Thursday 13 July 2017

Over 22,000 public wifi users sign up to degrading tasks

Over 22,000 public wifi users sign up to degrading tasks Mark Michaels, CC licence https://www.flickr.com/photos/mmichaelis/9243504700

We have all seen funny quips in T&Cs, either of the "If you have got this far, you're obviously bored" or the "You consent to have your soul owned by Satan"  variety. Public wifi provider Purple has taken it one step further; it buried degrading tasks in its terms, which over 22,000 people subsequently agreed to.

 

The addition was subtle, but not hidden deeply enough that it couldn't be noticed. Purple added a "Community service clause", which gave the company the moral right to initiate 1000 hours of community service on the customer. The services were specifically listed as:

  • Cleaning dogshit in local parks
  • Hugging stray animals
  • Relieving sewer blockages
  • Cleaning portable toilets at festivals
  • Painting snail shells "to brighten up their existence"
  • Scraping chewing gum off the streets

Only one customer contacted the company to ask them about the ruse within the two weeks of the test.

Purple's point is to make customers aware of the T&Cs when signing up to free wifi, as well as a nudge to other providers (and, indeed, any company) to make their T&Cs easy to read. The Plain English Campaign is well aware of the problem, and has been asking companies to consider the audience to be a 13-year-old signing up. This strike for brevity is not dissimilar to how tabloid journalists file their copy: the output is sharper and crisper when one considers such an audience. We're not quite there yet, obvs. (You misspelled "obviously". - Ed)

This is perhaps the most fundamental point. T&Cs are written and checked by lawyers and/or legal counsel. A company's communications team then totally ignores the T&Cs and waves them through for publication. Maybe if more T&Cs were co-written by people who understand law and people who understand how to write for a given audience, we wouldn't be tied up in 50+ pages of legalese every time we sign up for something which, prima facie, looks so innocent.

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