Fixing Facebook's 'Terms'


It’s not usual for Facebook to feel the heat. Putting it bluntly, their behaviours make them an easy target for criticism, whether constructive or otherwise.

My attempt today is to be constructive. Specifically, I’d like to propose simple tactics Facebook can commit to that would better their disclosure experiences immediately. None of these tactics require much work (relative to their impact). Each of the tactics will go some ways towards enhancing the trustworthiness of Facebook’s disclosure practices.

For anyone at Facebook reading, reach out if you have questions. What I’m proposing is very possible, pragmatic and preferable.

You can do better. Doing better will benefit the people you serve around the world. Benefitting the people you serve around the world will benefit your business.

Let’s begin.

No more deceptive patterns

This might sound loaded. Perhaps it is. But if you critically analyse Facebook’s sign up process, you will immediately note they – like so many others – employ deceptive patterns to encourage prospective members to bypass their agreements. And yes, the plural is very deliberate.

These deceptive patterns are deliberately designed. This is the result of misaligned incentive structures. Facebook is optimising their sign up process to make it very easy for people to sign up. They are not balancing this objective with an equally important one: Understanding.

So, how does Facebook overcome this?

It’s actually very easy. Design a simple, multi-step sign up process. Each step focuses on one distinct action. This will enable Facebook to effectively utilise information hierarchy, layering and Just in Time disclosure to give people the most important information so they’re actually able to make in informed choice.

This should be an empirical process. Facebook should test how effectively the design iterations enhance comprehension and propensity to sign up.

FML. Plain language please

Just one of the many agreements people are unknowingly entering into – Facebook’s ‘Terms’ – are over 4,000 words long. They read at Grade 15. If you don’t know what this means, let’s just say this is overcomplicated.

How can Facebook overcome this?

Again, simple. 

Conduct readability analysis. Optimise for Grade 5 readability. If you only get to Grade 7, this is likely good enough.

Hiding behind legalese doesn’t help anyone. In fact, “easier to understand terms and conditions” may well be the number one thing organisations can do to enhance trust.

Disclosure as a conversation

Far too often disclosure is viewed is a single interaction. This is a much broader market failure. We can all get better at this.

In Facebook’s case, a more conversational approach to disclosure is a powerful way to demonstrate a commitment to designing for more informed “user” (I very much dislike that framing. Only using it because people will ‘get it’ in this context) action.

This could be achieved in a variety of ways, from a conversational agent that’s built off of some very basic FAQs/condition logic (as a starting point) through to a simple extension to the multi-step sign up process I discuss above.

What do you think?

What have I missed? What are you skeptical about? What are you struggling with that is similar or different to Facebook?

Let’s start a discussion.

If you want to get hands on with approaches and tools that can make better disclosure easier, check out our free course, A Primer to Better Disclosure.

With ❤️


P.S. For a more lively experience, check out the video.

Play Video