies—never mind the time it would take to trudge through all those terms of service agreements.

You probably think you have a sense—more or less—of what you're consenting to when you agree to a site's policies. But what do you really know? Today's task is to take some time and find out.

Choose a site that you use often and spend at least 15 minutes reading through one of its legal agreements. Frankly, you won't get too far in just 15 minutes, but you'll at least become more familiar with the kind of language and rules these documents include.

Terms of service and privacy policies are easy to find—you can usually get to them by scrolling to the bottom of a site's front page and looking through the footer menu (or just use your browser's "find text" feature). Some docs you might explore include Facebook's data use policy, Twitter's terms of service, and Google's Policies & Principles page. Heck, you might even consider giving GOOD's terms of service a look.

Cruel and unusual punishment, you say? Well, if you can't handle even 15 minutes' worth of stuff like warranty disclaimers and limitations of liability, don't fear. Terms of Service; Didn’t Read is here to help. The new site aims to extract the most meaningful information from popular site's privacy policies and terms of service agreements, then give each site's legal docs a grade. See what ToS;DR has to say about Flickr, SoundCloud, Amazon, Apple, and dozens of others.


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