Monday, January 24, 2022
As readers of this blog (and everyone else in the world) knows, nobody reads Terms of Service. Yet despite this, they stubbornly persist, and, like a certain virus, they continue to spread. So, when I heard that a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation last Thursday known cutely as the TLDR bill (as in “too long, didn’t read” but officially standing for the less cute “Terms of Service Labeling, Design and Readibility Act), I was both cheered and pessimistic. Reading the bill only confirmed my initial reaction.
The bill would require that websites display a “short form” summary statement to make their terms easier to understand, include a “graphic data flow diagram” and display the “full terms of service” in an “interactive data format.” The summary statement should be located at the top of the terms of service page and disclose the total word count and approximate time to read the statement. It should also include a summary of the “legal liabilities” of the user and “rights transferred from the user to the covered entity, such as mandatory arbitration, class action waiver, any licensing by the covered entity of the content of the user, and any waiver of moral rights.” They are also required to disclose what sensitive personal data they collect, and to disclose whether they have suffered recent data breaches. Websites are already required to disclose data breaches and disclose information in many states (such as California), but they don’t always do so in a way that is easy to read and understand.
The proposal arrives in the aftermath of the whistleblower, Frances Haugen’s, disclosures about the harms generated by Meta (formerly known as Facebook) and its various properties and the realization that the problems created by social media aren’t going to disappear on their own anytime soon – all of which have put lawmakers in a regulatory mood.
The bill has good intentions and is, like the J & J vaccine, better than nothing. But it’s not the 2-shot MRNA Pfizer or Moderna vaccine with booster that is needed to really make a difference given the reality of consumer contracting behavior.