May 09

This is half rant / half proposal for a free business idea. I’ve gotten four emails in the past week from various entities (2 banks, 1 health insurance provider and 1 telephony carrier) that notify me of changes to their TOS (apparently I need to accept them if I want to continue being a customer). One of the documents was a 35pg PDF which presumably had a few sentences change since I first accepted it. Given how much we have going on in our company the effort involved in combing through that document vs. the likelihood of that task returning value all but condemns it to reside indefinitely at the bottom of my todo list.

A better way & an open letter to service providers

These verbiage haystacks are bad news. Your customers are busy people and while it may be in your best interest to cloak the tweaks to your policies that may stir up unrest amongst your customers, this practice is asinine. Publish the damn “patch” to the TOS so we can skim it, see the crux of what changed and rapidly make a decision about whether we agree the tradeoff is worth it to remain your customer.

Yes, your attrition rate will go up as a result (and it should) But the thinking that “we’ll just bury the new stuff in the huge doc and people will accept it out of frustration/lack of time” is hugely short-sighted. We already know 88% of the people don’t read the TOS the first time, you think that % is going to be any better when you ask them to re-read a slightly-modified version a few months from now? While you may get a short term attrition benefit w/ the current method you’ll eventually end up with angry rants from pissed off customers higher support costs from fielding inquiries caused by inaccurate expectations. By doing it the way you are now you set the stage for an inevitable exodus of angry customers to your closest competitor that respects the value of their customers’ time. And the loyalty they earn by making it easier to stay informed and make faster decisions is priceless – you will not see the people that defect specifically for this reason again. And they will be vocal about their exit.

Abstracting this to a business idea

So the meta from this is that there’s an opportunity for someone to deliver “Policy as a service” to companies. Us geeks can figure out how to put docs in source control or publish pages that automatically highlight the diff from the last version. But for the rest of the world the path of least resistance to writing/reading is creating a new PDF and expecting readers to comb through the whole doc.

Someone should develop a simple service that allows companies to publish policy docs (TOS, privacy, employee handbooks, EULA’s and such) and give their end users a way to easily see what’s changed before accepting it and track the history of acceptance. The stage is primed for a service like this to work and it’s something that would allow it’s creator to “do well by doing good.” It would drive better transparency in business practices, support consumer rights and promote better corporate responsibility.

If you build this and make a million, buy me a donut and follow me on Twitter.

One Response to “TOS changes should require publishing the diff”

  1. Ryan Stille says:

    Sounds similar to EFF's project to track TOS changes:

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