Washington Post: Instagram's Terms of Use in Language You Can Actually Understand

Posted January 09, 2017
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A lawyer has rewritten the Instagram terms of use into to plain English so that kids (and the rest of us) can understand privacy rights on the web.

Most of us are guilty of only reading a few words in those terms of use for social media networks like Instagram. Even if we did try to read it all, it would take a lot of time and we may only understand about 50% of it.  As more and more of our time is spent on social media, it is important that we understand what we are signing away, and signing up for, when we register an account.

of The Washington Post reports:

It’s no secret that teenagers love social media.

Members of “Generation Z” can spend up to nine hours a day sharing photos on Instagram, consuming “content” on YouTube and talking to friends on Snapchat. (Just don’t ask them to get excited about Facebook.)

But how much do these teens understand what they’ve agreed to give up when they start an account with those sites?

Probably very little, according to a report released last week — and dense terms and conditions that are “impenetrable and largely ignored” are partly to blame.

“‘Terms and conditions’ is one of the first things you agree to when you come upon a site,” Jenny Afia, a privacy lawyer and partner at Schillings law firm in London, told The Washington Post. “But of course no one reads them. I mean, most adults don’t read them.”

Afia was a member of a “Growing Up Digital” task force group convened by the Children’s Commissioner for England to study Internet use among teens and the concerns children might face as they grow up in the digital age.

The group found more than a third of Internet users are younger than 18, with 12- to 15-year-olds spending more than 20 hours a week online.

Most of those children have no idea what their privacy rights are, despite all of them agreeing to terms and conditions before starting their social media accounts, Afia said. The task force, which included experts from the public and private sector, worked for a year and released its report Wednesday.

“The situation is serious,” Afia said in the report. “Young people are unwittingly giving away personal information, with no real understanding of who is holding that information, where they are holding it and what they are going to do with it.”

One reason for this became apparent when the task force asked a group of teenagers to read and interpret Instagram’s terms and conditions. Many of them balked at the exercise: Instagram’s terms of use in total run at least seven printed pages, with more than 5,000 words, mostly written in legalese.

“Boring!” one 13-year-old girl declared during the exercise. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

After 20 minutes, the same teen questioned why she should continue reading.

“Are you sure this is necessary?” she said. “There are, like, 100 pages.”

Afterward, the teenagers said they understood very little about privacy rights on Instagram, despite getting through the terms and conditions.

“I don’t know due to the sheer amount of writing and the lack of clarity within the document,” a 15-year-old said, according to the report.

The group ran Instagram’s terms and conditions through a readability study and found that it registered at a postgraduate reading level, Afia said.

She was tasked with rewriting the company’s terms and conditions “in plain English.” It took her several hours, she said.

“It was doable,” Afia said. “But it was quite taxing and definitely time-consuming.”

The simplified terms of service fit on a single page. The following paragraph is taken from Instagram’s terms of use:

You are responsible for any activity that occurs through your account and you agree you will not sell, transfer, license or assign your account, followers, username, or any account rights. With the exception of people or businesses that are expressly authorized to create accounts on behalf of their employers or clients, Instagram prohibits the creation of and you agree that you will not create an account for anyone other than yourself. You also represent that all information you provide or provided to Instagram upon registration and at all other times will be true, accurate, current and complete and you agree to update your information as necessary to maintain its truth and accuracy.

After Afia rewrote it for teenagers to be able to understand, it became, simply: “Don’t use anybody else’s account without their permission or try to find out their login details.”

Read the full article.


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