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Privacy advocates are warning the language used in the terms and conditions of popular social media services make it difficult for children to understand what they are agreeing to and the amount of data they are sharing.
Research conducted by online privacy site BestVPN.com analyzed the text of the terms of service agreements companies like Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat subject their users to and found the language used is well above the reading level for most of the younger users who are allowed to use the platforms.
The study looked at the legalese that is presented to users when they sign up for accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and WhatsApp. BestVPN.com took the terms of service for each platform tested its readability using the Flesch Reading Ease Formula, a test designed to determine how simple text is to understand.
The higher the score on the Flesch Reading Ease Formula scale, the more digestible the content is considered to be. Scoring in the 90-100 range means the text is easily understood by most readers, while scoring between 0-30 means the language is at a university graduate’s level of reading comprehension.
Most social media platforms fell much closer to graduate level scores in crafting their terms of service. Instagram earned the honor of being the most difficult to read, with a score of 35.66. It was followed closely by its parent company Facebook, which scored a 42.56 for the terms of service of its flagship social network.
WhatsApp, another Facebook-owned property, didn’t separate itself much from its family of apps, scoring just 44.01. That was just barely enough to top Twitter, which scored a 43.8 for its terms and agreements.
While there were slight differences in the scores of those apps, they all functionally fell into the same category of reading comprehension according to the Flesch Reading Ease Formula. Any score between 30-50 is considered to require college level reading comprehension to understand.
The only app to escape that categorization was Snapchat—an app known for its draw of younger users. The ephemeral photo and video sharing app scored 53.34, putting it in a range that 10th to 12th grader can understand but is still considered fairly difficult to read.
For the sake of comparison, BestVPN.com said an abstract for a molecular physics paper scored 33.34—just barely harder to read than Instagram’s terms of service. A chapter from Dostoyevsky’s “White Nights” scored a 63.08, meaning the famous Russian author’s short story is easier to read than any of the privacy terms of popular social media services.
This presents a problem for all users who assuredly would rather not read through the college-level text to understand what is being done with their data and information. It is especially important for younger users to be able to understand what each service requires, especially as they add more features that may collect more data or reveal more about the user.
Snapchat’s Snap Map feature, which displays the location of a user each time they open the app, has come under fire by organizations including the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and Childnet International for potentially putting younger users at risk.
“We don’t want to put people off using social media, but it’s important that people, especially parents, know what they’re getting into when they sign up,” Douglas Crawford, privacy expert at BestVPN.com said.
“We would like to see social media companies simplify these terms and be more up front about how they use data and track people. Facebook has done this with its data privacy conditions, which is a good first step, but much more needs to be done,” Crawford said.
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Source : http://www.ibtimes.com/social-media-terms-service-too-hard-children-comprehend-2580288