The end of the year draws closer, and for many so does the stress of preparing for the holidays. Many are buying gifts, and the companies know it, and therefore the amount of pure ads in my inbox sky rocket at this time. But there are also other communications, I’m talking about the many updates to terms from companies.

Photo of a stack of Papers

Looking at my inbox I’ve got five updates just the last week. Some are updates to the privacy policy and some to the terms of use. The thing they all have in common is that they should be read, understood and accepted before they take effect. The question for me is, when will I find the time to read the changes? Most of the ones in my inbox provides a short summary of the most important changes and a full link to the new agreement. However, the summary are often in the form of “we have made changes to X”, without describing the change. So to accept the changes I need to find the section mentioning this and read it. To make things worse, some of these summaries seems to be run through automatic translation without proper validation. When reading it the best way of understanding is to use English grammar in non English text.

I feel like the current solution with this kind of agreements are not sustainable. They are written by lawyers for lawyers, and not for the average end user. Kevin Litman-Navarro published a great piece in the NY Times a couple of years ago on the state of privacy policies. Even though it’s from 2019, it still holds true, describing how difficult these policies can be to read, and especially understand. By putting them on a difficulty scale, most are comparable to (or more difficult than) college textbooks. These texts are we as users expected to read for each service we use. Can we spend the 20 minutes it takes to read and understand the agreements for every service? For me that’s impossible, instead I prioritize, what services do I feel the need to read the agreements for.

I still understand the need for service providers to have a specific agreement. But there has to be a better way. An easier way. A way that provides an entry point for us as users and clearly describes what we agree to without having to dig into these long and complex texts. But how? That’s a great question that I hope will be discussed more. Because as it is, these mails I get about the changes just stack up in my inbox, waiting for me find the time and energy to dig into them. And the stack just seems to be growing.