In context: How many ToS agreements, EULAs, and privacy statements do you read? All of them? None? Statistically speaking, it’s most likely that you agree to the numerous contracts that you are exposed to online without reading so much as a word of any of them. Although TS readers are more likely to be in the 10th percentile, 91 percent of average consumers don’t read online service agreements.
Congress has proposed legislation that would require online companies to post a summary of their terms of service (ToS) agreements on their websites. The bipartisan law is called the “Terms-of-service Labeling, Design, and Readability Act”—the TLDR Act. It’s sponsored by Representative Lori Trahan, Senator Bill Cassidy, and Senator Ben Ray Luján.
Trahan says the proposed law will make it easier for consumers to evaluate the terms of legally binding agreements for the websites and services they use. A 2017 survey showed that 91 percent of consumers agree to service contracts without reading them because they are too long and filled with legalese. Indeed, another study from 2008 revealed that it would take an average of 76 workdays to read all of the ToS and other legal documents they agree to when conducting business online.
“Users should not have to comb through pages of legal jargon in a website’s terms of services to know how their data will be used,” said Senator Cassidy. “Requiring companies to provide an easy-to-understand summary of their terms should be mandatory and is long overdue.”
The summary statements will furnish consumers with transparency regarding data collection, including the types of data collected and how it is used or shared. It also provides information on whether users can delete their personal information and how to do that. Another essential detail the summary shall provide is whether the contract requires the user to give up legal rights to their content or legal remedies like arbitration or class action filings.
“Consumers deserve the ability to make informed decisions online for themselves and their families,” said Senator Luján. “Rather than inform, too many companies use long and complicated Terms of Service agreements to bury critical details about their data policies and shield themselves from legal liability.”
The law will also require the summary statement and ToS to be machine-readable and use markup languages like XML so researchers and other third parties can easily analyze them to provide accountability. The Federal Trade Commission will be the primary enforcement agency. However, states’ attorneys general can bring action against companies in US District Court if they find a firm has violated the act within their states.
“Some bad actors have chosen to exploit these agreements to expand their control over users’ personal data and shield themselves from liability,” said Representative Trahan. “This is a problem that transcends political parties, and it demands solutions like the TLDR Act that do the same by requiring transparency and returning power to consumers.”
The lawmakers did not have a timeline for when the bill would be presented to the House and Senate, but as laws go, it could be a while before the TLDR Act could pass.