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Terms and conditions word by word (forbrukerradet.no)
151 points by jonespen on May 24, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 42 comments

Given that there's often a lot of boilerplate for TOS, would it be fairly easy to come up with a few heuristics for a tool that when fed the text of a TOS, could deemphasize the boilerplate and perhaps flag known problematic (or, at least, esoteric) language? Not a sophisticated AI thing, mind you, just something that cuts a little more to the chase.

edit: I mean that the tool should be a dumb high-pass filter that would work in addition to what tosdr provides through user reviews and manual classification via its plugin: https://tosdr.org/classification.html

I'm a lawyer, and not an expert in AI. I once gathered a ton of Terms of Service, cleaned them up as text files, and began training a classifier. By the time I was done, it was pretty good at telling me which section heading in the typical ToS table of contents any random text belonged to.

It was an interesting thought experiment, so I expanded it to my large body of private contracts that I've collected after many years of law practice. The results were less accurate (because ToS tend to follow a pretty rigid pattern, mostly), but still pretty good.

The big question is: does anyone really care about it? For example, I never look at tosdr.org because what are you going to do? negotiate a ToS? It's not as if there's any meaningful freedom of choice in this space. My personal view (not legal advice!) is that most browse-wrap ToS aren't enforceable as contracts.

Not a lawyer but used to read EULAs etc carefully.

At some point I gave in and decided a better approach would be to just point out that no sane consumer can read all that.

In Germany at least (and thus maybe most of the EU?) no customer actually has to read any of it. Anything in a ToS/EULA that could be considered "surprising" is unenforceable and therefore void.

Of course that means the exact enforceable contents of every ToS ultimately boil down to case law but for customers this is a much better solution than "you may have accidentally sold your soul".

That's more or less true in America, too. Consumer contracts are generally subject to the "unconscionability" test: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unconscionability#United_State.... It's not the same as "surprising", but the sentiment is roughly the same.

The good news is that if you wait long enough, they'll incorporate terms from URIs that are dead. I can't tell you how many commercial contracts I review from the 2000's that are governed by 404 pages.

You took the path of reading EULA's carefully?! These documents are painfully lacking in clarity and sincerity. Content generators basically chump subscribers into clicking "I Agree".

Off topic, but you must have a lot of cool potential projects in your domain to apply programming.

I have a lot of "mad science" projects, but only to help me make my work easier. I would never try to turn any of my work into products for sale. Selling tech to lawyers and law firms is a good way to make yourself completely miserable. (They are nearly always nightmare customers.)

Lawyers and law firms currently have no serious imperative to work efficiently. Until companies let go of their reliance on big law firms, this will continue. I hear a lot of talk about people wanting lawyers to change, but then if you talk to any funded started, they nearly always either waste a ton of money on expensive law firms, or they avoid lawyers altogether. It's a complicated problem that perhaps only time can change.

> what are you going to do?

Possibly avoid the service or at least limit what data I share with them.

That's the right idea. It's a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. I think what's more interesting than policing Terms of Service changes is making the terms interactive, and attaching pricing to terms that are more consumer-friendly. Then I can choose how much I want to pay for my right to be treated like a valued human being.

Slightly related, but there's a plugin for Chrome that sort of does this: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/terms-of-service-d...

It doesn't read the ToS for a site. Rather, it pulls from its own database that describes potential issues with a site's ToS and alerts you of them when visiting. YouTube always gets flagged for me.

What about when the problematic becomes boilerplate?

Anytime I install software or sign up for a service on my work laptop, I am entering my company into a (perhaps) binding legal agreement that I haven't done more than skim at best, and has not been reviewed by our corporate legal team.

It's fairly common to see clauses that state the terms may change at any time without notice, and continued use of the service means you agree to any changes made. That seems completely unenforceable to me, but I am not a lawyer.

I've often fantasized about a legal framework similar to Creative Commons, but for TOS, that would protect the interests of both users and service providers.

This seems like a nice resource for swashing through the terms and conditions jungle: https://tosdr.org/

Wow, some of these are scary.

"No Right to leave the service" - Delicious

"The Android app can record sound & video from your phone, at any time, without your consent" - Facebook

The sweetest of them all seems to be DDG

Scary, but apparently not enough to keep people from using said services. I can't tell if people are simply indifferent to it no matter what you had them agree to, or just ignorant of what some of these apps do.

