Do You Read Terms of Service? Maybe You Should

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Maintaining privacy online is a constant concern for users, but a related issue is the difficulty users face in understanding what content they give away when signing up for free online services. Do people even bother reading the Terms of Service before clicking “agree”? 

A Georgia Tech research study on TOSs for popular online services shows that when posting content to the likes of LinkedIn, craigslist or IMDB, users may be giving away more than they think, including the right to take back the data once it is made available. Also, Facebook, YouTube and Pinterest (as well as the aforementioned) do not pay users for the content published on their platforms. 

"With so many people posting everything from status updates to digital art online, intellectual property rights are increasingly important to the end user,” says Casey Fiesler, a Ph.D. Candidate in Human-Centered Computing and lead researcher.  

The study included the 30 most-trafficked online social media sites and fan creation communities and found that a majority of them required users to grant the websites nonexclusive, worldwide and royalty-free use of content. Researchers identified 11 licenses and 15 rights users grant companies when posting content. One top ranking fan fiction site,, has a TOS that lets the company essentially do anything they want to with user content without those users’ knowledge or future consent. Remix 64, a top 5 site for audio, doesn’t even have a TOS.

"Depending on where you upload your content, you are giving away radically different rights,” says Amy Bruckman, co-investigator and professor in the School of Interactive Computing. “We believe it should be simpler for users to read terms of service."

Researchers found that the average reading level for the combined TOSs was that of a second-year college student and the average number of words for the TOSs was 3,851. Reading all the Terms of Service in one sitting (all 111,698 words) would take about 8 hours, according to the study.

The research will be presented at CHI 2014, the premier conference on human-computer interaction, April 26 - May 1 in Toronto.



  • Workflow Status:Published
  • Created By:Joshua Preston
  • Created:04/21/2014
  • Modified By:Fletcher Moore
  • Modified:10/07/2016