Feedback on OKF's website Ts & Cs

Started this topic because I wanted to leave feedback on OKF’s website terms and conditions.

So some feedback on the terms:

  1. Remove superfluous texts

    All texts like:

    "These final 'boilerplate' terms of should go without saying, but we are saying them anyway just to be clear."
    
    "We may sometimes fail to enforce our rights under this agreement (for example because we decide not to, or we did not realise you were in breach of contract)."
    


    should be removed. I know that sometimes when you are writing something, you just write in a kind of overly expressive way. But if you realise that every word you put in a document can be conceived as an extra burden for readers, then you look at being only as expressive as is needed. This is a good principle for all terms-and-conditions documents especially because most readers most likely consider them to be really irritating. I suggest making successive ‘passes’ over the document, revising and revising again, to get it just right.

  2. Date the document.

    Dating the document is useful for readers, because they can quickly get an idea as to whether it has changed or not, since their last review.

  3. Make certain texts optional reading.

    For example, the payments section is only relevant at the time when you start using paid services. If you are just using free services, it has no relevance. Therefore, make it clear that you only need to read the section if you are using paid services. Simple idea, but can go a long way to improving terms and conditions.

  4. Mark out texts relevant to obligations.

    Everyone is busy, and many people most likely have little patience for terms-and-conditions documents. See the BBC article at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-22772321 for some justification for believing this. If you are able to mark all the texts relevant to the user obligations that are directly imposed by the provider, this can really help users. For example, myself, I don’t care about how providers are protecting my privacy. I simply rely that the law adequately protects me. I find it really irritating when providers force users into reading privacy policies that almost always never impose extra obligations on users.Instead of marking obligations, another thing you could do is simply have a separate document containing all the directly imposed obligations. Users can then just review that and forget about the rest.


I think that’s enough suggestions to start this topic off.

If you’re interested in finding out more, why don’t you have a look at the recent communication I sent to Barclays regarding improving some of their terms? The communication consists of the material at the following addresses:

Additionally, why don’t you have a look at the (currently unofficial) improvements I made to the website terms of the Linux Foundation, at the following addresses:

So, does anyone have anything else to add?

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Hi, Mark.

Thanks for posting this feedback on the OKF’s terms of use.

It is also considered good practice nowadays to offer short summaries of each section of a terms of use document so that people can save time reading it. OKF’s terms do not have that but, to be fair, they’re relatively short terms of use, when compared to most sites.

I also highly recommend that, when visiting new websites and services you want to use, everyone should check out Terms of Service; Didn’t Read – TOS;DR. It shows a summary of key points present in terms of service and privacy policies, along with a general score representing how much the site respect what users expect of the websites and services.

It’s a crowdsourced effort, so you will sometimes come across a website that is not present in TOS;DR. You can then edit it and include the documents, which will be scraped and checked automatically for changes. The key points concerning users rights and obligations can be marked on the text as well, in order to build the summaries and scores for the site. Quite useful, IMO.

Hello @herrmann,

Thanks for your reply.

I agree with you that summaries can be very powerful in helping users.

Unfortunately, I’m going to be a bit ‘counter-cultural’ and say that mostly agreement summaries are quite poor. Take Terms of Service; Didn’t Read – TOS;DR for example. I only recently discovered this organisation, and laud the effort and sentiment behind it. However, the summaries don’t appear to be necessarily exhaustive, in the sense that they don’t necessarily accurately summarise everything in an agreement. I find these “exhaustiveness” and “accuracy” elements to be very important.

And it isn’t as though summaries can’t have these “accuracy” and “exhaustiveness” elements. As an example, I regularly use the summaries hosted at the tldrlegal.com website in place of reading full agreements.

You’re right that OKF’s agreement is quite short, which is great. In contrast, Microsoft’s agreements appear to be a veritable nightmare (in terms of length).

Interestingly, these discussions about terms and conditions are also relevant to reducing friction in the movement of open data (something seemingly specifically of interest to OKF’s overall mission). OKF may find of interest my recent work on making the CC BY-SA 3.0 licence more user friendly, that you can find here.

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Hello, Mark.

I agree that the accuracy and exhaustiveness are very important for summaries. However, TOS;DR is a crowdsourced effort that is currently kind of short in voluntary contributions. So, if you find a key point not present in the summary, it’s easy to contribute by annotating it.

Think of it a bit like Wikipedia, or any free software, actually. Its value lies not so much in the content, but in the community of contributors that stand behind it. If TOS;DR is far from ideal today, we can work together to make it better and more useful for the benefit of everyone.

Hello @herrmann,

I wasn’t criticising TOS:DR so much as I was generally criticising summaries added for contracts these days. If summaries added to contracts aren’t ‘valuable’ enough, they just increase the work of users rather than reducing it (because of the potentially extra reading).

TOS:DR definitely appears to be a step in the right direction. They seem more constituted along the lines of holding providers to account regarding specific obligations. Whereas I’m more interested in holding providers to account over the lengths and multiplicity of as well as the time taken to process, their agreements. I consider both to be worthy goals, but tend to think the latter relates to a more widespread and important problem.

True, as a public voluntary initiative, users can improve and/or build upon TOS:DR. In many ways, it’s unfortunate that such an initiative has to exist, but if it has to exist, let it be open to all users in general (rather than just a group of ‘elites’).

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