ToS;DR highlights the good and the bad of website terms of service
August 15, 2012
A new website, ToS;DR (Terms of Service; Didn't Read) aims to raise user awareness of website terms and conditions by comparing like-for-like criteria across a variety of web services. Each criterion is assessed and given a rating of good, mediocre or alert (i.e. bad). The criteria are then collectively assessed to come up with an overall score for each service, ranging from Class A (best) to Class E (worst).
ToS;DR's emphasis is on a user control over data and privacy (working on the premise that more control is better, in case that isn't obvious.) Still in its infancy, ToS;DR describes itself as a user rights initiative, and is actively looking for volunteers to join its working group.
Few services are yet to be given an overall score, which in some ways is an encouraging sign. ToS;DR purports to have a transparent peer-reviewed evaluation system—that being the case what is lost in speediness will hopefully be made up in fairness and accuracy.
A few services have been fully rated, however. At the top of the pile with Class A ratings (or, websites which ToS;DR deem to have "the best terms of services: they treat you fairly, respect your rights and will not abuse your data") are short-form blogging service seenthis and search engine DuckDuckGo. These appear to have been evaluated quickly due to the lack of applicable criteria. As a simple search engine, DuckDuckGo receives full marks for its lack of tracking; while seenthis gets its Class A rating for its support for data export, user-selected copyright licenses and the right to delete your account.
At the other end of the scale with a Class E rating comes Twitter-piggybacking photo-sharing service Twitpic, with the service taking credit for user content and retaining "deleted" data among the causes for concern.
If such services sound like small fry, ToS;DR is in the process of evaluating heavyweight services including Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter. Though they are yet to be assigned overall scores, some criteria are viewable, translated by ToS;DR workers into plain English. Facebook, for example, registers ticks (well, green thumbs up) for its transparency on law enforcement requests, soliciting user feedback prior to changes, and assisting users with account security. However, its insistence that users go by their real name and their copyright policies with respect to user content are rated mediocre (denoted by an amber thumbs down).
Though there is a long way to go with the project, ToS;DR is making all its data available under a Creative Commons license, allowing anyone to develop tools such as browser extensions. An extension that flags users of, say, a C-Class (or lower) terms of service when accessing a websites registration form might give some readers pause.