What You Can Learn by Reading Terms of Service Pages

Yahoo Terms of Service
You can learn a lot by reading terms of service pages

So you want exclusive access to the inner workings of some of the most successful companies on the planet? Today is your lucky day!  Why? Because I’ll show you how to extract competitive intelligence from Term of Service web pages. Let’s get right to it…

Picking Companies

Pick a public company such as Yahoo or Microsoft, those companies are required to disclose more information than private corporations or startups. Now pick three or more companies in the same sector, for example Yahoo, AOL and USA Today. Save those three pages and start comparing.

Nature of Communications

This segment will tell you where the data you disclose will travel to. By reading Yahoo’s TOS we find out they have servers in California, Texas, Virginia and abroad. Using this process you can then figure out the most likely carriers and datacenter providers your competitors are using (if they are renting their facilities).

AOL Terms of Service
Go to the full terms of service page to learn more about each company

The Privacy Policy

Now head to the privacy policy and search for anything like “Information We Collect and Receive”. This tells you how the company is monetizing personal data and which snippets of information they use to target advertisements. In the case of portals you can also find out which data these companies are likely interested in.


Usually called “Third Parties” , this sections provides insight into the suppliers and business partners of the investigated company. Use this section to narrow down your list of suppliers and now go to those suppliers and also read relevant sections in their TOS pages. After analyzing the last supplier you’ll understand how the whole network operates.

Appended Data TOS
Sometimes you will get lucky and find a list of suppliers

Appended or Matched Data

Sometimes you will get very lucky, like in the case of Yahoo’s Appended and Matched Data Section. Here they are required to disclose data collection practices and list several information agencies. Use this to find potential suppliers and find out exactly what information your competitors are collecting about users.

Page Monitor Extension
Get notified when a page changes

Special Tips for Reporters and Market Makers

Use a service like the Page Monitor Extension for Google Chrome to monitor changes to these TOS pages and find out when the companies you cover have changed data suppliers. This works well for investors and traders also.

Happy Thursday!!