Crowdsourced API Terms of Service

08-30-2012

API terms of service (TOS) is one of the most critical, yet one of the most silent links for developers who are building apps and business on top of APIs. Terms of service determine what you can or cannot do with an API, and often times developers do not understand these terms, leaving them vulnerable to some very negative outcomes.

Following in the footprints of a larger project, called “Terms of Service Didn’t Read”, a group of us have gotten together, and created “API Terms of Service Didn't Read”, which aims at creating a transparent and peer-reviewed process to rate and analyze API Terms of Service, to establishing a rating classification that all developers can understand.

To seed the process, we went out and reviewed a number of the popular API terms of service and identified seven categories that really affect developers:

  • Business model (include pricing, rate limits and quotas)
  • Terms change conditions
  • Developers restrictions
  • End-user Privacy
  • API Data ownership
  • Data portability
  • Jurisdiction

The goal is to rank each API using a classification ranging from A (good) to E (bad) in these seven areas, so developers can quickly understand where an API stands in the areas that are most important to them.

API Terms of Service Didn't Read, also known as API-ToS;DR, is a crowd-sourced effort and requires community involvement to be successful. To get involved you can visit the API-ToS;DR website, join the working Google Group or help by pushing code in the Github repository.

As APIs grow in popularity this problem is only going to get worse. Terms of service is something I see several groups working to actively understand such as Singly with their personal data terminator project, and EFF with their TOSBack project.

Over the coming months I’d like to help focus all this energy into API Terms of Service Didn't Read, providing a plain english rating system that all developers can use when navigating the often treacherous landscape of API development.