Your Portability Policy

Everyone benefits when things can be reused. In the same way that your Privacy Policy tells visitors what you can do with information they provide, your product's Portability Policy tells visitors what they can do with it.

What are we asking you to do?

Write a Portability Policy and post it to your site.

The software industry is still figuring out the right balance between open and closed, but we believe that communication is the first step. Tell your visitors what they can expect from you, and what you expect from them in return.

What is a Portability Policy?

Your Portability Policy explains the ways that your customers can use the digital "stuff" they've entered into your product – pictures, settings, messages, sounds, lists, or anything else your product manipulates. Can they bring things in? Can they get them out? Can other products use things in-place, or do they need to make copies? Can your product work with stuff that's hosted someplace else?

Is this just for social networks?

No. The promise of data portability is that everyone benefits when work can be reused – by yourself with other tools or by other people. Any tool that lets people enter or organize their digital stuff should say how that stuff can be reused. Text documents, music play lists, and research data are just as good to share as "friend lists" and address books.

What Should My Portability Policy Say?

Whatever makes the most sense for your product and your visitors. A social sharing site might benefit from making things as open as possible, but a product that helps people with delicate medical or financial issues could highlight the fact that nothing ever leaves their servers. The key is that you tell your users what they can expect from you, and what you expect from them.

We have provided a set of questions and a few sample portability policies to help you get started. 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.

We aren't trying to promote any particular policy, business model or technology. Rather, we hope to create standards that simplify communication and help customers make informed choices.

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 cost of networking to move the digital things around was enormous. The practical outcome was that you didn't need agreements with many companies, and your data wasn't moving around very much anyway. Until four or five years ago this was good enough, but it no longer matches how we use our computers.

Cheap broadband and a new generation of software tools changed everything. Today you have a host of choices for pretty much anything you want to do, and there's no more reason why you need one product to provide everything you do online than you need one grocery store to provide everything you eat.

How Does A Portability Policy Help?

For comparison, think about the privacy policy that most web products publish. 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 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? The privacy policy answers these questions, but it's only one side of the coin.

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