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This Stunt Will Show How Absurd Terms of Service Are

May 23, 2016, 1:04 PM UTC
Inside An Orange SA Mobile Phone Store
Photograph by Balint Porneczi — Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Norwegian consumer authority has been making waves recently by targeting Runkeeper and Tinder over their privacy deficiencies, and now it hopes to highlight one of the tech world’s biggest failures with a deliberately mind-numbing stunt.

On Tuesday, the watchdog will begin hosting a live-streamed reading of the terms of service and privacy policies for all the apps found on an average mobile phone in Norway—33 in total. It says the reading will probably last over 24 hours, as the combined texts are longer than the New Testament.

The point of all this is to show how crazy it is for anyone to expect people to really read the terms of service and privacy policies for which they must click “I agree” in order to use the app.

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“The current state of terms and conditions for digital services is bordering on the absurd. Their scope, length and complexity mean it is virtually impossible to make good and informed decisions,” said Finn Myrstad, the Norwegian Consumer Council’s digital policy director.

“When we also know that apps often take away our rights by granting themselves the power to unilaterally amend the contract and licensing themselves to track, store and sell on user content, it is self-evident that consumers are put at a disadvantage.”

Terms of service and privacy policies are, of course, written by lawyers to make sure their companies are covered as they go about doing what they do. Their legibility for regular people is in many cases an afterthought.

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According to the Norwegian watchdog, those writing the documents should avoid legal terms where possible, keep things as concise as possible, structure the text to make it easy to read, and “avoid writing whole paragraphs using capital letters.”

Industry standards for comprehensible terms and policies would also be very helpful, it added.

A campaign called “Terms of Service; Didn’t Read” or “TOS;DR” is tackling much the same issue, while illustrator Robert Sikoryak last year released a graphic-novel rendition of Apple’s (AAPL) iTunes terms and conditions.