Terms of Service: a crucial document that all consumers should read. But really, how many of us actually do? These documents are written specifically so that consumers will better understand the rules with using whatever product or service the company may be putting out. Companies will also use them to not only protect their products from being misused, but also protect themselves from lawsuits from product misuse or abuse. When it comes down to it, the Terms of Service is probably the most important document you can receive as a consumer, especially when on the internet. Now a day, there are countless social media websites that contain your personal information as well as track your use of their website. What they do with that information is up to them, and may be unfair. However, in all fairness, these websites are required by law to inform you on what information they will be using and explicitly lay out exactly what you can and cannot do on their website. When we as consumers check that we have “read and agree to all terms and conditions” on these websites, we are giving them permission to use that information, as well as telling them we will use the site appropriately.
Pinterest is a unique social media site. It involves members “pinning,” or bookmarking, on their page ideas from other websites. Each pin is directly linked to another website, which in the ideal world, would be exactly what is listed on the pin. For example, you may pin a recipe, with the title of the recipe and a picture of the meal as your pin. When you click on the picture, it will take you to the website it originated from, where it will give you details on how to make said recipe. In order for Pinterest to function as a safe and legal website, the pins on your page must be done correctly. They lay out the dos and don’ts of pinning in their Terms of Service document, which each member has to agree to in order to use their website. The Terms of Service include everything from Copyright issues, to not linking to faulty websites. The problem is that these Terms of Service are written pretty densely and in legal jargon that an educated person would best be able to understand, all elements of the Official Style. According to the 60secondmarketer (2012), 76% of Pinterest users have only some college education or less. Considering this, the majority of Pinterest users would be unable to understand the Terms of Service thoroughly. The indemnity clause in their Terms of Service, one of the most important clauses, is also one of the longest, most complicated sentences in their agreement.
“If you use our Products for commercial purposes in violation of Section 1(c), as determined in our sole and absolute discretion, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless Pinterest and its officers, directors, employees and agents, from and against any claims, suits, proceedings, disputes, demands, liabilities, damages, losses, costs and expenses, including, without limitation, reasonable legal and accounting fees (including costs of defense of claims, suits or proceedings brought by third parties), in any way related to (a) your access to or use of our Products, (b) your User Content, or (c) your breach of any of these Terms.”
Not only is this sentence long and intimidating, I believe it is a prime example of how the Official Style is seen in a Terms of Service document. It places the action in passive and impersonal constructions, creating an open ended statement. This will allow the company to prosecute anyone who breaches their terms. If they were to get too specific, it could limit the Terms too much and leave loop holes in the system. This way, when the actions and audience are broad, there is no way around it. Everything fits under this umbrella statement. The jargon is legal and not every day language. Even more specifically, they refer to specific legal documents that, even I as an educated student could not tell you what it entails. Although all of these examples point to Pinterest trying to alienate their readers and hide the truth of what you can really do on your profiles, Pinterest is in tune with their membership. In their Terms of Service, they do something really unique. Next to every section of terms, they include a “More simply put” box.
The “more simply put” paragraph sums up the official style into the plain style, creating a more user friendly document. Pinterest acknowledges that its users probably don’t understand indemnity and “violation of Section 1(c).” So instead of letting you dive into what you think it means, they lay out how they interpret their own writing. Indemnity, according to Pinterest officer, is laid out as such:
“If we are sued because of something your business does on Pinterest, you have to pay our costs. Also, you should have created a business account and agreed to our commercial terms in the first place.”
In readability score alone, we went from a reading level of 36.5 with the Official Style to a 7 with the Plain Style. To me, this seems a little too good to be true. As much as I like the laid back, conversational language used in the more simply put box, I wonder how accurate it really is, and how much Pinterest is leaving out. Using one third of the words and at a much lower grade level, is Pinterest able to say the same thing? Although I doubt Pinterest is trying to trick any of its users into using their site illegally, I wonder if Official style, although dense and complicated, is best used in Terms of Service. Knowing exactly what you can and can’t do legally is important, especially to us as consumers. Using the Plain Style to debrief the Terms of Service is a great idea, however, should be read with caution and after reading through the actual Terms of Service. As a Pinterest user, I look at the “more simply put” as an abstract. It’s the basic gist of what’s about to come in the actual report. You can’t read the abstract and know the important details of the research. In order to fully understand the concept, you must read the actual research itself. More simply put, actually read the Terms of Services.