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Photograph by AFP — Getty Images
By David Z. Morris
January 8, 2017

A new report, put together by the Growing Up Digital Taskforce of the UK’s Children’s Commissioner, has given young users a condensed, clarified version of the user agreement of Instagram, which is used by many children and teenagers worldwide. Many of the kids didn’t like what they saw.

Researchers first let a (clearly small and unscientific) panel of teens and tweens take a crack at the terms as provided by Instagram. They were entirely unable to parse the dense and extensive document.

“There are, like, 100 pages,” said 13-year-old Amy. Though the Terms are actually 17 pages and 5,000 words long, they use, in the report’s words, “language and sentence structure only a postgraduate could be expected to understand.”

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That disconnect is disturbing, since many of Instagram’s users are very young. In the U.K., according to data cited in the new report, 56% of 12-15 year olds and 43% of 8-11 year olds use the app.

For the next step of the exercise, the law firm Schillings was asked to make the legalese more comprehensible. They were able to shrink those 5,000 words down to one page worth of bullet points. Some excerpts of the translated document:

“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).”

“We can change or end Instagram, or stop you accessing Instagram at any time, for any reason and without letting you know in advance. We can also delete posts and other content randomly, without telling you, for any reason.”

After reading the simplified Terms, the respondents were not amused.

“It made me realise just how much of my personal data I am giving to a random company without realizing,” said 16 year old Ben.

13 year old Alex decided that he would delete the app, “because it’s weird.”

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Amy saw the bigger picture: “If they made it more easy [to read the EULA] then people would actually read it and think twice about the app. They write it like this so you can’t understand it.”

Groups including the Electronic Frontier Foundation have been making precisely that case for years, pointing out as early as 2005 that EULAs force users to give up not just control of their data, but many other legal rights.

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