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Terms of Service: No one reads the legal language – what to do about it?

photo of Sepp Hasslberger

Sepp Hasslberger
30th November 2012


Who of us has not clicked the “Agree” button to install a program on their computer or to register for the services offered by a website without having read every word of the long and boring legal document that calls itself “terms of service”? Sometimes we don’t even open the document that feels like it only exists to let lawyers show off how intimate they are with contracts and related laws.

“I have read and agree to the Terms” – the biggest lie on the web.

But the days of the big lie are numbered. There are efforts now to classify those terms of service on a scale from A to E, where A is the best and E the worst, with regard to respecting our privacy and the rights to our personal data and images.

Combined with the effort of classification is a series of icons, each one coming with one-line descriptions of what the program or the site does with your data.

You can see the work in progress on a dedicated website

http://tos-dr.info/

and there is also an article about this in the New York Times blogs section, titled

Building an Iconography for Digital Privacy

Web site privacy policies are usually long, vague and notoriously neglected by most of us. Or as Alex Fowler, chief privacy officer at Mozilla, put it, “We have long upheld that privacy policies suck.”

Now, an experiment is under way to make those privacy policies somewhat more palatable. The idea is to have lawyers and coders muddle through thousands of words of legalese and distill their meaning into a set of graphic icons. In effect, the pros will read those notoriously unreadable policies, so the rest of us don’t have to.

Web users can install a browser plug-in, available for now only on the Firefox browser made by Mozilla. Once the plug-in is installed, visited Web sites will be marked with a series of icons summing up their privacy terms.

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One Response to “Terms of Service: No one reads the legal language – what to do about it?”

  1. Kevin Carson Says:

    Since EULAs and ToS are unilateral proclamations that nobody reads or has any intention of honoring when they click them, they don’t meet the legal standard of a complete contract. There’s no meeting of minds. Courts should refuse to enforce them.

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