Visualize our submission to the TOS

We have all been faced with the tedious task of reviewing the Terms of Service (TOS) for the various services and applications we use. In fact, checking the box « I have read and agree to the terms” becomes a largely formal, automatic and blind gesture. Users accept pages of legal jargon, without understanding (or being able to understand) the contractual obligations to which they commit themselves, nor being able to negotiate them (thus experiencing a « take it or leave it » situation). Most of us do not read through these legal frameworks, and prefer to accept them with latent suspicion, hasty indifference or naive trust. This state of affairs is now well known (see for example the 2017 study conducted by Deloitte: out of 2000 Americans, 91% accept the CGU without reading them).

One can see in this a  » manufacture of consent  » (to use the title by Noalm Chomsky and Edward S. Herman : Manufacturing Consent). Far from promoting free and informed consent (as committed by the European RGPD), we can see here the promotion of « assisted consent ».

How can such asymmetry between individuals (users) and companies of colossal dimensions be better understood and measured? Experts in data visualization and information design can help us, often with talent. Data visualization can indeed strike minds and make complex and abstract content sensitive.

This is what Dima Yarovinsky proposes, as part of a student project, initially realized in the infography course at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design (Israel), then presented at the Visualizing Knowledge conference at AALTO University (Finland).

Dima Yarovinsky’s work

DSC_3672Dima Yarovinsky first collected the terms of use of the main social networks we use daily (Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Tinder, etc.). He then printed them on standard A4 rolls, with a standard font size and font. He finally pinned the scrolls next to each other in an exhibition room, adding the number of words and the time needed to read each scroll.

Indeed, a person reads at an average rate of 200 words per minute, whereas a standard set of terms of use contains on average 12,000 words. It would, therefore, take about 60 minutes to read the conditions of use! A 2012 American study estimated that it would take each of us 76 working days to read all the terms and conditions of use encountered in a year.

Dima Yarovinsky has the talent to make visible the overwhelming character of legal terms, even if the length of texts varies greatly between services (Instagram imposes here the longest TOS, followed by Snapchat, Facebook, and Twitter; Whatsapp being the shortest).

Others take on the task of making the TOS explicit. This was, for example, the proposal made by Jenny Afia in 2017, a lawyer who rewrote Instagram’s privacy policy so that children and parents can have a meaningful talk about privacy (« A lawyer rewrote Instagram’s privacy policy so kids and parents can have a meaningful talk about privacy« ).

DSC_3685

Initiatives to educate and empower people

Organizations also offer guides to clarify terms of use, such as net-aware.org.uk.

We can also imagine and promote a system of labels to quickly identify the degree of protection of personal data guaranteed by each major service. This is what tosdr.org is doing, with a scale ranging from very good (Class A) to very bad (Class E). Their slogan:

« I have read and agree to the Terms » is the biggest lie on the web. We aim to fix that

These initiatives will support the work of educators, parents, and teachers.

Photos : Dima Yarovinsky

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