A large-scale exploration of terms of service documents on the web

Soundarya Nurani Sundareswara, Mukund Srinath, Shomir Wilson, C. Lee Giles

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

Abstract

Terms of service documents are a common feature of organizations' websites. Although there is no blanket requirement for organizations to provide these documents, their provision often serves essential legal purposes. Users of a website are expected to agree with the contents of a terms of service document, but users tend to ignore these documents as they are often lengthy and difficult to comprehend. As a step towards understanding the landscape of these documents at a large scale, we present a first-of-its-kind terms of service corpus containing 247,212 English language terms of service documents obtained from company websites sampled from Free Company Dataset. We examine the URLs and contents of the documents and find that some websites that purport to post terms of service actually do not provide them. We analyze reasons for unavailability and determine the overall availability of terms of service in a given set of website domains. We also identify that some websites provide an agreement that combines terms of service with a privacy policy, which is often an obligatory separate document. Using topic modeling, we analyze the themes in these combined documents by comparing them with themes found in separate terms of service and privacy policies. Results suggest that such single-page agreements miss some of the most prevalent topics available in typical privacy policies and terms of service documents and that many disproportionately cover privacy policy topics as compared to terms of service topics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationDocEng 2021 - Proceedings of the 2021 ACM Symposium on Document Engineering
PublisherAssociation for Computing Machinery, Inc
ISBN (Electronic)9781450385961
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 16 2021
Event21st ACM Symposium on Document Engineering, DocEng 2021 - Virtual, Online, Ireland
Duration: Aug 24 2021Aug 27 2021

Publication series

NameDocEng 2021 - Proceedings of the 2021 ACM Symposium on Document Engineering

Conference

Conference21st ACM Symposium on Document Engineering, DocEng 2021
Country/TerritoryIreland
CityVirtual, Online
Period8/24/218/27/21

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Computer Science Applications
  • Information Systems
  • Software

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