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Watch: Norway’s hosting a 30-hour reading of the legalese your favorite apps use to control you

By Joon Ian Wong
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

If you need help getting to sleep, this live video stream might do the trick. The Norwegian Consumer Council, a government-funded rights group, has organized an event to read aloud the terms and conditions governing the use of 33 of Norway’s most popular apps. All that legalese amounts to over 250,000 words. It will take about 30 hours.

The reading, held in English and Norwegian at the council’s office in Oslo, started at 9am CET, and it was in its third hour at the time of writing. Some 40 people form the relay team for the reading, including politicians, government officials, students, and digital rights experts. “Different reading tempos” might prolong the ordeal beyond the estimated 30 hours, says Finn Myrstad, who heads the council’s digital services section.

The absurdity of the event showcases the outsized burdens consumers bear when trying to understand their digital rights. Reams of opaque terms and conditions placed by app makers make it difficult for users to understand exactly what they’re agreeing to when they fire up an app. “When you actually sit down and read these terms, you realize how ridiculous they are,” says Myrstad.

Myrstad and his team of four have won consumer rights battles against global tech giants. The council lodged a complaint with the Norwegian Consumer Ombudsman in 2014 about Apple’s iCloud storage service, which it said didn’t notify users about changes to the terms of use. Several months later, Apple published a new set of terms that included language about notifying users if changes were made to the terms. It has also lodged complaints against Tinder and Runkeeper around how those apps deal with customer data, prompting quick responses from management.

What does the consumer council have planned when the reading draws to an end?  ”Just thank you and good night,” Myrstad says, before adding: “We’re not looking forward to the iTunes terms. It’s about 50 pages, so it will take quite a few hours.”

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