This blog post describes an idea which, if it can be implemented, should make the web a better place. You may read it, free of charge, after the following:
By clicking ”I Accept”, you are agreeing to the Terms of Service.
You have asked to view the agreement. That’s great!
But, honestly, do you always read the Terms? I do not.
It seems like you accepted an agreement without actually reading it first!
Don’t worry, this time you didn’t agree to anything at all. This was just an illustration.
This is bad.
Would you sign a contract in ink without reading it, too? Well, maybe you would, if the person handing it to you seemed trustworthy. But generally speaking, it is a good idea to know what you are agreeing to.
Sometimes I find it quite OK that my user data is being exploited. Often, for example, getting targetted advertising is a reasonable ”price” for a ”free” service. But it is NOT reasonable to spend 30 minutes reading and trying to understand the fine print of the agreement before I can even begin to try out a new service. Not to mention how un-feasible it is to keep up with constantly changing Terms of Service of all the services I keep using.
A simple proposal
Wouldn’t it be great if there was a collection of, say, five standardized Terms of Service documents. Each with its own, easily recognizable icon. Just as with Creative Commons licences. After a brief introduction you would know just by looking at the icon whether or not you can accept the licence.
Illustration: Icon used to identify a Creative Commons license (BY-SA).
I certainly think so, but the service providers (and their lawyers) probably don’t. Providers have good reasons to fine tune their Terms of Service. Especially those who provide services for free. Of course they must be allowed to protect themselves and their business using appropriate legal instruments. If they were forced to select one out of a few standard agreements, perhaps there would soon be no more investment in online services.
A more realistic proposal?
But the most common patterns appearing in Terms of Service documents should be possible to identify, name and give their own, easily recognizable icons!
After a brief review of a few Terms of Service documents, I believe that large parts of them consist of administrative regulation of little interest to most users. But there are also aspects of great importance. One such example is Control and ownership of user data.
Here’s a preliminary classification of this aspect:
- User owns and controls user data
- User owns user data, provider can use the data for system improvement
- Provider owns user data, can use for business, re-sell
My proposal is that such patterns should be identified, precisely formulated, named and assigned each an icon.
Of course, other aspects such as pricing, security levels, service levels and a few more could be modelled, too.
By complementing the ”I Accept” button with a set of icons, a service provider could make it much easier for a user to make a reasonably quick, and not so ill-informed decision as many of us are forced to make today!
Illustration: A draft icon showing the most significant information from the Terms of Service. (Inspired by, and based on, a Creative Commons icon)
Would it not make Terms of Service more acceptable?
Sustainable web development
This idea was one of the results of a session on ”sustainable web development” (”hållbar webbutveckling”) that I held at the Sweden Social Web Camp, in August 2010. Many thanks to the organizers of that event, and to @bjelkeman , @aspelund and @stafbulp who have been very helpful.
What do you think?
Would it be possible?
Has anybody tried this before?
Would it make the web a better place?
Do you want to help?