Democrats and Republicans are getting behind a new bill, introduced Thursday, that would force tech companies to simplify the language in their terms of service agreements, making it easier for consumers to understand.
The Terms-of-service Labeling, Design and Readability Act – or TLDR for short – would require websites to provide a “summary statement” for users before they opt in to a terms of service agreement. The statement would summarize the legal jargon into something more easily understood by the average user, along with disclosing any recent data breaches (from the three years) and the types of sensitive data the site may collect. The summary would also explain “whether a consumer can delete their data, and if so, provide instructions on how.”
“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,” Rep. Lori Trahan (D-MA), one of the bill’s lead sponsors, said in a statement on Thursday. “No negotiation, no alternative, and no real choice.”
This bipartisan push for greater transparency into tech comes after Facebook faced months of criticism from lawmakers over how the company may harm users. Specifically, Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testified before Congress multiple times, outlining a series of leaks she released after leaving the social media company. Lawmakers used these disclosures as a means of demanding more transparency from the embattled social media company and others, like Snap, TikTok, and YouTube.
It’s unclear if lawmakers have received any additional internal reports, like those concerned with mental health, from any large tech companies, as of publication.
While the TLDR Act applies to most large websites and apps, like Facebook and Twitter, it exempts some small businesses. The Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general would be the main enforcers of the law, and they would be authorized to seek civil action against sites that break it.
“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 Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA). “Requiring companies to provide an easy-to-understand summary of their terms should be mandatory and is long overdue.”