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GNU is Not Unix

FSFE Interview With 'Terms of Service: Didn't Read' Founder 43

An anonymous reader writes with an interesting interview "Hugo's project Terms of Service: Didn't Read has recently won international attention in publications such as TIME, Le Monde, and ZEIT, in its campaign to simplify the legal terms of web services. He is FSFE's French Team coordinator, co-founder of the Digital Freedoms association, and in 2009 did extensive work on the impact of Europe's Interoperability Framework (EIF) on Free Software users."
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FSFE Interview With 'Terms of Service: Didn't Read' Founder

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  • They plan on summarising ToS, so that we have a simple and quick guide to what we are agreeing to. Personally I cannot see how a simple rating system would work, I think they would have to copy the games ESRB rating system. Giving a grade, the tell us a summary of why it is bad (or possibly good).

    • Being fully cognizant of where I am, you should really check out the site: http://tos-dr.info/ [tos-dr.info]

      • I was there and read "We are a user rights initiative to rate and label website terms & privacy policies, from very good Class A to very bad Class E"

        The rest was TL;DR, but unless they are lying or exaggerating this sentence seems pretty clear.

        • If you jump down a page or two to some actual examples (note that most of them seem incomplete thusfar, but hey) they do pretty much what you were asking by breaking things down ESRB style. For example:

          Google (No Class Yet):
          - Google can use your content for all their existing and future services
          + Limited copyright license to operate and improve all Google Services
          + Inform about data requests
          + Google posts notice of changes, with a 14-day ultimatum.
          + Transparency on law enforcement requests
          : Partial archives of their terms are available
          : Jurisdiction in California
          : (more info on the forum)

          They even have extensions/addons for various browsers, to expedite my (and presumably, your) laziness.

          • They even have extensions/addons for various browsers, to expedite my (and presumably, your) laziness.

            To be fair to we consumers, ToS' are so absurdly convoluted and lengthy that no one but a lawyer who specializes in that sort of thing will A) have the wherewithall to actually read it, and B) the knowledge of legalese to understand what's written.

            Anecdote: My brother updated his iTunes this weekend, part of which entailed agreeing to a new ToS - I shit you not, it was over 50 pages of legal mumbo jumbo written in a font so tiny I almost had to break out the on-screen magnifier just to read it.

            We shou

            • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

              We shouldn't have to hire lawyers just so we can install software without getting fucked.,

              What would help is also WHY those clauses are in there. A lot of the iTunes clauses really deal with things like being able to purchase and download music, repeated again for apps, repeated again for movies, etc. Then a bunch of terms on if you use feature X that it can be sent to Apple and what you agree to there, blah blah blah. Then Apple lets you redownload music through iCloud, and the ToS has to change to say tha

            • by jrumney ( 197329 )
              iTunes is one of the worst, and they update it at least monthly without giving any summary of the changes - as if anyone has the time to read through 50 pages (I thought it was 70 last time I saw an update) of legal gobbldegook once a month to see what objectionable clauses they've snuck in there this time around. Paypal used to be the same, but at least they give a summary of what changed now, and they seem to have slowed down to updates every 3 months now.
    • Yes - not as bad as the name of the project suggests! I thought at first they might be advocating ignoring the ToS...

      But it's still indicative of a general decline in personal responsibility.

      Such as a new contract with a vendor in work; everyone assumes its fine because Bob was involved at the negotiation stage, but actually Bob was out most of that week. And no-one bothers to read the terms before the cheque is signed.

      That's what I fear from this project; people will see "Class B" for $VENDOR and sign-up

      • You can talk about abdication of personal responsibility but its as much companies knowingly loading so much stuff in to cover their back, fully aware that noone would agree to half of the stuff if they actually read it.

      • That might actually be better.

        I think it might be very helpful to create an international organization of legal experts to help invalidate the ToS agreement under the grounds that no one ever reads them and everyone knows it.

        They should not have any legal standing, because no one in their right mind takes them seriously (on both sides of the fence: I have seen ToS's with joke clauses).

        • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

          Agreed. I'd love to see a judge declare that terms of service longer than one screenful of information or not written in plain English are automatically invalid because the reader cannot be expected to read and comprehend them. Such a decision would fix a lot of serious TOS/shrink-wrap license abuse.

        • ...no one in their right mind takes them seriously (on both sides of the fence: I have seen ToS's with joke clauses).

          Two dangerous assumptions:

          1. The lawyers who draft ToS's are in their right minds. Nobody in their right mind goes to school for 17 years of their life, racks up $200k in student loans, and chooses to work 80 hours a week for $35k/yr to write ToS's all day.
          2. Some of the rediculous clauses are jokes. That ToS that said "if you violate our ToS we will eat your babies" was not a joke. They were serious.

