An EmanciTerm is one an individual proffers as a first party and a company can agree to as a second party. Here is how one might work, as described by Doc Searls (who started ProjectVRM and co-founded Customer Commons) in his book The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge:
With full agency, however, an individual can say, in the first person voice, “I own my data, I control who gets access to it, and I specify what I wish to happen under what conditions.” In the latter category, those wishes might include:
- Don’t track my activities outside of this site.
- Don’t put cookies in my browser for anything other than helping us remember each other and where we were.
- Make data collected about me available in a standard, open format.
- Please meet my fourth-party agent, Personal.com (or whomever).
These are EmanciTerms, and there will be corresponding ones on the vendor’s side. Once they are made simple and straightforward enough, they should become normative to the point where they serve as de facto standards, in practice.
Since the terms should be agreeable and can be expressed in text that code can parse, the process of arriving at agreements can be automated.
For example, when using a public wi-fi access point, a person’s EmanciTerms might say, “I will not knowingly hog this shared resource, for example, by watching high-def video on it,” or “I will not engage in illegal activities here.” If the provider of the access point has a VRM-ready service that is willing to deal with the user on his or her own EmanciTerms as well as those of the provider, it should be possible to automate the formalities and let the user bypass the usual “read and accept our agreement” ritual.
In the mass marketplace, relationship wasn’t just subordinated to transaction. It was demeaned. We actually think, for example, that a mass-market vendor can (and should) control all the means by which relationships with customers should proceed. Still, as human beings, all of us also know we are capable of relating in our own ways and on our own terms, with anybody or anything. We also know our motivations are not all reducible to price. Many things are priceless, even in the marketplace. For example, relationships.
The commercial online world is very young. Born in 1995, it is still in high school. (Or, in the words of Frank Stasio, “It’s not old enough to download its own porn. ) In the brick and mortar world, we have highly developed understandings of identity, privacy, friendship, and correct ways of interacting with strangers and familiar folk. There is enormous room for personal and cultural differences within these, and for improvisation.
We have nothing like that yet in the networked marketplace. “Friending” and “following” on Facebook and Twitter are barely at the stone tool stage of what will become of civilized social interaction online. Both those activities also only work on those companies’ ranches. So, even if we become adept at using Facebook and Twitter, neither makes us adept as free agents in the vast marketplace outside Facebook and Twitter’s corporate reaches.
To work in the wild frontier of the networked commons, we are going to need instruments for relating as independent agents, and not just for transacting and conversing.
That’s the idea behind EmanciTerm. You offer your terms. The seller offers theirs. They agree or they don’t, and you work out the differences, if you can.
This kind of thing is not complicated in the everyday world. First, we have very clear agreements already, both tacit and explicit, about what is private and what’s not, and about how and why we trust certain other people and institutions with private information about us. How we relate to our medical doctor, our financial advisor, our teacher, our student, our yoga instructor, our old friend, or the cop on the corner—all differ. And yet none of those require clicking “accept” to a pile of terms before we proceed
We are years away from bringing this same level of casual ease to the online world. But those years will be decades if we don’t provide ways for individuals to make clear their intentions in the marketplace—especially around how we wish to be respected by entities we don’t yet know (or already know but don’t yet trust or barely understand).
EmanciTerm provides some of those ways, in the legal realm.
Here are a few sample terms that should be no less clear when translated to legalese:
- Don’t track me
- Don’t gather data about me without my approval
- Don’t share what you know about me with anybody I don’t approve
- Give me data you collect about me whenever I ask, and in ways I specify
- Give me records of our interactions, when I need them
How those are expressed is still an open question at this writing. But we’ll work that out. More important is the simple signaling that makes relating and agreement possible in the first place: something we’ve never had within the commercial Web’s calf-cow system.
Customer Commons is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with a mission to "to restore the balance of power, respect and trust between individuals and organizations that serve them." It is a spin-off of ProjectVRM and modeled on Creative Commons, which was also launched from Harvard's Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society.
One of Customer Commons' purposes is to do for terms individuals proffer (e.g. EmanciTerms) what Creative Commons does for personal copyright. That is, to serve as the place where standard terms can live and individuals' code can point to. To see what terms are finished or in the works, go to the Terms page at Customer Commons.
- Standard Information Sharing Label
- CommonTerms.net (from some of the same people doing BiggestLie
- Doc Searls compilation of "People vs. Adtech" posts, many of which visit terms individuals proffer
- Joe Andrieu blog series on Shared Information
- ProjectVRM blogs tagged EmanciTerm