Ticking boxes

You know those tick boxes on websites? The ones that you just have to click that say something like ‘I have read and understood the terms and conditions’? It turns out that they’re a load of old rubbish.

That’s what I’d always thought, anyway. Legal arse-covering is like a memetic virus: people see some legalese on a website, and assume that it’s essential, useful, necessary, and—ho ho ho—that it’s actually going to indemnify them in some way. So they copy it, like a cargo cult building a runway in the jungle.

As I’ve been forced to implement the stupid tick boxes on one application after another, with none of us really asking why, I’ve often wanted to just say no. But, of course, my objections had as little justification as the custom and practice of putting those boxes everywhere.

Well, now I have something to back me up. All those tick boxes are useless anyway. That’s what the FSA says [PDF]:

Consumers should check the details of the contracts they enter into. But a contract term requiring consumers to declare that they have read and understood the terms of the contract is likely to be unfair because it binds customers to terms which, in practice, they may not have any real awareness of.

Of course, not everything is governed by the FSA—and, indeed, the FSA won’t be around for too much longer—but the principle is sound:

Ticking a box that says someone has read something doesn’t mean they’ve read it.

So how about not putting that pointless box there next time?


  1. Alex

    Wrote at 2010-06-21 19:51 UTC using Chrome 5.0.375.70 on Mac OS X:

    I wonder if there’s any case law around this? I guess something like this would be governed by common law (at least in the UK).
  2. Ben

    Wrote at 2010-06-22 13:44 UTC using Safari 533.16 on Mac OS X:

    Is the implication, then, that having a tick-box is perverse; that courts are more likely to uphold contracts as fair where there’s no shortcut to indicate consent?

    That’s fucking hilarious.
  3. Julian Burgess

    Wrote at 2010-12-06 05:23 UTC using Chrome 8.0.552.215 on Mac OS X:

    I’ve found some websites where the terms which I was ask to agree to weren’t set to read-only, so I have invented my own terms, which were considerably more favourable. This is a practice I have seen done on paper where a the original contract has been produced in court and was found to have modifications made by the signee which I believe the court upheld.

    However it made me think as to whether the actual version of the terms is being stored anyway, as I’m sure a lot of companies would have difficultly producing the exact terms I agreed to anyway. So, yes it would be much better to just remove them altogether.