IP Draughts spluttered over his porridge this morning, while reading an item in his newspaper. According to researchers at the University of Nottingham, if you want to understand Google’s internet user agreement you need a higher level of literacy than you need to understand Beowulf, the Anglo-Saxon poem that was written about 1000 years ago. Non-firewalled news report here.
The research team has developed some software that will rate the readability of website text. Called Literatin, it has been developed to work best with Google Chrome. There is an amusing irony here: you have to accept the Google terms before you can use the software! It seems that there is also a version that uses Firefox. See here to download either version. IP Draughts wonders whether it uses any of the same methodology as the Bla-Bla Meter, which we reported on here.
Ms Ewa Luger (@ew_luger), a member of the research team and PhD candidate, is reported as citing the phrase “sharing data with third party entities” as a prime example of incomprehensible text. It is not just the words used, but their “cultural hinterland” which affects readability. In other words, people find it easier to understand things that relate to their lives than abstract legal concepts such as data protection.
In her view, drafters should make terms and conditions easier to read. According to the software, a good model of readability would be Fifty Shades of Grey, which uses simple language and a simple sentence structure.
An alternative approach might be to get a famous actor to read out the terms, as this might improve comprehension. Try Richard Dreyfus reading the Apple terms, which we reported here.
This discussion is about consumer contracts which need to be easier to understand than business-to-business contracts. Nevertheless, IP Draughts is very interested to see research being conducted on whether people understand contract terms. In his experience, even lawyers struggle to understand some of the terms that are encountered in many contracts, such as indemnities.