Recently I asked my readership a simple question, "Do you read the license agreement when installing software?".  You know, the one you must  'Agree' to at the start of the installation.  There were three possible responses: Read it carefully; Quickly check for restrictions; Never read it.

280 people took the time to complete it and the results are quite clear....

The vast majority of people clearly have no interest in reading the agreement and personally I am not in the least surprised, especially when you consider the tone and length of the agreements.

Let's consider a few of the common agreements:

  • Mozilla Firefox, 11,800+ words (just the Mozilla Public license).  If you include all the third party libraries used in Firefox you are up to 22,000+ words
  • Apple iTunes Store, 16,000+ words -- thousands more if it is the 'Apps' store!
  • Google Gmail, 4,000+words -- I actually gave up as you also need to agree to 41 separate Privacy Policies
  • Facebook, almost 5,000 words with a further 9 sub-sections; again I got bored!

All of the agreements are quite heavily stacked in favour of the provider and the onus is on YOU.  They are acting to limit their liability to anything you do with the software.

Who knew:

  • in iTunes you can only 'burn' your play list 7 times (2,600 words into the agreement)
  • in order to 'terminate your agreement with Goolge' you must write to them at the address specified (elsewhere).  So cancelling your Gmail account is not sufficient to break your ties; you need to write them a letter.
  • "You will not provide any false personal information on Facebook" -- I am so going to Jail!  I fabricated by Date of Birth slightly as it is none of their business!

Given that no one seems to read these epic agreements one has to wonder how much they can be relied on and what stance a court would take if they were ever used against an individual by the software vendor?

While we can never eliminate these agreements, especially as it seems to keep so many lawyers in a job, why can't we simplify it for the normally person on the street?

Perhaps they are getting too complex for the legal teams too.  When Apple released their Safari browser for Windows the agreement contained a clause stating that Apple software can only be install on Apple approved devices.  So technically no one could install it on a Windows PC.  Of course they quickly adjusted the wording!

In summary, there is no easy answer to this nonsense but I think there is merit in having the key restrictions right up at the top of the prodigious prose.  At least the user is slightly better informed than currently.  Ignorance of the law is no defence, however requiring a legal degree should not be a requirement of acceptance either.

Now go and ask your 12 year old child to delete their Facebook account before the police arrive!  (read the agreement!)

(By reading this post you acknowledge that I have no legal training; in fact, I acknowledge I have no legal training!!)  :-)

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