Responsibility: User vs. Platform

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

We recently participated in a lively discussion about how much responsibility tech companies bear for the effects of their products, and how much onus in on the user. While there is no one clear answer, we thought we would dive a little deeper into a few aspects of the conversation over the next few weeks. The first issue we’ll take a look at is:

Policies.

It is always the responsibility of the party signing a contract or agreement to read and understand what they’re signing. This makes good legal sense, because without this basic parameter contracts would ultimately serve no purpose, and companies would have no protection from being sued into bankruptcy by disgruntled customers. But… is it a reasonable ask?

A 2008 study found that it would take a person 76 work days to read privacy policies on every website they visited in a year (a number that has undoubtedly gone up, and does not account for changes to policies that need to be re-read), and a slightly more recent study put the number for reading all terms of service agreements at 40 minutes of reading every single day. This same study proved that busy people without a spare 40 minutes per day (read: nearly everyone) failed to properly read all those lengthy terms of service. How did they prove it? By getting people to agree to having all their information sent to the NSA, and making payment for services with their first-born child. 98 percent of participants signed.

You may be shaking your head and saying that all this proves is that people are stupid and negligent; but even if 98 percent of the population is stupid and negligent (which we optimistically say isn’t the case), it still indicates a need for change in the way we approach these agreements, as they need to be accessible to the majority.

We here at droplet love the idea of simplified terms and policies written in plain language (something a high schooler can understand, as this paper puts it), and delivered at the appropriate time and place for context. We’re also interested in the idea of restricting how often or for what reason policies can be changed, just like you can only change your health benefits package once a year, with the exception of qualifying life events. And when changes are made? Highlight them so members don’t have to re-read the entire document.

Tech companies have excelled at making their user-experiences simple and seamless, and we think it’s about time that privacy policies and terms of service catch up. Any ideas on how to improve disclosures and agreements? Tell us your thoughts!

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