To Read or Not To Read: Is It Really A Question?

Terms of serviceThe Terms of Service, an agreement whose name you're probably familiar with, but what about the contents of the infamous agreement? Chances are you've never even read one line, yet you have probably agreed to the terms multiple times in your Internet tenure. On Twitter and Facebook in the past eight months, there were over 1,700 individuals who came out and admitted their secret: they don't read any website or web services terms of service prior to signing up.

Why is this you ask?

Well, complaints included the agreement being too long for starters, while others just flat out didn't care -- they just wanted access to a site or service.

But really, should you care about what you're potentially agreeing to?

In an ideal world, yes. However, the fact of the matter is that if you want to be on Facebook with your friends, you'll agree to their terms, as there's no way for you to negotiate your own terms of service.

So what is being done to simplify the Terms of Service agreement?

One company, 500px, decided it was a good idea to pair the legalese with an every day language explanation on the side of each paragraph. A nice touch, but is it enough?

Another idea has been Terms of Service; Didn't Read (TOS;DR), which launched in June 2012 with the goal to fix the biggest lie on the web: "I have read and agree to the terms."

TOS;DR is turning into an excellent resource for those curious about what you are actually agreeing to by signing up and using popular websites. The crowd sourced project outlines and ranks (Class A [best] through Class E [worst]), popular websites and web services' terms of service agreements providing useful information to users.

For example, according to TOS;DR TwitPic has the worst rank (Class E) when it comes to their terms of service agreement. While they have several "infractions," some of the most notable include the fact that TwitPic takes credit for your user generated content, that they can use your own content for their own gain, and that when you delete an image from your TwitPic account it isn't really deleted from their servers.

In TwitPic's case, this type of information could be valuable for people who are concerned with protecting their content, such as photographers. It will be interesting to see how other social sites such as Pinterest, Tumblr, etc. rank in comparison to each other and if the ranks will affect what types of people use each service.

It's also worth noting that because the project is still relatively new, not every website or web service is accounted for. Additionally, sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Google are listed and have certain elements of their terms of service agreements explained, but are not ranked due to not being sufficiently reviewed at this time.

Below you can find the full TOS;DR ranking system and how each rank is classified.

What about you?  Do you read a website's terms of service agreement prior to signing up?