instagram-terms-of-service

An Instagram employee takes a video using Instagram’s new video function at Facebook’s corporate headquarters during a media event in Menlo Park, Calif. (Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images)

If you had to guess what documents are most central to your daily life and to your future possibilities, I’d wager many Americans would point to works like the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence. Probably because they think that’s how they should answer.

I am the biggest fan of those documents, but that answer might not be entirely correct. Instead, I’d point you to those below-the-radar Terms of Service that populate the legal life of every app you use. And that means they populate your life too, like it or not.

I’ve written about terms of service before, and I find these tiny little, unassuming adhesion contracts to be fascinating. I wrote here about a change to the Snapchat ToS.

And for good measure, let me re-share a Venn diagram that explains the intersection of law and love. (Spoiler alert: It’s complicated.)

Very scientific Venn diagram catalogs the human condition. love technology law

Very scientific Venn diagram catalogs the human condition.

This past week I read a terrific article (by the similarly terrific Amy Wang) about efforts to make terms of service more understandable, especially to youngsters. (Hat-tip to Wayne Rainey for the lead on the article.)

The Washington Post story was driven by the January 4 release of a report called “Growing Up Digital,” which examined young people’s interactions with those ever-present tech marvels that transform—and complicate—our lives.

And where good things happen, I’m never surprised to see a lawyer in the mix. The story tells how one of the task force members was charged with trying to redraft the Instagram terms of service to make them understandable to teens and other humans.

So that’s what London-based privacy lawyer Jenny Afia did.

Here’s a bit from the story:

Lawyer Jenny Afia rewrote the Instagram terms of service so kids would know their privacy rights.

Lawyer Jenny Afia rewrote the Instagram terms of service so kids would know their privacy rights.

“Afia was a member of a ‘Growing Up Digital’ task force group convened by the Children’s Commissioner for England to study Internet use among teens and the concerns children might face as they grow up in the digital age. The group found more than a third of Internet users are younger than 18, with 12- to 15-year-olds spending more than 20 hours a week online. Most of those children have no idea what their privacy rights are, despite all of them agreeing to terms and conditions before starting their social media accounts, Afia said. The task force, which included experts from the public and private sector, worked for a year and released its report Wednesday [Jan. 4].”

If you’ve ever read terms of service (and I hope you do), the next statement won’t surprise you: “The group ran Instagram’s terms and conditions through a readability study and found that it registered at a postgraduate reading level, Afia said.”

Fascinating and important stuff. Though Instagram wouldn’t comment for the story (probably upon advice of the same lawyers who drafted their ToS), here’s hoping efforts like this make a dent in the way these important, meaning-laden documents are drafted.

Once again, here’s a link to the complete Post story.

And you can read the complete “Growing Up Digital” report here.

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