Once I read that if you were to read all the Terms and Conditions, Privacy Policy and similar documents that you ideally need to read before using software or online services in a given year, you'd spend a good month of your life doing it without going to work.

Let's face it, most people know about Facebook's privacy policy through news scandals but the vast majority of people, wouldn't bother.

Would there be a better way to present users with simpler terms and conditions that they would actually read? Or are beyond the point where we can re-teach users about enjoyable documents crafted to improve their knowledge and experience about the service or software.

Basically what I'm asking is, what would be the best way of making Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policies user friendly, and if it worthy at all.

  • 4
    you could present them bullet points of what your terms include, but you probably still need a long boring document for legal reasons. also you can try formatting that long text, using paragraphs, headings, bold text and so on. Commented Feb 7, 2013 at 9:28
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    ideally: overhaul our ridiculous and out dated legal system.
    – NotSimon
    Commented Feb 7, 2013 at 10:17
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    Related question: ux.stackexchange.com/questions/19864/…
    – CJF
    Commented Feb 7, 2013 at 10:39
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    "On 3, everyone fire their lawyer. Ready? 1. 2. 3! ...Hey, you didn't fire your lawyer!" - "Neither did you!" - "So now what do we do?" - "Well, I'm suing you for not firing your lawyer." Commented Feb 7, 2013 at 11:30
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    The privacy policy and terms and conditions don't exist for the customer. They're to protect the business. Hence why they don't care if customers understand them, they just care that the customer is bound by them.
    – cgmb
    Commented Feb 7, 2013 at 19:55

6 Answers 6


I'd say the best two options are:

1) Display terms and conditions as long plain legalese text as usual, in a left hand column, but then summarise it in much shorter, friendlier, simpler text on the right. 500px.com does this really well:

500px terms

2) Format the text in a legible manner. Separate it into linked sections with proper headings, good typography and images. Facebook has had a lot of criticism for their privacy policy in the past, but their privacy policy today is well formatted, well sectioned and written in an easy-to-read format.

enter image description here

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    From a legal perspective, choice 1 can be risky. I would consult a lawyer before using it.
    – Brian
    Commented Feb 7, 2013 at 14:00
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    Yeah, I think you have to make it obvious that the simpler version on the right is for your convenience but is not legally binding. StackExchange does the same, as @JohnGB points out: stackexchange.com/legal/privacy-policy Commented Feb 7, 2013 at 14:09
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    500px clearly notes the right column isn't legally binding either. I'd also add that Google's terms are a great example of option 2. I was about to make an answer involving them but I'd mostly be repeating this
    – Zelda
    Commented Feb 7, 2013 at 14:11
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    While the page you linked to is nice, this is Google's actual privacy policy which isn't as nicely structured as Facebook's. Still, it's much better than most! Commented Feb 7, 2013 at 14:16
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    @matt: although stackexchange's is full of jokes, and I would strongly suggest against doing that, at the very least not in excess, as the purpose is to give information not lame jokes Commented Feb 7, 2013 at 14:24

This is an interesting approach to this issue:

“Terms of Service; Didn't Read” - https://tosdr.org

e.g. Facebook ToS:

enter image description here

  • 5
    Looks like a really interesting tool - but only works for a few sites at the moment - e.g. google.com (yes) google.co.uk (no).
    – icc97
    Commented Feb 7, 2013 at 11:41
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    There is also TL;DR Legal for FOSS licenses, but its not always accurate. For example, it claims that you can mix APSLv2 with GPLv3, although you can't...
    – Cole Tobin
    Commented Feb 11, 2013 at 18:34
  • @Cole"Cole9"Johnson great! now the only one missing is one like tosdr for offline non-foss softwares
    – n611x007
    Commented Aug 22, 2013 at 14:15

Terms and Conditions, Privacy Policy, and similar documents are there primarily for legal reasons, not UX ones. So the reason that they are usually terrible to read is that they are written in legaleses rather than human speak.

A good alternative is to add additional explanations in human speak next to the legalese. StackExchange is a good example to follow in this, although only for the legal documents that they expect customers to actually read.

enter image description here

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    I'd argue the point that the documents are there only for legal reasons. I think that that's what it is at the moment but that doesn't mean it should be that way. Google Adwords platform provides advertisers with quality score bonus those that have links to those documents in their landing page, as they foster transparency and improve user experience.
    – edgarator
    Commented Feb 10, 2013 at 22:43
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    @edgarator I agree, which is why I said 'primarily' and not 'only'.
    – JohnGB
    Commented Feb 11, 2013 at 0:05

I have no legal training regarding terms and privacy policies, but I think one really good way to start moving web services towards resolving this problem is to approach privacy/terms/conditions in much the same way we've approached software licenses and general intellectual property licensing via common-use licenses like MIT, BSD, Creative-Commons, etc.

Pioneering services could do a lot to lead best-practices on the web by releasing standards through organizations to maintain them. Users don't have to be overwhelmed by the thought of evaluating the standards of a given service when it makes a public promise to uphold a given set of several popular standards, accompanied by an easy-to-identify icon, and a copy of the standard's language. Part of the permission to apply the standards language itself is a mandate that no additions or subtractions be made. Users can start focusing their time and skepticism on services which don't attempt to adhere to well-codified standards.

  • This is what I'd like to do for any new sites I create. Commented Feb 12, 2013 at 1:10
  • In the 3+ years between this answer and now, I did use the EFFs public contact addresses to propose this idea, which eventually led to a response along the lines of "that's a great idea--have fun!" I don't really have the contacts to do more than send cold email on the topic, but I'm open to collaborating on the idea.
    – abathur
    Commented Apr 8, 2016 at 20:06
  • An initial implementation could be as simple as a GitHub repo. Commented Apr 8, 2016 at 21:13

I just found this, and it's really amazing... The Lottery Acknowledgement has a text that reads "Please read the following information carefully" and asks you to describe whether you read it after... At least you know.



Following could be tried

-- Give points or coupons (redeemable) to user for answering a questionnaire (something like "How-well-do-you-know-app" quiz) on these policy documents

-- Give some sort of certificate of expertise (which they can use as a credential) to users who can answer them and how well they answer, for example there could a certificate called 'Legal Expert on Google Services', or 'Microsoft Office Legal Expert', or 'Amazon Cloud Policy Consultant'

-- If there is a change in any policy, then a notification can be given to the user along with a new quiz.

Idea is to incentivize user to make to read these document carefully.

  • 1
    Upvoting for the sheer fun of your idea. As for bullet #1 in your list, you'd also need to give users paper bags to contain their disgust after actually reading the stuff. Commented Feb 7, 2013 at 20:43

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