4 Ways to Read and Understand an End User License Agreement (EULA) More Easily
EULAs, or End-User License Agreements, are one of the evils of modern life. These are endlessly wordy agreements, usually written in tiny print. These are the things you blindly scroll down, looking for that darn “I agree” button, whenever you install an application (or, in Apple’s case, an update to an application). Well, that thing you’re clicking yourself into is actually a binding legal contract (at least in most cases).
Look For The Printer-Friendly Version
Here’s the Google Chrome end user license agreement, for example:
See how you need to scroll through that whole agreement just to read it? This is particularly dumb in this case, because the agreement is shown in a large, white, empty browser window. Here’s what the whole window looks like on my monitor:
Amazing, isn’t it? Fortunately, the link for the printer-friendly version transforms it into something that doesn’t require quite that much scrolling to read:
That’s the same window as above, on the same monitor. Still daunting, but at least we’re getting somewhere now. Let’s continue on to the other tips and see if we can get this any simpler.
Scan For Bold Or Colored Sections
Just about every legal agreement has bold section titles. This is very useful – you can just scan these titles for one that looks relevant to what you want to know, and then zoom in on that. For example, many people who read EULAs want to know what the software vendor does with their personal data. Let’s take another look at the Chrome one, this time closer up:
You see how the Privacy section just pops out at you? This isn’t just because it’s in the middle of the screenshot, but also because it’s bold.
Now, when speaking of “colored sections”, this can be either your own coloring, or the vendor’s. For example, here’s what Chrome does when I search (Ctrl+F) for Privacy on the page:
See how scannable that is? I can just rapidly scroll through the end user license agreement, and the information I want to read will pop out at me, even if it says something about privacy in some other section. Some vendors are extra-nice and color their own licenses for you, to make important parts stand out. Check out the Terms of Service for WordPress.com:
Automattic (makers of WordPress) are really serious about not hosting any spam blogs, and make this abundantly clear in their terms. Of course, looking for sections colored by the vendor only shows what the vendor cares about, not necessarily what you care about. But it still works to quickly answer some of the questions you may have (such as “may I host my automated article-scraping spam blog on WordPress.com?” which is hopefully not a question you really have).
Make it More Readable
Sometimes it can feel like vendors actually try to make EULAs difficult to read. I mean the physical action of reading here – what you have to do before you can try to understand the text. Check out Blizzard’s EULA for World of Warcraft:
Okay, nice work on those bold titles. But otherwise, this is tiny white text on a dark background. How is that readable? Here at MakeUseOf, we’ve covered quite a few tools for making webpages more readable. Let’s try applying one of my favorites, called Readability , to this EULA.
How much saner is that? Readability lets you control just about every possible formatting parameter, so you can tweak the page until it’s just right for you, grab a mug of tea and just sit there and read the agreement without feeling like your eyes are getting bloodshot after a while.
Look Up Words You Don’t Understand
Legal agreements often contain legalese – difficult English meant at lawyers rather than ordinary people. When you come across a word that makes no sense (but is important for what you’re trying to understand), just take a moment and look it up in a dictionary. My personal favorite is the OneLook dictionary search engine. We’ve spoken of its Reverse Dictionary feature before, but OneLook is a very capable search engine which works with a huge range of dictionaries. Just type in the word you want to find, and get it defined in a huge number of dictionaries around the Web:
What tricks do you use when you actually want to understand whatever it is you’re agreeing to? Did I miss anything important? Let us know in the comments!