Instagram’s Legal Terms Need a Makeover

Instagram’s Legal Terms Need a Makeover

How can Kids be Expected to Understand Them?

Plain language drafting of privacy policies and terms of use is critical for ensuring individuals understand what is being done with their personal information. In fact, this is the very foundation for informed consent. Ofcourse even if such legal terms are clear and concise, most adults don’t review them before clicking “I agree”, or take less than a minute to scroll through. As privacy officers and legal counsel who either draft such terms or ensure they are in place, consumer behaviour is out of our control, but short form notices and strategically placed wording to encourage review is something we have a responsibility to provide.

Growing up Digital STUDY

Now what about all those kids and teens on-line? Just like most adults, most are not reviewing legal terms before signing up for an account or sharing their personal information on social media or other sites. And they certainly aren’t asking their parents to review those terms for them. But even if they attempt to review them, do sites that are popular destinations for young people feature terms that are accessible? According to a new report from the Children’s Commissioner in England, entitled “Growing up Digital”, many terms presented to young people are overwhelming and impossible to understand. The task force set up for the year long study included experts from the public and private sector. The group found that 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.

Instagram’s Terms of Use under Fire

The report singles out Instagram’s terms of use as an example. A focus group of teens were asked to review the mobile photo-sharing site’s terms of use all the way through. The reaction? Complete confusion and no sense of control over  their privacy rights on Instagram.

Instagram’s terms of use runs at least seven printed pages with more than 5,000 words, mostly written in legalese. The task force put Instagram’s terms and conditions through a readability study and found that it registered at a postgraduate reading level. A member of the task force, Jenny Afia, is a privacy lawyer and partner at Schillings law firm in London. She was tasked with rewriting Instagram’s terms and conditions using ‘plain English’. She brought the word count down to 900 such that the terms fit on a single page.
By way of example, the sentence “Don’t use anybody else’s account without their permission or try to find out their login details” was used to replace the following paragraph in Instagram’s terms of use:

“You are responsible for any activity that occurs through your account and you agree you will not sell, transfer, license or assign your account, followers, username, or any account rights. With the exception of people or businesses that are expressly authorized to create accounts on behalf of their employers or clients, Instagram prohibits the creation of and you agree that you will not create an account for anyone other than yourself. You also represent that all information you provide or provided to Instagram upon registration and at all other times will be true, accurate, current and complete and you agree to update your information as necessary to maintain its truth and accuracy.”

The task force then asked the same group of children and teenagers to read the simplified terms and found that not only were they much better understood, but many youngsters were surprised about how their personal information could be used by Instagram.

Many other websites and social media services similarly provide very little coherent information on exercising one’s privacy rights. Instagram was a great choice for this study because of its high appeal to young people – individuals who should be given the opportunity to understand their rights and how they may be limited by the services they are signing up for.

The “Growing up Digital” report was a stellar initiative because children are especially vulnerable when it comes to on-line privacy. More transparent and straightforward policies and terms encourages young people to read and understand them, and thus truly provide informed consent. By engaging in  discussions with parents and other adults about on-line privacy, kids can become a more educated on-line audience, and over time, we may even see consumer pressure from kids and teens for better privacy practices.

For assistance with simplifying your privacy policy and terms of use, or for help with other initiatives to clarify your information-handling practices, contact PRIVATECH.