The world is changing. Duh. If you feel like you’re having a tough time following all of the updates, revisions, and error corrections associated with your stuff, then congratulate yourself on being perceptive. Even for folks who strive to keep it simple, but not too simple, it may effectively be impossible to know exactly what has been agreed to if anything electronic is involved. Time is more precious than money. Terms and conditions are complicated enough that free services aren’t truly free. But what to do about it?
A common frustration when writing these posts is knowing I’ve seen the data I’d like to reference, but not being able to find it quickly enough. The data is out there, but it would take too much time to find. So, as I recall, the average length of time spent agreeing to a web site or product registration’s Terms and Conditions is less than five seconds. Terms and Conditions for social media sites can take more than an hour to read. Comprehension is necessarily longer, and also more difficult because comprehension requires the reader to understand the company’s lawyer(s).
I imagine most folks find themselves shunted off to the “I Agree” button and click away. If you’re not intending to do anything illegal, illicit, or even rude, then why not agree? Of course, if you are intending to do something illegal, illicit, or rude, then you may not care about the agreement. But, the lawyers are there to protect the company, so we’re steered to agreeing to things we may not truly understand.
Terms and Conditions are like the hot dogs of the Internet. People assume it’s meaty, but don’t ask questions about what’s inside.
Corporate Terms and Conditions can exceed the number of pages I see as part of real estate transactions. (Required disclosure: I am a real estate broker with Dalton Realty, Inc. on Whidbey Island.) A real estate transaction is frequently involving hundreds of thousands of dollars, and transferring the stewardship, rights, and responsibilities for a portion of the planet from one person to another person. For some reason, social media sites and electronic component manufacturers require our agreement to include more details than society requires of serious commitments to neighbors, the community, the municipality, and even the country. More effort goes into protecting corporations than goes into transferring the responsibility for a house and the land it sits on.
And then things change.
I can hit I Agree, and not be surprised if two days later they change the conditions of the agreement.
From Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back; Darth Vader: “
I am altering the deal. Pray I don’t alter it any further.” – IMDB.com
Ideally, every time a company changes its Terms and Conditions I should reread and re-agree, or decide to discontinue my association with that company. Every update and revision release adds additional costs, or requires the acceptance of additional and unknown risks.
Pragmatically, most people take the risk. It costs too much in time to do anything else. Or, it costs time in discontinuing the service and finding a replacement.
Corporations can also change the Terms and Conditions that we call Laws. Copyright laws were supposed to protect the person who created the work, but eventually transfer those rights to the public after a few decades. Lobbying has now changed those laws and conditions to allow corporations to hold art ransom far beyond the life of the artist. Instead of protecting the rights of an author for long enough for them to make a profit, those laws now embolden monopolies to the point that it is hard to imagine Micky Mouse ever becoming something people can use without being sued. Locked down content makes it easier for monopolies to put entire universes of movies and shows out of reach of the general public who at some level helped support those corporations with the infrastructure that is the government under which those corporations are chartered.
We can’t all be lawyers. Government could and may revise such laws and enforce anti-monopolistic actions, but that is such a radical notion that it would be a major news item and initiative, not the simple fact of the government doing its job.
It is easy to become cynical. It is easy to revert to extreme pragmatism. For me, it makes sense to use judgment, to assess the importance of the Terms and Conditions. A house transaction involves real world issues of housing, a biological necessity; and finances, a societal necessity. A web site or contract that will affect my business or a major element of my life, like health care deserves a review, too. As for social media and other information web sites, I pay attention to reports and reviews from others, and research more if my values, or expectations are significantly challenged. Life is about balance. Ideally every one of us would know everything about everything, and the lawyers can say we were told everything, but we don’t have infinite resources, and we certainly don’t have infinite lifespans. A life spent reading fine print is bad for more than the eyes because it is a life spent not living.
There are many web sites I no longer visit. There’s more than enough information on the internet that I don’t have to have it all. I have a life to live and while some things are necessary, not everything needs to be treated the same way. Will government restrain corporations from imposing impossible Terms and Conditions, or dismantle monopolies, or return to the idea that knowledge and creativity must find a balance between protecting an artist while also enriching the society? I don’t know. But, I find it interesting noticing how many times I’m expected to agree to things, and those thing’s updates and revisions, far out of proportion to their usefulness or common benefit.
As in so many endeavors: Keep it simple, but not too simple. Use judgment. Be willing to do without. And the most powerful tool any of us have is the ability to say No. Hmm. Maybe those are my Terms and Conditions.
Now, about the recent revisions to this blog platform’s software…Grrr…