It’s time for apps’ terms and conditions to ditch the legalese

“A new report published last week by the UK Children’s Commissioner, titled ‘Growing Up Digital’ (PDF), noted that while more than half of all children in the country aged 12-15 had an Instagram account, none of them interviewed by the Commissioner could understand the service’s terms and conditions document. That’s unsurprising, since it spans 5,000 words in language that requires a postgraduate degree to fully comprehend.

The results are worrying for so many reasons, especially when you think about how the next generation will grow up surrounded by all kinds of online communities, apps and services that require them to share private information.

The report also includes simplified Terms & Conditions for Instagram (PDF) that were penned by a privacy law expert, and the vast difference between the two versions shows just how unfriendly these contracts can be to users who are trying to decide if they should use a particular service or not.

It’s not just Instagram, of course: We’re steadily advancing towards an age where all the gadgets in our homes, as well as our cars, are listening in on every word we say – primarily to do our bidding, but also to learn more about us. And all that data has to go somewhere.

Plus, the appeal of online services like Instagram is expanding to a much wider audience. That includes children, as well as people in developing countries who are presently experiencing the Web for the first time on mobile devices are eager to use them.

The business model of simply and directly charging your customer money for access to your product is becoming increasingly rare. It’s now a lot more common to see a service being offered at no monetary charge; the cost of entry is permission to view, mine and sell your data.

That’s problematic when the world at large isn’t fostering a culture of learning about and discussing the meaning and implications of the terms we agree to. Hitting ‘I Agree’ on Terms & Conditions pages has become a low hurdle that we can’t wait to jump to access an app. That goes for all of us, internet novices and veterans alike.”

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