Monday, 12 July 2021 09:57

Reset Australia: Terms and Conditions too technical for children to understand


Not-for-profit charity Reset Australia reports that Terms and Conditions of popular apps such as TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat are too difficult for children to read and would require a university degree to understand it. The report gave one platform 2.5 out of 5 stars, and gave two apps a score of zero in terms of readability.

Apps popular among kids such as TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat have such technical terms of use that users need to have a university degree to understand the agreement, a new report by Reset Australia has found.

The report, Did we really consent to this? Terms & Conditions and young people’s data, ranks readability and how Terms and Conditions could be easily understood by children on video streaming, online gaming, messaging, and social media services.

Analysing language, design, and dark patterns, which nudge people towards specific decisions, Reset Australia scored each platform x of 5 stars. The highest score was 2.5 stars out of 5, for Epic Games, with two platforms, TikTok and Spotify, scoring zero.

Reset Australia children’s data policy director Rys Farthing lamented the report’s findings, saying: “It’s nearly impossible for kids to opt out of data collection. Complex and opaque Terms and Conditions mean young people have even less opportunity to meaningfully consent to how their data is collected and used."

Farthing notes how easy the apps are used for young people, but when it comes to “disclosing how data will be collected and stored, it suddenly becomes a jargon and legal quagmire.”

Farthing adds that “‘Dark patterns’ are nudging kids to agree to terms and conditions, without making any effort to explain them coherently."

Reset Australia, which advocates against digital harm, discovered that the Ts and Cs of nine of the 10 surveyed apps required a tertiary level reading age, and on average, it would take one hour and 46 minutes to read.

So, what is the gravity posed by this tedious reading length? Farthing says that TikTok’s terms and conditions run the length of two novels or about six hours of reading at a university level.

“If all two billion people who use TikTok read the full terms and conditions, it would take 1.24 million years of effort.”

Working with YouGov, a British international market research and data analytics firm, Reset Australia polled 16 and 17-year-olds and found that a mere 7% of young people are confident they understood the terms and conditions they have ‘accepted,’ and only 4% read them all the time.

"Surveyed young people told us they do not understand what they are signing up for, and want to see better recognition of their data rights," Farthing says.

Western Sydney University law professor and Australian Council on Children and the Media president Elizabeth Handsley was not surprised upon reading the report, which she describes as a “self-regulation failing children.” She says the apps must be accountable and compel the industry to act in accordance with public interest.

"It's not too hard to simplify terms and conditions, and we should not accept overly complex ones as the price we pay for free platforms and services,” she says. "We can create an internet where the rights, needs, and interests of children are properly recognised and attended to.

Reset Australia is calling for a data code for children and young people under 18 years old, so their data is only collected and processed in ways that are in their best interests.

"Social media and digital services often do not respect children’s privacy or rights. We should not leave it up to tech companies to decide what they can and cannot do—we need some ground rules so they are compelled to prioritise children’s rights,” Farthing stresses.

Farthing concludes: “Australia needs a regulatory code governing how children and young people’s data is collected and used. Other countries have already implemented or proposed similar codes, including the UK’s Age Appropriate Design Code, and Ireland’s Fundamentals for a Child-Oriented Approach to Data Processing.”

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