Get More TLC: #19: Lurking in the small print

Have you ever signed up for a holiday activity to find you’ve taken on responsibility you never expected? Or lied when ticking that you have read the terms and conditions for a wifi? Or failed to read the terms for the social media platforms or websites you use? You’d be surprised at what is lurking in the small print…

A blue sign in a restaurant with a white image of a plate and cutlery. On top of the plate image are the words free wifi inside. There is a beachside restaurant in the background. By Bernard Hermant via Unsplash

Totally Lame Clauses

Contractual terms for hiring a mountain cart saying that the hirer confirms they have been given a properly maintained mountain cart. By Sarah Fox.

I first came across lame clauses in 1995 when I read the back of a bungee jump ‘certificate’ and realised participants had effectively signed their lives away! Similarly my sons signed up for an unexpected engineering task when they agreed to the safety rules for the mountain carts in Grindelwald. The Safety Rules (T&C) stated that the hirer confirms they have been given a properly maintained mountain cart.

Wow! That’s a totally lame clause designed not to change behaviours ie get users to check the machinery, but simply to deflect blame in the event of an accident. Only the owner can tell if the carts have been properly maintained.

So what about the privacy notices for the websites you visit annually – how long would it take you to read those? As it’s one of the openers to my masterclasses I won’t reveal the answer, but the cost to the US economy was estimated at $781bn in 2008. Perhaps GPDR has made a difference to that figure… but if so, it is in the wrong direction! There are very few privacy notices which are easy to read and understand (Juro being the exception).

What about other terms for using websites such as social media? In 2018 I reduced Twitter’s UK terms of service to just 97 words, down from roughly 5630 (with a reading time of nearly 25 minutes). My process was to take each clause and find the core of its intent, then represent that in as few words as possible. This process highlighted some really lame clauses:

  • You can contract with us – capacity is a matter of law, not one that the parties can agree on!
  • You will share at your own risk – allowing Twitter to absolve itself from hate, discrimination and online bullying
  • You allow us to exploit your content without paying you – I’m not an IP expert but copyright laws will have something to say about this
  • We can change the rules when we like – if the rules mean anything and if Twitter wants to them to change behaviours, then users must be notified of changes

Which of your contract clauses are totally lame?