Terms And Conditions Are The Biggest Lie Of Our Industry

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THE LEGAL AGREEMENTS SET OUT BELOW GOVERN YOUR USE OF THIS TECHCRUNCH POST (“TECHCRUNCH”). TO AGREE TO THESE TERMS, CLICK “AGREE.” IF YOU DO NOT AGREE TO THESE TERMS, DO NOT CLICK “AGREE,” AND DO NOT USE THE SERVICES.

A. TERMS & CONDITIONS ARE WAY TOO LONG SO THAT YOU DON’T READ THEM AND JUST CLICK ACCEPT

You agree that you never read TERMS & CONDITIONS. Aren’t we right?

  1. Apple is notoriously wordy — you’re not going to read 20,000 words before using the iTunes Store.
  2. Facebook breaks down its TERMS & CONDITIONS in multiple pages — we stopped after copying and pasting them in a single 15,000-word document.

There is no incentive to make these documents shorter as you don’t want your users to pay too much attention to your TERMS & CONDITIONS. And there are new challenges today that make these TERMS & CONDITIONS even more obsolete (see paragraph C).

Yet, if you are an astute observer, you may have noticed that Google needs less than 5,000 words to explain all its TERMS OF SERVICE and PRIVACY POLICY. This is another sneaky strategy. For instance, keeping things vague lets Google collect basically everything on your hard drive.

“We may collect and store information (including personal information) locally on your device using mechanisms such as browser web storage (including HTML 5) and application data caches,” Google writes.

While the company gives us examples about how it plans to store data on your computer, it doesn’t say what data it is going to collect.

B. TERMS & CONDITIONS ARE WRITTEN IN IMPENETRABLE LEGALESE, INTENTIONALLY VAGUE AND HYPER-QUALIFIED LANGUAGE THAT’S DESIGNED TO MAKE IT IMPOSSIBLE FOR YOU TO UNDERSTAND ‘WTF’ YOU ARE AGREEING TO ANYWAY

Oops! Did you just agree to hand over your firstborn in exchange for using some free Wi-Fi? Faustian pacts have never been so in vogue, thanks to those little T&Cs.

Spotify just updated its TERMS & CONDITIONS this morning with some very broad statements. The company talked about collecting your photos, location, contacts and more.

The company’s CEO Daniel Ek got into a Twitter fight with Minecraft creator Markus Persson over this update. Persson doesn’t think Spotify should be able to access your photos on your phone.

But Ek later clarified why the company needed to update its TERMS & CONDITIONS. If you want to add a custom image to one of your playlists, you can let the Spotify app access your photos and pick a photo in your camera roll. Spotify won’t upload all your camera roll in a creepy way like Facebook and Google do — at least according to Ek’s statement.

According to Ek again, it’s the same thing for the other types of data. You can let Spotify access your microphone for voice commands, your contacts to invite your friends to sign up to Spotify, etc.

But should we trust Spotify? As you can see, the company’s TERMS & CONDITIONS and PRIVACY POLICY are quite short. As a user, it can be scary as you end up agreeing to broad statements in these documents (see paragraph A). It all comes down on whether you trust a company and its CEO. In other words, TERMS & CONDITIONS have become useless as you can always misinterpret them.

C. TERMS & CONDITIONS HAVE NEVER BEEN UPDATED FOR THE DIGITAL AGE — THAT’S INTENTIONAL, TOO

If you’re buying a house, and taking out a mortgage, you should expect to read a lot of small print (doubtless printed out on actual sheets of paper — because that’s how law firms typically roll). Purchases and ‘service agreements’ rarely get much bigger than property-related transactions so such wordiness is understandable. But why should using a free weather app or setting up a new smartphone involve similarly lengthy and antiquated screeds for the tech user to parse?

Consider this: how is the Internet of Things going to handle TERMS & CONDITIONS? If every device in your home requires you to read 2,000 to 10,000 words of ‘conditions’ before you can use it that’s a pretty big and unattractive road-block squatting on the smart home ‘on-ramp.’

Add to that, lots of these connected devices won’t even have a screen on them, so how will you read the TERMS & CONDITIONS anyway? Will your devices read them out to you via speaker, droning on in soul-sucking legalese all day and deep into the night in the background of your smart home as they toil electronically to insert all their conditions into your conscious mind? Or will they send them to your smartwatch so you have to spend every spare moment of your waking life flicking your wrist to wade through their never-ending texts?

It doesn’t have to be this way. If TERMS & CONDITIONS were designed to communicate the service’s scope and functions efficiently and effectively so that humans could actually understand: A) how it works and B) which bits of their data are absolutely required for it to function — these screeds could be cut down to size; even to just a few bullet points. Or, hey, why not even create some industry standard icons representing particular types of functions? Regulators take note!

The problem is companies don’t want to reduce the length of T&Cs because they are:
A) covering their asses and B) attempting to landgrab as much user data as possible to C) maximize their profit.

So really, TERMS & CONDITIONS are an outgrowth of an even larger festering sore on the butt of the tech industry: data privacy.

BOTTOM LINE: WE NEED TO FIND AN ALTERNATIVE TO TODAY’S TERMS & CONDITIONS

If your business model relies on:

  1. Misleading your users about your true intentions;
  2. Obfuscating how much of their data you are sucking up;
  3. Being as opaque as possible about what you are doing with that data;
  4. Equivocating on the question of who/what you are selling the data to/sharing it with;
  5. Intentionally failing to articulate how you are data-mining service usage and user data;
  6. Not being at all clear about who gets access to the ‘insights’ you derive from service usage and user data — thereby allowing yourself to claim you don’t “sell” any user data

Then you are operating on borrowed time. Because the other biggest lie in the tech industry is that users don’t care about privacy.

Users have been lied to that their data is safe. And intentionally impenetrable privacy policies have encouraged them to just click ‘I accept’ on your TERMS & CONDITIONS. But they are waking up to that lie. And claims that your service is trustworthy are going to ring increasingly hollow — not least as more and more ‘apparently safe’ data leaks online, illustrating the extent to which technology has been allowed to exploit user data and undermine user privacy.

So, which of those buttons do you want to click on now?

YOU EXPRESSLY AGREE THAT YOUR USE OF, OR INABILITY TO USE, THE TECHCRUNCH SERVICE IS AT YOUR SOLE RISK. THE TECHCRUNCH SERVICE AND ALL PRODUCTS AND SERVICES DELIVERED TO YOU THROUGH THE TECHCRUNCH SERVICE ARE (EXCEPT AS EXPRESSLY STATED BY TECHCRUNCH) PROVIDED “AS IS” AND “AS AVAILABLE” FOR YOUR USE, WITHOUT WARRANTIES OF ANY KIND, EITHER EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING ALL IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE, TITLE, AND NONINFRINGEMENT. BECAUSE SOME JURISDICTIONS DO NOT ALLOW THE EXCLUSION OF IMPLIED WARRANTIES, THE ABOVE EXCLUSION OF IMPLIED WARRANTIES MAY NOT APPLY TO YOU.

Featured Image: Sarah Joy/Flickr UNDER A CC BY-SA 2.0 LICENSE