UK Retailer Assumes Those Over 70 Are Too Senile To Understand Internet Contracts

from the covering-for-stupidity-with-ageism dept

Carphone Warehouse, the popular retailer in the UK, apparently had some problems last year where some people felt the retailer had taken advantage of elderly customers, who didn’t quite understand the details of contracts they had signed for internet access. In response, it appears they’ve gone in the other direction, telling staff that they might want to refuse to sell internet access to those over 70, unless they have a younger relative in tow to help explain the nasty details of the contract. Of course, in practice, this means the young whippersnappers who work at Carphone Warehouse are refusing to sell internet access to anyone over 70. While Carphone Warehouse tries to defend itself by saying the new policy was just to protect more elderly customers from being taken advantage of, they seem to ignore the slightly more reasonable solution: making their contracts more reasonable so that no one, no matter how old, gets taken advantage of in signing them.

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Comments on “UK Retailer Assumes Those Over 70 Are Too Senile To Understand Internet Contracts”

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claire rand says:


if contracts were readble no one would sign them.

all that really small writing using as many confusing terms as possible is there for a reason.

and its not ‘accuracy’ either, since two lawyers will tell you two different things about what half of it means.

but it does provide ‘wiggle’ room for the company.

nothing new here, move along.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: contracts

Don’t lump all contracts or company-intentions into a single group. It’s that kind of thinking that makes the world suck.

Contracts in general are essential for any company’s survival in a world full of litigious jack-asses. The reason contracts are so ‘wordy’ is more often than not a direct result of an attempt to make them interpretable in only one possible way; that’s the whole point of a contract. They exist to provide all parties a way to understand an agreement without multiple interpretations so everybody knows exactly what the agreement is without doubt.

That being said I have no idea how this particular company writes their contracts or what their intentions are. True, contracts can be used to screw people by making them so completely convoluted that nobody can understand them – but that’s what courts are for. Generalizing like this is why our system is full of idiots who actually believe this crap.

Lay Person says:

Re: Re: contracts

So what are you saying, we need contracts or courts?

In any case, well written contratcs are not magical or alien technology. Well written contracts use plain and simple English and is understood by most who read them.

Poorly written ones are usually written in legalese, that reference paragraphs upon clauses which, themselves, are also poorly written.

In the end, no one can understand a poorly written contract except the attorney who wrote it up in the first place. In fact some contracts are so crappy, it takes an entire team of attorneys to disect their meaning.

All attorneys are schooled in contract writing/interpretation. Some are good at it, others aren’t.

Search Engines WEB (user link) says:

Aha' - But Do We REALLY Know the ENTIRE Story?

Many times, hearing anecdotes for the first time without knowing the entire facts – can pique our sense of justice or ethics.

But no one knows what preceded this policy.

There may have been horror stories that was not told to that store’s customers.

In terms of the contracts being complex,
The contracts MUST be technically accurate – because of the litigeous society we live in.

These are a classic examples of social darwism versus business inertia, making the difference between surviving versus thriving!

Search Engines WEB (user link) says:

Aha' - But Do We REALLY Know the ENTIRE Story?

Often times, upon hearing anecdotes for the first time without knowing the entire facts – can pique one’s sense of justice or ethics.

But no one knows what preceded this policy.

There may have been horror stories that was not told to that store’s customers.

In terms of the contracts being complex,
The contracts MUST be technically accurate – because of the litigeous society we live in.

These are a classic examples of social darwism versus business inertia, making the difference between surviving versus thriving!

MrPaladin says:


no body wants to be responcible for anything these days… just blame the next guy down the line, and its not my fault because you aggreed it was not my fault even when its clearly my fault…

BTW, I’m not responcible for you reading this post… or its content… as clearly stated in section 5.21.354 of the below aggreement in small print..


claire rand says:

contracts.. its not the lawyers fault... honest gu

The contracts MUST be technically accurate – because of the litigeous society we live in.

And therein lies the problem… to coin a phrase

Its not my fault


look what you made me do now

Contracts like this are madness, theres something to be said for plain english and the courts applying a test of What would the man in the street think this means? to remove some of this garbage, make it clear, make it simple.

but of course then many of the nasty stings wouldn’t be quite so well hidden, can’t have that

Mike4 says:

Re: contracts.. its not the lawyers fault... hones

I’m sorry, claire, but I don’t think “dumbing down” contracts in order for slower people to understand the content advances society in any way.

I work in compliance for a large insurance company and do agree that there is plenty of language that can be confusing to the less educated population. I also know, however, that with certain wording in place, nobody can play the ignorance card, which is much more of a problem in society, in my opinion (I’m sorry, officer… I didn’t know I wasn’t allowed to do that.”)

claire rand says:

Re: Re: contracts.. its not the lawyers fault... h

problem is, your not giving these carefully drawn up contracts to lawyers, your given them to joe & jane public. write for your target audience.

it *is* perfectly possible to write these things in plain english, it just requires the effort to do it.

having a contract the peron writing it cannot really understand, especially given the legal industries habit of adjusting what words actually mean compaired to what the general population think they mean cannot be in the best interests of anybody in the long run.

if you get screwed by small print do you go back to that company? and yes i know everyone is as bad, but lowest common denominator as customer service sucks.

its the long winded and confusing stuff in these contracts that puts people off reading them, print them in 10 or 12 point, use plain english and it suddenly becomes a hell of alot harder to argue over the meaning or intention.

also people are more likely to read them if they can understand what they are reading.

plus it makes it a bit harder to offer say ‘Unlimited x’ in the advert and then have 10 pages of 7 point text explaining that the word ‘unlimited’ means *as defined by the company, and liable to change at any time* etc. thus these things become a little bit more honest.

