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New EFF Site Tracks Terms-Of-Service Changes

Everybody who religiously reads those terms-of-use documents that Web sites and services ask us to accept -- then re-reads them after every announced change -- can stop reading this post now.

Now that I've reduced my readership by two, let me tell you about an interesting Web site that debuted a couple of weeks ago. TOSBack -- a project of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based online civil-liberties group -- monitors the terms-of-service rules of 58 sites and services, using open-source software to scan for revisions, then highlight deletions in blue and additions in yellow.

That's all it does. This site doesn't try to make the often-dense legalese of these documents any more readable, nor does it grade these "ToS" statements on their attention to the privacy or security of customers. But simply calling out the changes in these lengthy agreements is a valuable service in its own right -- one that companies routinely screw up.

So far, I haven't found any nasty surprises (e.g., "the previous clause does not apply on even-numbered days," "all your data are belong to us!") in changes recorded by TOSBack. All the revisions I've seen have been boring, bureaucratic alterations: Facebook editing its privacy policy to reflect its new location outside of downtown Palo Alto, Calif.; domain-name registrar GoDaddy specifying three new Web-design services in its terms; and Apple replacing references to with ones to Mobile Me in its privacy policy.

But at some point, history suggests that somebody at a company monitored here will make a mistake -- most likely, out of simple, "nobody's gonna mind that one paragraph" carelessness. At that point, this site could get a little more exciting.

In the meantime: Check out TOSBack and let me know what you think in the comments. I'll start with one suggestion of my own: I'd appreciate links to jump to the highlighted deletions and additions, so I don't have to scroll down the page to look for those little patches of blue and yellow.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  June 18, 2009; 9:43 AM ET
Categories:  Digital culture , Tips  
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