Many adults would struggle to understand the terms and conditions for using video-sharing apps, making them particularly unsuitable for children, Ofcom has found.
The regulator calculated that the T&Cs set by six platforms – BitChute, Brand New Tube, OnlyFans, Snapchat, TikTok and Twitch – required advanced reading skills to understand, making them unsuitable for many users, including children.
At nearly 16,000 words, OnlyFans had the longest terms of service, which would take its adult users more than an hour to read, the regulator said.
This was followed by Twitch (27 minutes, 6,678 words), Snapchat (20 minutes, 4,903 words), TikTok (19 minutes, 4,773 words), Brand New Tube (10 minutes, 2,492 words) and BitChute (8 minutes, 2,017 words).
Ofcom calculated a ‘reading ease’ score for each platform’s terms of service, finding that all but one was “difficult to read and best understood by high-school graduates”.
Twitch’s terms were found to be the most difficult to read, while TikTok was the only platform with terms of service that were likely to be understood by users without a high school or university education – although the reading level required was still higher than that of the youngest users permitted on the site.
Ofcom also found that Snapchat, TikTok and BitChute use “click wrap agreements”, which make acceptance of the terms of service implicit in the act of signing up.
Users are not prompted or encouraged to access the terms of service and so it makes it easier to agree to them without actually opening or reading them.
The regulator said its regulation of video-sharing platforms was important in informing its broader online safety regulatory approach under the Online Safety Bill, which it expected to receive royal assent later this year.
Jessica Zucker, online safety policy director at Ofcom, said: “Terms and conditions are fundamental to protecting people, including children, from harm when using social video sites and apps.
“That’s because the reporting of potentially harmful videos – and effective moderation of that content – can only work if there are clear and unambiguous rules underpinning the process.
“Our report found that lengthy, impenetrable and, in some cases, inconsistent terms drawn up by some UK video-sharing platforms risk leaving users and moderators in the dark.
“So today we’re calling on platforms to make improvements, taking account of industry good practice highlighted in our report.”
A Snapchat spokeswoman said: “As Ofcom recognises, we have a number of good-practice measures in place, including using reading-ease tools to regularly review language.
“We are in the process of updating our guidelines, including adding more information about moderation and what content is and isn’t allowed. We will continue to gather feedback and work with Ofcom to ensure our rules are easy to understand.”
BitChute said: “BitChute welcomes users and creators aged 16 and older from all backgrounds to exercise their individual freedoms to share and consider the widest possible variety of experiences and viewpoints. Therefore, it is essential for us to provide transparency and accessibility.
“We look forward to reviewing Ofcom’s report with an eye for possible improvements.”