Cory Doctorow #BLM+ Your Authors @doctorow Pre-order the audio- and e-book for ATTACK SURFACE, the third Little Brother book, on my first-ever Kickstarter: Sep. 08, 2020 2 min read + Your Authors

There are two reasons that no one ever reads terms of service.

The first is obvious: they're garbage. Performatively dull, deliberately obfuscated, impossible to read and understand (literally - they are comparable to academic journal articles). 


The second reason is also important: if you somehow manage to figure out what you're "agreeing" to, you'll quickly realize that you don't agree to any of it. ToS all boil down to "By being stupid enough to be my customer, you agree that I get to abuse you any way I see fit."


In a just world, "adhesion contracts" (agreements you don't get to negotiate) would have limitations on them - anything that no person would ever freely agree to would be judged "unconscionable" and thus unenforceable.


We don't live in that world, alas. But things are changing. There's an anti-monopoly mood in the air, and lawmakers and regulators are getting the sense that the public will have their back if they challenge corporate giants and force them to pay for their bad deeds.


Which explains why @antitrust_it is probing Google, Apple and Dropbox over the manifest unfairness of their terms of service. 


The probe addresses half a dozen abusive elements of these "contracts":

I. Collecting user data for commercial purposes without valid consent

II. Forcing arbitration and making users surrender their right to sue in a real court 


III. Reserving the right to shut down or suspend the service without giving users notice and the ability to extract their files

IV. Limiting liability for loss of user data due to negligence or indifference


V. Reserving the right to unilaterally alter the contract without negotiation or notice

VI. Defaulting to English, making it hard to access the Italian version of the terms


All of this is self-evidently unfair, and it does great violence to the very idea of an "agreement" - the cornerstone of civilization.


There's a classic Lenny Bruce bit about this: civilization begins with an agreement about where to shit, sleep and eat: "We’ll sleep in Area A, is that cool? OK good. We’ll eat in Area B, good? Good. We’ll throw our crap in Area C." 


The transformation of freely agreed-upon terms into adhesion contracts undermines the very basis for our civilization, by equating actual contracts with "By standing there shouting 'hell no I don't agree,' you agree that..."


This is just a baby-step, but man is it overdue -- and a hopeful sign for the future. Bravo!


You can follow @doctorow.


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