By Zachary P. Miller
The walls of text that make up user agreements found on Snapchat and the simple steps that make agreements relatively user-friendly in terms of getting an account created are thought-provoking. Who are these agreements really for? Do companies really expect users to review their agreements before signing? To answer these questions, we must understand the basis of user agreements.
To ensure transparency between companies and their users, it is essential to take a human-centered approach to designing the agreements that allow companies to succeed. More technical communicators need to design solutions that can convey critical points of user agreements rather than discouraging users from even attempting to read the agreements in the first place.
Do you read them? Let us know!
For the time being, I have collected some options for users to consider if faced with the problem we have outlined around user agreements.
- First off, using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) can make it hard for third parties to track and capture your data. This bypasses the issue with the comprehensibility of user agreements by encrypting your data and disguising your identity.
- Users can also gain skills in identifying keywords within agreements that can give insights into what they relinquish with the acceptance of privacy policies and terms of service. The keywords to look out for will tell you what information the app or website collects, how long it keeps this data, and who they share it with. Keywords include accepting, agree, authorize, retain, and third parties.
- Companies might make their agreements more comprehensible through user experience research and design. Simply understanding user expectations, redesigning layouts, including visuals, and writing for comprehension to a broad audience can make a vast difference for users.
- This technological mitigation culminates in initiatives and tools that allow for a clear understanding of what data each website or application harvests from its users. The initiative titled Terms of Service; Didn’t Read (ToS; DR) seeks to help fix the “biggest lie on the web” that almost no one reads privacy policies and terms of service before agreeing.
Zachary P. Miller is an Anthropology major at the University of Central Florida. He leverages his interdisciplinary background to bring human-centered perspectives to understanding contemporary problems in human-computer interaction. Zachary is a UCF Burnett Honors scholar and SURF Fellow. He is the Historian of UCF’s Future Technical Communicators and a research assistant in UCF’s Socio-Technical Interaction Research Lab. After graduating from UCF, Zachary plans to work as a User Experience Researcher.
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