Friday off-topic – Smallprint

Friday off-topic posts are unrelated to the general theme of the earlyinitiative blog, ie not related to career development.  They are observations or comments; things I’ve overheard which have made me laugh, cry, wonder or even just imagine.  There is no intended theme or thread – I hope you enjoy them.


A couple of weeks ago I found myself registering as a user of an internet service – it’s been around for years and people rave about it so I finally decided to take the plunge and sign myself up. It’s free to use – a cross between an email service and a photo sharing website.

After entering all my personal details (name, email address, date of birth) and finally managing to agree on a username which wasn’t already taken whilst at the same time being remotely appropriate and memorable, I was almost ready to hit the “Submit” button. There remained only two hurdles – ticking the boxes to say:

  1. No, I don’t want any marketing blurb; I don’t want to be contacted periodically “to help improve our service”; no I don’t want my details to be passed to third parties who might be considered as “providers of services which you might consider beneficial”.
  2. Yes, I have read and understood all the Terms of Service.

At this point, it’s simple… Failure to tick the final box results in a screen full of red text advising me that we have reached an impasse – Tick to continue; No-tick to stop dead in your tracks. Like on so many occasions before, I scanned the copious tiny text, scrolling and scrolling. Nothing jumped from the page at me – why would it? It was all legal stuff. I don’t feel qualified to understand it. And whilst I understood every individual word, I didn’t really understand what it actually meant. I presumed it was all fair and reasonable. I ticked the box and thought nothing more of it.

Speaking to a friend who just happens to be a solicitor, I asked him what he does under those circumstances. After all he must have faced exactly the same issues, but solicitors always advise reading everything carefully and not signing without properly understanding everything. Somewhat predictably though, he said “oh I always just tick the box. There can’t possibly be anything there which isn’t fair or reasonable, otherwise you’d be completely justified in challenging it”.

This leads me to a question – what’s it really there for? And if it really must be there…

  • Does there need to be so much of it?
  • Can’t it be written in a more understandable manner?
  • Couldn’t it be so that it explains the implications of inadvertently infringing the terms? Perhaps in the form of FAQs?
  • Does anyone ever challenge those things?
  • Isn’t it strange that the other box (whether or not I want emails from third parties) doesn’t seem to have any terms and conditions applying to it. This seems rather one-sided.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing to find some examples of genuinely understandable, realistic and appropriate smallprint?


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