Terms and conditions on social media are crazy. Nobody reads them, and therefore have no idea what they're agreeing to hand over when they sign up. So now a 'jargon-buster' guide has been released by the Children's Commissioner to help teenagers and teachers work out exactly what they're getting themselves into.
The guides have been developed in response to the Commissioner's Growing Up Digital report, which found that most children don't actually understand the agreements they're signing when they create themselves a social media account. Spoiler alert: neither do most adults. The guides themselves are simplified versions of the T&Cs for Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp, and YouTube, created in conjunction with privacy lawfirm Schillings.
Children's Commissioner Anne Longfield also criticised the five services for not doing enough to simplify and clarify the policies for themselves. Saying that "Children have absolutely no idea that they are giving away the right to privacy or the ownership of their data or the material they post online."
This is why she's urging the government to adopt the EU's General Data Protection Regulation which requires all companies that offer services used by EU children to simplify their T&Cs by May next year. She says that "much more needs to be done" by social media companies, in order to make them "make them more accountable and transparent".
Meanwhile Instagram claims that the simplified terms are inaccurate, saying:
"It is wrong to suggest we share young people's personal information, contact details or content of direct messages with advertisers without their permission. Nor do we share details of who people are messaging with."
Well here's an idea, how about you create your own simplified T&Cs? With a set of terms that's 5000 words and 17 pages long, it's no wonder someone had trouble understanding it.
Snapchat also defended its terms and conditions, claiming that they are "as clear and free from unnecessary legalese as possible". Facebook also claims that it wants everyone to feel safe on the platform, adding "Our resources - such as our parents portal, privacy basics tool and safety centre - are easy to understand and used every day by young people and parents looking for clear and simple advice."
But nothing is ever simple when it comes to the law. Those documents are that big because legal matters are complicated and companies pay lawyers to ensure there are no gaps, loopholes in the system, or anything else that might land them in trouble in the future. But nobody has time to read all these things, and it has been estimated that reading all the T&Cs you come across in a year would take 76 eight hour days of non-stop reading to get through. And that's assuming you actually understand what you're reading.
Parks and Recreation said it best:
"A person should not have to have an advanced law degree to avoid being taken advantage of by a multi-billion dollar company! You should be upfront about what you're doing and allow people the ability to opt out."
Making sure people have a simple way of understanding what they're signing up for is a good thing - particularly if they're under the age of 18. It's about time big companies realised that. [BBC News]