Company Security Policies and Reading the Fine Print

October 13, 2016
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2 min read

Read the fine print. It’s an old piece of advice, going back long before the first webpage ever hit the ether. But the web and app eras have made this old advice far more immediate and pervasive. Company security policies should consider the unread agreement challenge to protect customers, employees and the company itself.

Understanding Company Security Policies

Website and applications prompt us to agree to terms of service seemingly every day. Still, few of us actually read what we are agreeing to before we click on the box.

By clicking without reading, we risk exposing ourselves to security hazards and legal ramifications. Users might agree to downloading cookies or other intrusive software onto their devices, for example, or sign over their original words or media to another firm’s intellectual property.

Checking the Box

In the days before the internet, reading the fine print was important advice for relatively rare occasions. Few people encountered detailed legal contracts on a daily basis. Today, these agreements are a fact of everyday life.

Simply reading a webpage or using an application might require agreeing to terms of service. This seems to fly in the face of the internet’s promise of convenience and speed. We want to use the application now, not spend hours rifling through confusing legalese.

For companies and the those tasked with devising company security policies, the challenge of reading the fine print goes in both directions. Not only should security executives be reading the fine print themselves in an effort to protect the business, but they also need to encourage their customers to read their fine print.

Jettison the Jargon

Legal language has a bad reputation because it is technical jargon. Like all jargon, it seems mysterious to laypeople, filled with long words and ordinary words used in odd ways. To a lawyer, however, it is clear and exact. It is also legally necessary.

For this reason, efforts to write terms of service in everyday language are usually doomed to fail. Instead of making agreements clearer, common language can be vague or even misleading. Unfortunately, simple language generally does not fit the requirements of legal or regulatory compliance.

The language of online terms and conditions can still be improved, however. Legal and marketing departments can work together to craft agreements that are easier to understand while still meeting legal standards of precision. As NPR reported, Apple took the unusual step of presenting the iTunes terms of service in the form of a graphic novel to encourage users to actually read and understand what they were agreeing to.

The Fine Print

To be sure, these challenges will not go away. For example, Apple might need to consider its rights to the iTunes agreement as a literary property, which presents a whole new challenge for a contractual legal agreement. But every improvement to terms of service and related documents will save users and vendors alike a lot of frustration, aggravation and potential legal fees.

Rick M Robinson

Rick Robinson is a writer and blogger, with a current 'day job' focus on the tech industry and a particular interest in the interplay of tech-driven factors ...
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