Empirical proof that Terms of Service are "the biggest lie on the Internet"

In The Biggest Lie on the Internet: Ignoring the Privacy Policies and Terms of Service Policies of Social Networking Services, a working paper by a pair of university communications professors, students were asked to try out a new social networking site as beta-testers; in reality they were being evaluated to see whether they reviewed the site's terms of service and privacy policy in any detail.

They didn't.

The terms of service and privacy stated that the new service would provide their personal information to the NSA, and required the students to surrender their first-born children to the service's owners.

Of the 543 students in the experiment, 399 didn't read the terms at all; of the 26% who read the terms and privacy policy, the average reading times were 51s and 73s. A close read of these documents should take around 45 minutes.

The study's authors call privacy policies and terms of service "the biggest lie on the Internet" because they are based on the idea that the people who trade their privacy and rights in exchange for a service are making a bargain that they understand and agree to.

This paper addresses 'the biggest lie on the internet' with an empirical investigation of privacy policy (PP) and terms of service (TOS) policy reading behavior. An experimental survey (N=543) assessed the extent to which individuals ignore PP and TOS when joining a fictitious social networking site, NameDrop. Results reveal 74% skipped PP, selecting 'quick join.' For readers, average PP reading time was 73 seconds, and average TOS reading time was 51 seconds. Based on average adult reading speed (250-280 words per minute), PP should have taken 30 minutes to read, TOS 16 minutes. A regression analysis revealed information overload as a significant negative predictor of reading TOS upon signup, when TOS changes, and when PP changes. Qualitative findings further suggest that participants view policies as nuisance, ignoring them to pursue the ends of digital production, without being inhibited by the means. Implications were revealed as 98% missed NameDrop TOS 'gotcha clauses' about data sharing with the NSA and employers, and about providing a first-born child as payment for SNS access.

The Biggest Lie on the Internet: Ignoring the Privacy Policies and Terms of Service Policies of Social Networking Services

[Jonathan A. Obar and Anne Oeldorf-Hirsch/

TOS agreements require giving up first born—and users gladly consent
[David Kravets/Ars Technica]