Crackdown on fine print called for in Australia as consumer contracts become epic

The longer the document, the less likely consumers are to pick up on unfair terms.

The longer the document, the less likely consumers are to pick up on unfair terms.

Australian consumer advocate Choice has shone a light on unreasonably long online contracts, after a review of the Amazon Kindle terms and conditions found the document took almost nine hours to read.

The contract for the popular e-reader amounts to some 73,198 words and takes the average reader eight hours and 59 minutes to read – longer than Shakespeare's Hamlet and Macbeth put together.

For the Kindle Voyage product, there are at least eight documents that a purchaser must read, in addition to those required for anyone looking to use subscription services.

"In practice ticking a box to accept a contractual agreement with Amazon only takes a few seconds but ... the length and complexity of these contracts is completely unreasonable," said Choice spokesman Tom Godfrey.

READ MORE: NZ competition watchdog says it has purged phone contracts of unfair fine print

The consumer group has used the examples to call on the Australian federal government to prevent companies from forcing Australians to accept unreasonably long and complex agreements, often referred to as 'terms of use', 'end user licence agreements' or 'terms and conditions'.

From insurance contracts to mobile phone plans or iTunes accounts, consumers are shown to be increasingly unlikely to read lengthy contract terms before ticking a box or signing their name.

A recent survey by the Insurance Council of Australia found that 80 per cent of consumers do not read their insurance product disclosure statement before purchasing a policy.

Godfrey said the longer the document, the less likely it was that consumers could pick up on unfair terms.

"Companies such as Amazon know that consumers want to make a purchase as quickly as possible, and they use this desire as cover to offload some worrying terms and conditions," he said.

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"One particularly concerning clause in the Amazon contract locks consumers into an arbitration process in the US if they have an unresolved problem with their Kindle."

This clause was listed in spite of Australian consumer law, which automatically gives consumers a right to a remedy from a retailer or manufacturer if it is faulty.

"A clause supposedly forcing you into overseas arbitration is likely to leave consumers confused about their legal rights," Godfrey said.

Choice compared Kindle's terms and conditions with those of the competitor e-reader Kobo, finding that terms of sale and use documents for the latter added up to 10,000 words.

Amazon Kindle has been contacted for comment.

A spokesman for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said it addressed unfair contract terms in a recent industry review.

"The ACCC invited businesses generally to consider opportunities for reducing the length and complexity of their standard-form consumer contracts to improve transparency and accessibility."

In the review, Telstra was identified as one of the first businesses to develop a one-page summary for consumers of telecommunications services. Other companies are understood to have followed suit.

 - Sydney Morning Herald


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