One Of The Problems With API Terms of Service Is That There Is No Negotiation

There is a laundry list of problems with the current state of terms of service, affectionality called TOS--those legal documents we all agree to as part of our usage of online services, and are defining relationships between API providers and their consumers. API Voice is dedicated to exploring this, and other building blocks that make up the politics of APIs, an area you will see increased coverage of in 2014.

As I continue to develop a better understanding of how API terms of service influence the API economy, I can't help but think one of the fundamental flaws of API terms of use is that there is no room for negotiation. Earlier this month I explored the concept of being able to pay for alternate options within a terms of service, as part of my ongoing journey towards a machine readable TOS.

I strongly believe that to fully realize the API economy as many of us technologists see it, the terms of service have to be machine readable, allowing for seamless integration into the other political building blocks like privacy policies, service level agreements, partner access tiers, and pricing. If you think about it, current API terms of service reflect the command and control governance style of SOA, not the flexible, agile and innovative approach that APIs are often known for.

Why aren't API terms of service negotiable? Well they are, it just isn't built into the existing API platform. Many API ecosystem allow for circumventing and negotiating at the terms of service level behind closed doors, with partners, and API consumers who share the same investors, it just isn't a conversation that occurs out in the open. This approach reflects legacy ways of doing business, where if you are in the know, have the right connections, you can negotiate, and not the new API driven approach that will allow the API economy to scale as required.

The ability for API consumers to negotiate the terms of service isn't something that we can just roll out overnight, it is something we have to evolve towards over time. I’m hoping to help facilitate this evolution, through brainstorming, stories and conversations around the potential of machine readable terms of service, here on API Voice over the next couple of years.