The TOS Issue

Practically no one reads the binding agreement presented during the sign-up of online services. Known as the TOS, they’re too long and too complicated, filled with legal speak. There are studies that show most people accept the terms without knowing what they are.

What I don’t understand is why companies don’t make it easier for users to consume this information.

Sure, the service owner has the legal leverage if someone signs up without fully understanding the TOS. But in practice, wouldn’t everyone be better off if users simply understood what the agreement actually entailed?

I’ve seen a few companies summarize the TOS into a digestible format, and that’s smart. One form is a short, bulleted list, briefly describing each major part of the contract, with links back to the corresponding section of the TOS. For example, a summary bullet could say “don’t steal content from the membership site,” while the specific scenarios could be detailed in the TOS.

Unless companies are intending to bury “gotchas” in a TOS, then they should be motivated to earn trust with their users and avoid expensive legal battles. And as consumers, we should be motivated to applaud and acknowledge companies willing to be more transparent of what we’re agreeing to.