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Mobile App Review: A Look At Terms & Conditions, Part 2
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Mobile App Review: A Look At Terms & Conditions, Part 2 - Executive Leadership Articles

Mobile App Review: A Look At Terms & Conditions, Part 2

Executive Leadership Articles

Mobile App Review: A Look At Terms & Conditions, Part 2

Our first examination of the terms and conditions we agree to when we launch a new mobile app was mostly philosophical: why do these things exist and (more importantly) why do we all refuse to read them? Understanding that we live in a litigious society, with all the pluses and minuses attached to it, we can accept (since we have no choice) that these agreements may be necessary, for the protections of both consumer and provider.

But are they necessarily complicated and long?

Not if you consider the three big reasons we have terms and conditions agreements in the first place. First, there are legal considerations. The provider is largely covering its bottom so it doesn’t get sued if for some reason the consumer is unhappy with the arrangement. “We’re telling you right now,” the provider says, “what you can expect from us, and if you click ‘agree,’ you can’t claim ignorance and make us liable later.”

The nature of the law in most places is such that every nook and cranny of reasonable variance needs to be accounted for. Like Greg Brady in that episode of The Brady Bunch, people look for cracks in the letter of the law, since the land is governed by it. It takes a lot of words to fill all those cracks, which is one reason user agreements are so long. You may do A, B, and C, but we will terminate this agreement if you do D, E, F, G, H, I J, K, L, and M.

This first function is so important that we’ve allowed it to get in the way of the more important, underlying function of the agreements. While the document legally covers all the bases, its sheer magnitude creates a document that doesn’t communicate effectively for either the sender (service provider) or receiver (consumer). And in this way, user agreements are an utter failure.

Usefulness Fail

The second and third functions of user agreements are to let the consumer know what he or she can expect from the provider (cookies, data, privacy) and to express what is expected of the consumer (behavioral guidelines, illegal activity, and intellectual property). This is the good stuff, the stuff that’s really the digital handshake of clicking the AGREE button. A lot of what we agree to can reasonably be assumed, but every so often we’re confronted with a story of someone being taken advantage of in an unfortunate way because some use by the provider is covered under the terms of the agreement. Alternately, social media streams explode in panic when consumers misinterpret a change in the agreement by the provider.

Yet it doesn’t have to be this way. If the legalese of the agreement must exist, why must the agreement exist only in this format, especially if nobody reads it anyway? Why shouldn’t providers present an agreement that communicates to the consumer everything it must, with a disclaimer like, “The full, legal definitions and explanations of this agreement can be found HERE, and your agreeing to these simplified terms implies agreement to the full legal terms?”

It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way

As long as providers can be counted on not to misrepresent the longer agreement in the shorter agreement, it shouldn’t be a problem. And if it is a problem, perhaps a non-profit, third-party verifier can give the okay on the simplified terms. “We affirm that the simplified terms are represented accurately by the full terms,” it might say with a little seal of approval.

A generic simplified agreement might look like this:

1. Our name, logos, and code are our property and you can’t use them without our permission. Reach out to us if there’s any doubt about something you want to do with them.

2. We might sell your data to third parties, but it will be stripped of personal information so that no single piece of data can be connected to one single user. It might look something like “52% of our female users use our app twice per day.”

3. We might use your content, but within the framework of the app itself. For example, we might bump your awesome content to our front page, or share it in other social media so people can see how much fun we’re all having. You can opt out of this use in your personal settings.

4. Don’t upload any content you don’t own. Don’t use language that makes others uncomfortable. Don’t threaten anyone. We’re going to be the arbiters of decent behavior and if you don’t like our decisions, please stop using our app.

Even this is longer than it needs to be, but it’s not a bad starting point. In fact, a graduate student in design created a user-friendly version of the iTunes user agreement as part of his master’s thesis. Gregg Bernstein created an easy-to-read, easy-to-comprehend slideshow-style agreement that boils everything down to a few simple ideas. The legal stuff is still there, beneath the user-friendly stuff, but lawyers need details. Consumers just need gists.

Reference links:
Gregg Bernstein’s thesis (sample): http://gregg.io/mfa/


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Mobile App Review: A Look At Terms & Conditions, Part 2 - Executive Leadership Articles

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