What Did I Just Agree To?

By Jenny Mugridge
05 Sep 2018

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Have you ever sat and read through a Terms of Service agreement? Maybe you tried, but the wall of text was just too much, and you skipped right to agreeing.

It’s something all of us do, no matter what age, but only recently have organisations begun to question why. Why are they so difficult to comprehend? Why do they need to be so long? Why should we have to read them in the first place?

Apple’s Terms of Service would take an adult over 40 minutes to read through, but the service can be used by 13 years olds. Many Terms need a university reading level to understand, and are more complicated than Moby Dick. Combined, Spotify has 13,000 words of policy, nearly the length of a Shakespeare play.

Why Do We Need Terms of Service?

As much as we moan about them, they are important. Terms of Service set out what the company plans on doing with its information about you in terms of selling on to others or targeting advertisements, and its responsibilities to its users, among other concerns.

When Are They Used To Trick Us?

Sometimes a complicated Terms of Service is a deliberate choice. Writing in complex or overly vague language allows companies to protect themselves, maximise their profits and prevent intervention. Some companies worry that if users understood all of this information, they might stop using their service all together.

When one lawyer broke down Instagram’s Terms of Service – which can be used from the age of 13 – he found that many teenagers were uncomfortable with the conditions. More than half of 12-15 year olds use Instagram, but the Terms and Conditions were over 5000 words! Have companies kept us in the dark so that we don’t demand better terms?

And if companies are trying to make Terms of Service difficult for adults to understand, what hope do teenagers have?

Who’s Helping?

After the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook rewrote their Terms of Service in a much more understandable way – although to get the full picture you’d still need to read their data and privacy policies. Hopefully other companies will follow, as discussions around the privacy of our data continue.

Some third-party companies like Terms of Service; Didn’t Read help to break down the important points of a policy, while organisations like 5Rights aim to support under 18s in using digital technology “creatively, knowledgeably and fearlessly”.

Your Rights Online

– The age of digital consent is 13 in the UK – that means from that age, it’s assumed you’ll understand the Terms of Service

– Children have the same right as adults over personal data, including access and removal

– Think twice if an app or service wants information you don’t want to give

– Fact check everything you see online with a good resource

And perhaps most importantly, it’s this generation of young people who may be able to change things! By campaigning for better rights online and simpler Terms of Service, we can make Terms accessible for all ages and education levels. 


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