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.

    Hide this

    Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

    Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

    While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

    –The Techdirt Team

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


    Reader Comments

    Subscribe: RSS

    View by: Time | Thread


    1. 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.

    Add Your Comment

    Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



    Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




    Comment Options:

    • Use markdown. Use plain text.
    • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
    • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

    Follow Techdirt
    Special Affiliate Offer

    Essential Reading
    Techdirt Deals
    Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
    Techdirt Insider Chat
    Recent Stories

    This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
    Close

    Email This

    This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.