Most adults are incapable of understanding most online terms of service

A new paper by a business professor and a contract law professor evaluated the terms and conditions of 500 leading websites and found that the 99% of them required at least 14 years of education to truly comprehend, far more than the majority of US adults have attained.

US courts have held that clickthrough contracts are enforceable whether or not they have been read before clicking "I Agree," but the authors propose that courts should consider whether these contracts could be read and understood in evaluating whether they are enforceable.

The paper uses standard measures of readability to evaluate clickthroughs, like the Flesch-Kincaid and Flesch Reading Ease scales, and found that almost none of the agreements we are made to click through to use the internet are within the generally accepted range for contractual documents that are presented to the general public. Instead, the authors compared the contracts' readability to scientific or academic journal articles.

The authors also call into question "plain language" summaries of clickthrough agreements, raising the question of which version of a text is enforceable: the version that was intended to be read and parsed by everyday users, or the fine-print it allegedly summarized?

The use of deceptive and overreaching fine-print is a hallmark of grifters, and the online world is a world of grifter capitalism, where actions that are plainly unfair and immoral somehow attain the protection of the law, while any steps you take to avoid these abuses are somehow illegal.

Many scholars have suggested that consumer contracts are indeed written in a way that dissuades consumers from reading them. This Article aims to empirically test whether this concern is justified. The Article focuses on the readability of an important and prevalent type of consumer agreement: the sign-in-wrap contract. Such contracts, which have already been the focal point of many legal battles, are routinely accepted by consumers when signing up for popular websites such as Facebook, Amazon, Uber, and Airbnb.

The Article applies well-established linguistic readability tests to the 500 most popular websites in the U.S. that use sign-in-wrap agreements. The results of this Article indicate, inter alia, that the average readability level of these agreements is comparable to the usual score of articles in academic journals, which typically do not target the general public. These disturbing empirical findings hence have significant implications on the design of consumer contract law.

The Duty to Read the Unreadable [Uri Benoliel and Shmuel I. Becher/SSRN]

Most Online ‘Terms of Service’ Are Incomprehensible to Adults, Study Finds [Dustin Patar/Motherboard]

(via /.)