A legitimate terms-of-service agreement is legally binding and may be subject to change. Companies can enforce the terms by refusing service. Customers can enforce by filing a suit or arbitration case if they can show they were actually harmed by a breach of the terms. There is a heightened risk of data going astray during corporate changes, including mergers, divestitures, buyouts, downsizing, etc., when data can be transferred improperly.
A terms of service agreement typically contains sections pertaining to one or more of the following topics:
A 2013 documentary called Terms and Conditions May Apply publicized issues in Terms of service. It was reviewed by 54 professional critics, and won as Best Feature Documentary at the Newport Beach Film Festival 2013, and as Best Documentary at the Sonoma Valley Film Festival 2013.
Clickwrapped.com rates 15 companies on their policies and practices, with respect to: using users' data, disclosing users' data, amending the terms, closing users' accounts, requiring arbitration, fining users, and clarity.
Terms of Service; Didn't Read is a group effort which rates 67 companies' terms of service and privacy policies, though their site says the ratings are "outdated." They also have browser addons which deliver the ratings while at the website of a rated company. Members of the group score each clause in each Terms of service document, but "the same clause can have different scores depending on the context of the services it applies to." The Services tab lists companies in no apparent order, with brief notes about significant clauses from each company. In particular, competitors are not listed together so that users could compare them. A link gives longer notes. It does not typically link to the exact wording from the company. The Topics tab lists topics (like Personal Data or Guarantee), with brief notes from some companies about aspects of the topic.
TOSBack.org, supported by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, lists changes in terms and policies sequentially, 10 per page, for 160 pages, or nearly 1,600 changes, for "many online services." There does not seem to be a way to find all changes for a particular company, or even which companies they tracked in any time period. They link to Terms of Service; Didn't Read, though that typically does not have any evaluation of the most recent changes listed at TOSBack.org.
Terms of service are subject to change and vary from service to service, so several initiatives exist to increase public awareness by clarifying such differences in Terms, including:
In 1994, the Washington Times reported that America Online (AOL) was selling detailed personal information about its subscribers to direct marketers, without notifying or asking its subscribers; this article led to the revision of AOL's terms of service three years later.
On July 1, 1997, AOL posted revised terms service to take effect July 31, 1997, without formally notifying its users of the changes made, most notably a new policy which would grant third-party business partners, including a marketing firm, access to its members' telephone numbers. Several days before the changes were to take effect, an AOL member informed the media of the changes and the following news coverage incited a large influx of internet traffic on the AOL page which enabled users to opt out of having their names and numbers on marketing lists.
Our intention in updating the terms was to communicate that we'd like to experiment with innovative advertising that feels appropriate on Instagram. Instead it was interpreted by many that we were going to sell your photos to others without any compensation. This is not true and it is our mistake that this language is confusing. To be clear: it is not our intention to sell your photos. We are working on updated language in the terms to make sure this is clear.
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