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Why ‘teenage-ready T&Cs' could benefit us all

Supporters often contact us to complain about horrific terms and conditions. A recent report from the Children’s Commissioner for England provides a perfect example of why companies often hide behind gibberish.

The Commissioner, appointed by the Government to ‘represent the interests of young people’, presented their findings as part of their ‘growing up digital’ campaign. The Commissioner lays out their aims with the following statement.

"We believe that government and civil society have a role in demanding more transparent corporate behavior and better online conditions for children and teenagers."

As part of the report, the Commissioner led a test-case involving a group of teenagers reading the Instagram terms and conditions. Unsurprisingly, they couldn’t get through or understand the 5000 turgid words.

But when given a rewritten plain English version, one tailored for a 13-year-old audience, they understood completely. Terms and conditions that had been written incomprehensibly were now very clear, and contained some eye-opening revelations. Here are two worrying examples, particularly the latter.

"Officially you own any original pictures and videos you post, but we are allowed to use them, and we can let others use them as well, anywhere around the world."

And: "Although you are responsible for the information you put on Instagram, we may keep, use and share your personal information with companies connected with Instagram. This information includes your name, email address, school, where you live, pictures, phone number, your likes and dislikes, where you go, who your friends are, how often you use Instagram, and any other personal information we find such as your birthday or who you are chatting with, including in private messages (DMs)."

How many Instagram users were aware of either of those conditions when posting family snaps or sending personal messages?

The rewritten plain English version predictably led to some concerned responses, such as "I’m deleting Instagram because it’s weird."

This report obviously highlights the danger of badly-written terms and conditions. What potentially alarming revelations in other poorly written examples are hiding behind jargon and gibberish?

It would be very interesting to run this project with many other similar examples – and not just for a teen audience – to see what else has been buried in gobbledygook. There’s no need to stop producing lengthy legalistic versions of terms and conditions – we’re not that optimistic. But there is a pressing need to provide a plain English alternative. And in how many other places is our information passed on to any number of buyers keen to sell us stuff?

Customers need the information that can help them decide whether or not to go along with often very one-sided agreements. As it stands, too many simply sign them or click ‘Yes, I agree’, put off by paragraph upon paragraph of unreadable text, in order to use a service. It’s not just the language that’s the issue – it’s the lack of choice in the matter.

We’re happy to help those companies looking to provide what their customers need – which would in turn vastly improve said companies reputation and relationship with those customers. How many Instagram users would be happy to discover that they’d agreed on the use of their holiday photos as part of a marketing campaign on another continent? Providing clear information shows respect for a customer – jargon and deception suggests contempt, and in this case, deceit.

(Here's the plain English version of Instagram's terms and conditions.)


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