The legal mumbo jumbo on popular mobile apps can take over 24 hours to read

A Norwegian consumer group is proving it by asking guests to read them out loud online

Have you ever been put off by the lengthy “terms and conditions” and privacy policies of mobile apps and other online services?

The Norwegian Consumer Council also has a grouse against these long and abstruse statements and to prove its point the consumer group has downloaded the terms of service and privacy policies for apps found on an “average” mobile, and are streaming live as guests read out the documents.

“Together they exceed the New Testament in length – and would take more than 24 hours to read out loud,” the group said on their website. They point out that few if any have the time to read when they click ‘ok’ when they sign up to use an app.

Austrian data privacy activist Max Schrems has given a new twist to the issue. Most of the verbosity in the the documents may be quite unnecessary and even illegal. "In Europe, terms are very limited and many of the terms read out by the Norwegian Consumer Organization are clearly invalid under EU data protection and consumer laws," he said in a statement. "Companies are still using these illegal terms on a daily basis.”

Norwegian Consumer Council, also known as Forbrukerrådet,  has calculated that a Norwegian user has an average of 33 apps on their mobile phones. The number of words used in the terms and conditions and privacy policies that are associated with the apps exceed 250,000, according to the group.

The objective of the live-streaming of the marathon reading of the terms and conditions and privacy policies of key apps is to get the message across to app developers that they have to trim their terms and conditions and privacy policies to cut back on the obvious, make them understandable by all and adopt an industry standard for these documents.

The group's advice, for example, is that app developers should avoid legal terms, words and concepts “that sow doubt and leave room for interpretation,” and avoid having whole paragraphs in capital letters.

A live stream of the reading, which began Tuesday, can be found here.

Shorter documents that are easy to read and understand are very relevant to the consumer group as the simplified agreements could protect consumers from hidden minefields. In March, the group released a study that found that the terms of use and privacy policies of some 20 apps failed to uphold privacy obligations and user consumer rights.

The report found that the terms of apps can, for example, change without giving users reasonable advance notice, and some apps treat personal and identifiable data as non-personal data.

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John Ribeiro

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