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The blogged wandering of Robert W. Anderson

User Contracts – Part II: User Beware

I recently wrote about some problems I had with the user contracts for Cluztr, an attention service.  At the time I promised to write about a user contract I could stomach.  Some of these ideas are being rolled into what Steve Gillmor has called Click Insurance to be supported by the GestureBank.  More on that soon.

My problem with the Cluztr contract is their version of user opt-in.  Cluztr is unremarkable in this way — many companies use the same approach.  Their form of opt-in goes like this:

  1. Read our user contract before you use our service (good);
  2. Using our service implies acceptance of our contract (good);
  3. We may change our user contract (not good or bad);
  4. We may not post any notification that our contract has changed (bad); and,
  5. Continued use of our service implies acceptance of our new user contract (what?).

I call this the User-Beware Contract.  This is any contract expressly allowing the service provider to change it without user notification.  The onus is on the user to be wary of the service provider.

Instead, I’d like to see the User-Aware Contract.  It goes something like this:

  1. Read our user contract before you use our service;
  2. Using our service implies acceptance of our contract; 
  3. We may (and probably will) change our user contract;
  4. We will notify you of any change;
  5. Any change will require you to opt-in again formally (through a click-through or other process);
  6. If you do not formally agree to the new contract, you will be removed form the service and all user data associated with your account will be purged.

This type of contract puts the onus on the service provider.  After all, the service provider changed the user contract — shouldn’t they take the responsibility of notifying them and getting their continued opt-in?

A variant of the latter approach is not uncommon (e.g., on banking sites).  Your data may not be purged if you don’t accept the new contract; however, you will not gain access to the site unless you do.

That said, the User-Beware Contract is, by far, the dominant contract on the Web.  The big players all use it, most of the smaller players use it.

I would like to see an attention service throw out their User-Beware Contract in place of a User-Aware Contract.  Of course, they’ll have to notify their users of the change ;)

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3 Comments »

    David Cumps wrote @ August 20th, 2007 at 2:10 pm

I love this idea, will keep it in mind if I ever provide some community environment again with signups. Never really gave much thought about the subject so far.

    Expert Texture » With Beacon, Facebook is not the problem wrote @ November 30th, 2007 at 7:42 am

[...] Not surprisingly, there was a backlash and Facebook made some changes (Official- Facebook Flips On Beacon).  Great.  I don’t think what they did violated their user contract, but the changes are more user-friendly.  I would prefer my User Aware contract, though this is a User Beware contract (User Contracts – Part II- User Beware).  [...]

    Expert Texture » Google Reader Misappropriated Our Shared Items wrote @ December 19th, 2007 at 4:50 pm

[...] data won’t become more public without user consent. This is a perfect example of the “User-Beware contract“, summed up as: “we’ll change the user contract whenever we feel like [...]

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