6:20pm Sunday 8th April 2012
IT was no surprise to learn that less than 7% of us actually read the ‘Terms and Conditions’, otherwise known as small print, that we all happily confirm that we have read when we agree to anything online. The real surprise is that as many as 7% do read them Yes, it is irresponsible not to read something before signing it – and for most things, as an ex-lawyer, I am a stickler for doing so. But those reams of small print that you tick as ‘read’ when you sign up to a credit card or service provider would defeat even the most pernickety of pedants.
The Consumer Association has now revealed that the small print that most of us falsely confirm we have read is, in the case of iTunes longer than Shakespeare’s Macbeth and PayPal’s 36,275 words is longer than Hamlet. I would suggest too that even for the least literate of readers, Shakespeare is probably easier to comprehend than the legal gobbledegook of most terms and conditions. If they really wanted you to read them, surely they would be in much larger print? But they don’t, do they? They want us to trust that there’s nothing potentially disastrous for us in there and just tick the box and sign up for what they’re peddling.
I got caught once buying a gift and got locked into monthly payments for something I didn’t want any more of after the first month. The length of the commitment was concealed in the small print.
It will need Parliament to ensure that the crunch issues buried in the acres of standard stuff must be more prominent, or that the main points have to précised in the body of the agreement. Such legislation is long overdue.
And it’s not a question of following Jack Cade’s agreement in Henry VI part 2 to ‘…kill all the lawyers’ because however much the law does tie us up in knots, they do so because legislation allows them to. The law makers are the ones who can restrict their ability to do so unfairly or restrictively.
Simplification was advocated when I was practising law in the 1970s; as far as ‘small print’ is concerned it hasn’t happened yet.
* To the Editor – by printing this you agree to give me the key of the executive bar and allow me free use of the Bucks Free Press private jet on alternate Saturdays
* Editor’s note: Dear Mr Baker - NO.
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