Aug. 9, 2012 at 9:54 AM ET
Users don't often have the time or attention span to read through the whole terms of service that appear whenever they install new software or try a new website. Yet hidden in there may be information that's good to know. A new site, ToS;DR, does the hard work so you don't have to.
While most terms of service are equally tedious and difficult to read, they do actually differ in significant ways when it comes to issues like data ownership, privacy issues and political positions. ToS;DR's name is a riff on the acronym TL;DR, or "too long; didn't read," and it does for walls of policy text what Spark Notes does for literature.
Casting aside all the the nonsense and legal boilerplate, ToS;DR finds the key parts of a site's policy and grades them. Do they claim copyright over any images you upload? Thumbs down. Do they defend your privacy in court? Thumbs up. Do they follow the law as interpreted by New York or California? Informative either way.
RIght now, there are 32 services listed, from Twitter to Skype to Verizon. Not all have been subjected to equal scrutiny, and few have actual "grades" yet. And there are difficulties related to how certain sites must comply with regulations in different countries. But their capsule summaries are easier to read than the real terms of service and get across some important points.
ToS;DR just started in June, so many more sites and services will be added as they receive and parse more information via their discussion groups.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.