TL;DR: The Law and Linguistics of Social Platform Terms-of-Use

64 Pages Posted: 11 Jan 2023 Last revised: 5 Apr 2024

See all articles by Tim Samples

Tim Samples

University of Georgia - Terry College of Business

Katherine Ireland

University of Georgia Libraries

Caroline Kraczon

Georgetown University

Date Written: 2024

Abstract

Online terms-of-use (TOUs) are the most widely used form contracts in human history. But TOUs are as poorly understood as they are ubiquitous. Their proliferation has fueled a yawning gap between contract law and consumer reality. The notion that users read and understand online TOUs, disproven in academic research, is the subject of pop culture mockery. Yet contract law assumes something very different. Because classic legal doctrines apply to online contracts, consumers routinely find themselves legally bound to contracts they have not—and often could not—read.

In this article, we evaluate the law and linguistics of a critical area of consumer contracting: smartphone-based social platforms. Our interdisciplinary study examines an original dataset of 196 contracts (TOUs, privacy policies, and community guidelines) for seventy-five apps. Our analysis highlights a decoupling of contract doctrine and consumer reality in the smartphone age of online contracting. Our results show that this divergence is fueled by extraordinary volume, complexity, and asymmetries in platform-to-consumer contracts. In addition, our results offer evidence that the decoupling has grown in recent years.

Suggested Citation

Samples, Tim and Ireland, Katherine and Kraczon, Caroline, TL;DR: The Law and Linguistics of Social Platform Terms-of-Use ( 2024). 39 Berkeley Technology Law Journal 47 (2024), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4321066 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4321066

Tim Samples (Contact Author)

University of Georgia - Terry College of Business ( email )

A425 Moore-Rooker Hall
Athens, GA GA 30602-6269
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.terry.uga.edu/directory/legal-studies/tim-samples.html

Katherine Ireland

University of Georgia Libraries ( email )

Athens, GA 30602-6254
United States

Caroline Kraczon

Georgetown University ( email )

Washington, DC 20057
United States

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