End-user License Agreements
End-user license agreements: Before cookies or other tracking software begins to track a user, the individual must accept an end-user license agreement (EULA). EULAs are commonly written by lawyers to protect the organization and disclose any risk that the user may take on. EULAs are a type of contract between the organization and user that outlines the nature of their relationship and what each party can expect from the other.
Many scholars argue that EULAs are too complicated and complex for the average reader to understand. Users simply agree to the terms and conditions without reading the contract and thoughtfully considering what personal implications it may have. Some researchers even question if these contracts are legally enforceable because of how few users actually read and understand them.
The tough part of EULAs is that they are considered legal protection for the organization, but that does not mean that the practices of the organization are going to be ethical. In fact, it can mean the exact opposite. In 2013, Gamestation, a UK-based electronic games retailer, hid an unethical clause in their terms and service agreement. For one day, the company jokingly amended their contract so that users would agree to give over “their immortal souls.” Although it was intended as a joke, customers who found out protested and boycotted the retailer. Some even petitioned British government for stronger regulations and oversight of the EULA of retailers. Gamestation apologized.
Clearly, Gamestation’s joke was unethical and not legally enforceable, but overall EULAs have some ethical hurdles to overcome. When applying Bowen’s 15 Ethical Guidelines, EULAs complicate our understanding of “be transparent” and “disclose.” EULAs do just those two things. They are transparent and disclosing to a fault. They basically disclose everything, which makes them long, time-consuming, and daunting for everyday users. Some researchers suggest that the length of EULAs is intended to alienate readers and prevent them from trying to read and understand the messages. This creates an opportunity for unethical clauses within the contract (like in Gamestation case).
Public relations practitioners need to help the legal team create EULAs that are manageable and understandable for users, but still comprehensive enough to protect the organization. Some suggested ways to accomplish this is to create visually appealing contracts with graphics, videos, or illustrations that will convey the information. Despite this suggestion, few organizations have changed their EULAs to be more easily read or understood by everyday readers.
Instances like Gamestation’s joke have produced an environment where consumers no longer feel comfortable with the items and clauses of a EULA. Although most readers accept the terms and conditions, public anxiety on the matter has increased tension between organizations and the public. When monitoring the digital reputation of an organization, public relations practitioners need to manage user reactions to EULA’s as well as the tension they create.Next Page: Legal Regulations of Digital Ethics