      • It's still indicative of a general decline in personal responsibility.

        It's indicative of the of legal systems not keeping up with technology, as well as the American trend toward hyper-legalization.

        You don't agree to an EULA for every magazine you pick up, every service center you call, or every store you enter. With a few exceptions (such as an in-store contract you sign as part of a transaction), all of these activities (which are good pre-internet analogues to the web) are conducted within an existing societal/legal framework. For instance, a magazine owner does not need

        • It's indicative of the of legal systems not keeping up with technology, as well as the American trend toward hyper-legalization.

          Yes on your second conclusion, but no on your first. The lawyers drafting our legislation are looking after the best interests of their profession. Should they be voted out for creating extreme hardships for their own constituents, or if they hit term limits, they have to return to private practice. They tend to have family in the same profession, as well as dozens of legal professionals they owe favors to, such as for endorsing or funding their campaigns. Your laws are written to be as convoluted, conf

  • Basically it doesn't scale to spend 30 minutes analysing multiple page privacy policies/ToS/EULA, then possibly several hours or days cross-referencing them with applicable legislation. So I think the approach should be to make any lopsided legal document unenforceable, to speed up trade. Imagine if you had to sign a multiple page contract every time you bought something from a shop.

    • by Bengie ( 1121981 )
      There should be a law stating that any EULA/ToS contract longer than 8 lines of Font 10 on standard paper, requires the end user consulted by a professional lawyer and written signature of both the end user and the lawyer to be made valid. So if you have a web service with a long EULA/ToS and the customer clicks "ok", without the signatures on file, the end-user is not bound to the contract as there is no way in hell that they could have read and understood a 10 page ToS.

      That should fix long unreadable c
    • Imagine if you had to sign a multiple page contract every time you bought something from a shop.

      Yeah, perhaps you've never bought a Game console or Phone, or Tablet. It's called, Click Wrap. The length and cumbersome legal terms is the Skinner Box mechanic by which they get you to agree to crap you would otherwise never agree to if they delivered it in concise short paragraph with a link to a full "legal" version.

      All this horrible tedious legalese will go away if you just click that little "Accept" button.

  • Once I was a coop software engineer and the agreement they made me sign was clearly written simply to be signed and not read.

    It clearly make it nearly impossible to continue being a coop software engineer after signing it, but I was told that they would not use it unless it was an extreme case and I should just sign it.

    • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

      I strike out the parts I dont like, initial where I struck them out and then sign it. You never have to blindly accept any contract.

      • And companies are willing to negotiate/listen?

        I would imagine, like for software ToSes, that most companies are not setup to negotiate legal terms and that the person you hand you contract into has no authority to change them and no real way set up to contact the people who do.

        • by Arker ( 91948 )

          Yes, so what usually happens is that they just accept it and file it away. It doesnt matter at all unless someone sues, at which point you have somewhat protected yourself and your lawyer will be very happy.

          And to echo the point made above by an AC and hence ignored, this is the crucially something you can never do with the 'terms' on digital 'eulas'.

          • Well never say never, I have encountered software EULAs that were in an editable text box...

            And it seems to me that if you hacked into a games files and changed the EULA before you signed it, it should be fine legally.

  • In the Netherlands, any contract that makes explicit claims about rights, especially terms of service, make them default against the party drawing up the explicit terms. That means, as soon as they define something, anything not in that definition, is automatically excluded. This works great for consumer rights, but tends to make terms of service incredibly TL;DR. I'm fairly certain that this the case in most western countries. Not putting something like this in your law, makes terms of service and contract

    • What would help, is legislation that would make any contract or legal document not drawn up to be comprehensible by the "target audience" null and void.

      In Europe, see Article 5, directive 93/13/EC [europa.eu], on unfair terms in consumer contracts:

      In the case of contracts where all or certain terms offered to the consumer are in writing, these terms must always be drafted in plain, intelligible language. Where there is doubt about the meaning of a term, the interpretation most favourable to the consumer shall prevail.

      That should teach lawyers and companies to keep things clear, simple and understandable

      Absolutely. Although contracts are rather like code in many respect (in my opinion, at least) — clear, simple and understandable may not mean short / succinct, and, to expect consumers to read something, it needs to be pretty short...

    • by HiThere ( 15173 )

      Re: The flying car

      In the stories that I can remember in which such things existed, they were not commonly available. The lead character had one, but there was some special reason (government job, secret agent, etc.)

      One exception is the Fenachrone of Skylark Three where flying cars were commonly available (to the Fenachrone, on their home planet). These cars were so extremely fast that a CSMACD system was pratical, and they had guide beams that ran FAR ahead of the car. No other car was permitted to plan

A consultant is a person who borrows your watch, tells you what time it is, pockets the watch, and sends you a bill for it.