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On many website there will be a long user agreement. As everybody knows, very few people actually read the agreement and just mindlessly click "I agree".

As such, I am thinking that it would be better UX-wise to have the "I agree" prepopulated because it's one less thing the users have to think about, and they can simply opt out if they disagree.

Is this an acceptable practice? If so, why do most websites require user action to confirm that they agree?

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Why make awkward barriers? Lawyers. –  Ben Brocka Jul 20 '12 at 17:16
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3 Answers 3

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Yes, the "I agree box" being defaulted to off is legal issue not a UX one. You'll want to get your solution approved by your legal team; different teams have different standards and there's no one "most legal" way to do it, so that I have to leave to you.

Arguably there's a UX issue here in trying to make sure users read your legalese, but I'll consider that a separate question.

As for auto-selecting the checkbox, I think that defeats the purpose of the checkbox and makes this a bit more confusing than it has to. Instead, how about something like this:

mockup

download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

Now "Agree" is our default and it's easy to find, all of our legal text is presented, and they're still reading the button label before they click it (usually). There's no need to uncheck the box to not agree. Making "I don't agree" a separate button turns it into an action rather than a state, which really makes more sense than having a checkbox. After all, what's the workflow for not agreeing via a checkbox? Just exiting the form?

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Apple and other product designs that don't readily come to mind sometimes require the user to scroll the entirety of the agreement in order to locate the 'continue' mechanism. This replaces the 'mindless' interaction of ticking a box, gives the legal team a bit more to stand on that the agreement was fully presented, and has effectively 1 interaction to continue (if you don't count the scrolling). –  Shash Jul 20 '12 at 22:43
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@Shash yeah, but again that's "make sure they read it" not "make it easy for the 99% of people who don't care". In apple's case I'm absolutely certain it's purely their legal dept that forces that. Their legal team is aggressive, to say the least. –  Ben Brocka Jul 20 '12 at 22:50
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I don't think it is related to UX. The reasoning behind is that if you require the user to check that she have read the agreement, the fact that she doesn't is her fault. If the checkbox is checked by default, the user can simply say that she never checked anything, and just submitted the form with default values.

In other words, making it harder to fill the form for this step is on purpose. For the same reason, you often see register forms where "I want to receive [insert a synonym of spam here] from you and your partners" is checked by default: since the company is interested in sending spam, an additional effort is required from the users who don't want to receive it.

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If you have a requirement that the user must agree to terms and conditions, or a privacy policy, then you must record the user's assent. That means the user must take an action expressing agreement, e.g., ticking a checkbox.

If you have no legal requirement to collect user agreements, then by all means remove the T&C and privacy policy links to the footer, or some other unobtrusive place where they are discoverable, but out of the flow of key tasks.

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