Test your wits against the worryingly familiar Terms & Conditions Apply game

Inspired by the real dark patterns used by companies to harness and commoditise our data, the game’s rapid-fire, purposely confusing puzzles are hilarious yet sinister.

Date
15 July 2021
Reading Time
3 minute read

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How many times a day do you agree to a website’s terms and conditions, without really knowing what they entail? Ticking those boxes has not only become a daily tripping hazard for everyone online, but also a multi-billion dollar industry wherein companies mine and sell our personal data. According to research by online security platform Clario, when we just click ‘accept’ we’re giving away up to 70 per cent of the data a business can legally collect, including age, location, sexual orientation, place of work and religious beliefs. And as people become more savvy to this underlying privacy issue, companies have become increasingly cunning in how they word these prompts, which has served as inspiration for a hilarious yet sinister new online game: Terms & Conditions Apply.

Created by Wieden+Kennedy London’s creative technologist Jonathan Plackett together with Alex Bellos, The Guardian’s puzzle columnist and an expert in puzzle games, the game intends to challenge consumer skills in navigating these tricks as well as exposing the dark patterns companies are using to nab our personal information. “Visiting any website has become a hostile experience,” says Jonathan, “with multiple pop-ups asking us to ‘accept cookies’ or ‘receive notifications’ or ‘have our data processed’. Each one with a different set of complex clicks needed to decline.” Alex adds that websites purposely use misdirection to get you to unwittingly hand over your data or subscribe to alerts, which is “extremely annoying as well as unethical”. Hence this game “turns this misdirection into entertainment”.

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Jonathan Plackett and Alex Bellos: Terms & Conditions Apply (Copyright © Jonathan Plackett and Alex Bellos, 2021)

In the game, players are pitted against Evil Corp, which will “use every trick in the book” to get your data, and tasked with the mission to not accept any terms and conditions, say no to all notifications and opt out of cookies. But that is easier said than done. Players are thrown rapid-fire puzzles in the format of familiar browser pop-ups, asking them to share their data in progressively convoluted and ridiculous ways. One asks “would you like to not receive our newsletter, yes or no”; another states “To opt out of opting in to receive marketing alerts avoid not clicking Yes”. One seemingly simple question offers the options “Yes” or “No I like to kill kittens”. Others use classic logic puzzles, dexterity tests, optical illusions and word challenges to test players’ wits, against the clock, and others use techniques like pre-ticked boxes and colour coding – which is less far from the reality of devious data capture.

When they finish the game, players receive an individual score and information on where and why they have unwittingly given their personal data away – note: the game does not collect any personal data. Leon Gauhman, co-founder and CPO/CSO at digital product consultancy Elsewhen says that personal data is “potentially one of the most profitable and murkiest commodities of the digital age. Even with GDPR protecting consumers’ personal data, most people aren’t aware of the plethora of ways in which brands exchange and build on their personal data. As a customer, you may get rewarded with access to free and more personalised services – but in return you are providing an alarming level of personal information”. He adds that brands need to develop more ethical and transparent processes, including how pop-ups are worded and displayed. “The more forward-thinking brands will proactively educate customers on exactly how, where and why their data is being used and signpost this in a clear and accessible way.”

See how you fare against Evil Corp here.

GalleryJonathan Plackett and Alex Bellos: Terms & Conditions Apply (Copyright © Jonathan Plackett and Alex Bellos, 2021)

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Jonathan Plackett and Alex Bellos: Terms & Conditions Apply (Copyright © Jonathan Plackett and Alex Bellos, 2021)

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About the Author

Jenny Brewer

After five years as It’s Nice That’s news editor, Jenny became online editor in June 2021, now overseeing the website’s daily editorial output. Contact her with stories, pitches and tips relating to the creative industries on jb@itsnicethat.com.

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