The Terms of Service Agreement is mainly used for legal purposes by companies which provide software or services, such as browsers, e-commerce, search engines, social media, and transport services.
A legitimate terms-of-service agreement is legally binding and may be subject to change. Companies can enforce the terms by refusing service. Customers can enforce by filing a suit or arbitration case if they can show they were actually harmed by a breach of the terms. There is a heightened risk of data going astray during corporate changes, including mergers, divestitures, buyouts, downsizing, etc., when data can be transferred improperly.
A 2013 documentary called Terms and Conditions May Apply publicized issues in terms of service. It was reviewed by 54 professional critics and won for Best Feature Documentary at the Newport Beach Film Festival 2013 and for Best Documentary at the Sonoma Valley Film Festival 2013.
Clickwrapped.com rates 15 companies on their policies and practices with respect to using users’ data, disclosing users’ data, amending the terms, closing users’ accounts, requiring arbitration, fining users, and clarity.
Terms of Service; Didn’t Read is a group effort that rates 67 companies’ terms of service and privacy policies, though its site says the ratings are “outdated”.It also has browser add-ons that deliver the ratings while at the website of a rated company. Members of the group score each clause in each terms of service document, but “the same clause can have different scores depending on the context of the services it applies to.” The Services tab lists companies in no apparent order, with brief notes about significant clauses from each company. In particular, competitors are not listed together so that users can compare them. A link gives longer notes. It does not typically link to the exact wording from the company. The Topics tab lists topics (like “Personal Data” or “Guarantee”), with brief notes from some companies about aspects of the topic.
TOSBack.org, supported by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, lists changes in terms and policies sequentially, 10 per page, for 160 pages, or nearly 1,600 changes, for “many online services”.There does not seem to be a way to find all changes for a particular company, or even which companies were tracked in any time period. It links to Terms of Service; Didn’t Read, though that typically does not have any evaluation of the most recent changes listed at TOSBack.org.
Terms of service are subject to change and vary from service to service, so several initiatives exist to increase public awareness by clarifying such differences in terms, including:
- Availability of previous terms
- Cancellation or termination of the account and/or service by user
- Copyright licensing on user content
- Data tracking policy and opt-out availability
- Indemnification or compensation for claims against account or content
- Notification and feedback prior to changes in Terms
- Notification of government or third-party requests for personal data
- Notification prior to information transfer in event of merger or acquisition
- Pseudonym allowance
- Saved or temporary first and third-party cookies
- Transparency of security practices
- Transparency on government or law enforcement requests for content removal