February 21, 2024

Many of us see the Terms of Service on websites and tune out, scroll down to the bottom without even looking and click “accept” without a second thought.

But we might wonder what it is we are agreeing to. What information did we just allow this website to gather about us and our time spent browsing the site?

Not only do the Terms of Service on websites give users information about what it is gathering and doing with their user’s information, it also tells its users what it expects from them.

Kayla Saravia, junior biomedical sciences major, said she does not read the Terms and Agreements, Terms and Conditions, Terms of Service or any other name it might go by, but she thinks maybe she should, and so should others.

“Sometimes I feel like I should (read it) because, often websites now have ‘cookies’ that we have to accept,” Saravia said. “We don’t know what they can be monitoring, what kind of data they’re collecting, like what websites we’re on. So I think that also can play an effect on public media. So I think it’s important to read the terms and agreements.”

Jasmine Ooi, senior health science major, said she agrees with this.

“Whenever (the Terms of Service) pops up (on a website), I just click agree,” Ooi said. “I don’t really look at it, but I feel like we should look at it because we don’t know what we’re actually agreeing to. We’re just clicking into it, but there is so much we could be giving them access to by agreeing.”

Terms of Service can be used for good or for bad. One of the benefits to the Terms of Service documents on websites is providing a guideline for users on what is expected of them and what they can expect from the people running the website.

Terms of Services often have a code of conduct outlining their policies on harassment, misuse of the website, what constitutes inappropriate behavior on that site and their policies on the spread of misinformation, which are all important for a website to clearly lay out for its users.

Sara Pegarella, law school graduate and in-house writer at TermsFeed, a site that helps people making websites figure out how to make their Terms of Service agreements, explains the Terms of Service agreement from the website owner’s point of view, and why it is important that websites have them.

“A Terms and Conditions agreement acts as legal contracts between (the company) who has the website or mobile app, and the user who accesses your website/app,” Pegarella said on the website. 

“Having a Terms and Conditions agreement is completely optional. No laws require you to have one. While some clauses are standard and commonly seen in pretty much every Terms and Conditions agreement, it’s up to (the person running the website) to set the rules and guidelines that the user must agree to.”

However, Terms of Service are presented to the company’s userbase as long documents, which can take a long time to read through, and they are laced with technical and legal jargon that most users will not understand, discouraging users from reading it thoroughly.

Another downside is that they are often presented immediately, popping up as soon as someone opens the page and blocking what the person is really there to see, so they do not have the patience to read through this long, difficult-to-read document when they could be watching that video or reading that post that they are on that website to see.

Saravia said she would like if websites made their Terms of Service more user-friendly and accessible to all users and make them less time-consuming and difficult to read.

“If they made it easier to read, I think a lot of us would probably read it,” Saravia said. “They say many of us have an attention span of five minutes, and reading that is definitely more than five minutes. And then plus not everybody is as vocabulary savvy (as what they use). So I think, not ‘dumbing it down,’ but (they should present it) in a way everyone can understand.”

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