Terms and conditions – please tick here to continue

Written by on May 18, 2015 in Opinion with 0 Comments

Businessman trying to get away from work

We like to make jokes about those online ‘terms and conditions.’ We say, with a smile, that ticking the ‘I have read and agree’ box is the biggest lie on the internet. If everyone had actually done what the message asks us to do the internet would be dead. We know that if we do not tick the box, we cannot access the service we want. So we tick the box, lie to the company that we have read and understood the terms and conditions, and simply hope it will be OK.

A year ago iTunes had 800 million customers – and thus 800 million credit cards on file. By now, it is reasonable to suppose that there are a billion iTunes customers.

This is no longer funny. This means there are a billion people out there who have no idea what rights Apple has to their music, financial information or indeed their credit cards. At a recent meeting, an operator (a very large one) said that he had a friend who is a very senior contract lawyer in the US. He has read (several times) the terms and conditions that Apple asks you to agree to in order to create an iTunes account. He has discussed it with fellow experts. His conclusion is that he is not able to advise anyone what the potential ramifications are when someone agrees to Apple’s T&Cs.

This means that there a billion people out there who do not know what they agreed to when they ticked the iTunes box. We do know that we do not own the music or content that we download. We only know that because Bruce Willis wanted to leave his iTunes music collection to his kids in his Will. His advisors pointed out that he couldn’t because he didn’t own the collection in the first place. Luckily for Apple and others, Willis reached for his lawyer rather than his selection of guns.

Apple, of course, is a reputable company and is unlikely to suddenly want to upset a billion people. But it is a serious issue as we continue our journey into the digital world. We are shocked that someone has hacked Adobe or Microsoft, largely because we do not know what the hacker will do with our details. Is this any different?

Apple, of course, is not alone. Almost everything we do online which involves a transaction, asks us to agree to terms and conditions. And we do, blindly, or we don’t get the service. We tend to find out the dark side of agreeing when it hits the news. Airlines that you pay to take you to Paris or Nice on a non-refundable ticket are, once you have ticked the box, not obliged to take you. If they are overbooked and there is no seat when you get to the airport, it is not their fault, you have agreed that this is acceptable.

There are no easy solutions. And for the moment we will have to live with being online hostages. But, as in pricing within telecoms, there is a complexity curve at work here. And once the confusion is total and the fear and frustration levels high enough, a company will see an opportunity to win enormous market share by going to market with simple to understand terms and conditions that look after the customer.

Perhaps as you read this, a company is out there waiting for the moment when customers are worried enough to select the secure, simple, honest route.

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About the Author

About the Author: Alex was Founder and CEO of the Global Billing Association (GBA), a trade body focused on the communications sector. He is a sought after speaker and chairman at leading industry conferences, and is widely published in communications magazines around the world. Until it closed, he was Contributing Editor, OSS/BSS for Connected Planet. He is publisher of DisruptiveViews and previously BillingViews. .

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