As someone who's grown up living and breathing technology, there are very few pieces of personal data I put out on the internet that I care about keeping to myself. I've embraced the oversharing — but there are quite a few things that Facebook, Google, Instagram, and Twitter know about me that still make me a bit anxious were they to get out there publicly or fall into the wrong hands.
TOS;DR (Terms of Service; Didn't Read) is here to save the day from the Google Privacy Exploiters
TOS;DR (yes, it's a pun on the nerdy colloquialism TL;DR) is an awesome initiative for consumers like us to figure out how companies like Facebook, Google, YouTube (Google again), Twitter, Instagram (Facebook again), etc. are storing your data. You can run a quick search to see what is really in your favorite social sites' legal terms:
So why are all of these social sites allowed to use our content and data in this way? Because we've agreed to the Terms. We explicitly consented to them doing pretty much whatever they want—because we don't really read the Terms when we sign up. Why would you? It's a long, legal document drafted by lawyers who spend years perfecting the language to minimize risk and maximize revenue for their companies.
There's never been a great way to decipher the legalese within the legal terms of companies you do business with online—well, not if TOS;DR has anything to say about it. It's an initiative that's been going for awhile and has regular contributors and submissions from all over the web.
This should be a common practice among companies, people. It should be clear and transparent what companies are doing with data, what copyrights exist on my content, and I would love to have some type of control over what I do and don't agree to. This is the technology revolution people expect from the digital natives we have running the world today.
Here are 3 key things we should learn from TOS;DR:
1. Transparency is key.
Let's be honest — if it was spelled out in simple terms like what TOS;DR offers... we'd still probably agree, but doesn't it feel dirty to find out this runaround, backalley way? Companies shouldn't be afraid of losing customers. How about a simple form saying "Do you like our terms? What would you change if you could?"
2. Companies shouldn't change terms whenever they want.
You'll notice on their website that sites like YouTube have provisions like this in their terms:
"Terms may be changed any time at their discretion, without notice to the user." Say what? Is this even legal? Think about what that would mean if you signed a contract with an electrician to fix a light fixture in your house. In your contract, he says he'll fix it. Then one day, he decides he's changed the terms and will only fix electrical outlets.
3. Know what content you own and what you may not.
Many of these sites like Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram are taking your content and doing with it as they please. Obviously some of that is fine as you're making your content public to the Internet, but it gets a little shady when people start making money off of your photos without your consent.
It might make you want to double check those Terms & Conditions and see what you own and what you don't.
So how can you better track what these legal terms say?
TOS;DR has an awesome Chrome Browser Extension and Firefox Add-on that you can download that will show big sites that you likely visit frequently (if you're anything like me). It shows up right next to the star in your address bar like so (if you're visiting YouTube):