Experts are calling for laws to ban ridiculously complex consumer contracts. Experts are calling for laws to ban ridiculously complex consumer contracts. Experts are calling for laws to ban ridiculously complex consumer contracts. (Photo: Cristian Dina /Shutterstock)

It would take 14 years of education to understand all those terms and conditions

New study claims online contracts are 'unreadable,' while some mention your immortal soul and first-born child.

How long does it take to read Amazon Kindle's Terms and Conditions? Nine hours. We know this because an Australian actor actually tried it out.

Several years ago, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that the average person would have to spend 76 days to read all the privacy policies we encounter in a typical year. (Even reading a CVS receipt can take the better part of an afternoon.)

And, according to a new study from academics in Israel and New Zealand, 99% of the contracts on websites are incomprehensible. As the New York Times so eloquently put it: "The 'I agree' button should have long ago been renamed 'Meh, whatever.'"

The new research was conducted by Dr. Uri Benoliel from the Ramat Gan Law School in Israel and Shmuel Becher from Victoria University in Australia. Together, they studied the terms of service agreements from 500 of the most popular websites in the U.S. – including for Facebook, Amazon, Uber, and Airbnb. Of those, only two – yep, just two! – met the standard of readability that they had set. The other 498 required 14 years of education to understand.

"Many scholars have suggested that consumer contracts are indeed written in a way that dissuades consumers from reading them," wrote the authors. "The results of this article indicate ... that the average readability level of these agreements is comparable to the usual score of articles in academic journals."

What's more, companies know that very few people are bothering to read all the fine print. In 2010, a British video game retailer jokingly inserted a clause into its terms and conditions. The result? 7,500 shoppers unknowingly agreed to sell their "immortal soul" to the company. In 2014, another British company offered free Wi-Fi in exchange for people's first-born child.

What these incidents, along with the new study, highlight is the need for reform. Becher, an alumnus of Tel Aviv University who helped create a consumer law clinic in Israel, is advocating that policymakers require companies to draft simpler contracts. In New Zealand, for example, there are already some laws to ensure the user-friendliness of tax and health benefits documents.

Meanwhile, Amazon's terms of service agreements continue to be an exercise in intellectual gymnastics. Clause 57.10 states: “This restriction will not apply in the event of the occurrence (certified by the United States Centers for Disease Control or successor body) of a widespread viral infection transmitted via bites or contact with bodily fluids that causes human corpses to reanimate and seek to consume living human flesh, blood, brain or nerve tissue and is likely to result in the fall of organized civilization."

In other words, Amazon's new terms covers the zombie apocalypse.

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It would take 14 years of education to understand all those terms and conditions
New study claims online contracts are 'unreadable,' while some mention your immortal soul and first-born child.