An App For Making Sense Of Terms & Conditions
I’ve written previously about how to make a website or service’s terms and conditions (or Terms of Service, or EULA) not only more digestible, but also more enforceable. I don’t believe most Terms are fully enforceable if they create a significant burden to the user to process. I don’t believe they should be enforceable unless they are straightforward and clear, and can be digested in less than two minutes.
With that in mind, there is an opportunity for a group of brave individuals to distill these lengthy agreements from various sites and services and offer the abbreviated version to people via a website, app, or browser extension. This seems like a good crowdsourcing effort.
For example, if I’m getting ready to purchase a ticket from American Airlines, I have to agree to one of the longest T&C in existence. (It’s possible that if you stretched it out from end to end, it would be longer than the flight you would be taking.) So, when you found yourself faced with these terms, you would click a little bookmarklet in you browser (or launch the app or visit the site, &c.), and you would be presented with a much shorter version of the terms and conditions.
This clearer version would get rid of all the superfluous legal jargon about severability, indemnification, and jurisdiction, and would instead focus on a few simple things: what information is being shared and how it will be treated, what both parties will do and will be prevented from doing, and any other part deemed noteworthy or relevant to the end user, e.g., “by using the iTunes service, you hereby agree to name your first-born child Siri.”
In short, the app would boil it down to what you wanted and needed to know about the agreement you were entering into, and it would limit it to what you could reasonably digest in a minute or two. It might even give you the option to leave feedback to the site or service provider in question, taking them to task for any overreaching.
[11 Sept 2012: Here’s a move in this direction]