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New online rating system will help pinpoint good and bad contracts for consumers

Three laws students at the University of New Hampshire are working towards developing a method of rating online contracts through a website that will allow consumers to differentiate between company contracts.

Whether you are reviewing your monthly credit card statement or signing a two-year contract for your new smartphone, with purchases and agreements moving  to virtual formats, it makes it that much easier to bypass contracts by scrolling down to the ‘I agree to these terms and conditions’ verbiage.

If you are like the majority of Americans who skip ahead to click the confirmation box in order to move forward, you may agree that for the sake of time and convenience, we often trust the provider a little too much assuming that whatever we are agreeing to is in our best interest.

However, according to a recent Concord Monitor report, three law students at the University of New Hampshire are working towards developing a method of rating online contracts through a website that will allow consumers to differentiate between what they call, good and bad company contracts.

These contracts have the potential to have much more power over a user’s life. According to Philip Schreffler, the primary promoter of the group creating the rating system, it isn’t until something goes wrong that people discover that they have already given away all their power in the contract they signed.

Schreffler uses the example of the iPhone 5S fingerprint identity sensor, confirming that Apple’s privacy policy says it will give law enforcement information “upon request,” a fact that had a user not read the fine print, would not have normally been aware of.

The hope of the law students is that their rating system can help shift more power to the consumer. Once consumers are educated, Schreffler hopes people will begin to seek out companies that offer fairer contracts, making it more financially desirable for a company to have a simple, fair contract.

So how will it work? The Consumer Contracts Rating Board will rate companies based on a scale of 1 to 5 in 14 different areas. Those areas include readability, understandability, indemnity clauses and venue restrictions.

The idea for a rating system came from research Schreffler and his two friends, Justice Rines and Marcus Evans, began in an e-commerce class at the law school. Schreffler said what they found in the contracts on phones and in applications disclosed a level of legal manipulation by many companies that went beyond anything they imagined.

 

Further reading on legal binding agreements and contracts:

Technology: Using contract terms to specify the timing and scope of the duty to preserve

Everything you ever wanted to know about contractual boilerplate but were afraid to ask

Technology: 5 (relatively) easy ways to improve your privacy practices in 2014

Contributing Author

Stefanie Mosca

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