The following are the key findings from this research:
- People don’t understand that the Terms of Service is a contract. 55% of survey participants did not understand that a TOS/TOU is a contract (based on only 45% saying it is one). This has significant legal implications. In particular, a key requirement for legally binding contracts is mutual assent, which means that both parties have a “meeting of the minds”1 and understand they’re entering into a contract. Our research makes clear that is not the case in Terms of Service agreements.2
- People have a weak understanding of what the legal policies of digital technologies are or whom they protect. 66% of survey respondents say that privacy policies protect the business, while only 50% say they protect the consumer. The difference was starker for TOS/TOU, where 68% say they protect the business and only 35% say they protect the consumer. All interview participants say both documents are there largely to protect the digital technology company (the “B”) and to enforce “rules” around what a consumer can and cannot do with the technology.
- None of the interview participants were aware of the existence of tools they can use to evaluate legal policies. They were aware of review sites that evaluate digital products from a consumer perspective, and some of the participants understood what a browser plugin was, and said they use them to block cookies, for example. They were not aware, specifically, of tools that help them understand privacy policies or TOU/TOS documents.
- Half of the interview participants said that a score wouldn’t change their behavior. Even after we demonstrated rating tools such as TOS;DR and Privacy Badger, participants told us they did not expect to change their behavior, particularly if they were already using a particular digital service. Some said that seeing these ratings would potentially give them pause before using a new (to them) service.
As a result of this collection of research, the Me2B Alliance has decided not to pursue a formal legal policy audit service. Instead, we expect to evaluate and perhaps recommend existing services like Privacy Badger, TOS; DR, Mozilla’s “Privacy Not Included” program, and others. We hope, however, that the findings in this research can help illuminate and eventually eliminate the pervasive asymmetry in Me2B relationships and be a concrete resource to lawyers supporting Me-s in legal cases relating to digital agreements. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like access to the quantitative data.
- Mutual Assent. Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School. Web. https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/mutual_assent
- Note that the author of this report is not a lawyer. Additional legal research may be prudent.
- See “Flash Guide #2: What is the Me2B Respectful Tech Specification?” https://internetsafetylabs.org/flash-guide-2-what-is-the-me2b-respectful-tech-specification/
- See “Flash Guide #8: Digital Me2B Commitments and Deals”, https://internetsafetylabs.org/flash-guide-8-digital-me2b-commitments-deals/
- See “Flash Guide #9: The 10 Attributes of Respectful Me2B Commitments”, https://internetsafetylabs.org/flash-guide-9-the-10-attributes-of-respectful-me2b-commitments/
- IEEE P7012 – Machine Readable Privacy Terms Working Group. Web. https://sagroups.ieee.org/7012/
- Privacy Badger. https://www.privacybadger.org
- Terms Of Service; Didn’t Read. https://www.tosdr.org
- McDonald, Aleesia M. and Tom Lowenthal. 2013. “Nano-Notice: Privacy Disclosure at a Mobile Scale.” Journal of Information Policy, Vol. 3 (2013), pp. 331-354 Penn State University Press. https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/jinfopoli.3.2013.0331
- Cisco. (2019). Consumer Privacy Survey. Cisco Cybersecurity Series 2019—Data Privacy. https://www.cisco.com/c/dam/global/en_uk/products/collateral/security/cybersecurity-series-2019-cps.pdf
- Privacy and Security. Federal Trade Commission. Web. https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/privacy-and-security
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