Your Portability Policy

In the same way that your Privacy Policy tells customers what you can do with information they provide, your Portability Policy tells them what they can do with it.

What are we asking you to do?

  • Create a Portability Policy for your product
  • Post the policy on your site
  • Tell your customers

What is a Portability Policy?

Your Portability Policy explains the ways that your customers can use their data with other products. Can they bring things in? Can they get them out? Can other products use things in-place, or do they need to make copies? It can be as simple as a web page or text file, or it might be included with your Frequently Asked Questions.

What Problem are We Trying To Solve?

The model we use for agreements between people and products comes from a time when the average person didn't need to deal with very many of them. Developing software was complex and expensive so there weren't that many choices. The practical outcome of this was that you didn't need agreements with many companies, and your data wasn't moving around very much. Until four or five years ago, this was the accepted model of how software was used, but it no longer matches how we use our computers.

Today, we routinely use tools that are cobbled together with bits and features from many providers, extended with plugins, and automated with scripts. A dozen companies might be involved in even the simplest operations. Any page you look at might have ads, features, or tracking codes from a host of sources. You've made an agreement with each of those companies but do you know what you've agreed to? Do you even know who they all are? To address this question, companies generally create a privacy policy, but that only addresses the ways in which they can move your data around. These rarely address what the customer can do for themselves.

The actual details are set out in contracts. The most common are Terms of Service (ToS), End Use License Agreement (EULA), and Privacy Policy. In theory, everyone using a product has read and agreed to these, but that's rarely true. These documents are long, complex, and written in language that is difficult for a general audience to understand. In practice, few have read these contracts and even fewer understood them.

This is bad for everyone. It not only leaves questions in the person's mind about what they've agreed to, but also calls into question the service's ability to enforce the agreement. The global nature of the Internet makes this even more complicated, as the user can rarely be sure what is enforceable where they live and what isn't.

How Does A Portability Policy Help?

By creating plain language policies that describe how data and digital objects can be moved from one product to another, you enable your customers to make informed choices. You can highlight the ways in which your product fits into your customers‘ lives and makes things easier for them.

What Should My Portability Policy Say?

Your Portability Policy can contain whatever makes the most sense for your product and your customers. We do not seek to enforce any particular policy, business model or technology. Rather, we hope to create standards that simplify communication and help customers make informed choices.

We have provided a set of questions to help focus your thinking as you write your portability policy. These are not intended to be comprehensive, and we expect that they will evolve over time. You are encouraged to add whatever topics or issues will help your users make informed decisions.