Some license agreements on websites really annoy me. Not necessarily because they are long, complicated and allow the owners of the website in question to come into my house, put their feet up on the sofa and drink my alcohol, but because in order to get past them I either have to waste 20 minutes of my time, or lie.

Why? Because at the end of the fifty-page lump of legalese, which is crammed into a tiny textbox with a scrollbar to make it really unlikely that anyone will ever read the whole thing, they put a checkbox like this:

I have read, understood and agree to the terms of this Agreement

In order to check the box and proceed, I actually have to have read the entire thing in all its glorious tedium – otherwise I’m lying. And of course, the website owners know that no-one ever reads it. In other words, they expect everyone to lie. It’s normal practice.

They often don’t even make an effort to make the agreement relate to what you are actually wanting. I recently signed up for‘s resale of BTOpenzone roaming wireless access – and yet I had to assent to a license agreement which, among many pages of legalese, talked about the equipment they would install on my premises.

What’s wrong with a checkbox like this?

I agree to the terms of this Agreement

I’m resigned to them giving themselves permission to occupy my front room. It’s not like I have much choice. At least with a checkbox like that, it’ll be a pleasant surprise and I won’t have to waste my time right now.

9 thoughts on “EULiar?

  1. Gerv,
    In reality, the reason the checkbox asks you to agree that you have read and understood the terms of the agreement is largely one of enforceability. You would potentially be less legally bound just by saying “I agree to the terms of this agreement” because you could (in theory…from lawyers’ perspective) argue that you might have agreed, but you didn’t read it…or didn’t understand it.

    It sounds silly, but it’s worded the way it is on purpose by lawyers.

  2. A Christian friend of mine raised this with me quite a few years ago.

    The solution? It’s painful, but I read every EULA that I need to in order to install stuff on my machine.

    But I do agree that it’s stupid the way it’s done currently. And I have grown to love simple EULAs (EULAe?) and those who accept the GNU agreement.

  3. If I had more free time, I think it would be interesting to do textual criticism of license agreements. Unfortunately (or, perhaps, fortunately), I have other priorities for my time at the moment, so I tend not to sign up for things with egregiously long EULAs unless they’re really worth it. Feel free to borrow my idea, though. If you’re reading a lot of gratuitously lengthy license agreements anyway, the extra time to analyze them and their potential lineage might make the activity seem marginally less pointless.

  4. I think you’re perhaps worrying a bit much about lying, because there isn’t really an intent to deceive, it is just selecting the nearest available choice on a form with limited options. In a general situation where a form is not made expressive enough, you select the nearest available option, and you are not lying just because the form does not let you express reality, although you may perhaps have a moral duty to express the exact position by other means if reasonably possible.

    In this particular case, the available options are “I understand and agree”, and (whether as an explicit option, or implicitly by not clicking the box) “I disagree”. The latter is further from the truth, so you select the former on the form, but you can email them to explain that actually you haven’t read but agree anyway. In that case, you really haven’t acted deceitfully.

    Of course, the other issue here is that there is a consequence of this choice, namely whether they let you enter into the agreement on the basis of your position. Clearly if you click “I understand and agree” then they will, and if you click “I disagree” then they won’t. It’s in my view a fair enough assumption that they don’t really care whether you understand the agreement (merely that they can enforce it) that I think you can justifiably provisionally proceed after clicking the “I understand and agree” box, but be prepared to respect it in the unlikely event that they cancel the agreement after reading your email.

    All that said, I know that in practice I’d just click the box and be done with it, but maybe that’s wrong.

  5. P.S. but of course, if you really don’t feel at ease with my idea of just ticking the box and then emailing them to explain, then you’d better continue to actually read the things.

  6. Textual criticism of EULAs is sometimes quite entertaining! One time while being paid by my employer to read or ignore EULAs I came across this great typo:

    The cost of any requested audit will be solely borne by [Corp], unless such audit discloses an underpayment or amount due to [Corp] in excess of five percent (5%) of the initial license fee for the Software or you are using the Software in an unauthorized manor, in which case you shall pay the cost of the audit.

    Hrm…. is an “unauthorized manor” kind of like a “house of ill repute”?

  7. i want to say first that i like your Why..”

    I am one also that seeks to mean what i agree to, but this also relates to TOS agreements with forums etc. (i like this ones!). Typically you must agree not to upload, post, etc. “anything which is false, defamatory, inaccurate, abusive, vulgar, hateful, harassing, obscene, profane, sexually oriented, threatening, invasive of a person’s privacy, or otherwise in violation of ANY law” ( “or otherwise objectionable” (Yahoo answers).

    Though some of this depends on interpretation, some of such conditions could be conducive to hindering Christian expressions of faith (and everyone expresses a belief system) on the internet, once some sort of hate crime law is passed. Or exclude them from software that has a EULA like that of Disk Internals freeware Linux reader, which includes not discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation as a condition of “use, display or distribution” of said software.

    While i certainly have nothing personal against such persons, and would help them as much as i would “straight” person, i cannot agree that such an orientation and it’s typical lifestyle is right or healthy. And as i have a web page or two that substantiates that ( did have that otherwise useful software installed.

    On another note, could i ask here (or tell me where? if anyone has an idea of why Firefox (unlike Opera) would lost about 12% or more system resources (w/98se, 320mb ram, FF 2001 ) on pages like 9first time load), whereas other pages usually only see 1% loss or none (does not seems to mind much how many tabs).

    Thanks for your help and fellwship

  8. That’s proofreading. Textual criticism is when you compare a set of related documents (e.g., EULAs for various products by the same company, or for various versions of the same product) with a view toward establishing which portions of each text are inherited from an “original” or “ancestral” document that all of the ones you are examining ultimately copied from. You know the corporate lawyers don’t start over from scratch writing the agreement for each and every product. Obviously, they copy from their own previous work, at least. Of course they may add little “improvements” or make changes to each one, e.g., in some cases they customize it for a particular product (though by all appearances usually not). In some cases they may also “borrow” ideas for clauses from other agreements or contracts, or management may suggest additional concepts to be worked in. Wouldn’t it be interesting to study the lineage of these documents?

    Well, okay, maybe I’m stretching the concept of “interesting” here. I think at least the *idea* of studying it is interesting.

    Of course, if the lawyers want to be sure they have a solid claim that you read and agreed to each and every point in the thing, they should have individual little checkboxes by each particular term or condition you have to agree to. That might not be considered the most user-friendly sign-up process ever, but it would sure cover the legal bases!

  9. Hello, my name is axel and I am from Mexico, and i wanted to know if there exists algun type of agreement in which I authorize a person to hacking my software and which this one verifies if my software is efficient enough or require improve. In Mexico this topic this one slightly backward and in The United States are more anticipated.