How many times have you clicked, “I’ve read and agree to the terms and conditions,” without actually reading them? If you’re like most people it’s probably easier to ask if you’ve ever read them. Free wi-fi at the airport? Sure, “I agree.” Now let me check Snapchat without using my precious data.
Terms and conditions are largely left unread. They might take hours get through and be full of difficult to understand legalese. These legally binding contracts can be so confusing that there are websites like ToS;DR committed to, essentially, translating them.
Do you ever stop and wonder what you’re agreeing to? If the product is just free wi-fi or a social networking app, what could they possibly want? It could be something simple like agreeing you won’t pretend to be somebody you aren’t, won’t bully anyone, or won’t sell your account. However, you might also be agreeing to give up your first-born child and clean toilets.
Rumpelstiltskin notwithstanding, such stipulations are usually stunts designed to prove a point. Consumers need to know what they’re signing.
You might be agreeing to allow the company to collect, sell and distribute information about you. They might be able use your photos in advertisements or use data from conversations you assumed to be private (Oh, Hi Alexa!).
If you’re concerned about privacy some terms and conditions may leave you humming the Rockwell and MJ classic, “I always feel like, somebody’s watching me… and I have no privacy!”
While any lawyer worth his or her salt will recommend truly reading and understanding terms and conditions contracts, it isn’t practical for most of the free or low-cost applications you encounter day-to-day. Here are three steps you can take to start understanding terms and conditions contracts.
- Know what matters to you
Think about how you’ll use this service. What information or content will you upload or share? Is it anything you’d like to keep private? Is it free to use? For how long? Do you know how to cancel or unsubscribe? Life Hacker recommends searching for the keywords “third parties and affiliates, opt-out, arbitration, and waive or waiver” to find applicable sections of the contract.
- Know what matters to the company
Think about why the company made this product. How are they making money? Do they charge you for the service or profit some other way? In addition to the keywords listed above look for sections written in ALL CAPS. These are things the company is attempting to make conspicuous for a reason.
As with most things, the more you practice the better you’ll get. Familiarize yourself one contract at a time. The more terms and conditions you read, the more you’ll know what to look for and look out for.
I guess the real TL;DR status is this: Read and understand as much as you can. Don’t sign anything you aren’t comfortable with.