Too Much Free Time

by Karl Bode


Filed Under:
hotspots, terms of service, tos, uk, wifi

Companies:
purple



UK WiFi Company Uses Overlong TOS To Trick Hotspot Users Into Cleaning Toilets, Hugging Stray Cats

from the sign-your-life-away dept

So we've talked for years about how overlong terms of service contracts that nobody reads are used to eliminate your rights in numerous ways. That includes stripping away your legal rights and forcing you to engage in binding arbitration, which results in the company-employed arbitrator ruling in their employer's favor a vast majority of the time. In fact Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web, recently cited these overlong and misleading contracts as one of the biggest threats to the health and utility of his invention.

Every so often we'll see a company conduct an experiment to demonstrate the stupidity of long-normalized behavior, like the company in 2010 that got users to sign off on selling their soul. Taking a cue out of that playbook, UK WiFi hotspot operator Purple recently did something similar, burying a provision in their terms of service requiring that customers engage in 1,000 hours of menial labor if they wanted to access the internet.

Purple currently provides hotspot connectivity to Legoland, Outback Steakhouse and Pizza Express, and stated in a blog post that they provided patrons with a wonderful array of possibilities in terms of how to pay down their community service time, including:

  • Cleansing local parks of animal waste
  • Providing hugs to stray cats and dogs
  • Manually relieving sewer blockages
  • Cleaning portable lavatories at local festivals and events
  • Painting snail shells to brighten up their existence
  • Scraping chewing gum off the streets
  • The company says it ultimately found that over 22,000 users blindly signed off on the requirement during the two week period during which the experiment was conducted. It should go without saying that they won't be enforcing the rules, but wanted to simply get a little free press while highlighting the stupidity of overlong TOS. Impressively, they note that during the two-week trial, just one user actually noticed what he was signing off on:

    "Don’t worry, we aren’t going to round up these individuals and ask them to don their rubber gloves and repay the community debt. The real reason behind our experiment is to highlight the lack of consumer awareness when signing up to use free WiFi. All users were given the chance to flag up the questionable clause in return for a prize, but remarkably only one individual, which is 0.000045% of all WiFi users throughout the whole two-weeks, managed to spot it."

    While these pranks go a long way in highlighting the problem, there's few if any real efforts to actually do much of anything about it. We desperately need simpler, cleaner terms of service updated for the digital age, but since companies adore using these lengthy, confusing contracts to protect themselves, hamstring your product ownership rights and make additional revenue, nothing much ever changes.


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    • identicon
      David, 1 Aug 2017 @ 4:03am

      Hardly a new idea.

      People just sign whatever. I mean, there has been an Internet subscription trap fad for a while until legislators stepped in and made it harder for stupid people to agree to atrocious conditions without looking at them.

      Microsoft's Windows 10 privacy agreement runs over 20 pages. Don't tell me that a significant fraction of "agreeing" people actually read this through.

      Basically, those agreements are used to get back into the lawless territory of "you don't know what you are getting into", just with "and it's your own fault, prrbrbrbrbblll!" on top.

      These "agreements" are not about getting you to agree to anything but about subjugating you. Of course, they usually come with binding arbitration.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Aug 2017 @ 4:19am

      I hope the prize was to let all those numbskulls that signed the TOS do the work they signed up for...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Aug 2017 @ 4:24am

      Even Top Judges

      Maybe someone can help me out with the name, but I remember a story about one of the US Supreme Court judges being asked what he did with these things in his personal life and he replied that he didn't bother to read them. Of course if you're a Supreme Court judge you probably get special treatment and don't have to worry about it. Life is different for commoners.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Aug 2017 @ 4:47am

      Problems with "Highlighting" the Problem

      I understand why they didn't force people to go through with it, but in a way it might be better if they did.

      Right now their actions come off as a joke. "Oh, we got you. Think about it just a bit more next time." And when that happens, people kind of smile about it and move on.

      But the reality is that there's been some success in the past suggesting that the TOS might be legally enforceable. As it stands, most newsites are going to say "yeah, that's a problem," and then just move on. Most consumers are going to laugh and then forget about it.

