Why Tech Companies Need Simpler Terms of Service Agreements

The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation is the most significant advance in data privacy in history, but little has changed regarding the actual end-user experience of data privacy. This is why tech companies require simple terms of service contracts.

The terms of service contract are too long and too complicated for the average user, tech-savvy or not. Most of us click “OK” without reading it, and in doing so, we discard all kinds of data. Back in 2014, European government agency Europol got a handful of people to surrender their first-borns in exchange for free Wi-Fi.

Every minute, Google responds to approximately 5 million search requests, and bloggers post 12,000 new articles. And according to researchers at the Technical University of Denmark, all that stuff is shortening our attention span and causing instincts to come and go even more quickly.

With the vast amount of information available, it is difficult to capture the time and attention of users. People are skimmers now. We want to know, and we want to know now. This is why we don’t read the fine print even when we know we should.

This is why companies – tech companies, in particular – need to rethink terms of service contracts. how? With a focus on plain language.

benefits of simple language
People ignore the fine print because it’s confusing and time-consuming (and, yes, boring). And even users who read their contracts often struggle to understand the information. A survey of 400 people found that the average user could answer only 40% of the questions about an agreement that were given to them to study.

Signing up for a service or platform shouldn’t cause users a headache. And it certainly shouldn’t come with a pang of anxiety or guilt as they skip over a five-page document and click “agree” without reading a word.

But some counter examples show us that agreements do not have to be ties or are difficult to understand. DuckDuckGo is only 10 words. It is the kind of agreement that sets a company apart from the rest of the sector.

Making data contracts understandable to a lay person shows how much you care about your users.
It is a way to imprint your brand personality and build trust between your company and the customer. This is an opportunity to win hearts and minds and work hard for a lifetime.

How to write a comprehensive data agreement
The goal of each business or platform should be clear and concise writing along with the terms of service contract. Ten words can be too ambitious, but you can make sure your users don’t cross-eyed or miss any important details.

1. Use Plain Language Principles
Long, complex sentences are for literature. They have no place in a legal treaty meant for the public to read. Aim for a maximum of 25 words per sentence, and never put more than five sentences in a single paragraph. Break up the content with headers and lists, summarize key points at the beginning of each section, and cut out jargon.

Consistency in voice and tone helps the readers to get accustomed to the text. Each section should flow logically from last to last, and spelling and punctuation patterns should not change from paragraph to paragraph. Using the active voice keeps things clear.

And simple language isn’t just about the words on the page. It’s also about the white space between them. Two columns of text for PDFs increases readability and makes them less cumbersome.

If you’ve been through all this and you’re still not sure whether a contract is really easy to understand or not, test it out with users to see how they respond.
While copy may seem straightforward to members of your team, it may be impenetrable to people outside. In practice, using simple language can transform a sentence like this:

Any user who is classified as a minor (in general, a person under the age of 18) is not permitted to create a profile or register for the Company’s services on the Company’s website.
In one like this:

2. Make it Super Scannable
Long, unbroken blocks of text are difficult to follow. This is especially difficult when different styles are used to mark important points. Do not use all-caps, bold and italics at different points in a contract when a format change will occur.

Using subtitles to break down a piece of content makes it much easier to read. They should be simple and descriptive so that users know what each section is about. If a reader wants to mention something they’ve already read, a clear subheading will make it simple again.

Using lists allows you to share exactly the same information while also breaking up heavy paragraphs.


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