Docracy Helps You Track Changes In Online Terms of Service

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You never know when these new media / web services are going to pull the rug out on privacy and change the Terms of Service. Other than those high profile changes that get the tech blogs all in a bunch, it is very difficult to track changes and modify your on-line behavior accordingly.

Docracy to the rescue! If you are unfamiliar with Docracy, I have a video with their ad blurb at the bottom of the post, but short story: Docracy offers a web tool for the creation, modification and electronic signing of “free” legal docs. More to the point of this post, Docracy has a new online Terms of Service Tracker. From their site:

Using Docracy’s unique document change analysis, we are now tracking terms of service and privacy policies for hundreds of the world’s top sites. See below for summaries of recent changes, or to see the complete terms for any of the sites we track.

We started tracking these policies on January 16th, 2013. Earlier versions of selected policies can be found on EFF’s TOSBack and TOSBack2 projects.

It’s nice to have someone like Docracy do the heavy lifting for you. Just subscribe at the link to their RSS feed and be notified when they note a change in a policy. If it affects you, simply head over to the site for more detail and, if warranted OPT OUT!

Docracy’s main tool, the free document generator, not only offers consumers a source for free basic forms, it also offers attorneys a means of promoting their work by submitting documents to the pool and gaining another outpost for sharing work online. Obviously, use of the free docs won’t directly result in money in your pocket, but decent, on-point resources on your profile page or embedded in your website may cause a few people to head your way when they need more than a simple form. For more about Docracy, check out their vid:

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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.