Terms of Service If you thought reading privacy policies was a was a waste of time you were right. The Carnegie Mellon Institute calculated that it would take 10 minutes to read the privacy policies of the 75 most popular websites at the standard reading rate of 250 words per minute. The medium length of privacy policies from top websites was calculated to be 2514 words.  If you can do the math, it takes about 10 minutes to read each privacy policy. The Carnegie Mellon Institute estimated, based upon several sources, that the average American visits between 1354 and 1518 websites per year.  Assuming that you are an average Internet user, if you were to read every privacy policy on each website you visit, you would spend 25 days out of the year just reading privacy policies.  Carnegie Mellon “put a dollar amount on this massive time suck” and came up with an astonishing hypothetical cost of $781 billion per year!  According to the Atlantic, that’s more than the GDP of Florida.

It’s no wonder, that nobody reads web site privacy policies or terms of service. In fact, it’s a standard joke. Of course, because nobody reads them doesn’t mean that they aren’t important.  When you agree to a web site’s privacy policy you can be handing the web site owner your credit cards, personal information and other matters that you don’t wish to share with the public.  It’s really imperative that you insure that the web site owner protects your information. To make it easier to understand what rights you are giving up by visiting popular websites a new online project called Terms of Service Didn’t Read tries to make the process simpler. The project provides easy-to-read summaries of the privacy policies and terms of service of most popular websites. Although not all sites are rated yet, a quick visit provides some interesting observations:

Thumbs Down: Very broad copyright license on your content.
Thumbs Up: You can give your feedback before changes: Facebook will solicit your feedback during the 3 or 7 days minimum preceding changes to their terms. However, the results are not binding unless 30% of the active users voted.

All Thumbs Up – very good user policies.

Thumbs Down: Terms may be changed any time at their discretion, without notice to the user.

All Thumbs Up: Transparency on law enforcement requests and  Promise to inform about data requests.

Big X: Lawsuit and class action waiver. Arbitration for dispute resolution in the United States: a binding arbitration clause and class action waiver that affects how disputes with Microsoft will be resolved in the United States. This clause governs many of Microsoft’s online services – including your Microsoft account and many of their online products and services for consumers, such as Hotmail, SkyDrive, Bing, MSN, Office.com, Windows Live Messenger, Windows Photo Gallery, Windows Movie Maker, Windows Mail Desktop, and Windows Writer.

Big X:  You cannot delete your account.

Terms of Service Didn’t Read should be required reading for anybody that uses the Internet.
–Adam G. Garson, Esq.