It takes longer to read a legal agreement of a popular online service than to read a book

reading time infographic by visual capitalist

If you had read the Terms of Service for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Google, you would have realized how much data the online services collect about you. Well, you not the only one who skipped it. The reason why only few people take the time to read those (often) obfuscated legal texts maybe simple: it can take more time to read the Terms of Service than to read a book.

Visual Capitalist, a web site that creates infographics, has drawn up a fascinating chart that shows the reading times of Terms of Service for popular internet services. The original infographic can be viewed here (having a large screen makes it easier to view).

The award for the longest terms of service goes to Microsoft. It takes approximately an hour and three minutes to read the text at an average reading speed. The Chinese classic Art of War takes about 50 minutes to read. Shakespeare’s Macbeth takes about an hour and 11 minutes.

The next you push the play button in Spotify to listen to an album, you have just enough time to read the music service’s Terms of Service (35 minutes). The terms for Apple Media Services takes 30 minutes to read.

Not many Facebook user has sacrificed 17 minutes of his or her life just to read the terms of service, not to mention YouTube users who should study the legal text for 13 minutes before viewing videos.

The reading times presented in the Visual Capital infographic are average times. If you are not used to reading sometimes cryptic legal documents, it can be even slower to read them. Reading an article, for instance, at Buzzfeed certainly is much faster than studying legal documents.

The calculated reading times are based on the average reading speed of 240 words per minute for English text. People who read a lot may read at double speed without extra effort.

Another reason why many people don’t like to read legal texts is that they tend to be difficult to understand. Flesch Reading Ease is a method of measuring the readability of a text. The algorithm takes into account the length of sentences and words, and produces an index based on those.

Running the Flesch Reading Ease test for a number of Terms of Service texts of popular internet services produced somewhat disturbing results. To understand the terms of the following services the reader should have college-level degree (below the services are sorted from the most difficult to less difficult):

  • Pokemon Go
  • Twitter
  • Uber
  • Zoom
  • TikTok
  • Spotify
  • Amazon
  • Netflix
  • Tinder
  • Apple media services
  • Reddit
  • YouTube

The first sentence in Twitter’s Terms is 70 words, 585 characters long. It is a long paragraph.


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