Luján, Cassidy, Trahan Introduce Bill to Inform Consumers, Increase Online Transparency

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA) and U.S. Representative Lori Trahan (D-MA-03) today introduced the Terms-of-service Labeling, Design and Readability (TLDR) Act to require commercial websites and mobile apps to create a simple and readable summary of their terms-of-service agreements in order to make them more accessible, transparent, and understandable for consumers.

“Consumers deserve the ability to make informed decisions online for themselves and their families,” said Senator Luján. “Rather than inform, too many companies use long and complicated Terms of Service agreements to bury critical details about their data policies and shield themselves from legal liability. The TLDR Act will empower consumers to take their business elsewhere when that happens. Informing consumers is a bipartisan issue, and I look forward to continue working with my colleagues to provide real choice online.”

“Users should not have to comb through pages of legal jargon in a website’s terms of services to know how their data will be used,” said Dr. Cassidy. “Requiring companies to provide an easy-to-understand summary of their terms should be mandatory and is long overdue.”

“For far too long, blanket terms of service agreements have forced consumers to either ‘agree’ to all of a company’s conditions or lose access to a website or app entirely. No negotiation, no alternative, and no real choice,” said Representative Trahan. “To further slant the decision in their favor, many companies design unnecessarily long and complicated contracts, knowing that users don’t have the bandwidth to read lengthy legal documents when they’re simply trying to message a loved one or make a quick purchase. The potential for abuse is obvious, and some bad actors have chosen to exploit these agreements to expand their control over users’ personal data and shield themselves from liability. This is a problem that transcends political parties, and it demands solutions like the TLDR Act that do the same by requiring transparency and returning power to consumers.”

A 2012 study found that it would take 76 work days for the average American to read the agreements for technology companies they use. Yet, because of the complicated language and length of many terms of service documents, an overwhelming majority of users agree without reading any portion of the contract.

The TLDR Act requires that online companies, with the exception of small businesses, include a nutrition label-style summary at the top of their terms of service and include machine-readable tags to make the agreements more accessible for consumers and researchers. It gives consumers transparency by requiring terms-of-service summaries to include:

  • The type of consumer information being collected.
  • Whether the data collected is necessary for the company to provide consumers their service.
  • A graphic diagram of how consumer data is shared with third parties.
  • Whether a consumer can delete their data and instructions on how to do so.
  • The legal liabilities of a consumer using the service, including their rights to their content, mandatory arbitration, and class action waivers.
  • A list of reported data breaches from the past three years.

To enforce compliance, the bipartisan legislation authorizes the FTC to treat any violation as an unfair or deceptive practice and asserts that State Attorneys General may bring a civil suit related to a violation on behalf of at least 1,000 affected residents of their state.

The TLDR Act is supported by key groups and experts, including Common Sense and Open Terms Archive.

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