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Attorney Translates Online Terms for Teens

By William Vogeler, Esq. on January 10, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Jenny Afia, a privacy lawyer and partner at Schillings law firm in London, speaks at least three languages: English, lawyerese, and teen.

English helps her with clients on both sides of the Pond, but it is her command of lawyerspeak and teen talk that is making headlines on the World Wide Web. Afia translated Instagram's "terms of use" into language that teens can understand.

In a new report titled "Growing Up Digital," Afia says that most people don't read the terms of use on websites they visit. It is especially true with teens, who comprise about one-third of all internet users.

"The situation is serious," Afia said. "Young people are unwittingly giving away personal information, with no real understanding of who is holding that information, where they are holding it and what they are going to do with it."

It's Not Your Father's Internet

The Children's Commissioner for England issued the report, written by a task force of technology, legal and policy experts. The report includes standards for children's rights online, including the right to privacy.

"The internet is an extraordinary force for good but it was not designed with children in mind," it says, noting that children are spending more time on the internet each year. For example, the report said, 12 to 15 year olds now spend more than 20 hours a week online.

The task force recommended that government take a larger role in educating children and protecting them online. Among other measures, the report called for simpler terms and conditions by digital providers offering services to children.

I Don't Get It

The report included teenagers' responses about their understanding of the terms and conditions of use on Instagram. They replied generally:

"Do we have to read this whole thing?" "Are you sure this is necessary?" "Boring. It doesn't make any sense." "It takes like 10 minutes to read each sentence."

Afia, who drafted a simplified version of Instagram's 5,000-word policy, said it was "quite taxing and definitely time-consuming." But the responding teenagers said they understood the simplified terms of use, such as:

"Don't bully or say anything horrible about people." "We can force you to give up your username for any reason." "We can change these rules whenever we like by posting an update on Instagram whether you notice it or not."

Just like company terms of use, lawyers are often guilty of overdoing the legalese. Translating complex legal terms is the first step in improving client relations. As Afia demonstrates, lawyers should already be experts at this.

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