When was the last time you read a terms and conditions document in its entirety? In fact, have you ever?
You may want to start setting aside the time to do it, given an ingenious ploy by the UK's free Wi-Fi hotspot provider Purple (opens in new tab). 22,000 people signed up to use its internet service...only to find themselves legally bound to 1,000 hours of community service.
The clause states that anyone agreeing to the conditions would find themselves cleaning up after festival goers, scrubbing toilets and “manually relieving sewer blockages”.
Thankfully for those unobservant enough to agree to the clause, it's unlikely they'll ever be expected to fulfil it. Instead, Purple seems only to want to raise the point that terms of service sheets should not be ignored.
Indeed, they offered a prize to anyone who spotted the "community service clause" but, according to The Guardian (opens in new tab), only one user did.
Purple isn't the first company to play with their customers in this way. In April 2010, retailer Gamestation snared 7,500 customer souls (opens in new tab) for all eternity thanks to the small print in its Ts&Cs.
Terms and perdition
The lengthy, legalese filled small print of the terms and conditions sheet has long been a bug bear of consumer rights watchdogs, who argue that the dense nature of the sheets purposefully deter and turn off customers from reading and understanding what they're signing up for.
And, when you dig deep into them, it's no surprise they're set up in that fashion – if we were fully aware of all the things we're signing away when agreeing to T&C documents, from data sharing to handing over ownership of creative works, we'd never use them. They keep companies legally watertight too, should anyone ever take umbrage with a flaw or feature of the service or device in question.
An excellent feature from The Guardian (opens in new tab) documented the monumental effort it'd take to read the terms and conditions of every device and application before using them.
The Sisyphean task has often been parodied, and nowhere better than in Terms and Conditions (opens in new tab), which adapts the mammoth iTunes legal agreement, and turns it into a graphic novel starring Steve Jobs in the style of a multitude of comic book legends. It's certainly more entertaining than the bog-standard one that comes with the software – you may even read the whole thing.
- Wanting to send files using that free Wi-Fi? WhatsApp conversations just got way more useful with improved file sharing