Terms and conditions are boring. Really boring. So boring that apparently, Facebook didn't even read the terms of the app that shared 87 million people's data with Cambridge Analytica.

That's what Facebook's CTO, Mike Schroepfer, said Thursday at a U.K. parliamentary hearing--and yes, it's deeply ironic. Recently, a number of large technology and media firms have been informing their users that in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, they were revising and clarifying how data and privacy are handled in their terms and conditions. The problem is that few users actually read the terms and conditions.

Not reading terms and conditions before blindly clicking "I agree" is so prevalent that it was even featured satirically in a 2011 South Park episode (in which Apple changes its terms and conditions to give it the right to physically combine human users into a horrible multi-human combination called a HumancentiPad).

Despite all the scrutiny on data use and privacy online, some companies are still not getting it, and are actually making the situation worse. If you're planning to revise your product's terms and conditions, here's how to do it right.

What Not to Do

Rogers Communications, a public company with a market cap over $30 billion, recently sent its email users a new 27-page set of terms and conditions--and users aren't happy. Many are reacting to the following clause: 

"By using the services you agree that you have obtained the consent of your friends and contacts to provide their personal information (for example: their email address or telephone number) to Oath or a third party, as applicable, and that Oath or a third party may use your name to send messages on your behalf to make the services available to your friends and contacts."

(Note: Rogers outsources email to Yahoo, now a part of the conglomerate Oath).

The email sent to Rogers users--including my wife--states that users must agree to the new terms in order to continue with the service. So basically, users must allow Rogers to mine their data and use it to sell their products and services to their friends and family.

The alternative? Stop using the service. Unfortunately for Rogers, quite a few users are choosing the latter option, according to multiple media reports.

What to Do

Compare Rogers's actions to Twitter's recent privacy policy update. Twitter took a plain-English approach to its updated terms and conditions, using much less legalese and a simpler format to help clarify how Twitter uses data. Here is a sample:

"We will store and process your communication and information related to them. This includes link scanning for malicious content, link shortening to http://t.co URLs, detection of spam and prohibited images, and review of reported issues."

This easy to understand. It gives you a better understanding of what data is being collected and what is being done with that data. Most importantly, it communicates why that matters to you.

Twitter also gives users a direct line to the privacy office, so that they can help shape the policy and ask questions.

Facebook has also attempted to increase transparency on data use. The company says its update won't change rights or data access, but will aim to make data use more transparent and easier to understand. Like Twitter, it has yet to finalize the policies it proposes and actively solicits user feedback.

The company also invites you to modify your privacy settings, to give you more say in how your personal data is used. This allows you to continue using Facebook, even if you opt out of some of the items.

What You Should Learn From This

It's time to revisit how you care for and use customer data. This may, in some cases, require revisiting your business model. Here's how you should start:

  1. Decide what data collection is essential to your business.
  2. Look at competitors and industry leaders to see how they are adjusting to the post-Cambridge Analytica era.
  3. Be transparent: share plainly what you are doing, why you are doing it, and how it benefits the user. 
  4. Expect that users will review each and every line of your terms and conditions (even if most don't), and take their perspective on what is potentially objectionable.
  5. Don't issue an edict; invite a conversation. Work collaboratively with influencers and users to implement new policies.
  6. Remember your customers have a choice. Treat them with respect, inform them, and empower them to change how their data is used by your venture.

No longer can companies hide behind user apathy when it comes to terms and conditions, particularly regarding privacy and data use. Users are hitting pause and reviewing, so make sure that after they review your policies, they stick around. You work too hard to get customers; you can't afford to have them leave.

Published on: Apr 26, 2018