Legislate “Too Long Didn’t Read”?

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Legislate “Too Long Didn’t Read”?

There’s nothing worse than someone saying about your post, TL,DR. (meaning of course too long, didn’t read). It’s a kiss of death for a blogger.

There’s nothing worse than someone saying about your post, TL,DR. (meaning of course too long, didn’t read). It’s a kiss of death for a blogger.

But now, some members of Congress want to legislate this concept at least for those pesky app terms and conditions. Those terms and conditions that app developers make you accept to use their app. I mean who reads those things? Who knows what we really are agreeing to? And even if you did read and understand them, would it make any difference?

Legislation proposed by Rep. Lori Trahan (D-Mass.), Sens. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) is designed least try to make the legal agreements more understandable. The “TLDR Act” would require online companies to include a “short-form terms of service” atop the page. It would also standardize the information in the agreement. They also want developers to let users know what information websites and apps are collecting and how it’s being used.

This short-form would include:

  • a description of “sensitive information” the company collects,
  • a flow chart depicting how that information is shared with corporate affiliates and third parties,
  • instructions on how users can request their information be deleted (if the company offers that service), and
  • a list of the company’s data breaches in the previous three years.

“It would take 76 workdays for the average American to read the terms of service contracts for the websites & apps they use,” said Trahan said when announcing the bill (without citation). “Companies designed them that way so users “agree” without reading a word. I introduced the TLDR Act with Sens. Bill Cassidy and Ben Ray Luján to change that.”

It’s hard to quarrel with the idea that developers need to state in plain English what information the company collects

Good idea in principle. It’s hard to quarrel with the idea that developers need to state in plain English what information the company collects. Or where that information is being shared and a list of data breaches it has suffered. That information should be front and center instead of buried in legalese that’s way too long and complicated. But I wonder how the summary of terms of service would work in practice. So many legal concepts and terms are shaded in nuance and need to be stated in certain ways to be valid. A summary of those terms risks legal ambiguity, especially where people would likely rely on the summary and not the actual terms.

Most people won’t read the summary any more than the terms and conditions

The real problem, of course, is that the cost and value of most apps overshadow the need or desire for most people to know and understand the terms and conditions. And that means that most people won’t read the summary any more than the terms and conditions. It’s not so much that the developers design the terms and conditions in a way that people will agree without reading. It’s that most people get the app irrespective of what the terms and conditions or any summary thereof say. And the developers are in the driver’s seat: they know they can present the terms and conditions as a take it or leave it proposition.

So I’m not sure the legislation will have much impact. Assuming it gets passed. Which it won’t: Congress can’t pass much of anything anyway.

Photo by Bernd Klutsch on Unsplash