Idea #7: Decrypt Internet Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policies

Idea

An Internet service that explains the Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policies that other services on the Internet have published. A consumer should be able to enter a URL to a T&C or Privacy Policy and this new service can decode the legalese described in the documents by using crowd sourced experts that summarize them into easy to read and “to the point” formats. Consumers can install web browser extensions that enable them to easily click on a button that will automatically query the service and present the simplified report on screen when they arrive at a new website or are creating an account. If a website is unknown, the user can submit the new site to the service to request that the community analyze the T&C and Privacy Policies. Once analyzed, the new summaries become available to the public for review upon arriving at the websites.

This idea was inspired by a discussion on Google+ started by Mike Elgan about T&C’s that we blindly accept without reading.

Problem Statement

There are thousands of incredibly popular services, hundreds of thousands of well known services, and millions of lesser known services and websites on the Internet. Most of these services use a Terms & Conditions document that describes the terms that the company or individual provides the product or service with, as well as the conditions under which the terms apply. Additionally, they provide a Privacy Policy that describes what the company or individual will do with the information they gather about you (account, name, age or birthdate, location, IP address, etc). These documents exist in the case that a legal case occurs where they are being sued or held legally accountable for some reason and these declarations will protect them because you are “signing” that you acknowledge and agree to these documents when you create your account and check the box.

While these documents do disclose a company’s or individual’s intentions, as well as protect it, it does nothing for the end-user who is required to read and “sign” them. They are incredibly lengthy, often contain boring boilerplate paragraphs and provisions, and are written in “legalese” (a form of english particularly aimed at lawyers). In other words, they are difficult to read, unless you practice law or have experience with law. Most people simply will not read them. Companies know that most people don’t read these documents which gives them an opportunity to inject unreasonable requirements. This gives companies an opportunity to prey on consumers knowing that they will not read the documents.

Consumers do want to know what companies are doing with their information, as well as understand what the terms of their new “contracts” are when they accept a T&C or Privacy Policy. In current form they are simply too complicated since no one has the time to decode them. By providing a service that generates a unique summary report for every T&C and Privacy Policy document on the Internet, consumers can understand what a company is requiring their users to agree to before they make the commitment to accept the document.

Market

Consumers who sign up for any accounts or use any Internet service that has a Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy document.

Example services requiring agreement to a T&C:

  • Facebook
  • iTunes Music Store
  • Yahoo! Mail
  • Google+
  • Just about any message board / forum

Revenue Strategy

  • Government consumer protection agency grants/funding
  • Browser licensing for API access
  • Donations
  • Advertisements

Feasibility

The creation of crowd sourced document summaries would require creation of a service that provides reputation mechanisms and attracting qualified and interested individuals to continually analyze, interpret, and summarize T&C’s and Privacy Policies. Community participants would need to award members who submit accurate and useful summaries in order to encourage valid information submission. Community leaders would need to also help moderate and verify information submitted to avoid presentation of invalid information to general users of the service.

It may take 3-6 months of active community involvement before the database contains enough submissions to be useful to most users.

Value

Founder/Developer Value

  • Notoriety for creating a service that helps individuals
  • Satisfaction from helping people
  • Low profitability
  • Buyout potential by a company that makes a major web browser

Investor Returns

  • Low profitability
  • Buyout potential by a company that makes a major web browser

Consumer Returns

  • Easy to understand T&C and Privacy Policy documents
  • More control of what services to use based on personal requirements
  • Ability to call out companies who misrepresent themselves or take advantage of consumers

(This was inspired by a conversation on Google+ started by Mike Elgan about how most of us typically click to accept and agree with T&C’s without first reading them since they’re lengthy and not written in simple form. Come join the conversation.)