The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

How long would it take to read the terms of your smartphone apps? These Norwegians tried it out.

WhatsApp and Facebook app icons on a smartphone in New York. (Patrick Sison/AP)

Consumer rights advocates frequently urge smartphone users to check the terms and conditions of the apps they download.

But let’s be honest: Who actually reads them?

A few Norwegians wanted to make a point and decided to publicly read aloud the terms of 33 apps in a live-streamed event hosted on their website. On average, Norwegians have 33 apps installed. But reading the terms of all of them took the activists more than 31 hours.

The campaign was organized by Norway’s Consumer Council, which explained that it would have been easier and faster to read the New Testament.

Although some of the apps were specific to the Norwegian market (such as newspaper applications), apps popular in the United States, such as Netflix, Skype, Facebook or YouTube, were also included. Soundcloud and iTunes in particular stood out with their extraordinarily long terms and conditions.

Printed out, the terms added up to hundreds of pages.

“The average consumer could easily find themselves having to read more than 250,000 words of app terms and conditions,” the council explained on its website. “For most people this is an impossible task, and consumers are effectively giving mobile apps free rein to do almost whatever they want.”

“The current state of terms and conditions for digital services is bordering on the absurd. Their scope, length and complexity mean it is virtually impossible to make good and informed decisions,” the council’s digital policy director, Finn Myrstad, was quoted as saying.

Following the 30+ hour live stream, the Norwegian consumer rights body urged app service providers to “cut back on the obvious” and to “write so that people understand.”

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