Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Free Service License

State of Thought I've been thinking about, discussing, and exploring the issue of what I'm calling Free Service Licensing. The core idea is to protect users' freedom when they use services (gmail, flickr, todocue, etc) — to standardize Terms of Service/Privacy Policies so users know how a service will respect their freedom and data. I started brainstorming ideas for what a Free Service License (FSL) could look like/contain. Here's what I have so far: 0. Uses all Free Software 1. Uses free/standard data formats if possible 2. Provides trivial and costless data export for backup/transferability 3. Keeps information private except with explicit permission. 4. Deletes all of user's records within N hours/days of closing account 5. Doesn't log personally identifiable information 6. Limits liability for provider 7. Protects trademark/naming rights of provider Perhaps two versions, a FSL and LFSL, could exist, with the LFSL not containing requirement 0. When I made TodoCue public, I wanted people to know that I respect their freedom. For many reasons, the best I could come up with was this paragraph. Having a standardized FSL would make the decision to become a freedom-respecting service provider simpler and less risky. Naturally, one requirement of FSL services would be that they do not incorporate/contain non-FSL services (like many third-party advertising or statistics providers). Given a critical mass of FSL services or at least mindshare, we might even see FSL versions of Google AdSense, Analytics etc. State of Freedom After I wrote most of the above, I was pointed to work being done by others. The Affero GPL is GPL plus a requirement that service providers must provide source of modified network applications, even if there isn't a transfer of code in the normal desktop-application sense. I am not releasing TodoCue as open source until I figure out what makes more sense: the AGPL, or a different license that goes beyond AGPL, requiring any services that use it to be under the FSL. OSCON, coming up on July 24th, includes Eben Moglen talking about Licensing in the Web 2.0 Era and Tim O'Reilly talking about The Cathedral AND the Bazaar and the "six axes of open source". Alex Barnett posted a good summary of related discussion over the last several months. Update: Havoc just finished his keynote at GUADEC related to this. It provoked a lot of good discussion that I hope will lead to the creation of a Free Service License (or Open Service Definition as Havoc called it), not to mention the Gnome Online Desktop.


  1. Here's another suggested/optional item to consider:

    * Published and documented API

    The idea being that a good service providing all the data in exportable feeds is good, but full exports should be rare, whereas a query-able API, be it REST or some RPC variant is much more generically friendly for users/mashups (in addition to usually saving both bandwidth and time for the service and its users as opposed to full exports).

  2. Related to the privacy clause, what about with respect to governments? Obviously, it couldn't require a company to violate the law, but it could require that giving data to a government has to be "involuntary", ie. they would be breaking the law if they didn't.

  3. Thanks for the comments. I have started a wiki page at freedomdefined.org so we can, as a community, work out a solution for this: