Standards Council of Canada

On-line agreements: do you know what you have agreed to?

How often do you read the terms and conditions of your agreements when you sign for or buy services and goods on-line? Have you read all the privacy conditions on your newly purchased smart phone, TV, or wearable device? Do you fully understand your contractual agreement with your bank, internet provider, or your car loan? 

The Consumer Council of Canada has claimed that both Canadian businesses and consumers face risk from poorly understood terms and conditions statements. They have outlined the following key facts: 

Key facts
A large number of consumers do not read or understand the terms and conditions statements that they agree to. Consumers cite the complexity and length of these statements as core to their decision to ignore them. Statements often have one-sided wording, leaving consumers with little choice but to accept.

  • Most consumers are at risk due to misunderstanding online terms and conditions statements and the liabilities they assume, including privacy risks. Misunderstood agreements could find their legal standing challenged by consumers.
  • Complex terms and conditions statements may undermine the trust between consumers and businesses and consumers report feeling that companies with complex terms and conditions do not have their best interests in mind. The report cautions that businesses are undermining their relationships with their customers and that rights-consciousness among consumers is growing.

To this end, the Consumers Council of Canada has made 12 key recommendations, from including plain language summaries, to allowing consumers to print, email and save agreements, to writing headlines and tables of contents in the “consumer voice” to facilitate understanding. You can visit the their Website and access the full report at the following link:



Suzanna Ersoy 




Re: On-line agreements: do you know what you have agreed to?

dfolkerson's picture
Permalink Submitted by dfolkerson (not verified) on Thu, 2015/10/29 - 08:21

Plain language summaries would be great. No one ever reads lengthy terms of use. That's why many services have taken to simply providing a link that reads something to the effect of "By continuing I agree with the terms of use", that takes them to the next screen. That's how acknowledged the situation is.

Re: On-line agreements: do you know what you have agreed to?

Quinn Redekop's picture
Permalink Submitted by Quinn Redekop on Thu, 2015/10/29 - 15:20

I also say a big "yes!" to plain language summaries. When I used to work for Royal Bank and was mandated to read lengthy disclosures I would often give a plain language summary afterward to illustrate to customers the main points that they needed to know. I received lots of positive feedback when I did this.

Re: On-line agreements: do you know what you have agreed to?

Nicki Islic's picture
Permalink Submitted by Nicki Islic on Thu, 2015/10/29 - 15:49

Unfortuanely, I put all of my trust into these large organizations, I just "accept" blindly and trust that they follow good business practices.  Who has time to read 50 pages and understand it!  Plain language summaries would be a great option... and even a requirement in some places like Ontario, where the new "accessible information" legislation will require information that is accessible to all.  I think that the "accessible information" definition should include a requirement for plain language information if requested (I'm not sure if that would be considered a reasonable accomodation in all cases?).

Re: On-line agreements: do you know what you have agreed to?

Jay Jackson's picture
Permalink Submitted by Jay Jackson on Thu, 2015/10/29 - 16:13

Here is an interesting blog on mandated disclosure that generated some equally interesting feedback. The author's argument is that mandated disclosures simply do not work and are poor substitutes for addressing head-on the root causes of the consumer detriment disclosures are trying to prevent.  His suggestion is that if they don't work and simply aggravate people, we should stop requiring them.

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