Thou Shall Not Break This Contract: Readable Terms of Service, SAAS Agreements, and Privacy Policies

readable terms of service agreementsA recent Bloomberg News piece portends legal doom for businesses that don’t develop readable terms of service agreements, and soon!

PayPal Suspended Accounts Over Decade’s-Old Terms of Service Violations

In a recent article, reporter Nate Lanxon told the story of Eleanor Margolis, a woman who lost her PayPal account after 12 years. Why? Because 12 years ago she violated the website’s terms of service by setting up an account when she was 16; not 18, as required by the 50,000-word terms of use agreement.

“They didn’t have any checks in place to make sure I was over 18,” the now-28-year-old Margolis remonstrated. “Instead, they contact me […] years later. It’s completely absurd.”

According to current laws, Paypal is well within its rights to kill accounts over terms of service violations, regardless of time elapsed.  However, when you have a 50,000 word Terms of Service agreement, readability might be an issue.

Is It Our Fault? The Case For Readable Terms of Service Agreements

For years, people have been ignoring the fine print before scribbling on the dotted line; or, by today’s standards, before clicking “I agree.” If you polled most users, they would probably agree that they don’t understand most things stated within those documents.

And in the interest of profits, online businesses have leveraged that reality. As Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, explained during the recent Congressional hearings, advertisements are a primary revenue source for most online companies and stuffing provisions into Terms of Service that allow companies to make big bucks off of user data for advertisements makes sense as a business model.

Will It Soon Become Legally Mandatory To Have “Plain English” Terms of Service Agreements?

For years, there’s been a movement to bring “plain English” standards to consumer agreements. But the initiative proved dead on arrival.

In fact, one of the Zuckerburg v. Congress highlights involved Lindsey Graham flapping a 1-inch-thick paper version of Facebook’s terms in the air. Continuing the theatrics, Graham then picked a passage to read aloud. When done, he admonished: “I’m a lawyer, and I have no idea what that means.” Though memorable, Graham’s routine was political kabuki. Lawmakers have had numerous opportunities to pass laws about online privacy but haven’t. They also haven’t established criteria for Terms of Service readability.  And since no one is forcing them to, big businesses will probably continue to stuff burdensome terms in their legal agreements with their users.

Connect With A Terms of Service Lawyer

Do you have questions regarding your current terms of service or privacy policy?   Need to get a new, readable terms of service agreement for your website? We can help you draft legally effective app, SAAS, and website agreements, in plain English. Get in touch today to find out more. The consultation is on us.

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