The Wild West: Terms of Service on the Web

You’ve heard it before, but it’s still a problem.  Terms of Service (ToS) and End User License Agreements (EULA) on the Web are out of control.  Click through licenses do get upheld in court and that’s a huge problem because they are not user friendly (closer to soul destroying then anything else I suppose).

Legally a user is consenting to a lengthy agreement but in his/her mind it’s something more like “Use At Your Own Risk” or “Don’t Sue Us and We Won’t Sue You” or “Hey, It’s Free.  What You Get is What You Get.  Don’t Complain.”

What’s stirring me up today is the ToS at Vizu:  I just want to try it out – maybe post a poll on the ol’ blog.  But you have to explicitly agree to the Terms of Service.  I try to scan through a ToS quickly before agreeing to it.  Holy cow!  On the registration screen, the little window showing the ToS is 7 lines high.  In that little window the ToS is 52 “screens” long.

Do I need a lawyer to review the ToS everytime I use some little web service?  If yes, well, I won’t use the web anymore.  (Yeah, let’s see how long that works out for me).  If no, then we need to move to a better system.  It’s the friggin’ wild west out there right now.  Free-wheelin’, scooter-ridin’ web cowboys are throwing up sites with whatever arbitrary terms of service they feel like.   Who knows how many of us have agreed to buy a vacuum cleaner after 90 days of using some web application because it was buried in the ToS?

What is desperately needed is a format for expressing terms of service in a standard and machine-readable way.  Then I should be able to tell my browser what kinds of terms I will and will not agree to.  When I arrive at a site, my browser can prompt me if the site’s terms of service conflict with what I’ve declared that I will agree to automatically.

I know there is working happening in this area.  What we need now is for Microsoft and Mozilla to put this in the browser.

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