No Innovation Around Terms of Service Reveals True Motives

Silicon Valley startups and entrepreneurs love to point out that they are trying to make the world a better place. Over a 25+ year career, I have fallen for the belief that I was improving a situation through technology. Hell, I still do this regularly as the API Evangelist, stating that a certain approach to opening up access to data, content, and algorithms can make things better, when in numerous situations it will not. I walk a fine line with this and I hope that I'm a little more critical about where technology should be applied, and focus primarily on making existing technology more accessible using APIs--not starting new ones.

When you are critical of technology in the current climate, there are plenty of folks you like to push back on you, leaning on the fact that they are trying to make the world a better place. Not sure where this line of bullshit first began but is something I should look into. I mean, when you hang out with enough entrepreneurs you really begin see through the bullshit and hype, and you know that this is all about them selling you something, and then selling you and your data as part of an exit via acquisition or going public. It rarely ever has anything to do with making the world a better place, what was promised as part of the marketing, and helping the average end-user.

This is where my entrepreneur friends have stopped reading and lean on the fact that they actually believe they are trying to make the world a better place, and their firm belief that Kin is an annoying hippie. You know I love you. You are a special snowflake. But, you are a minority, I am talking about the other 95% of the system you choose to be willfully ignorant of. If you want some evidence of this in the wild, take a look at all the world saving, innovative, revolution startups out there and how many are dedicated to terms of service?

You know, those little legal documents we agree to for our usage of every device in our life, and every single application we use in our professional and personal worlds. The terms of service touch ALL of our lives, and act as a central force throughout our days--kind of like gravity, except it's a corporate force, not anything natural--pushing down on everything we do. As important as terms of services are, and how big of a role they play in our lives, where is the innovation around these legal documents? You know, the kind that assists the average citizen make sense of all of this bullshit and makes their life better?

There are Terms of Service Didn't Read, Docracy, and TOSBack, but they just don't have the resources to tackle this properly. There are some service providers who do a good job of helping users make sense of their own terms of service, but there is NO INNOVATION when it comes to terms of service. There is nothing that serves the end-users over the platforms. With all of the innovation going on out there why isn't there more investment, and solutions in the area of terms of service? I mean, if we are trying to make our user's lives easier with technology, and not more complicated, why isn't there more technology to make sense of this legalese that is governing our lives?

Hint, it is because we aren't out for the greater good. With all the money flowing around out there, I just can't believe there isn't the money to do this right. Provide a suite modern tooling and a wealth of legal resources to tackle this problem properly. If nothing else, let's throw TOS Didn't Read, Docracy, and EFF's TOSBAck more money. Maybe there should be a "guilt tax" imposed on every terms of service owner to pay for an English, human translation of the legal documents that guide their platforms. Maybe there should be a machine-readable schema enforced at the regulatory level, making sure a suite of tools can process, and make sense of TOS changes in real-time. 

Maybe some day we will stop just saying we are trying to help the world with our technology, and actually invest in what truly does.