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What Facebook and Apple Need to Realize About Their ‘Terms of Service’ Agreements

July 13, 2016, 9:02 PM UTC
The Facebook terms of use are displayed on a computer monito
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 18: The Facebook terms of use are displayed on a computer monitor in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2009. Facebook Inc., owner of the world's largest social-networking site, backed down from revisions made to its online service following complaints that the changes may hurt users' privacy. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Bloomberg Bloomberg via Getty Images

We all know nobody ever reads those annoying privacy policy and “Terms of Service” agreements that pop up every few weeks or so when users log into their iTunes or Amazon accounts, and a new study confirms just that.

University researchers recently released the results from their “Biggest Lie on the Internet” survey, which found that 74% of participants completely skip privacy policy screens when they’re on a website. 98% of those surveyed skipped “gotcha” clauses in Terms of Service agreements, indicating most people sign the legally binding contracts without knowing what they say.

“Companies and government need to realize far more needs to be done to make consent processes effective,” says Assistant Professor Jonathan Obar of Toronto’s York University, who authored the study. “The notice strategy right now is kind of a waste of time in the sense it’s not producing results. It’s a wonderful place to start, but a terrible place to finish.”


Obar points to recent high profile web privacy suits like a recent Supreme Court case against Spokeo to illustrate his point.

On May 16, the highest court in the land sided with Spokeo who was sued by a Virginia man for disseminating his personal information, arguing the man failed to prove he was harmed in any meaningful way.

On June 27, a federal court ruled against a group of parents suing Google (GOOG) and Viacom (VIAB) for planting software cookies on their kids’ computers, after a visit to Viacom’s Nickelodeon website, to help create targeted ads.

Data collection and dissemination practices like these are commonly covered in web privacy and Terms of Use agreements that consumers almost never read, Obar says.

“The companies and the government have to create new strategies for delivering terms of service to make sure people not only know what’s going on, but have control,” he adds.