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Terms of Service Revisited: Docracy’s ToS Tracker

· February 6, 2013

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The Verge pointed out in a blog post today a new service from one of my favorite websites, Docracy (a website that takes a GitHub approach to drafting contracts? How could that not be a straight shot to my heart?). I hadn’t heard of the service yet, and it fits neatly into a series of posts [1, 2, 3] that Rob, Matt, and I wrote around a month ago. As The Verge details, the service scrapes a large number of terms of service every day, stores them, and highlights changes.

The Verge sees the opportunity here for people to catch companies who silently change the terms that bind their users, and that’s true. This service, though, can also serve to help the competition in terms of service that we were discussing in our previous blog posts. Companies that are proud of their terms should start linking to their page at Docracy to show that they will be transparent about how and when their ToS change.

Any companies that wanted to take it to the next level could use Docracy as a collaborative space to design changes to the terms alongside their users, allowing them to propose changes and discuss their impact. The end result would clearly not necessarily be the result of that collaboration, but companies that even went so far as to have the discussion would get plenty of points with discriminating users.

Competition

Some, if not all of society’s most useful innovations are the byproduct of competition. In fact, although it may sound counterintuitive, innovation often flourishes when an incumbent is threatened by a new entrant because the threat of losing users to the competition drives product improvement. The Internet and the products and companies it has enabled are no exception; companies need to constantly stay on their toes, as the next startup is ready to knock them down with a better product.

Digital Trade

Companies rely on clear, predictable rules that facilitate digital trade to export their products and services around the world. These rules include balancing the competing interests between encouraging investment and enabling information access; promoting the free flow of information online; and maintaining balanced intermediary liability regimes.

Privacy

Trust in the integrity and security of the Internet and associated products and services is essential to its success as a platform for digital communication and commerce. For this reason we’re committed to upholding and advocating for policymaking that empowers consumers to make informed choices in the marketplace while not impeding new business models.