Activists aim to shame web firms with bad terms of service

A new initiative called TOS;DR, set for a formal launch next week, will rate providers such as Facebook, Twitter, Apple and Google according to the fairness and readability of their terms of service and privacy policies

Fed up with people signing away their online rights by accepting dense and obscure terms of service, a group of activists is set to launch a new ratings system next week.

Dubbed 'Terms of Service; Didn't Read', or 'TOS;DR', the initiative is already up and running but will see a formal launch at Telefonica's Campus Party 2012 tech festival in Berlin.

Terms of service; didn't read aims to classify popular websites on the basis of how fair and transparent their terms of service are.

"'I have read and agree to the Terms' is the biggest lie on the web. We aim to fix that," the site reads, going on to explain that it is trying to create "a transparent and peer-reviewed process to rate and analyse Terms of Service and Privacy Policies".

TOS;DR is in the process of establishing ratings from A to E — it is reportedly based on the German energy efficiency ratings system — for services from SoundCloud to GitHub.

So far, most of the services TOS;DR lists do not yet have a ranking, although the group's members are clearly working on the various criteria, such as: the readability of the terms; the right to leave the service; the service's data protection policies; whether the service really does delete data when the user clicks 'delete'; and the right to anonymous usage.

The worst-rated service, with an 'E', is the Twitter picture-uploading service TwitPic, the users of which give up rights to their photos when they use it. Facebook, Twitter, Apple and Google have not yet been classified.

TOS;DR started in June and is currently looking for members with legal expertise to join its working group.

"We also need people to contribute source code. Everything is JavaScript and JSON. The data is freely available (CC-BY-SA) and ready to be used for other tools, like browser extensions," the team wrote.