Have you ever clicked “Agree” on a terms and conditions statement without reading it? If you are like 91% of Americans the answer is almost certainly yes, and it is hard to blame you. After all, what company would be so bold as to sneak a worrisome clause into an otherwise innocuous agreement?
Surprisingly, it turns out that in 2020 there is still at least one company that thinks they can get away with this. It might, at this point, be reasonable to predict that some megacorporation like Google or Apple is using their immense market influence to subject their customers to unreasonable terms for services that they cannot live without. Surprisingly, however, the agreement in question concerns not an omnipresent service but a humble font.
While they remain one of the most neglected aspects of internet design, fonts underpin every exchange of ideas online. Anyone who has ever written anything on the internet has used a font, and with so much demand there are many fonts to choose from. Most people simply use the basic fonts provided by Google and other popular services, but the discerning font connoisseur might opt to install a custom font developed by a team of programmers dissatisfied with the usual selection.
This is where financial firm Goldman Sachs enters the story of malevolent fonts. Over the summer, Goldman Sachs released their own font with all the bells and whistles one could imagine. Creatively called Goldman Sans, the Goldman Sachs font bills itself as “a clean, modern typeface designed for the needs of digital finance.” The animation-heavy introductory presentation on the company website even goes so far as to present a mathematical analysis of how the font geometry creates a “clean, contemporary, [and] legible” appearance, with an understandable focus on the quality of numbers.
This all sounds pretty useful, and Goldman Sachs is kind enough to provide the font to you for free. All you have to do is sign a quick user agreement. Those who read the fine print, however, will quickly find that Goldman Sans has a few unique features that are not touted in the presentation. For example, the Goldman Sans font would like to dictate what you are allowed to write with it.
The User may not use the Licensed Font Software to disparage or suggest any affiliation with or endorsement by Goldman Sachs.The Goldman Sans usage agreement
That’s right, you can use the free Goldman Sachs font to say anything you want, as long as it is not anything negative about Goldman Sachs. If you don’t like that, then Goldman Sachs prefers that you come to such a realization before you use the font in the first place. You will not be provided these terms up front because, legally speaking, by simply hitting the button to download Goldman Sans you agree to the entire user license document.
Anybody who wants to read the full license will have to go on a quest through the Goldman Sachs webpage in search of the beautifully kerned, and incredibly tiny, link hidden in a corner. At this point you are probably thinking that being unable to insult the Goldman Sachs corporation would be unpleasant but doing so wasn’t exactly on the top of your priorities list. Read further.
Further, Goldman Sachs may terminate this License, without notice to the User, for any reason or no reason at all and at any time, completely at Goldman Sachs’s sole discretion. Goldman Sachs’s exercise of any right of termination does not constitute a waiver of other rights and remedies available to Goldman Sachs.The Goldman Sans usage agreement
So in summary, by using the font you legally agree to a license that not only mandates what you are allowed to write but can be changed or terminated whenever Goldman Sachs feels like it. This essentially gives Goldman Sachs free reign to assign you any legal obligations they like, at any point in the future, in exchange for a font.
In a year that has been filled with events that seem to have an almost fictional quality, Goldman Sachs’ new project seems to have crawled straight out of a George Orwell novel. In this speech limiting font can be seen the first reverberations of all the science fiction depicting corporate dominated dystopia, where the usage agreements we blindly agree to become the laws we live by. So the next time you’re considering installing a font, or anything else, consider taking a moment to read the terms first.