Terms & Conditions: Is “Boring” Underrated?

By Chris Godsall

December 20, 2021


Someone once said that happiness can be found on the other side of boredom. The idea here is that creativity and engagement are often triggered by being bored. Long car rides and repetitive physical work like painting can eventually open the door to your next great idea or the solution that was hidden. Or kids with nothing to do on a hot summer day until boredom forces everyone to invent a new game. Almost everyone can think back to something boring that turned into something inspirational.

Boredom can be a gateway to invention and purpose. (Some experts wonder if technologies designed to constantly stimulate people inhibits their ability to process boredom, making boredom an intolerable crisis and perhaps robbing some people of finding those happy or creative moments on the other side of boredom).

At iVirtual, we are fully embracing boredom. Specifically, we are knee-deep in the amazing and incredibly boring world of Terms and Conditions.

We love boring Terms and Conditions! Well, actually we dislike poorly written, exploitative terms and conditions (more on that later). But we love well-crafted Terms and Conditions (T&Cs) written for regular people. That’s why we created YouOwnYou as a new technology and a new approach to data, privacy and identity management, designed to empower consumers and expand real trust in the digital economy.

A major problem in the world right now is that consumers give away their private information because the terms and conditions governing how your privacy is managed is intentionally very boring. And so no one reads them just before hitting the ACCEPT button and surrendering their rights to properly manage their privacy.

In fact, the T&Cs for websites are so long and boring that we now estimate that it would take the average Netizen twenty full days to read all of the terms and conditions they have agreed to in the last year. The New York Times analyzed the length and readability of privacy policies from nearly 150 popular websites and apps. Most of the privacy statements alone took over 20 minutes to read and more than half of all of the privacy terms studied required a reading comprehension level equivalent to a doctor or a lawyer.

The conclusion from the study is that we live in a data collection economy based on consenting to complicated documents that most people can’t understand.

Dr. Jen King is a Privacy and Data Policy Fellow at the Stanford University Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence. She says: “These are documents created by lawyers, for lawyers. They were never created as a consumer tool.”

A consumer tool, like iVirtual’s YouOwnYou, that re-thinks the entire process from a human-centric point of view?!! Now that sounds really boring. And we could not be more excited about it!

One of the inspirations for creating YouOwnYou comes from the fact that many of us at iVirtual have spent years building and running successful and often innovative new organizations, including software businesses. In the process, we had to review and sign terms and conditions to pre-qualify to sell software to companies like Microsoft, Disney, Apple, and a bunch of other big tech customers that can really move the needle for a start-up. The boredom of ploughing through page after page of terms and conditions that need to be read and understood before selling products to these companies is nearly overwhelming. It can be tear-inducing boredom.

But then it suddenly wasn’t boring. Why? Because you had to admire how these companies leveraged their buying power to create guarantees that, in many cases, were good for society and the environment. For example, to qualify to sell to many big companies, we had to make all sorts of ethical guarantees related to anti-corruption, human trafficking and child labour. Who can argue against that? And some terms were admirable because of the sheer gall attached to their buying power. For example, in one case we had to provide the “buyer” with access to all of our files upon 24-hours notice. All that so the “buyer” could audit our compliance with the terms and conditions of their agreement. Wow! You can do that?

Yes they can.

Boring became a gateway to inspiration.

Reading these big company T&Cs for pre-qualifying customers sent lightbulbs off. If big companies can ask for guarantees when they are the “buyer”, then why can’t everyone do the same thing? Why can’t we, the consumers in the consumer economy, also have T&Cs attached to our purchases? (Yes, if you are an average consumer then we think you are the most important customer in the world: your money makes the world go around).

Another set of lightbulbs started flashing around all of this boring stuff: When I’m online, why does the “seller” always get to set the terms and conditions?

That seems backwards. And it is! Shouldn’t the customer set their terms and conditions? They have the buying power, so what is stopping average people from setting their own terms and conditions online?

We think the answer is: Nothing.

That’s why we created YouOwnYou, a personalized terms and conditions generator for consumers.

In hopes of convincing everyone that boring is fun, iVirtual has big merchandising plans like t-shirts that say “Let’s Get Bored Together” and “Read My Fine Print”. But we know that in reality most people will continue to ignore the boring details. That’s OK! Just don’t ignore the chance to create your own terms and conditions. We promise to stay focused on the boring details so you can stay focused on living your online life in a way that is aligned with your real life.

And if you don’t want to read the boring details then we hope you will at least spread the word that boring is very underrated.

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