What to Know

  • Attorneys who write these agreements are serving their high-tech clients, not the public.

  • If you don’t read the agreement, you don’t know what you are agreeing to.

  • The main defense you have is to click “disagree.” But then that locks you out of using whatever you were seeking to begin with.

Every app or piece of software comes with one: a long list of conditions, the company’s terms of service.

The iTunes agreement has more words than Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

The rules for the NBC10 Boston website are as long as the Gospel According to Mark.

The NBC10 Boston Investigators wanted to see who actually reads all that dense legal jargon, and who just clicks “agree.”

We set up in Boston’s Copley Square, offering people the chance to be on TV, but only after they agreed to our terms, which we modified from the standard NBC terms.

One after another, people jumped at the opportunity to be on camera, but just scrolled through miles of conditions before accepting our terms.

After they clicked “accept,” we showed them just what they had agreed to.

They “accepted” such terms as, “You agree to do five jumping jacks,” and, “You agree to sing a song of our choice on camera,” and, “You will provide us with your complete Social Security Number and date of birth, for publication on the NBC10 Boston website.”

And one after another, people said they did not read any of it.

We didn’t post the Social Security numbers on our website, but we did enjoy performances of the Chicken Dance. One man belted out a rendition of “My Way,” best known as crooned by Frank Sinatra.

It was a lighthearted way of making a serious point: If you don’t read the agreement, you don’t know what you are agreeing to.

“We all do it,” attorney and Massachusetts School of Law Dean Michael Coyne admitted.

But, he said, the attorneys who write those agreements are serving their high-tech clients, not the public.

“The court’s job is that much easier,” he said. “Often times they will enforce it and people are going to be left out in the cold.”

And telling the court, “But nobody reads them,” is no argument.

“Everyone worries about the government coming knocking on our door, but we go knock at these providers’ doors and we readily admit them to a pretty private sanctuary where they have access to all of our information simply because we too willingly clicked ‘I accept’ instead of really looking in to see what data we are giving them access to,” Coyne said.

If you want to understand what you’re agreeing to, the website Terms of Service; Didn’t Read has a “terms of service tracker” that breaks down the most important parts of the agreements and alerts you when terms have changed.

The company called the “I have read and agree to the terms” line at the end of these agreements, the biggest lie on the web.

Although NBC10 Boston let everyone go back and click “disagree,” in the real world you don’t always get that option.

The main defense you have is to click “disagree.” But then that locks you out of using whatever you were seeking to begin with.

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