Unreadable Terms and Conditions

Unreadable Terms and Conditions
By Anonymous | October 8, 2021

Image 1. Visualization shows the time for an average user to read the terms and
conditions from various platforms (LePan, 2021).

Like many others, I visit at least 10 different websites on any given day, which usually means that I agree with the “terms and conditions” and accept “cookies” on those websites without even glancing at it. Just like most of the people, I don’t have the time to read it and also naively I think companies won’t use my data in a harmful way. However, in reality, the websites I give permission to might be sharing my information to insurance companies, which can be used by insurance companies to determine my health risk and increase my monthly premiums (Vedantam, 2016).

Truth to be told is nearly all of the “terms and conditions” and privacy policies we non-voluntarily agree on are filled with tons of legal jargon, and it is extremely difficult for the general public to understand. As it is mentioned in the journal ”The Duty to Read the Unreadable”, the majority of the people do not understand the terms and conditions due to the legal language used, and this is done on purpose by the businesses (Benoliel, 2019). In addition to the language used being almost incomprehensible to understand, the length of the terms and conditions is extremely long, where the word count can even go over 10,000 words. Since the terms and conditions are excessively long and challenging to understand, according to a study, only 1 percent of the people read them (Sandle, 2020). Although the companies are legally required to put “terms and conditions” on their websites, they are not required to simplify the language used.

According to the Belmont Principles, this violates the “respect for persons” principle, as consumers have no choice but to involuntarily click the “agree” button for terms and conditions, and for cookie policies (OHRP, 2021). They are essentially agreeing to the terms without giving informed consent. You could argue that people can choose to disagree with the terms and conditions, however, in that case, they will not be granted access to the platform or service they are trying to utilize. This can be extremely harmful to peoples’ privacy and it is a form of intrusion, as companies do everything they can to make the terms and conditions lengthy and incomprehensible. So, at the end of the day, users do not have much of a choice but to involuntarily “agree” to the terms.
As people value their data privacy more each day, there are now services like “Terms of Service Didn’t Read” that summarize the important information in bullet points for the users. Although the terms and conditions should be written in simpler terms, unless there is enforcement by legal authorities, I do not see companies making their language simpler for an average user. So, services like tosdr.org will only gain more importance and become essential as far as helping the consumer to understand the main points that are mentioned in the terms. However, this is definitely not a permanent solution as it still requires a lot of effort and time from users to use services like it.

Image 2. It displays that people actually do not know what they “agree” on when they click “accept” on terms and conditions.

* Benoliel, U., Becher, S. I. (2019). The Duty to Read the Unreadable. SSRN Electronic Journal. doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3313837.
* Cakebread, C. (2017, November 15). You’re not alone, no one reads terms of service agreements. Business Insider. www.businessinsider.com/deloitte-study-91-percent-agree-terms-of-service-without-reading-2017-11.
* Frontpage — terms of service; didn’t read. (n.d.). Retrieved October 8, 2021, from tosdr.org/.
* LePan, N. (2021, January 25). Visualizing the length of the fine print, for 14 popular apps. Visual Capitalist. Retrieved October 8, 2021, from www.visualcapitalist.com/terms-of-service-visualizing-the-length-of-internet-agreements/.
* Most online ‘terms of service’ are incomprehensible to adults, study finds. VICE. (n.d.). Retrieved October 8, 2021, from www.vice.com/en/article/xwbg7j/online-contract-terms-of-service-are-incomprehensible-to-adults-study-finds.
* Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP). (2021, June 16). Read the Belmont Report. HHS.gov. Retrieved October 8, 2021, from www.hhs.gov/ohrp/regulations-and-policy/belmont-report/read-the-belmont-report/index.html#xrespect.
* Sandle, B. D. T. (2020, January 29). Report finds only 1 percent reads ‘terms & conditions’. Digital Journal. Retrieved October 8, 2021, from www.digitaljournal.com/business/report-finds-only-1-percent-reads-terms-conditions/article/566127.
* Vedantam, S. (2016, August 23). Do you read terms of service contracts? not many do, research shows. NPR. Retrieved October 8, 2021, from www.npr.org/2016/08/23/491024846/do-you-read-terms-of-service-contracts-not-many-do-research-shows.