There be dragons

Rob Waller

I’m now going to be humourlessly literal-minded about this nice cartoon by Tom Chitty in the latest New Yorker.

When oblivious, distracted consumers click on the terms and conditions to upgrade their smartphone, do they in fact face certain death? And if so, why do they do it.

Well, obviously they want to upgrade their smartphone, and most don’t think the threat of being stalked by targeted advertising is all that bad.

According to research by Yannis Bakos and others only 0.1% of people read online boilerplate (yes, I’m surprised it’s that many too). In another study, Franklin Snyder and Ann Mirabito found that, being unable to understand the legal language in sales agreements, consumers just took the game elsewhere. Rather than pursue legal processes, they preferred to appeal to the company’s moral obligations through negative social media reviews.

So are the terms and conditions just a paper tiger after all? Well, they are until they’re not… and on principle it’s just wrong to claim you have told people something, when in reality you’ve just dumped it on them in illegible type and forced them to claim that they understand it.

Bakos Y, Marotta-Wurgler F and Trossen D, (2014) ‘Does Anyone Read the Fine Print? Consumer Attention to Standard-Form Contracts’ Journal of Legal Studies 43:1.

Snyder F and Mirabito A, (2019) ‘Boilerplate: What Consumers Actually Think about It’ Indiana Law Review 52:431.

Cartoon © The New Yorker. Reproduced under licence.

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