      If they had actually rounded up a bunch of people and forced them to clean a sidewalk, as unjustifiable and cruel as it might be, somebody in Congress would be talking about this right now.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 1 Aug 2017 @ 5:43am

        Re: Problems with "Highlighting" the Problem

        somebody in Congress would be talking about this right now

        Just for your infomation, there are more countries in the world than the USA, and in this case the problem comes under the U.K parliament.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 1 Aug 2017 @ 2:07pm

          Re: Re: Problems with "Highlighting" the Problem

          Heh, nice catch - that's a somewhat embarrassing mistake for me to make.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 1 Aug 2017 @ 6:16am

        Re: Problems with "Highlighting" the Problem

        Of course they'll never force people to go through with it, since these provisions are clearly against EU law and are therefore void:
        http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/consumer_rights/index_en.htm

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 1 Aug 2017 @ 8:21am

          Re: Re: Problems with "Highlighting" the Problem

          There’s UK-specific law that pre-dates any EU law. And, mentioning judges, UK judges seem to have slightly greater scope for applying common sense over rigid enforcement of rules compared to their US counterparts.

          I guess the question is “to what extent should it put users off?” You get sellers on eBay who put stuff in their listings like “sold as seen” and “buyer responsible for postal losses.” Those meet neither eBay’s T&Cs nor UK law. I try to avoid such eBay sellers because they’re either abusive or stupid, and dealing them could be a lot of hassle. But, if they’re the only game in town, I have bought from such sellers knowing that, if something does go wrong, eBay, PayPal, my credit card issuer or the county court would make it right.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 1 Aug 2017 @ 7:07am

        Re: Problems with "Highlighting" the Problem

        "I understand why they didn't force people to go through with it, "

        Also, a judge could rule the TOS to be unconscionable and therefore null and void.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 1 Aug 2017 @ 10:44am

          Re: Re: Problems with "Highlighting" the Problem

          You mean like AT&T's forced arbitration clause? Yeah, I'm sure any judge would rule that null and void on the spot.

          Not.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 1 Aug 2017 @ 4:09pm

            Re: Re: Re: Problems with "Highlighting" the Problem

            No, I mean like terms which demand your first born.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Daydream, 1 Aug 2017 @ 5:26am

      The world needs a reverse-EULA.

      One where the user of a product says 'yes, I'll buy a license for this on the following terms, blah blah blah blah blah...if you're willing to sell, click confirm.'

      I wonder if anyone has actually done this? Composed a beginning-supplier license agreement (or BSLA for short) and sent it off via email to a company who's product they're interested in buying?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      GristleMissile (profile), 1 Aug 2017 @ 5:28am

      Tricked?

      They tricked people into it? That just looks like a list of ways to be a better citizen, although I suggest that painting snails is more for our amusement then theirs.

      If they really want the TOS to demonstrate just how onerous a TOS can be they should FORBID the hugging of kitties.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Christenson, 1 Aug 2017 @ 7:07am

      Long TOS = Fraud IOW

      A long, unreadable TOS that is unrelated in length to the effort in the transaction, and without an *accurate* summary at the front is basically fraud, and we should call it that. (Otherwise, click *here*, you owe me 10x whatever you own, let's go to court!).

      My fellow americans may have noticed there's a black box with the significant terms in basically every credit card offer that fills their mailbox. That's there because the law *finally* caught up with credit card companies writing TOS that no one would read.

      Part two of this is to take experiments like these to court when challenging a long TOS as totally unenforceable.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Aug 2017 @ 7:11am

      The TOS probably includes several statements about what sort of deep shit you are in if you share your password with anyone - like it's a felony or something. Can one law compel you to break a second law? And if you do, are you then a criminal? It is becoming very difficult to go thru one day without breaking any laws, most of them you are unaware of.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Agammamon, 1 Aug 2017 @ 8:02am

      *sigh*

      And did they try to enforce this provision? Did they harrass people and file lawsuits?

      No they did not. Because they know as well as the rest of us that that sort of shit in click-wrap simply doesn't fly. We don't read it because we don't have to.

      And binding arbitration is not 'in-house'.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Aug 2017 @ 9:08am

      really...

      there aughta be a law

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John85851 (profile), 1 Aug 2017 @ 10:04am

      Nice story, but still no solution

      On the other hand, what can a person do? They sit down at the pizza restaurant, sees that there's free Wifi, sees a TOS, clicks OK, and uses the free Wifi.
      Is anyone really going to read the TOS? And if they do read it, I doubt anyone will think "Hey, I don't want to hug a dog. This Wifi isn't for me"!

      In other words, this is a nice story, but it still doesn't address whether a click-through TOS is a legally binding contract. Sure, the company could argue that hugging a dog is a small price for getting free Wifi, but still.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ron Currier (profile), 1 Aug 2017 @ 9:00pm

      Examples of good TOS

      Are there any examples/templates of good, short, and possibly enforceable TOS that small online businesses could use? Or is paying a lawyer who'll create a 100 page TOS full of random legalese the only choice we have?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      darkhog, 2 Aug 2017 @ 2:23am

      Damn

      And I looked forward to my 1000 hours of cat hugging.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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