Don't Click "Agree": Demand More Readable Terms of Service Agreements

Terms of Service and end-user license agreements are difficult to read if not for the legal jargon then for the way they're typed up. Web companies shouldn't make it a chore to read these contracts before you click "Agree." But it's your job to demand them.

Who reads the terms of service before they click “Agree?” No one. Even if you wanted to browse through every iTunes updated Terms of Use and Google policy, it would take an entire month out of your life each year. In the words of Sweet Brown, “Ain't nobody got time for that.”

These end-user license agreements (EULA) are difficult to read as well, all-caps text, small font, and legal jargon make the texts painful to read for anyone who might want to. But Seth Stevenson from Slate has reported that Pintrest has included a summary section to its EULA. Some think this idea could help rather than hurt the company. As a lawyer Eric Goldman, Co-Director of the High Tech Law Institute at the Santa Clara University Law School, explains the pitfalls of having two agreements:

“If there’s a gap between the bulletproof legal language and the more readable summary. Pinterest might expose themselves. The summary might be less thorough than the legalese. And it’s implied that the user only needs to read the summary.”

For the layman and those interested in making these large contractual agreements easier to read it's a great step, but many companies don't do this for the reasons Goldman describes.

Omri Ben-Shahar, Professor at the University of Chicago Law School, thinks that if you don't like the way web companies, like Google, write its EULAs, you don't have to use it them:

“But you probably decide, on balance, that you like the overall package they’re offering. It’s a free, luxury service. And they couldn’t provide this product for free if not for the terms they establish. You’d rather have a terrific product with lousy terms of use than a lousy product with terrific terms of use.”

He believes that if a company goes a step too far the market will keep it in check, but some people think Google has already overstepped their reach, offering no protection of your information or privacy. Margaret Jane Radin, Professor at the University of Michigan Law School, thinks more about the damage that has already been done and there's no way to legally rectify it:

“People have always injured brands by writing bad reviews. But these agreements take away legal remedies for consumers.”

“People never think about legal remedies until they need one.”

The good thing is you can vote with your dollar, or with your personal information as it goes nowadays. Don't search using Google, check out places that don't track your results, like StartPage or DuckDuckGo. Find alternative services that will give you user agreements you can understand (and agree with) and tell your friends about them. These days a product is only as good as the network of people that uses it, so build a network that thrives on services that won't try to sneak in outrageous terms, like stealing your soul.

Read more at Slate

Photo Credit: Alexander Supertram/ Shutterstock

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