Almost no one reads terms of service agreements. If we did, social media companies would not exist in their current form because we’d be horrified at what we allow them to access, gather, track, store, share, & sell about us.

According to a 2019 Pew Research poll most Americans are concerned about their privacy & the collection of their data, & 81% of the public also says that the potential risks they face because of data collection by companies outweigh the benefits. And yet,  according to a 2017 Deloitte survey, 91% of consumers surveyed said that they consent to terms & conditions without actually reading them.

Say what?

How can we be both concerned about our privacy, while at the same time blindly agreeing to surrender it?

I know, I know…terms of service statements are difficult to read, confusing, & deliberately deceptive. Furthermore,  critical information is strategically buried in legalese, they are intentionally longer than they have to be, & many are spread out among separate documents (terms of service, privacy policy, data policies, cookie policy & so on) making it harder to get a full understanding of what is going on.

This is on purpose.

In 2019 in a report published on SSRN (Social Science Research Network) Law professors Uri Benoliel – College of Law & Business – Ramat Gan Law School, & Shmuel I. Becher – Victoria University of Wellington analyzed the sign-in terms & conditions of 500 popular US websites & found that more than 99% of them were unreadable & would require 14 years of education for the average person to understand them. Here’s the link to the report.

So the grift is afoot. I know. But we can’t begin to take back our privacy or protect our personal information if we keep blindly agreeing to let companies handle it any way that they damn well please.

How to read through a terms of service quickly

All modern browsers have a search function that allows you to search words & phrases inside any document or website.

  1. Go to the website you want to search for.
  2. Press Ctrl+F (on Windows PC, Chromebook, or Linux system), or Command+F (on a Mac) on the keyboard. The “F” stands for “Find,” & it works in every browser.
  3. Use the search field to seek out certain words or phrases that may take you to statements within the page or document that use those words. This will help you search for the specifics of how your data is going to be used, misused, shared, or retained indefinitely.

Some examples of words to search for include: data, your data, partners, share, sharing, privacy, advertising, advertisers, cookies, agree, track, manage, secure, safe, permission, rights, photos, upload, & contacts.

Of course this is not an exhaustive list & feel free to share any that you’ve added that bear fruit, & I’ll add them to this issue for future readers.

Look, I understand that this takes a little more time, but we have to start saying no to terms that we don’t like & weighing the perceived benefits vs giving away our information & allowing our behaviors to be tracked When companies start losing users (or growth slows), they change behaviors.