Do You Read Your TOS?

Have you ever tried to access an online service, only to be prompted to read a TOS and click the “agree” button? Do you actually read those multi-page, tiny-print-emblazoned documents before clicking your agreement?

As I have often stated, it is important to read the TOS of any web service or application before you consent to using it, if for no other reason than becoming informed about what happens to your data and information after you start using the service. Sure, it makes for a long and boring read, but to be forewarned is to be fore-armed, as it were.

Lifehacker posted a few weeks back about how to quickly read a TOS to get the key points down. While the lawyer in me cautions users to read the entire agreement, the layperson in me sees the practicality in skimming for the important bits. The TOS are important when it comes to any service, but even more so for free services.

First, if you don’t know how to do this, use the “search” function in your browser to search out key terms. Control + F for Windows and Command + F for Macs. If you don’t pull anything else of value out of this post, pull that – this keyboard function will save you TONS of time when browsing the Web or your own documents and files.

What to look for? Lifehacker suggests, and I agree, check out whether your information will be shared, whether you can easily opt out of aspects of the service that don’t appeal to you, waivers, releases and methods for dispute resolution. Particularly when using free services, see who maintains control or “owns” the content you load into it and what uses the service provider can make of your stuff.  Watch for add-on content in purchases, especially on-line software and downloads – you might be getting more than you thought. Check out the details on how to unsubscribe or cancel a service.

These are the key parts. And, as Lifehacker suggests, it won’t insulate you from ever getting involved in a raw deal, but it may help you to avoid some and limit problems in others. Hit the link above for some more tips on how to scan the TOS. In the information age, it pays to stay on top of your information.

3 comments on “Do You Read Your TOS?

  1. I don’t read them because I know I will object to something in them and then I would never be able to use anything

  2. From the “ignorance is bliss” category. I do understand. If you assume the worst case scenario and share content understanding there could be issues, then you probably won’t be surprised if there are.

  3. Normally I use my own version of the Lifehacker method and skim the TOS looking for the copyright bits and other portions I think will cause problems. (No, I will not reverse engineer your software! How smart do you think I am?) The one set of TOS I neglected to read was for Pinterest. After I kept hearing alarming news about its copyright terms, I read the TOS and decided to close my account. They’ve since changed those terms to be more favorable to users, but I’m still not comfortable.

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