EULA’s Are Making Liars of Us All

picture of a girl with fingers crossed behind her backWe’ve all seen those windows that pop up when you install a new piece of software, or sign up for a website or social networks. They are dreary, dialog boxes standing in our path, blocking our move forward. They are dense, immovable, and packed with legalese. To move forward with this seemingly simple task you have chosen you must skim through 100 pages of dry text and then click the “I Agree” button. Sometimes you don’t even have to scroll, you merely have the opportunity to do so.

These are called End User License Agreements, aka EULAs. These are attempts to chain down users legally to a number of terms and conditions ranging from petty to ponderous without so much as a signature. Sometimes, frighteningly enough, you can’t even see a EULA until after you’ve agreed to it.

There has been a lot of conflict over the enforceability of these agreements. These days, EULAs are all-encompassing in the software realm. Countless people are clicking buttons whose purpose is to bind them to agreements that they never read (thus making them liars) and that in many cases clash with state and federal laws. These shady contracts are, in essence, one-on-one agreements between manufacturers and all of their customers. They often endeavor to alter laws and regulations without going through any kind of legal process. And the outcomes are perilous for everyone involved.

People are forgetting what occurs when they click “I Agree.” They could be opening the door to vendors to come and stalk their computers, or giving the OK to corporations to stop them from openly criticizing the product they’ve received. In the case of Pinterest, for example, they could be binding you to stiff legal fees if Pinterest gets sued for information you post.

But the greatest peril of EULAs lies in what they do to our collective integrity. Let’s be frank. No one reads these things, I would warrant not even the lawyers that write them (or should I say, that briefly edit the 10 pieces of boilerplate they slap together). Not the company who posts them. Not the user who accepts them.

The entire Internet would grind to a screeching halt if we all actually read those digital documents, because we would have time for little else. And yet, every one of them asks us to warrant, upon pain of perjury at times, that we have indeed read them. Non-compliant people never even think about these forced statements, but compliant law-abiding analytical types like myself (well, unless I’m driving), always have a twinge of conscious as we see the fear-inspiring phrase: “By clicking here you indicate that you have read and agree with…” We have no practical choice but to click. And every click is a lie, chipping away at our souls.

Curse you lawyers. And curse you EULAs! You have turned me into a pathological liar. Where indeed will this ill-conceived path lead?

Ross Barefoot

Ross Barefoot is an SEO consultant. He is also a Certified Search Engine Optimization Trainer for the Search Engine Academy.

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