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Thoughts on Better Terms of Use

Published by Evgeny Tchebotarev · April 12th 2012

Today our Terms of Use made a splash on Hacker News. Some say it was designed to be viral. It wasn't. It's an example of how we approach everything that we do — it has to be perfect (or as close to perfect as possible) and easy to use.

I admit that I rarely read terms of use. Even when some article mentions horrific terms of use on some site, like Facebook or Pinterest, I rarely visit and read the terms — that comes not from naive thinking, but rather from knowledge and spending hours working with lawyers.

Lawyers' thinking process is completely different. They will be disputing a word 'substantial' over 'massive' for half an hour (racking up the bill in the meantime) — and it makes sense for them in the reality of dealing with legalese.

For us, humans, such a language is beyond understanding. We want to know whether the company shares or sells emails, whether it has the right to sell your photos, and whether your private information will remain private.

The other important part of why I'm not reading the terms is that the internet has evolved a lot over the past few years — I now simply assume that everything that I post and share — regardless of whether it's private or not — is actually public. Or can become public at any time. The rule of thumb is simple — don't do what you don't want others to see.

I remember the debates of the late '90s and early '00s about using real names on the Internet — there was literally no supporters for using real names on the web. Everyone hid under nicknames, and to know who stands behind that nickname was impossible to figure out. Now, using real name is the only way to have your words be taken seriously — if you are an anonymous internet troll, well — good luck to you.

Going back to our terms of service and privacy policy — I spent hours with lawyers debating creating legalese version vs. creating human terms of service. Yes, they can do that. They have the power to create a readable, easy to use terms. However, the price of creating those is about 3-4 times higher of that of the standard legalese version.

So to keep it simple, and not to spend tens of thousands of dollars on 'human-friendly' legal terms, we've created an easy to read version that sums the legalese. While it's not legally binding and doesn't tell everything that is on the left side of the terms, it sums up things that we believe are important to photographers.

I think more sites should use a similar approach so that an average human being is not intimidated by the 41-page-small-font-legalese and the world will be a friendlier and happier place to live in.

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Diana Tula  over 2 years ago
Nice article :)) I didn't know that using your real name on the internet was debated so hotly back in the 90's, this was interesting to find out :)
Deon du Toit  over 2 years ago
Fully agree with you on this issue. I dealt with contracts and lawyers for a number of years, and one has to protect oneself against unscrupulous people, but the normal person has no idea what has been stated. And then I live in a country that states that ignorance of the law is no excuse..Pardon me! But, I suppose it would also differ in who and what you are on a site like this - someone who is a professional will have a different viewpoint re copyright to an amateur like myself who just really appreciate it that some of the knowledgeable viewers rate my photos as worthwhile!

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