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News & Insight

‘I Agree To The Terms Of Service’ Is As Useless As The ‘G’ In Lasagna

By Kishore Sawh on June 14th 2015

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I remember the fallout after the 2008 financial crisis. I’m sure you do too, regardless of your age, since you either lost a lot of money, couldn’t get a job, or watched your wife sail away on a yacht with a hedge fund manager on their way to Moorea for a life of excess and the sex you weren’t having. Many of us were left wondering had the bailout of the banks not happened if we would have had to cue-up for groceries like the breadlines in Romania circa late 80s, but it never happened. Thankfully. But there were other signs that people were hurting, and largely it was people trying to get their hands on your money regardless of morals.

I remember driving around Miami and on billboards and bus stop benches there were these enormous, heinous signs for a site called “WhoCanISue.com.” People were desperate, and since then covering your a** legally has just become a lot more intense.

Everyone is always covering their tails from every angle because it seems if we don’t, someone will exploit it. Photographers deal with it with their contracts and in just about EVERY digital platform we use. Sign up for 500px? Flickr? Instagram? You’re going to sign your life away, and you do it with all with a scroll and a click of a button that reads, “I have read and agree to the terms.”

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Practically, information is only useful to the extent that you can find it when you need it. That doesn’t stop us from relentlessly gorging on all sorts that we’ll never remember or use right after the sentence ends.

I’ve never met anyone who has actually read these ‘terms’ and would un-friend anyone who actually has. But what are we really saying when we agree to the terms of service? We could be saying we give full authority for these platforms to keep and use our imagery in any manner they like, sell our imagery, or perhaps have rights to our first borns. But we click it anyway. Who has the time to read all the fine print?

Well now there’s a site called ‘Terms Of Service Didn’t Read’ (TOSDR) that believes the “I have read and agree to the Terms” is the biggest lie on the net, and aims to expose it.

The idea is that the terms of service are written in such legal jargon and at such length that it’s difficult to read, but it’s important to understand what it all says and means. TOSDR deciphers the information and regurgitates it back out in a simplified version, so you have an idea of what you’re getting yourself into. I think it’s a great idea. There are loads of applications and services they’ve already gone through that you probably use, like 500px, or Flickr, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Gravatar, and Dropbox.

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All the info is delivered in an easy to read, easy to look at format with soundbites, some of which will have you balking, or at least scrunching up your face with concern like Gravatar’s “No right to leave the service,’ or how Twitpic ‘takes credit for your content,’ and ‘deleted images are not really deleted.’ Or how about the fact you can’t actually delete your WordPress account?

[REWIND: YOUR CAMERA BAG MAY NO LONGER BE ABLE TO BE CARRY-ON]

If you use these services, it’s worth a look. Each site has a ranking, the lower the letter, the generally worse or more suspect the terms are. Within each breakdown, the key points are listed, and each has its own discussion board to can add to, or browse and see what others are saying and their experiences. So take a little time and know what you’re getting into. Don’t be taken for a ride.

TOSDR

About

A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Jeff Morrison

    thanks for he info

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  2. Rob Harris

    Better un-friend me too because I do read these stupid things. It is the reason I don’t participate in some websites like Instagram – their Terms of Service do not agree with my standards of intellectual property. I don’t miss them and they probably don’t miss me. But if enough people actually paid attention (I know, that is asking a lot), then it would force companies to actually treat people better. Until then, expect to be treated as well as you treat yourself. Don’t read, don’t care, don’t expect companies to treat you well.

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  3. Dave Haynie

    So unfriend me — I actually have read a bunch of media-related TOS agreements. Mainly it’s looking for the line that separates their legit use as a web site carrying my photos or music or video or whatever, versus their trying to trick me into a free license for other purposes.

    The first key to look for is, does their license to use your content end when you delete it (or very shortly thereafter, once the deletion actually propagates through the system). They absolutely do need a license to your content to store that, back it up, display it in the way you want, etc. So any such site is going to cover their buttocks with a license that lets them do that, lets them sell the company and have that company still do that, lets them contract out to another company to provide them services (for example, Instagram and Pinterest run on the Amazon EC2 cloud, so technically Amazon is shuffling around any Instagram photos you, or more likely, your teenage daughter, puts up on Instagram).

    If they’re trying to make a broader claim, they won’t get far if that image’s use is revoked once deleted. So that’s the acid test for me. Though it helps to be a computer nerd and understand most of the “why’s” for that they are claiming in these licenses. But of course, not everyone is, so this TOSDR site is a great idea.

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    • Thomas Horton

      I agree. When an author resorts to such anecdotal arguments like
      “I’ve never met anyone who has actually read these ‘terms’ and would un-friend anyone who actually has.” That author starts to lose credibility and alienate the reader.

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  4. Thomas Horton

    TOSes are a pain to read, but you only have to read it once (unless they change it). Clicking “I agree” without reading is the same thing as signing a contract without reading it.

    I am sure that for most people, the TOS terms are not really important, but if you are concerned with privacy and how your stuff is going to be used, you gotta read the TOS and truly agree with the terms.

    This may mean that you choose not to use a particular service if you don’t like the terms.

    The only way these companies will change their TOS (which is clearly written for the company’s best interest) is for more and more people not to use the service.

    But if everyone simply clicks “I agree”, why would we think that the company would ever change their TOS?

    TLDR: When you click “I agree” you are stating that you .. uh.. well.. agree with the TOS. :)

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  5. Brian McCue

    The problem is, that if you want to use the application/software/service, you have to agree to the TOS or you can’t use it.

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  6. Alessandro Ghersi

    Try to pronunce Lasagna in the correct way and you’ll see that the G is not useless at all.

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  7. Jesper Ek

    I dont know how it is state side in the US but worldwide the legitimacy of TOS are questionable.

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    • Thomas Horton

      Not sure I understand what you mean. Within the bounds of the law, a company can choose pretty much any TOS restrictions that they are allowed to have since using the company’s product or service is voluntary.

      What specifically do you feel is not worldwide legitimacy of TOS terms?

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  8. Steven Pellegrino

    I installed the browser plug-in and it will be useful. It pops up on some sites to let you know the grade (or not if they haven’t graded it yet).

    While we all typically blow off the TOS, the plug-in is a good reminder to pay attention to what you are agreeing to.

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  9. Graham Curran

    Great stuff, I’m generally as guilty as any in not reading the Terms for most services.

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