The TL;DR of the TLDR bill — certain websites will be required to provide quick summaries of their terms of service so that everyone — not just lawyers — will be able to understand how their data is being used.
On January 13th, 2022, U.S. Representative Lori Trahan and U.S. Senators Ben Ray Luján and Bill Cassidy introduced the TLDR bill with the goal of increasing online transparency for consumers.
The bill has not yet been put to a vote, but would impact many major websites and apps if passed. Here’s what anyone who works on websites needs to know.
What is the TLDR Bill?
Online, “TL;DR” stands for “too long; didn’t read.” While the newly introduced bill clearly leans on that reference, it’s actually an acronym for Terms-of-service Labeling, Design, and Readability Act — or the TLDR Act for short. It’s goal is to make it easier for consumers to understand the terms of the sites they’re using.
Terms of service (TOS) for websites and apps often span multiple pages full of confusing legal jargon — like a CVS receipt you need a law degree to read. The longer and more complex the TOS agreement, the less likely the average person is to read it.
Unfortunately, skipping straight to “accept all terms” can put users’ privacy and personal data at risk. TOS agreements often give the associated company permission to access, store, and use personal information as they please — including sharing that data with third parties.
The TLDR bill would address this issue by requiring easy-to-read TOS summaries so consumers can be informed without analyzing pages of legal documents. The regulations would apply to large commercial websites and mobile apps that require users to accept TOS to access content. While there will be exemptions for small businesses, it’s currently unclear exactly what would qualify as a small versus large company.
If the bill passes, the TLDR Act would require summaries of:
- The type of consumer information being collected.
- Whether the data collected is necessary for the company to provide consumers with their service.
- A graphic diagram of how consumer data is shared with third parties.
- Whether a consumer can delete their data and instructions on how to do so.
- The legal liabilities of a consumer using the service, including their rights to their content, mandatory arbitration, and class action waivers.
- A list of reported data breaches from the past three years.
Why the TLDR bill matters for designers and developers
If the TLDR bill passes, certain commercial websites and mobile apps will have to add the TL;DR style summaries to their TOS pages. This bill would authorize the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to file civil suits for violations. If this bill applies to your company or a website you worked on, you might want to prepare for a wave of TOS page update requests.
Existing websites may also need TOS agreement layout changes and additional features. The TLDR Act calls for a nutrition label-style summary at the top of TOS agreements as well as machine-readable tags that make the agreements more accessible to both consumers and researchers. And if the company plans to share consumer data with third-parties, the site will also need a graphic diagram of how that data is shared.
Clients already rely on web designers and developers for things such as SOC 2, GDPR, and WCAG compliance — TLDR Act compliance could be next. Designers and developers that read up on the required changes and how to make them will be better prepared to help website clients if the bill passes.
Law or not, Terms of Service TLDRs are a good idea
We’ll be watching for updates on this bill, but whether or not it passes, anyone who works on websites should consider providing simple summaries on TOS pages. Remember — websites should aim to provide the best user experience (UX) possible. Great UX design helps users interact with a website with minimal effort — and what better way to minimize the effort required to read through TOS pages than to give people skimmable summaries?
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