Terms of ensnarement

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CONTRACTS: Lawyers get their clauses in.

SOME 22,000 people recently agreed to clean toilets for 1,000 hours after failing to read the fine-print on a phone app.

Quite a few diners agreed to give up their firstborn in return for using a restaurant’s free Wi-Fi. 

They were of course victims of pranks played by software designers, who perhaps need to get out more. 

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But there was method in their madness: making people aware of what they might be giving up by simply clicking ‘I agree’ to get past the Terms and Conditions of whatever juicy software or service being offered.

Hands up if you ever read that fine print? In the early days I used to, until it became the length of a Jackie Collins bonkbuster and twice as tedious.

Now developers can sneak virtually anything into the T&Cs and most of us wouldn’t know it. If you did you might be horrified.

When a shiny new app asks for access to our e-mail accounts, we click ‘Yes’ without hesitation. When it asks if it may raid our precious contacts lists, we agree. 

Give up whatever shred of online privacy we still have left? Certainly. May the app track how many times we visit Pornhub? Click ‘Yes’ and ‘If you liked pneumatic Morris Dancing, here are 28 other perversions you may enjoy.’

A Guardian journalist recently spent an entire week just reading 146,000 words of the T&Cs covering everything he wanted to do that week, and said it made him want to die. 

He had to read 21,000 words just to use his iPhone. Booting his laptop, opening Gmail and checking Twitter took another 35,000 words of his life.

And who knew when buying a Kindle book from Amazon, that it’s not actually yours, as thousands of people found out suddenly a decade ago when the company remotely deleted users’ copies of George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm from their devices without so much as a how’s yer father, because of a copyright dispute. 

The supreme irony was of course that it involved 1984, the dystopian novel where Big Brother controls everything.

But as long as there are lawyers there will always be fine print. Which we will rarely, if ever, read. 

Unless of course it’s something along these brief lines:

‘I don’t claim this software is good for anything. If you think it is, cool. If it doesn’t work, that’s too bad. If you don’t like this disclaimer, that’s too bad. I reserve the right to do the absolute minimum provided by law, up to and including absolutely nothing.’

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