“We have become so beaten down by this that we just accept it,” said Woodrow Hartzog, a Northeastern University law professor. “The idea that anyone should be expected to read these terms of service is preposterous — they are written to discourage people from reading them.” Contracts are, in theory, meant to be mutually agreeable. How can they be if they’re designed so consumers cannot understand them?There are signs of waning tolerance to all this. Early this month, a Massachusetts court found that Uber failed to make its terms clear because it had hidden them in a hyperlink on the third page for new customer registrations, with no click-to-agree requirement. Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, has proposed legislation aimed at improving transparency around privacy policies that govern how consumer data is used. In 2016, Congress made it illegal to include clauses that prohibit consumers from posting negative reviews.
But the burden remains far too great for average consumers. Because courts have largely sided with the tech industry on terms of service rules, Congress needs to act.
Lawmakers should consider instituting rules that require greater transparency around changes to companies’ terms of service and clearer means by which customers agree to them. Burying them in novella-length documents is neither honest nor forthright.