Why are we not reading the Terms of Service

During my research and survey in February 2010, I have come across the lax way of people accepting the Terms of Service when you sign up and participate in social media platforms.

Rather than reading this document over 55% of the users accept them without reading them and thus not knowing what is in them.  I understand that some of these are difficult to read.  So I put it to the test and came up with interesting but not surprising results which I will share with you in 2 blogs.  Firstly, I will concentrate on the readability of these pages.

Some numbers:

  • Number of characters is between 15.000 (Twitter) and 40.000 (LinkedIn)
  • Number of words is between 3.000 (Twitter) and 7300 (LinkedIn)
  • Number of sentences is between 94 (Twitter) and  403 (Flickr)
  • Number of words per sentence is between 20 and 30.
  • There are about 5 characters and 1.8 syllables per word

With these statistics in mind I took a look at the readability of these texts and came to one conclusion: You need to be a graduate student to be able to read these texts.  I took a look at 2 these indexes (Gunning Fog Index and Flesh Read Ease score) and the results are as follows:

The Gunning Fog Index focuses on number of words in a sentence and percentage of 3 syllable words while the Flesh Readability Index focuses on number of syllables in a word and the number of sentences.  The standard Flesh Reading score should be in the range of 60-70 while the Fog Index is about 10 to 12. Note that Fog Index of over 18 or Flesh score under 30 means VERY DIFFICULT to read.

Just as a matter of comparison, Time magazine has a Fog Index of 11 and a Flesh Reading score of 52.  So here is where the different social media ToS stack up to:

Looking at these numbers the conclusion is that you need at least a university degree to understand what is said.  Meanwhile teens and people who have not benefitted years of education are joining these platforms and accepting the terms without reading.

Important to keep in mind that assume that your native language is ENGLISH!  What about us foreigners trying to read these terms… Ik know they exist in other languages!

Next week I will share with you some of the eye opening facts that I found…


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One Response to “Why are we not reading the Terms of Service”

  1. d'Haen Says:

    Dear Mick,

    Looking at the figures of your statistics, one can only say…terms are very difficult to read! From a design and graphical point of view I would dare to go further and claim: ‘Not for reading purposes!’

    Imagine all the literature on how to display and make textual information attractive, dynamic and crystal clear on the internet and look at the terms displayed on the screen…

    You will never get all text at once, it is often fragmented and the layout and typography is absent guiding you trough the piles of words and text.

    My conclusion is that terms are not in phase with the expectations of the reader. Internet is easy and fast to access and you get results within a click or two. Why bother reading a pile of dull text without a clue on consequences?

    Interesting topic, keep on tracking and I’m looking forward to read some recommendation, both to readers and providers of these terms…

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