What exactly is your child signing up for when they tick that little box to use an online service? Parent Zone talks to the Children’s Commissioner of England to find out how things could be clearer for kids
Admit it, how many times have you signed up for a service online, whether it’s a new gym membership or updating your iTunes account, and simply clicked on the ‘Accept terms and conditions’ box without reading them?
There’s a good reason for this – they're generally very long, very boring and very difficult to understand, even if you do take the time to scan them.
In July 2017, this reluctance on customers’ part to check what they were signing was tested by Manchester-based Wi-Fi provider Purple, who inserted a clause in its T&Cs for two weeks so that people who signed up to the service were legally committed to spending 1000 hours doing community service, including cleaning toilets and unblocking sewers. To see who was paying attention, they offered a prize to anyone who contacted them about the clause. Only one person claimed it.
So, if adults don’t read and understand the terms and conditions they're committing to when they tick that little box, what hope for our children, who can legally sign up to online services such as Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook from the age of 13?
As tech-savvy as children often are, do they understand, any more than adults, what they’re agreeing to?
‘Many children use social media and other platforms without understanding them fully’
With this in mind, the Children’s Commissioner of England worked with the law firm Schillings to create simplified versions of the T&Cs for Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, WhatsApp and YouTube. These were rewritten into child-friendly language as part of its Growing up Digital report, transforming the site’s seven pages of T&Cs into an easy-to-read one-page list.
‘We found that many children use social media and other platforms without understanding them fully, nor the consequences of signing up to them, such as the use and sometimes, the sale, of personal data collected about them by the service provider, and the tracking of their location,’ says Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield.
‘Many of the popular social media sites can be joined by 13-year-olds or over but very few adults, let alone children, would be able to understand the lengthy terms and conditions they make us sign up to. We have worked with lawyers to look at exactly what it meant by ticking the ‘I have read and agreed the Terms and Conditions’ box and to rewrite them so that a 13-year-old could actually understand them.
‘This is an important step in rebalancing the power between social media companies and their younger users. These companies have a huge amount of power and control yet they are far from transparent.
‘It is important that the internet is a place where children can be citizens not just users, creative, but not addicted, and curious without the risk that their personal information will be monetised by the social networks they love to use.’
What can you do?
- The simplified versions of the T&Cs can be found on the TES website here as they were turned into teaching resources. It's a good idea to sit down with your child and go through these so that they know what they're signing up to.
- Some platforms, for example, claim the right to take users’ photos and posts and use them to promote the service without payment or letting them know they’re doing so. They may still decide to sign up (most of us do) but it may make your child think twice before posting certain images or comments.
Instagram: T&Cs we could all understand
The Children’s Commissioner’s child- (and adult-) friendly T&Cs alternative suggestions:
‘You must not defame, stalk, bully, abuse, harass, threaten, impersonate or intimidate people or entities and you must not post private or confidential information via the Service.’
‘Don’t bully anyone or post anything horrible about people.’
‘You agree that you will not solicit, collect or use the login credentials of other Instagram users.’
‘Don’t use anybody else’s account without their permission or try to find out their login details.’
‘You must not interfere or disrupt the Service or servers or networks connected to the Service, including by transmitting any worms, viruses, spyware, malware or any other code of a destructive or disruptive nature. You may not inject content or code or otherwise alter or interfere with the way any Instagram page is rendered or displayed in a user's browser or device.’
‘Don’t do anything that might affect how other people use and enjoy Instagram.’
The advice published on Parent Info is provided by independent experts in their field and not necessarily the views of Parent Zone or CEOP.
First published: November 2017
Updated: May 2018