What have you agreed to?

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Whilst reading Animal Farm in school, my English teacher at the time had a reasonably poor memory, and as a result we would reread chapters several times, and we never actually finished the book. I did however get to see a (very impressive one-man) theatre production of the book, and I have seen the 1999 film – who’s idea was it to have a happy ending!

Anyway… today, in a BBC article it is reported that according to Fairer Finance, many car insurance policy documents are longer than George Orwell’s Animal Farm. One of the longest of the documents they found was Danske Bank’s terms and conditions which  contained almost 70,000 words – that’s more words than Animal Farm put together with Of Mice and Men – which was incidentally another book I read at school.

Of UK financial services companies, HSBC came in top with 34,162 words, whilst LV was the lowest with 6,901 – 27,261 fewer words.

Why?

For financial institutions legal jargon is important. Terms and conditions provide organisations with legal protection and are in some ways a measure of credibility and assurance – would you place trust in a bank which didn’t have any terms and conditions? I understand that they are important, but why do they need to be so long and full of technical jargon?

Do you think companies are aiming to dissuade people from reading their terms by making them so long-winded? If so, what could a business put in its terms? Could a social media site claim ownership of your face? Don’t be silly.

Do long, wordy terms of service not discriminate against slower readers, and people who have a life? Sometimes I struggle to keep up with my university reading, so how/why on earth am I expected to read a novel length script of jargon each time I open a current account?

Help is out there!

Facebook, Google and Twitter are no angels either, many websites also have ridiculously long terms of service. There is however consumer help for judging these sites, thanks to Terms of Service Didn’t Read. I use their browser extension for Firefox, and it is helpful.

YouTube tosdr

YouTube is rated D by Terms of Service; Didn’t Read

Fairer Finance have started a petition to try and bring down the small print and force organisations to be more concise and consumer friendly. Visit the campaign page and you can also send them any examples you have of annoyingly pointless small print.

6 thoughts on “What have you agreed to?

  1. One thing that you should also know is that websites have the right to alter the terms of service at will, they just have to mention the changes on their website or via email. Once they have done that you have to cancel your account or you agree to them by default.

    • Christopher Roberts

      Is that a law, or do they have to state it in their terms – i.e. ‘we can amend these terms at any time’?

  2. 70,000 words is pretty amazing given that the majority of people don’t even click on TOS to open them.

    A lot of people are attracted to the idea of becoming a lawyer. There is actually a really high percentage of them who spend a huge chunk of their working life laboring over these this type of thing.

    Jonny’s comment is interesting, I will take that into account next time I change mine.

  3. I never ever ever EVER read EULAs or anything like that. I believe, perhaps foolishly, that even if the terms are in agreed upon with a mouse click, nothing too ridiculous will stand up in court as we do have protections as consumers by the law. I also generally believe most of it is CYA for the companies so they don’t get sued when someone abuses their product.

    • Christopher Roberts

      Thanks for the comment Ross. I don’t think you are alone, but the fact of the matter is that once you tick agree you are entering a legally binding agreement. If you sign up for Instagram and agree to the terms and conditions, they can legally sell your pictures (for any amount of money) – without giving you a penny.

      If you say agree to terms that your bank can charge you £1 million per day your account is overdrawn, they can legally do it.

      I see your point about it just being for legal protection, and often they are, but be aware that you could be signing your life away!

      Thanks again for the comment, welcome to the blog. 🙂
      Christopher – Editor

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