Opinion | Read the Legalese? Nah, Just Click ‘Agree’

To the Editor:

Re “It’s Time to Fix the Fine Print” (editorial, Jan. 24):

Everyone knows that we have neither read nor understood the terms in service contracts, but we are required to attest that we have. As we mourn the demise of veracity and integrity in our public discourse, perhaps we should consider the implications of requiring mendacity as a precondition for using the tools and services of modern life. Weren’t we taught not to lie?

Ezra D. Hausman
Auburndale, Mass.

To the Editor:

I agree about the impossibility of reading the lengthy and complicated clauses buried in the terms of service of tech contracts. One just gives up in defeat and clicks “agree.” The situation is even worse for patients in the hospital — who are routinely faced with documents containing many pages of small print.

Even if the patient is feeling calm (unlikely) and can find his glasses (perhaps), it is not likely that he will feel comfortable making the team of medical personnel wait while he tries to read and understand the documents before he signs them. And, in a hospital, the documents can, literally, have life and death (as well as financial) implications.

Alice L. Givan

To the Editor:

Standard terms contracts have been an issue for a century — long before the tech giants existed.

The tech giants know how to do better, for in other countries where they do business, they must. Statutes limiting “fine print” have been the rule in other countries for more than four decades. Since 1993 the European Union has required that all member states have unfair-terms statutes.

The idea of an unfair-terms law is that the consumer need not read the standard terms, for the consumer should find no surprises there. In 1955, Germany’s highest court eloquently stated this limit: An “agreement can relate only to such terms” as one can “reasonably and fairly expect to be asserted.”

While the tech giants are blameworthy in their cynicism, the American legal establishment is blameworthy in its ignorance of foreign solutions. It pretends that this is a new problem and not one addressed abroad decades ago. Alas, it does that all too often with our many legal problems.

James R. Maxeiner
Bronxville, N.Y.
The writer is associate director of the Center for International and Comparative Law at the University of Baltimore School of Law.

To the Editor:

Perhaps it could be legislated that agreements have a maximum of 300 words. Let tech companies try to bury the garbage in that agreement.

Richard Epler
North Bellmore, N.Y.

To the Editor:

Perhaps the voluminous terms and conditions that are required to be acknowledged by users of internet services can be made more succinct by simply having the tech companies state the obvious in one sentence: “We, (Giant Internet Corporation), intend to exploit and profit from extracting every bit of personal data that can be gleaned from your online activities; we are not responsible, nor can we be held accountable, for any consequences that result from this intrusion into your privacy.”

Eric Schroeder
Bethesda, Md.

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