Came here to say that tosdr is much simpler because that video stream is like listening to a text2speech version of a large and complex legal text. Combined with a crackly norwegian accent that's even hard for me as a swede to accept.

The way it is titled on the Norwegian version of the page ("We read app terms and conditions minute by minute") they're probably partly spoofing the successful NRK 'slow TV shows'[1] that were all titled thus. Example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z7VYVjR_nwE

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slow_television#Norwegian_Broa...

This is correct, as can be seen from the following tweet retweeted by Forbrukerrådet and therefore currently on display on the OP link: https://mobile.twitter.com/PRlinjen/status/73507293647489024...

I really don't think the point of the stream is to provide simple way consume T&Cs, more the opposite really.

>1. Cut back on the obvious

Would this work when there are different laws for different jurisdictions and there is no way to tell for sure where the user acutally is located? I thought the reason behind the obviousness was to cover everything.

>2. Write so that people understand

>3. Keep it short and concise

That probably wouldn't be beneficial for all the companies using the user-as-the-product model. "Terms of Service: We retain the right to track your location, read your text messages, listen to the microphone and read your thoughts"

But that's exactly what it should say!

The problem with trying to cover everything, is that it has eroded the definition of informed consent. Expecting a person to do a informed decision on everything is difficult for even a certified expert on law, and much of "everything" is only relevant in context of local law and local contract law which dictate what is and isn't acceptable in a contract.

We are thus in a rather odd situation where most contracts and agreements are signed without the signer having a clue what they agree to.

Various jurisdictions have consumer protection laws that try to help here. What I think would help is if, for consumer contracts:

1. The weight of individual terms diminished in law as the contract length increases. A reasonable length would be judged by the nature of the contract (a reasonable length for the simple sale of goods would be short, a complex arrangement like a mortgage would be expected to be longer).

2. If for a particular term in favour of party A, party A cannot reasonably believe that party B read and understood it at the time of forming the contract, then the term is void. For example, if a contract is presented to me as a consumer, I clearly have never seen it before and sign it immediately without reading it, the signature should mean nothing and the only contract that exists should be an implied contract around what we are doing.

> Would this work when there are different laws for different jurisdictions and there is no way to tell for sure where the user acutally is located? I thought the reason behind the obviousness was to cover everything.

This is an obvious difficulty, though it could perhaps be alleviated somewhat by #5 (Adopt an industry standard) - some kind of "base" set of T&Cs and standardised vocabulary for each jurisdiction.

I'd really love to see an app which monitors changes in terms and conditions for different apps and services so that I am notified whenever something changes.

Apparently the EFF has a site that does that:


There seems to be a related browser extension (which is recommended elsewhere in this thread by egjerlow), https://tosdr.org, but I'm not quite sure if it will tell you when something has changed.


There's an RSS feed for all changes, haven't looked to see if there's per-site feeds.

Wouldn't it be pretty easy to create a git repo that you seed with the a bunch of ToS, have a cron fetch them everyday or so, run `git diff` to see if there are changes, push them, tag a new release and boom anyone subscribed will be notified.

Sounds good. Another way could be to feed the ToS URL into a visual web scraper (e.g https://github.com/scrapinghub/portia, scrape, then compare and notify via email.

Yeah but then you need infrastructure to send all the emails etc. Hooking into git would allow complete version history diffs, emails, a platform to discuss the changes on and so on.

Idea was to just keep it as light as possible while off loading all the heavy lifting.

Talk about perverse side-effects: the existence of such a tool would actually make those awful one-sided "contracts" more enforceable, since the vendor would have a reasonable presumption that you were actually aware of the changes. I feel like you're better off not knowing, so that you can claim that there was no notice or assent given.

The way I'm already being notified by various services of changes in their terms I'd venture a guess that they're required by law to notify their users.

And the app would notify you about changes of its own T&C.

Oh so meta.

It's ridiculous that I have to constantly lie and say that I have read and agreed to long legal texts unless I want to go live in cave.

Thats ok about 99 percent of us do that as well. Youre not alone freind.

Speaking as someone who used to read newspapers and books on air for people with reading difficulties: if you think it's boring to listen to this, you should try being on the other end!

My Norwegian isn't great, does the scrolling text at the bottom of the video say that iTunes asks you to read the TOS together with your children? That seems crazy.

Yeah, that's what it said.

This is so much more fun than watching paint dry

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