Keep tabs of terms of service with TOSBack.org

A new Web site keeps tabs of modifications in popular Web sites' terms of service and highlights changes between different versions.

TOSBack.org Web site. Dong Ngo/CNET

It's the closely printed (or displayed in very small font size at a Web page) pieces of text that most of us don't bother to read before we agree to them. Yet it's something that shouldn't be ignored at all. It's called terms of service, or TOS for short.

Remember the time that AT&T sneakily changed its TOS and banned users from streaming media from third-party sites via its cellular network? Thanks to the media outcry (CNET News included) the company retracted the changes a few days later only to reinstate them again, at a later date, in a different language.

If anything, this was a lesson on how important it is to keep track of these terms of service.

And the lesson was really learned Thursday with the introduction of TOSBack.org. This is a new site designed to track changes in policies imposed by popular Internet Web sites such as YouTube, Craigslist, Facebook, Google and so on, with the intention of helping users spot potentially harmful changes.

Currently, TOSBack.org tracks 44 popular sites' policies (unfortunately AT&T is not yet included) and allows for comparing word by word and highlight changes between different versions. The site is capable of noticing any modifications within hours of an update.

TOSBack.org is a project of the privacy advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation. Going forward, the site plans to add more companies, including banks, credit card companies, and so on to its tracking repertoire.

Personally I find this site really helpful as often time many Web sites change their terms of service without notifying their customers, who are entitled to know under what conditions the service is provided to them.

It would be even more helpful, however, if the site provided translation of these terms of service into layman's terms, as not everyone has the legal background to really understand what they mean.

For the companies, hopefully, this will deter them from changing the terms of service on their own account, regardless of users' consent.

TOSBack is a nonprofit membership-funded organization, so if you think this is a useful service, feel free to make a donation or consider becoming a member.

About the author

CNET editor Dong Ngo has been involved with technology since 2000, starting with testing gadgets and writing code for CNET Labs' benchmarks. He now manages CNET San Francisco Labs, reviews networking and storage products, and also writes about other topics from online security to new gadgets and how technology impacts the life of people around the world.

 

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