For every web site you interact with, there’s a place where you can review the terms of service. You probably didn’t read those terms of service, though. Let’s face it, few people do, even if you use a web site regularly.
Terms of service are not legally required for every kind of web site (privacy policies are), but most businesses consider them necessary to protect their enterprise. These agreements, which don’t have to be legally binding to be enforceable in court, tell users what kind of data the company collects, how it’s doing it, and sometimes even what it’s doing with that data. They’re critical for users to understand what, exactly, the company is selling, and where their personal data and content are going.
But you probably don’t read it because it’s tedious. Terms of service are often written in ways that are intentionally difficult to understand. Sometimes, even when the language is clear, its meaning for you as the user can prove elusive.
Some of the 145 million people whose personal banking information was leaked when credit monitoring service Equifax was hacked in 2017 may have been appalled find that a tiny clause in the company’s terms of service meant they couldn’t sue.
Google’s terms of service are a good example, not just because more than 1 billion people worldwide use its services to do research, settle bar debates, access email, share documents, and make phone calls. Its terms of service aren’t all that unique—it’s not hard to find similar language in documents for other companies, including Quartz’s own terms of service.
If you find yourself wanting to check the terms of service for other products you use, check out Terms of Service; Didn’t Read. It’s compiled many of the major ones, and helped translate a lot of it into language that’s easy enough to understand.