T&Cs for apps may undermine your consumer rights

Inez Romanos | June 30, 2016

Download an app to your phone and … you’ve probably just waived some of your consumer rights.

A novel project in Norway revealed that terms and conditions of apps and websites can break the law and deceive the consumer. They’re often complex and written in difficult legalese.

RNZ’s Simon Morton ran an item about the project on his Saturday show, This Way Up. It highlighted the importance of citizen language — clear language that reveals our rights rather than obscuring them.

A show on Slow TV

The revelations came during one of Scandinavia’s ‘Slow TV’ projects. Producers simply decided to print out the terms and conditions and end user licence agreements for 33 apps — the number on an average smartphone. Then they read them out on live TV.

‘We decided to read them out loud to show how absurd it is to expect users to read those terms,’ project lead Finn Myrstad told Simon.

Image of a huge stack of papers.

Terms and conditions for smartphone apps are just too long. Image by Hobvias Sudoneighm / CC-BY

Nearly 32 hours — ridiculous…

The fine print ran to 900 pages — about 27 pages per app. That’s around 250,000 words all up. Reading the difficult language out loud was exhausting, so a tag team of 50 each spent 15 minutes each reading. They clocked up 31 hours, 49 minutes, 11 seconds.

The producers invited politicians and IT professionals to help reading. They’re among the people who set the terms. As they took their turns, some said the fine print was ‘ridiculous’.

Write for people please

Finn told Morton, ‘They deceive the consumer. They’re not written for people. They must be much, much shorter and understandable.’

Read Simon Morton’s webpage about this Slow TV project
Hear Simon’s interview with Finn Myrstad


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