Culture

22,000 agree to unblock sewers (they didn't read Wi-Fi terms)

Commentary: UK Wi-Fi provider Purple slips a community service clause into its terms and conditions. The company says many didn't notice.

 Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


Man with ground open unblocking a drain with a tool

22,000 agreed to 1,000 hours of this. Or worse.

Nikki Bidgood / Getty Images

Oh, nobody reads them. Ever.

We're too keen to get the app, get the Wi-Fi that we're not going to read the legalistic screed. We just hope it will never be relevant to us.

UK Wi-Fi provider Purple decided to experiment with people's wholesale acceptance of terms and conditions. It inserted a community service clause into all the legal mumbo and jumbo attached to its hotspot terms.

It read: "The user may be be required, at Purple's discretion, to carry out 1,000 hours of community service." 

What sort of community service? Well, some of the possibilities were: cleansing local parks of animal waste, providing hugs to stray cats and dogs and manually relieving sewer blockages. Yes, manually.

Then there was: cleaning portable lavatories at local festivals and events, painting snail shells to brighten up their existence and scraping chewing gum off the streets.

Actually, the snail-painting sound entertaining. I don't know about 1,000 hours of it, though.

Still, Purple says that 22,000 people happily agreed to its terms and conditions and left themselves open to send their hands where those hands would prefer not to go.

"Our experiment shows it's all too easy to tick a box and consent to something unfair," Gavin Wheedon, Purple's CEO, said in a press release on Thursday.

There is, of course, one important question here. How many people did notice the onerous community service clause and objected to Purple? Or, at least, refused to sign up for its service. 

"Just one person noticed," a Purple spokesman told me. I'd very much like to meet that person.

The purpose of this experiment was Purple crowing that it's already compliant with the EU's General Data Protection Regulation, which comes into force next year.

Purple says that the new regulation's insistence on "unambiguous consent" before personal information can be used for marketing purposes should be immediately implemented.

Oh, but will we even bother to wade through the details? I fancy that we'll waive our rights, just so that we can download a fascinating new toenail-comparison app more quickly.

Technically Incorrect: Bringing you a fresh and irreverent take on tech.

Special Reports: CNET's in-depth features in one place.