A Year of EULAs

It is a truism that people do not read end user license agreements (EULAs) before accepting them. As Jeff Sauro mentions in his post at Measuring Usability, not only are such agreements long and boring, but they also present a single legitimate choice for the end user: agree to the terms and proceed to use the software or service, or decline the terms and do without.

I confess to not spending much time poring over every EULA. As an undergraduate philosophy major, I can certainly understand the need for precision in language, especially when describing a contract between two or more parties. But there’s something to be said for clarity, too, as well as communicating in plain language. One of the hardest assignments I was ever given was to write a coherent philosophical argument in a single paragraph. In such a tightly constructed document, it’s important to find not only the right word, but also the concise phrase.

Compare one (admittedly dense) paragraph with the many pages of obtuse legalese in each EULA.

Starting June 1st, I’m going to track the license agreements that I encounter over the next year and save a digital copy of each, compiling them in order to get a total page count. Why? Mostly it’s an effort to make visible something that typically goes unseen. What usability issues are there in accessing, reading, and understanding these agreements to which we are (nominally) legally binding ourselves? What if anything does this suggest for library services? Finally, the librarian and latent information designer in me wonders about EULA reform.

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