• Must-read: A Lawyer Simplified Instagram's Terms of Use
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  • If you own a smartphone, you have more than once encountered a "terms of use" contract for each time you download an app. Most of us go ahead and click the "agree" button before even reading the contract's terms and conditions. Who can blame us? The text size needs a magnifying lens to read, it's at least 10 pages minimum, and you feel like you need a lawyer to decode the agreement.

    You don't need a lawyer, but a new report, titled “Growing Up Digital,” by the UK Children’s Commissioner, says the contracts are structured and written for a postgraduate (!) reading level. One example the report cites is the terms of use of Instagram. The photo-sharing app’s terms and conditions are 17 pages, 5,000-word long, making it difficult for any parent, let alone a tween or teen, to understand the terms

    This lack of full comprehension among parents and kids is what concerns the people behind the report the most. Parents are not always aware of the extent of the privacy or the digital rights they give away with apps. 

    “The situation is serious,” said Jenny Afia, a co-author of the report and a privacy lawyer and partner at Schilling's law firm in London. “Young people are unwittingly giving away personal information, with no real understanding of who is holding that information, where they are holding it and what they are going to do with it.”

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    So, the people at UK children’s Commissioner tasked Afia to re-write Instagram’s terms and conditions to make it kid-friendly, a task, she told the Washington Post, which took her several hours. The report notes that “other social media services have similar restrictions and waivers.” 

    Here is a paragraph taken from Instagram’s terms of use: 

    You are responsible for any activity that occurs through your account, and you agree you will not sell, transfer, license or assign your account, followers, username, or any account rights. With the exception of people or businesses that are expressly authorized to create accounts on behalf of their employers or clients, Instagram prohibits the creation of, and you agree that you will not create an account for anyone other than yourself. You also represent that all information you provide or provided to Instagram upon registration and at all other times will be true, accurate, current and complete and you agree to update your information as necessary to maintain its truth and accuracy. 

    Wordy, huh. Afia managed to rewrite in one sentence, as pointed out by The Washington Post: “Don’t use anybody else’s account without their permission or try to find out their login details.” 

    Afia's simplified version (found on page 10 in the report) is easier to understand, gets rid of complex sentences, and legal jargon, and fits one page. Here are excerpts provided by Quartz:

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    • Officially you own any original pictures and videos you post, but we are allowed to use them, and we can let others use them as well, anywhere around the world. Other people might pay us to use them, and we will not pay you for that.

    • […] we may keep, use and share your personal information with companies connected with Instagram. This information includes your name, email address, school, where you live, pictures, phone number, your likes and dislikes, where you go, who your friends are, how often you use Instagram, and any other personal information we find such as your birthday or who you are chatting with, including in private messages (DMs).

    • We can change or end Instagram or stop you accessing Instagram at any time, for any reason and without letting you know in advance. We can also delete posts and other content randomly, without telling you, for any reason. If we do this, we will not be responsible for paying out any money, and you won’t have any right to complain.

    • We can, but do not have to, remove, edit, block and/or monitor anything posted or any accounts that we think breaks any of these rules. We are not responsible if somebody breaks the law or breaks these rules; but if you break them, you are responsible.

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    The part about Instagram being able to read private messages is particularly worrisome. As one 13-year-old said after reading the revised version, “...you don't know what you're signing up to. I would use Direct Messaging a lot less if I knew they could read them.”

    Also, the part which reads “We are not responsible if somebody breaks the law or breaks these rules” underscores the importance of explaining and teaching our kids about online responsibility and safety. It speaks a lot about why online bashing continues to persist and has become such a sport.  

    A third of Internet users are under 18 years old, according to the report. Children aged 3 to 4 spend as much as eight hours a week online, and it’s over 20 hours for 12- to 15-year olds. The internet is “not designed with children in mind,” says the report, despite a significant number of its users being underage. “Much more needs to be done to create a supportive digital environment for children and young people.”

    If your child has an Instagram account or wants one, the simplified terms and conditions can be found here. Remember, you have to be 13 or over to use Instagram.

    Read more about online safety when posting photos here

    [h/t: Quartz]

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