Are T&Cs the biggest lie on the internet?

In 2016 two US scientists published a curious paper entitled 'The biggest lie on the internet'. This was based on an experiment in which they created a fictitious social media platform and encouraged 543 students to sign up for accounts. All they had to do was agree to the terms and conditions.

Among those terms were clauses such as 'the total and unconditional passing on of all personal information to the NSA', as well as users handing over their first-born child to the company. Almost all of the students (98%) agreed without even reading them. Perhaps worse, the rest merely gave them a quick scan and agreed anyway!

Whether anybody actually reads online terms and agreements has long been in doubt, and so it came as little surprise that people clicked so readily with little or no understanding of what they were signing up to. But the experiment does help raise an interesting point; what are the responsibilities of organisations towards consumers when drafting such agreements? And to what extent are the terms laid out within enforceable in any case?

Terms of service on a site, product or service are mostly entered in to as an unspoken 'gentleman's agreement'. When they click 'yes' most people assume they are agreeing to a standard set of legal terms and that if there is anything to be aware of beyond such generalities, that their attention will be specifically drawn to it.

Legally however, many things can be included in an agreement and are legally enforceable. There are a few notable exceptions such as the unilateral amendment provision (retaining the right to change terms of the agreement at any time, without notification), but in many instances it's a case of 'buyer beware'. By 'signing blind' you may have unwittingly agreed to have your data shared with third parties which, if the agreement is structured correctly, will more than likely be in compliance with GDPR.

Regardless of compliance however, most companies act in good faith with their customers and have no desire to upset them by trapping them into onerous agreements. We all routinely sign over our data without even realising it, but do the majority of companies we're dealing with use this data for anything more than follow ups and general marketing activity? There is perhaps a bit of a misconception that businesses are routinely squirreling away our data for nefarious purposes but given recent data misuse scandals it is hardly surprising people are concerned.

For this reason, we developed our model so that companies can still collect data, but then anonymise it. This allows businesses to develop data sets that don't contain any sensitive information and do all the commercially useful things they did before, but still act in good faith.

As we've said on this blog before, data is the new fur. Those businesses that understand their ethical and moral obligations to their customers equally understand one of the oldest marketing truths; brand trust is a truly priceless commodity.

Photo credits Robin Worrall from Unsplash

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