📆 November 20, 2022 | ⏱️ 2 minute read | 🏷️ computing

[Website] ToS;DR

Do you read the terms of service? I do, but I don’t fully understand the legalese. The only people who can are lawyers and most of us aren’t lawyers. Even if we all had law degrees, time to read the terms, and understood what the terms said, it wouldn’t matter whether we agreed or not because, often, disagreement is impossible if you want to be a functional member of society.

Regardless of whether we have a real choice or it’s just bastardized consent, it’s still useful to know what we’re getting into when we sign up for any service. ToS;DR, or Terms of Service; Didn’t Read, is a website (Onion Site available) and browser addon which can help.

It provides a searchable online database cataloguing and simplifying the terms of various digital services to make them more understandable to laypeople. The mission, as stated on the site, is to fix the biggest lie on the web:

“I have read and agree to the Terms.”

Each service also has a grade based on its terms. You can interpret the grade however you want, but I interpret it as a measure of whether or not I ought to use the service. It’s incredibly useful for quickly ascertaining the risks of using a service.

The people behind the project participate in free software, free culture, and law. They’re funded by non-profits and individual donations and all the info on the site is open data. If you want to contribute, ToS;DR has a forum and community page.

While ToS;DR is a good project, it really shouldn’t need to exist. There ought to be some comprehensive solution that doesn’t require some French non-profit to make terms more understandable for people.

Perhaps it would be a good idea if all online services offered ToS;DR versions of their terms comprehensible to the rest of us. I’m sure people who study law can come up with more complete solutions to this problem. If anyone is aware of or has ideas for solutions or just wants to educate me about it, please email me. I haven’t looked into it much and I’d be interested in finding out more.