An Open Letter to Online Service Providers

Stamps ImageDear Online Service Owners (Including Web hosts, social networking services, communities and anywhere else users post content),

My name is Jonathan Bailey. I am one of your dozens, hundreds, thousands or millions of users. To that end, I wanted to take a moment and say thank you. You work very hard to provide a useful service to me and others at low or no cost. It’s greatly appreciated and your efforts have done wonders to enrich my digital life.

Thank you.

However, I do have a small favor to ask and it’s a simple one: Please don’t betray my trust.

As your user I am constantly uploading content to your service. This is content that I want to share with my friends, family and, in many cases, the public and I need the tools you provide to do it. But while much of this content is stupid one-liners and pithy jokes that get stale quicker than a ripe banana, a lot of it is important to me.

There are the posts I write for my various sites that often take hours to craft, the photos I have taken of important memories in my life and the tender moments that I’ve shared with loved ones. These moments and these works mean a great deal to me and are more than just pieces of digital dust scattered to the electronic winds, but they are fruits of my labor and pieces of my life.

Sharing those moments with you requires a great deal of trust. I know that sharing these things online requires making sacrifices and that, if I want the convenience of Internet-based communication, I have to be prepared to surrender some elements of privacy and some rights to my work. These sacrifices are necessary just to make such sharing possible.

I also recognize that the vast majority of you are good, honest people and companies that would not abuse the access I and others give you to our work. I still, understandably, live in fear that others might abuse this trust. Many others clearly feel the same way and this is what creates controversies and misunderstandings such as the Google Drive TOS debacle and the more recent controversy over Instagram’s policy changes.

What I’m asking from you is simple: Transparency.

Basically, I want the answers to the following questions:

  1. What are you planning on doing with my content?
  2. Who else will have rights to my content and what will they be doing with it?
  3. What rights do I have in my content after I upload it?
  4. When and how will the agreement change?
  5. How can I terminate the agreement or opt out if I don’t approve?

Most importantly, I want the answers to these questions in plain, simple English that anyone can understand. While I, personally, am no stranger to legalese, that doesn’t mean I’m eager to sit down and read a 10-page contract written solely for and by lawyers just to figure out these basic ideas.

If you are unwilling or unable to provide that, then perhaps you need to rethink your business and how it is structured. After all, if your approach to your users content can’t be explained simply or wouldn’t survive scrutiny in the light of day, then you are likely doing something that they will not like when they learn the truth.

In exchange for that, I promise you that I, and most others, will understand three key points.

  1. That you are a business and you need to earn money.
  2. That enjoying the convenience of your service means making tradeoffs.
  3. That you can not control anything and everything. Accidents and disasters happen.

It’s really quite simple. If you’re honest and transparent, people are less likely to go looking for the hidden evil in your TOS or creatively interpret your latest press releases.

In fact, as the Instagram dispute shows, this truly is in your best interest as you will, almost certainly, have to be transparent at some point. It’s just a matter of doing it before or after the torch-carrying mob is at your gates.

In short, I’m asking you to trust your users with a little transparency and don’t attempt to hide your intentions in pages of legalese. Your honesty and candor will be respected, even if we don’t agree with every decision, and individuals who can make informed decisions will make better ones than those fed misinformation.

Basically, I’m just asking that you open up a little bit, something that your users been doing to you for as long as there’s been an Internet. After all, building any community is a team effort and this is just a way to make sure we are all on the same side.

Besides, no one wants to be the next Instagram horror story.

Thank you for your attention and, if you have any questions, please feel free to write.

Sincerely,

Jonathan Bailey

2 Responses to An Open Letter to Online Service Providers

  1. Adam says:

    How do I cosign my name to the bottom of this letter? It’s a perfect petition.

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