Tech

4 in 5 Voters Back Law That Would Make Online Terms of Service Agreements Easier to Understand

Legislation forcing online companies to make terms more “accessible” and “transparent” has majority backing from Democrats, Republicans

A bipartisan, bicameral bill that would require websites to summarize their terms of service for consumers is supported by more than 80 percent of voters, including strong majorities across parties, a new Morning Consult/Politico poll found. (Unsplash)

A bipartisan, bicameral bill that would require websites to summarize their terms of service for consumers is supported by more than 80 percent of voters, including strong majorities across parties, a new Morning Consult/Politico poll found.

What the numbers say

  • Eighty-six percent of Democrats, 83 percent of independents and 76 percent of Republicans said they supported legislation that would target complex terms of service agreements that websites and apps require of customers.
  • The “Terms-of-service Labeling, Design and Readability (TLDR) Act,” which Rep. Lori Trahan (D-Mass.) introduced this month alongside Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), would require online companies to make their terms of service contracts “more accessible, transparent and understandable for consumers.”
  • Just 13 percent of voters said they “almost always” read the terms of service provided by websites and apps in full, compared to 42 percent who said they “sometimes” read them. Thirty-three percent said they “rarely” read the terms of service, while 13 percent said they “never” read them.
  • The bill would require most online companies to include a summary table of their terms of service at the top and tag that summary with the corresponding sections in its full terms.

Why it matters

In a statement, Trahan said websites and apps sometimes design their terms of service to be “unnecessarily long and complicated,” meaning they have too much control over users’ personal data and are ripe for abuse.

The bill’s sponsors pointed to a 2008 study in I/S: A Journal of Law and Policy for the Information Society, which estimated that if every American internet user read every terms of service agreement for every website they visited, they would collectively spend about 54 billion hours a year reading the policies. And they cited a Deloitte study that found most people agree to those terms of service without reading them at all.

Sometimes buried in those terms of service are what lawmakers called “problematic policies” that users accept without realizing, including waiving their right to sue. Trahan said the Federal Trade Commission would be empowered under the bill to step up enforcement in those cases.

 

The Jan. 22-23, 2022, survey was conducted among a representative sample of 2,005 registered voters, with an unweighted margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.