B2B is a different world to B2C, compaines have legal teams, when I buy something personally I don’t have a legal team, and I don’t see why I should *need* one either.

playing ignorance is one thing, when say you are arguing over a speeding ticket, for doing say 30 in a 30 zone. not having realised that a local bylaw means that 30 means ‘only during daylight, 28 at night’ etc.

or as a wonderful example near my former home states “no parking on match days”, *nowhere* does it define a matchday, or provide a list of such days. its very easy to park their early in the morning, and get ticketed cus theres a ‘match’ that evening for example.

my mobile phone contract forbids ‘obscene matieral to be transmitted’ verbally or otherwise, but doesn’t state what is meant by ‘obscene’ anywhere.

the examples are endless, and yes i know compaines have to cover themselves as well, which is also doable in a plain english contract.

theres a difference between ‘dumbing down’ and making the thing readable by the people they are given to and are expceted to be bound by. I’m not saying make it understandable by a 7 year old, but ‘the man in the street’ should have a fighting chance of at least getting the point.

Yo ho ho... says:


The bigger question is why 70+ year olds need internet access to begin with. (after all, most of them still own B&W TV sets and don’t even know what PC stands for…).

And if they do own a PC, let them use dial-up. Its not like they have anything better to do with their time.

Of course, the reality is that the Senior Citizen is the prime target for all hard-sells, and the legal system is quick to side with them in most consumer actions and disputes even in legitimate traqnsactions. The question will soon arise to whether or not this action will lead to other retailers taking similiar actions on sales to seniors… (like cell phone contracts — have you ever read the microprint on one of those?)

charlie potatoes (profile) says:

Re: Puh-leeze

of all the air headed arrogant fucking remarks i’ve ever heard, you take the god damned cake. if brains were cotton you couldn’t make kotex for a piss ant, you stupid ass hole.
many young guys i know are morons. there’s more to intelligence than being able to format a hard drive.
old people are just like young people.. some smart..some not so smart…you can’t lump them all together…like young people, you never know, until one makes it obvious how fucking dumb he is… by making some stupid remark like you just made.

ME says:

Re: Re: Puh-leeze

For once, I agree with charlie potatoes. Generalization just doesn’t work.
You can’t ban elderly from the internet, it’s just stupid. Good luck trying to pass that one, I doubt you’d get much support from anyone.
Not all old people are bad drivers, nor are they all computer-illiterate. My grandparents know more about computers & the internet than my 13-yr old sister. She knows just enough to turn the PC on and log on to AIM.
Get over yourselves and find something better to do than make generalizations and whine that “they shouldn’t be allowed to do this.”

SirTimothy says:

Those over 70 are more savvy than you think

Hey #7 – your bias is showing.

Senior citizens aren’t stupid. Many of them have adapted to the computer age and are thriving. For example, my dad has made a successful retirement business out of selling on Ebay. He makes more now than when he was CEO of his company for 40 years. He turned 75 this year and has more tech gadgets than I do. And, while he does call from time to time asking for tech support, his questions are thoughtful and precise.

The point: Don’t shove all people over 70 into the invalid and helpless category. Carphone is making a mistake by removing a lucrative segment of the market from their customer base.

Anonymous Coward says:

Those over 70 probably aren't as savvy as you thin

Seriously, being able to use a web page (ebay) does not make one tech savvy. Neither does possessing gadgets. I won’t go into the details as to what actually defines tech savvy, nobody would want to read such a long winded post. A generalization to make though, if you didn’t grow up with modern technology or it wasn’t available to you in your 20s, chances are you’re not tech savvy. The former group being more tech savvy then the latter.

Anonymous Coward says:

Blown out of proportion

Is the following scenario not at all plausible…:

CPW responds to the bad press about an elderly customer not realising what he/she was really signing up to by informing sales staff to be more considerate when explaining the ins and outs of the offer.

One sales staff takes this to mean “dont sell broadband to old people unless someone younger is there to explain it all to”

Lets face it, you dont need a decent level of education or even common sense in some cases to be a salesperson, you just need the ability to sell

Anonymous Coward says:

“Re: contracts.. its not the lawyers fault… “

Yes it is.

Lawyers are loath to write contracts in plain English because it makes onerous terms and conditions detrimental to the interests of the signer way too obvious.

The simple fact is, sales contracts are designed to protect the interests of the seller and buyer rights rarely exceed what is required by law. In many cases the contract will even require the buyer to waive rights granted by law.

Unfortunately the average person doesn’t know enough to adequately review a contract and most won’t pay a lawyer to do it unless it involves significant amounts of money.

Lay Person says:


This is bullshit!

I know people in their 70s and some are sharper than any kid.

Sure they have alot of miles on their bodies…i.e. hard of hearing, difficulty seeing, and the frustrations involved with those shortcomings.

How is it fair to use a huge, fat brush to paint over such fine details? It’s easy, we’ll just use age discrimination. That way you simply blame certain customers for your own shortcomings. It’s easier, and you don’t have to rehire the same attorneys who wrote up these insane, illogical, contracts in the first place.

Anonymous Coward says:


of course, anyone who says they shouldn’t be allowed to do anything is overstepping their bounds (except of course for driving past 60 without having to be retested, WHY aren’t we retesting old people for their ability to drive yet?) … however, generalizing people for anything is an impossibility, rather you should look at these generalizations as a majority trait… the majority of old people have slower reflexes driving, thus they drive slower… the majority of old people are computer illiterate or have a very limited knowledge of computers. it’s still wrong to say old people shouldn’t be allowed to do something but it’s borderline retarded to think that the majority of old people understand computers.

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