Thousands sign up to clean animal poop after failing to read contract’s fine print

A free Wi-Fi company is reminding users why it's important to read terms and conditions. Getty Images

A company that provides free Wi-Fi conducted an unusual test to see how many of their customers actually read the terms and conditions before clicking “I agree” to access the internet.

The answer: Not many.

The U.K.-based company, called Purple, inserted a “community service” clause into the fine print of their contract for two weeks, saying users must do 1,000 hours of volunteer work — including tasks such as cleaning animal waste from parks, emptying blocked sewers and scrubbing portable washrooms at festivals.

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About 22,000 customers agreed.

“Don’t worry, we aren’t going to round up these individuals and ask them to don their rubber gloves and repay the community debt,” the company wrote in a press release Thursday.

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It went on to explain that the experiment’s purpose was to “highlight the lack of consumer awareness” when signing up for free Wi-Fi. They said only one user, 0.000045 per cent of the total users, spotted the clause and reported it.

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But there is a more serious issue at hand, Purple’s CEO Gavin Wheeldon, noted.

“WiFi users need to read terms when they sign up to access a network,” he said in the press release. “What are they agreeing to, how much data are they sharing, and what license are they giving to providers? Our experiment shows it’s all too easy to tick a box and consent to something unfair.”

While free public Wi-Fi is commonly used, it isn’t completely safe.

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According to Panda Security, anyone connected to the same public free Wi-Fi network can access data traffic sent from a device.

Many commonly used apps, such as Facebook, WhatsApp, email apps and online shopping apps, have secure web pages, the Spain-based IT security company explained on its website. However, other websites may not be as private.

Panda Security suggested using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) is one solution, because it ensures all data traffic is encrypted.

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