I Agree: Why ‘Terms of Service’ report cards are a good idea — Tech News and Analysis

I Agree: Why ‘Terms of Service’ report cards are a good idea — Tech News and Analysis.

Although this is unlikely to mean as much to folks who do not grapple with contracts all day long, as I do, there is a glimmer of rationality in the world of Terms of Service (ToS) and End User License Agreements (EULAs).

As most people who are not living under a rock know, whenever you sign up for a web service, install an app on a mobile device, or fire up your shiny new copy of Microsoft Word, you are faced with license or agreement containing what appears to be 3,000 words or more of legal gobbledygook which 99.9% of all people (myself usually included) immediately scroll past and click the button saying “I Agree”, so we can get on with enjoying our shiny new toy. The problem however, is, as they say, “the devil lies in the details.”

Many of these “click wrap” agreements are incredibly one sided and force customers to sign away their rights, ranging from the right to sue if you are damaged, to rights to intellectual property you create (including pictures you take, things you write, etc.). These kind of one-sided, take-it-or-leave-it agreements create for bad company/customer relationships and can lead to real heartache and/or headache on both sides of the equation further down the road.

A project called “ToS;DR” is aiming to change the culture of complacency that leads companies to blindly make use of such asymmetric agreements and the educate consumers who so blindly accept them. The goal of ToS;DR is to hand out report cards to companies on their license agreements and to flag over-the-top or ridiculous terms. (As an example, TwitPic, which received the lowest possible grade from ToS;DR, actually reserves the right to sell user’s photos without giving the photographer a cuts of the proceeds or the right to block the sale.)

It is possible that this project and others like it will shed light on practices which neither serve the interest of companies or their clients when it comes to establishing Terms of Service and licenses with their end users. These agreements, although they often are ignored at the time of purchase, are incredibly important to both sides of the transaction. Companies and consumers alike that ignore this do so at their own peril.  On the other hand, companies that make smart use of these types of agreement can gain multiple advantages. Not only can they form a better and more sustainable relationship with their customers, they can use these fairer and more accessible agreements to differentiate themselves from their competition.

Hopefully, with projects like ToS;DR shining some much needed light on this often-ignored subject, we can begin to usher in a new era in which ToS agreements actually for the basis for meaningful engagement between customer and company, rather then representing a hidden (or at least obscured) danger to it.

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