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US lawmakers want terms of service to be summarized in plain language

A literal TL;DR bill.

UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 14: Rep. Lori Trahan, D-Mass., speaks with Roll Call in her office on Feb. 14, 2019. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Bill Clark via Getty Images
Igor Bonifacic
Igor Bonifacic|@igorbonifacic|January 13, 2022 5:23 PM

Unless you’re a lawyer, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve never read through a website’s entire terms of service. There’s a simple reason for that. Far too often, they’re too long and difficult to parse. Some services offer summary statements, but they’re the exception, not the norm.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers made up of Representative Lori Trahan and Senators Bill Cassidy and Ben Ray Luján of Louisana and New Mexico want to change that. They’ve introduced the Terms-of-service Labelling, Design and Readability Act – that’s TLDR for short. Taking a page from Apple, the proposed legislation would require online businesses to include a “nutrition label-style” summary at the top of their terms of service agreements and make the contracts easy for researchers to examine through the use of XML tags. It would also require them to disclose any recent data breaches, as well as provide information on whether a user can delete their data and how they would go about doing that.

“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 Representative Trahan. The group cites a 2012 study that found it would take the average American 76 workdays to read all the terms of service contracts they’ve agreed to use their favorite online services as the basis for the need of the TLDR Act. Should the legislation pass, it would empower the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general to enforce it.

US lawmakers want terms of service to be summarized in plain language