Did I really agree to anything when I clicked “I AGREE?”

If you use online or device-based software, you almost certainly clicked “I AGREE” to the terms and conditions in order to purchase or use it.  And if you’re like most people, you probably didn’t read all of the terms and conditions before you clicked.  So if you didn’t read it, did you really agree to the terms and conditions?  And what could they mean?

If you click “I AGREE” to software installation or use, you accept every one of those terms and conditions, whether you would normally agree to them or not. The terms and conditions are, in essence, a contract which each user agrees to honor, and clicking “I AGREE” is equivalent to your signature. Most terms and conditions are fairly innocuous, but there are some provisions that some of us would find objectionable. Online payment software, for example, often permits users’ demographic information to be shared, requires disputes to be arbitrated (not litigated) in far-flung locales, and even permits the company to report users’ income over a certain threshold that comes through the software to the IRS.

So, if you disagree with the terms and conditions, can you alter them and then agree?  It’s doubtful. Software contracts are take-it-or-leave it contracts.  If you disagree with provisions you can certainly try to negotiate with the provider’s general counsel – but the company’s position will probably be that you need not use the software at all if you don’t like the terms of use.  Since software agreements for similar products have fairly similar provisions, it can be a frustratingly meaningless argument and difficult to avoid agreeing to questionable terms and conditions. And for companies taking web-based payments, often enough the benefits of getting online payments outweigh the risks of the contractual terms.

Reading through terms and conditions can be unpleasant. However, they do constitute a contract. It’s important to understand that by clicking “I AGREE,” you really do agree to be bound by contractual terms – whether you read them or not.

Published by nellabloom

I help small-business owners with their legal needs – from startup to shut-down and the issues in between.

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