Facebook democratizing TOS? Sort of.

Over the last few months I’ve spent a lot of time talking within the VRM community about the need for a Standard Agreement covering the use of user-provided information in online services. Something that could eventually replace the confusing, complicated, overwhelmingly ignored, and legally questionable Terms of Service (TOS) at so many websites.


The idea is that we should coordinate a global conversation to develop a Standard Agreement that credibly represents the voice of the user. We’d start by clarifying the data rights for user contributions and eventually cover the entire TOS in a framework addressing the standard kinds of transactions most users do every day online. The immediate benefit for users: ridding the web of nearly all the annoying checkboxes we are currently forced to check, indicating agreement to legal contracts we never actually read.

Facebook has seen the same writing on the wall: users are already in charge. After the fiasco of trying to update their TOS last month, they have turned to a vote of their membership to select the new Facebook TOS to use.

Of course, members can only vote for a slate already approved by Facebook, but it’s a start.

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2 Responses to Facebook democratizing TOS? Sort of.

  1. mikeoz says:

    This is a great idea, and one I hope gets some traction. I’ve been a “lurker” on the VRM and VPI lists and my reaction is that the community must approach this with the same mindset that any of us would if we were trying to create a “killer app.”

    What we do NOT need is another document that no one understands or would read. When I had a real “IT” job, someone articulated the challenge as “living in the world of the untrained and un-trainable.” The person’s point was that we “expect” to be able to simply “understand” things. None of us “start off” knowing much about these new things (we are “untrained”), but no one is really willing to read the manual or go through training to understand how things really work (the “un-trainable”). The most successful products and services get this, and they design everything from interfaces to navigation and feedback with this in mind.

    I think that we should think about this as less of a “Standard Agreement” and more of a “service.” We should focus first on the “benefit” of this new arrangement and make sure this benefit is easily achievable and readily understood. If we can do this (we’ve been trying to so I KNOW how hard it is), there is a potential for folks to simply being “doing it” this new way.

    That doesn’t mean that we don’t have to keep working on the details of what is going to be shared and how it is to be protected. It simply means that it is not going to be enough to have a “good proposal.” This game will only change through “adoption.”

  2. Joe says:


    I like the idea of thing of the “Standard Agreement” as a service. It puts an interesting spin on how to think about creating it: requirements, success metrics, analysis & design, tests, deployment, etc.

    It’s definitely part of the VPI/VRM efforts in this area to find a process to engage the public fully. Facebook’s TOS is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t really empower users, rather, it gives users a structure way in which to voice their comments to Facebook and for Facebook to then revise their agreements in that general direction.

    Far more powerful would be for users to forge their own TOS and present it to Facebook for consideration.

    That is no small amount of work, but I think it would be incredibly useful–for both users and service providers such as Facebook.

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