Trahan, Cassidy, Luján Introduce Bipartisan TLDR Act Targeting Overly Complicated Terms of Service Agreements
Washington, January 13, 2022
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congresswoman Lori Trahan (D-MA-03), Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), and Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) introduced the Terms-of-service Labeling, Design and Readability (TLDR) Act, bipartisan and bicameral legislation requiring that online companies make their terms of service contracts more accessible, transparent, and understandable for consumers.
“For far too long, blanket terms of service agreements have forced consumers to either ‘agree’ to all of a company’s conditions or lose access to a website or app entirely. No negotiation, no alternative, and no real choice,” said Congresswoman Trahan, a member of the House Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce. “To further slant the decision in their favor, many companies design unnecessarily long and complicated contracts, knowing that users don’t have the bandwidth to read lengthy legal documents when they’re simply trying to message a loved one or make a quick purchase. The potential for abuse is obvious, and some bad actors have chosen to exploit these agreements to expand their control over users’ personal data and shield themselves from liability. This is a problem that transcends political parties, and it demands solutions like the TLDR Act that do the same by requiring transparency and returning power to consumers.”
“Users should not have to comb through pages of legal jargon in a website’s terms of services to know how their data will be used,” said Dr. Cassidy. “Requiring companies to provide an easy-to-understand summary of their terms should be mandatory and is long overdue.”
“Consumers deserve the ability to make informed decisions online for themselves and their families,” said Senator Luján, Chair of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband. “Rather than inform, too many companies use long and complicated Terms of Service agreements to bury critical details about their data policies and shield themselves from legal liability. The TLDR Act will empower consumers to take their business elsewhere when that happens. Informing consumers is a bipartisan issue, and I look forward to continue working with my colleagues to provide real choice online.”
The TLDR Act specifically targets unnecessarily complex terms of service agreements, sometimes referred to as “terms-of-use” or “end user license agreements,” which outline how a consumer may use a website or application. These documents have increasingly become long, complicated contracts that consumers must agree to or be denied access to a service or platform. A 2012 study found that it would take 76 work days for the average American to read the agreements for technology companies they use. Yet, because of the complicated language and length of many terms of service documents, an overwhelming majorityof users “Agree” without reading any portion of the contract.
While some companies have used their terms of service to highlight the consequences of not reading the contracts, others have chosen to bury problematic policies that users unknowingly accept. Some contracts require consumers to sign away their right to sue while others include provisions that waive a company’s obligation to notify consumers of updates to its terms of service, meaning users are potentially required to accept future terms they have no way of knowing about when they click “Agree.”
To address the litany of issues with these contracts including the potential for future abuse, the TLDR Act requires that online companies, with the exception of small businesses, include a nutrition label-style summary table at the top of their terms of service and tag the full, long-form terms with XML tags, making the agreements more accessible for consumers and researchers alike. It would also require that the summary inform consumers of how their data is collected and shared, including directing the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to issue guidance on graphic representations of how consumer data is shared with third parties.
To enforce compliance, the bipartisan legislation authorizes the FTC to treat any violation as an unfair or deceptive practice and asserts that State Attorneys General may bring a civil suit related to a violation on behalf of at least 1,000 affected residents of their state.
The TLDR Act is supported by key groups and experts, including Common Sense, Open Terms Archive, and French Ambassador for Digital Affairs Henri Verdier. To view their quotes in support of the bipartisan bill, CLICK HERE.