Never Read The Legal Fine Print? Here’s How Those Terms And Conditions Can Hurt You

Sep 18, 2019, 8:40 PM | Updated: 10:35 pm

SOUTH JORDAN, Utah – Whether they’re called Terms and Conditions, Terms of Service, Privacy Policy or a User Agreement, many of us simply scroll past that legal fine print so we can launch a new app, log into social media, even set up a new smart TV or dozens of other things. But, if consumers are not careful, there could be something buried in all that long-winded legalese that could be costly in a number of ways.

Of the 2,000 consumers recently surveyed by Deloitte, 91% said they agree to legal terms and conditions without reading them. That got the KSL Investigators wondering if anyone gives these agreements anything more than just a quick glance over.

To find out, we set up shop at Daybreak’s Oquirrh Lake Park during the popular food truck night. We had no trouble finding people willing to go on camera – all they had to do was to agree to our Terms and Conditions.

For our terms, we altered KSLTV.com’s Terms of Use Agreement to include, well, some unusual conditions, ranging from intrusive and life-altering to downright absurd. We buried all of these claims into the legal jargon to see if anyone agreeing to go on camera would catch it.

Some of our terms included posting their name, address, birthdate, Social Security number, bank account numbers and DNA profiles on our website. On the life-altering side, they agreed to name their first-born child either Nadine, Dave or Mike. Or, if they already have a first-born, they agreed to change his or her name to Ashley.

On the absurd side, we included terms like regularly washing and detailing a station vehicle, singing or humming the theme to a show that appeared on NBC, dancing either the Chicken Dance, YMCA or the Macarena or bringing enough donuts to feed our entire newsroom on June 5, 2020 – National Donut Day.

In all, seven people accepted our Terms of Conditions without discovering our modified terms. Each person scrolled past our legalese within seconds to click the “Accept” button. Certainly, we did not enforce any of our unusual terms, but we were entertained by some top-notch dancing and singing.

But the point of this demonstration was serious. If consumers don’t read these legal terms, they don’t know what obligations they’re agreeing to fulfill.

“Well, there could be a term or condition that’s economically damaging to you,” said University of Utah law professor Leslie Francis.

Francis, co-author of “Privacy: What Everyone Needs to Know,” said even she does not read through every term and condition before using a new app or device.

“They’re legally complicated,” she said. “If you think about how much time it takes to read terms and conditions versus what the risks are of not reading them multiplied by every time you might have to do this, it may be more time than it is worth. Unless, of course, there’s something really nasty buried in there.”

Francis said agreements often mean arbitration. So, if a dispute erupts between you and the company, you cannot file a claim or join a class-action suit. But, agreements also spell out how you are giving up personal info.

“You should read the Terms and Conditions if there are reasons why you might be worried about who has access to your data or how your data are used,” Francis said. “You might have ethical reasons about not wanting your data to be used for certain kinds of purpose.”

We looked up the legalese for several major companies that millions of Americans have consented to.

Google, in its Terms of Service, said it reads your emails so it can tailor products and advertising to you. Amazon’s Privacy Notice said it uses cookies to track you on other websites. Facebook’s Terms of Service said you give the social media giant permission to use your name, information and profile pic in ads shown to other users. And, Apple’s Privacy Policy said its devices can share your real-time location.

All these are terms tucked away in the legalese users often blow past to start using a new app, website or gadget among many other items. And, saying you were not aware of the legal conditions because “no one reads those,” will get you nowhere with the company or a court of law.

“There’s an offer. There’s an acceptance. There’s a benefit to both sides. It’s an enforceable contract,” Francis said. “You made a deal. ‘We’re sorry it’s a bad deal, but you know, hard on you.’”

If you don’t agree to a company’s legal terms, the only other option you have is to simply not use that new app, website or gadget.

But, if you still have not been persuaded to read all those legal terms scattered across dozens of pages before using something, Francis has a suggestion.

Pull up the agreement on your web browser and try using the search tool to go straight to what concerns you. (CTRL + F / COMMAND + F) If you’re concerned about what happens to your personal information, search for “data” or “sharing” or “third-party”. Worried about your photos and videos you post to a social media site?

Search its privacy policy for “content.” Concerned about your rights in court? Search for “arbitration” and so on. Whether your read an entire agreement or skip to the parts you are most concerned about, if you let the legalese catch you by surprise you might wind up with a contractual obligation you don’t want, like washing a KSL station vehicle or dancing on the 10 o’clock news.

Google Terms of Service

“Our automated systems analyze your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customized search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection. This analysis occurs as the content is sent, received, and when it is stored.”

 Amazon Privacy Notice

“like many Web sites, we use “cookies,” and we obtain certain types of information when your Web browser accesses Amazon.com or advertisements and other content served by or on behalf of Amazon.com on other Web sites.”

 Facebook Terms of Service

You give us permission to use your name and profile picture and information about actions you have taken on Facebook next to or in connection with ads, offers, and other sponsored content that we display across our Products, without any compensation to you.”

 Apple Privacy Policy

“Apple and our partners and licensees, such as maps data providers, may collect, use, and share precise location data, including the real-time geographic location of your Apple computer or device.”

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Never Read The Legal Fine Print? Here’s How Those Terms And Conditions Can Hurt You