On the Spot(ify) again...

If you’re a brand trying to maintain a trusting relationship with your customers through an end user agreement that’s the length of a novel and the complexity of Shakespeare, you’re mad. It’s like trying to have an intimate conversation with someone down an extremely long toilet roll tube, while speaking in a silly voice…

Just a couple of weeks ago, I wrote an open letter to Apple, about the shabby state of their end user agreement. The gist being: your superpower is elegant user experience. So why is the user experience of your writing so appalling?

This time it’s Spotify. They’ve updated their terms and conditions in such a way that it basically sounds like they’re making a land-grab for their customers’ private information. It’s created a shit-storm of negative publicity.

Magazines like Wired are calling the updates ‘eerie’ and ‘ridiculous’. Influential customers, like Minecraft creator Markus Persson (2.4 million Twitter followers), have tweeted they’ll be cancelling their accounts. And Spotify CEO Daniel Ek has been forced to respond with a blog sayingSORRY, and going into a detailed clarification of many of the points.

Are Spotify really trying to sneak one past us? Have they just expressed themselves badly? As a long-time Spotify customer and enthusiast, with just a gut-level sense that they’re not in the stuff-your-users-for-profit game, my money is on the latter. But in truth, when you read the updated terms, it’s just not possible to tell.

For instance, their updated terms contain sentences like:

With your permission, we may collect information stored on your mobile device, such as contacts, photos, or media files. Local law may require that you seek the consent of your contacts to provide their personal information to Spotify, which may use that information for the purposes specified in this Privacy.

If you wanted to design a sentence to discombobulate your readers, you couldn’t do much better than this. It’s essentially giving you the linguistic cues ‘something fishy is going on here’ by using the vague legalese ‘we may collect information…’, while at the same time presenting itself as utter nonsense (‘seriously, Spotify, you’re saying I might actually have to get permission from my friends because I’m using your music player?!)

Contrast with the clear, unequivocal, decidedly not legalese language on Daniel Ek’s SORRY blog: ‘Let me be crystal clear here: If you don’t want to share this kind of information, you don’t have to.

(And, of course, in contrast with just about everything else Spotify write. Even their error messages are usually carefully crafted and engaging.)

I think one thing is abundantly clear: the interplay of privacy and trust, and how this is interwoven into our relationships with the brands in our lives, is currently the defining subject of the social and digital age. And if you’re a brand that’s trying to conduct that relationship with your customers through an end user agreement document that’s the length of a novel and the complexity of Shakespeare, you’re mad. It’s like trying to have an intimate conversation with someone down an extremely long toilet role, while speaking in a silly voice.

End user agreements are a broken format, not fit for purpose.

I’ll blog again shortly about what can be done about this. Until then, there are two clues. One is in the rewrite I included in my Apple open letter. The other is in Daniel Ek’s blog post