The EFF’s TOSBack Tracks Terms of Service Policies

If you’ve been using web applications for any length of time, you may have found yourself dismayed at unreasonable Terms of Service (TOS) agreements more than once. If you’re like many users, though, you probably don’t read them at all. Ignoring TOS agreements can be a mistake, especially as they often change without notice and can have serious implications for data ownership and privacy. That’s why it’s good to see the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s (EFF) new site TOSBack. The EFF has a long history of advocating user rights online, and its new site tracks 44 Terms of Service agreements at many of the web’s most widely-used sites. Here’s how it works.

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AT&T Continues to Adjust TOS to Limit 3G Video

AT&T (s T) has adjusted its terms of service again — after retracting parts of a previous revision — to limit uses of mobile data plans for video services like Sling. The new change, as written up by DSL Reports today, excludes “redirecting television signals for viewing on Personal Computers.” Other things that continue to be prohibited on the service are downloading movies using P2P file-sharing services and web broadcasting.

What does all this TOS tweaking mean? Don’t expect to fire up your mobile data card on your laptop and overload it with video. (Confession: I watched on Sprint (s S) EVDO while riding Caltrain a few weeks ago, and it was awesome.) The problem is, wireless networks are constrained by spectrum holdings, so they can’t just be beefed up to increase capacity like wired networks.

AT&T does have its own mobile video services, but these careful tweaks — narrowly targeting PCs instead of all wireless data — may help it avoid being seen as anti-competitive. But ultimately, there’s no such thing as net neutrality for wireless, so hopefully Sprint isn’t reading this. We’ll definitely be keeping an eye on the rollout of the Open Mobile Video Coalition later this year.

AT&T Retracts TOS Change — It Was All about Sling

After we wrote on Thursday that AT&T (s T) had altered its terms of service to limit mobile video, the company changed its mind. AT&T let us know last night that it had reverted the TOS change.

The language added on March 30 to AT&T’s wireless data service Terms and Conditions was done in error. It was brought to our attention and we have since removed it. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.

But upon reading the new TOS this morning, we see that only one clause was removed from the two sections which seemed designed to inhibit mobile video — one a list of disallowed services, and the other a list of overage charges for mobile data.
Yesterday, the TOS forbid these things:

downloading movies using P2P file sharing services, customer initiated redirection of television or other video or audio signals via any technology from a fixed location to a mobile device, web broadcasting, and/or for the operation of servers, telemetry devices and/or Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition devices

Today, it forbids these:

downloading movies using P2P file sharing services, web broadcasting, and/or for the operation of servers, telemetry devices and/or Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition devices is prohibited.

The only revision is to remove the description of “customer initiated redirection of television…” — what companies like Sling Media and Orb Networks do.
What’s all the more pointed about this change is that AT&T offers a competing live Mobile TV service — for a charge of $15 or $30 per month. So it seems that while they were first trying to block the competition, the folks at AT&T (perhaps the people who pay their legal fees) had a change of heart. As for the rest of the stuff — P2P, web broadcasting — well, that’s still not allowed.

TVs to Help Boost Online Vid Viewers

ABI Research released its Broadband Video and Internet TV report today, in which it predicts that, thanks to more Net-connected TV devices, the number of people watching online video will grow globally to 941 million in 2013 from 563 million at the end of 2008.

Online video in this particular case has a pretty wide definition in that it includes any video that’s delivered via an Internet connection (excluding IPTV services). So Netflix (s NFLX) streaming, Apple (s AAPL) video, Hulu (s nbcu), etc.

This coming online video viewer boom will be a result of the growth in all forms of content (premium and UGC) and devices that plug into your TV and as such, becoming capable of delivering all this content, a trend we’ve seen pick up steam over the past year (have you seen how sweet YouTube’s HD streams look on an HD TV?). Netflix embodies both elements of this report’s finding, offering streaming movies on a wide range of boxes — from the standalone Roku, to the TiVo (s TIVO), to Blu-ray DVD players, to the Xbox game console.

I spoke with Michael Wolf, who covers the digital home space for ABI, and he had some further predictions. “I feel strongly that these new boxes are not going to be the big winners,” he said. “There will be smaller hits — Apple TV, Roku — but consumers are going to want to use existing boxes.”

“There’s a traffic jam in the living room,” Wolf went on to say, and he believes consumers won’t want more than three devices under their TV. He thinks they’ll keep their cable or satellite box, some kind of DVD player and a game console. “Beyond that, ” said Wolf, “it’s hard to get a consumer to say ‘I’m going to invest in a new box.'”

Open Thread – Terms of Service Agreements

I believe that one thing freelance web workers enjoy most about doing what we do is the flexibility we have in choosing our projects and clients. But while there can be a certain amount of informality in this process, we still need to be professional in outlining our commitments and expectations with a formal Terms of Service Agreement.

Creating and updating a good TOS can be a challenge though. Thankfully, the good folks over at Freelance Switch have addressed this in an excellent article outlining 8 things you should include in your Terms of Service Agreement.

My own agreement is much like a living breathing document, one that is adjusted and tweaked based upon my experiences, but I know there is still room for improvement.

Do you use a formal TOS? What have you included that has been a lifesaver for you?