How the terms and conditions changed more than ten thousand times during 2016

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2016 through its changes in terms and conditions

In October of 2015, we launched the first fruit of our Legal LAB, the Tracker of Terms and Conditions. It was a tool to track changes in terms and conditions. Although it wasn’t perfect, through it we were trying to reach a goal that seemed reasonable and useful: to know when and how the services change their terms and conditions.

So, the Tracker of Terms and Conditions was born.

But, why is it important to know how and when the services change their terms and conditions? Because at the end of the day, the terms and conditions are a contract. A contract that it is established by one of the parties, usually the company, and the user can only accept o reject the content. So, the user does not have the option to negotiate the terms.

tracker_of_terms_and_conditions
The Tracker of Terms and Conditions – Our first experiment in the Legal LAB

This contract creates rights and obligations for both parties, but only one party has control over them (the company). Even though the law protects the user against plenty of unfair practices that the company may try to introduce through the terms and conditions, not all of them are reported. Besides, there are modifications on the legal texts of a storing, messaging or hosting service that are important to it but not unfair.

In summary, to know when and how the terms and conditions change, can be useful and good to: 1) report unfair practices according to the law and; 2) to find out about some of the surprises that the small print can include.

We love to track how the terms and conditions change (a little too much, maybe) :p, that’s why we follow them daily and from time to time we highlight the important ones. In fact, thanks to that we “announced” that Apple had bought Topsy 5 days before the official announcement (Topsy changed its Privacy Policy too soon). In any case, during a full year plenty of changes happen, and in 2016 we have tracked more than a few. To be precise, during 2016 we have detected 10.512 changes in terms and conditions.

However, before we start looking at the data, what do we understand as a “change”? Well, when there is a modification on a legal text such as Terms of Use, Privacy Policy, Cookie Policy or some other text that could be understood as terms and conditions (more than a few).

If the change is normal (a grammar mistake was fixed, a comma added or some text was translated from English to Spanish, for example), that’s a non-important change.

If the change goes beyond fixing a mistake (it adds or modifies rights and obligations for the user), then we take into account if the date from the “Last Update” section was updated too. Because that would be useful for a user who would want to know if that text has been modified from its last visit.

Let’s not forget that the terms and conditions usually say that we should check them regularly to see if something has been added or changed. Perfect, but they should provide some sign of it, right? Well, that’s what we track.

Having said that, if the change did not modify the “Last Update” section, we tag that change as Bad or an important modification that was not notified to the user.

If the change updated the date from that section, then we tag the change as Good or an important modification that was notified to the user.

And now, let’s check some data about the changes that we tracked in terms and conditions during 2016.

 

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