The world is no longer willing to tolerate the plague of bullshit "agreements"

Mark Zuckerberg says it doesn't matter how creepy and terrible his company is, because you agreed to let him comprehensively fuck you over from asshole to appetite by clicking "I agree" to a tens of thousands of words' worth of "agreements" spread out across multiple webpages; when questioned about this in Congress, Zuck grudgingly admitted that "I don’t think the average person likely reads that whole document." But as far as Zuck is concerned, it doesn't matter whether you've read it, whether you understand it, whether it can be understood -- you still "agreed."

Facebook is far from the worst offender: Paypal has been cutting off the accounts of users who signed up before they were 18, which violated their 50,000+ word ToS (spread across 21 web-pages!); it doesn't matter if those users are now well over the age of consent, more than a decade later, their failure to read all those terms is a hanging offense.


The self-replicating plague of bullshit "agreements" is finally getting a reckoning, as users wake up to the fact that companies were actually serious when they said that they expected hold us to these absurd legal documents. What's more, the looming spectre of the EU General Data Protection Regulation, with its mandate for plain language agreements that users have to understand, is calling into question whether it's possible to even have a business that can only exist if users agree to terms that put the US tax-code to shame.

That is to say, businesses are being told that they are obliged to obtain detailed, informed consent to every single term in their contracts before they can start interacting with their users. The businesses say that undertaking such a process could take hours and that no one would ever use their services if a precondition for their usage is to actually understand what they're giving away.


To which the EU answers: exactly.

Websites have long required users to plow through pages of dense legalese to use their services, knowing that few ever give the documents more than a cursory glance. In 2005 security-software provider PC Pitstop LLC promised a $1,000 prize to the first user to spot the offer deep in its terms and conditions; it took four months before the reward was claimed. The incomprehensibility of user agreements is poised to change as tech giants such as Uber Technologies Inc. and Facebook Inc. confront pushback for mishandling user information, and the European Union prepares to implement new privacy rules called the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR. The measure underscores “the requirement for clear and plain language when explaining consent,” British Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham wrote on her blog last year.

“I’m a lawyer, and I have no idea what that means”

During two days of testimony before the U.S. Congress this month, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive officer, was repeatedly chastised for burying important information in text that’s rarely read. Waving a 2-inch-thick printed version of the social network’s user agreement, Senator Lindsey Graham quoted a line from the first page, then intoned: “I’m a lawyer, and I have no idea what that means.” The South Carolina Republican later asked Zuckerberg whether he thinks consumers understand what they’re signing up for. The Facebook CEO’s response: “I don’t think the average person likely reads that whole document.”

The ‘Terms and Conditions’ Reckoning Is Coming [Nate Lanxon/Bloomberg]