Terms and Conditions or Terms of Service Agreements – those long, dense, contractual-looking documents that appear when you start to use an online service – may look boring, but they are not without controversy.
TOS agreements are designed to cover as much as possible, while not encouraging users to actually read them.
Terms of Service Agreements are set of regulations, related to copyright, which users must agree to follow in order to use a service relating to website usage. These agreements set the rules that users must agree to in order use the service.
A terms of service agreement includes items related to third-party websites, content ownership, copyright notices, payments and additional information.
TOS documents are long and laborious and almost no one actually reads them, although some believe that users are expected to. In fact, even the shortest terms and conditions agreements for popular online services are thousands of words long.
“The average American would need to set aside more than 250 hours to properly read and accept all of the digital contracts they accept while using online services,” reports the Visual Capitalist. That’s more than ten days.
Microsoft’s terms and conditions agreement, the longest of the major web services companies, takes over an hour to read, although it covers most of their products and services. It is 15,260 words. The next longest is Spotify’s, which on average requires 35 minutes, and weighs in at 8,600 words.
It is interesting to note that former Microsoft Vice President and Global Head of Intellectual Property, Horacio Gutierrez, is now General Counsel at Spotify.
In contrast to the length of these documents, the United States Bill of rights requires about 31 minutes to read, The Art of War 50 minutes and Macbeth an hour and 11 minutes.
The Terms of Service or Terms and Conditions are a contract that consumers must agree to to use the product. It is primarily intended to protect the owner and inform (warn) the user.
TOS agreements are long because they have to cover a lot of material regarding use and licensing of the product (e.g., a lot of software now is not owned by the user; they simply have a license to use it, according to the agreement), as well as establishing responsibilities and liabilities.
A number of courts in different countries have ruled that due to their length, and propensity for users not to read them before clicking, that they cannot contain anything that isn’t considered unusual unless there is a way to draw attention to the fact it is. (It is unclear if the abundant use of all caps satisfies that requirement.)
As one commentator put it, “A business can’t add in paragraph 400 that they now own your house” — but that may not stop some from trying.
Image source: VisualCapitalist