With more and more people getting on the online start-up bandwagon and with greater numbers of them than ever before doing this for the very first time I feel there is a need for a ‘code of conduct and ethics’, to make sure that people and companies signing up for these new services will not be left hanging at some point in the future if circumstances that were unforeseen at the start come to pass.
The main motivation here is to make sure that people in the future will not hesitate to sign up with new services because they know that those services will have the interests of their users at heart, and will deal with their data and responsibilities in a professional manner.
Some of these items are ‘restrictive’ in that they limit what a start-up can do, but such is the nature of any contract, there is a free giving up of rights in return for which you will be rewarded with more users because they will feel more comfortable with you.
Another reason why I am writing this code is because I feel that in the recent past there has been a rather alarming trend towards a rather cavalier approach about the way in which start-ups deal with their users and their data on being bought out and when shutting down.
Companies that state their position up front will make it easier for end users to decide to do business with those companies (or not!).
If you run a company you may subscribe to this code by linking to it from your signup page and/or homepage, then notify me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I will link back from this document to indicate your acceptance. At a later stage I will automate this mechanism, and give the registry a separate page.
This document is a perpetual work in progress, this is version 0.1 of the code, any comments or requests for changes should be addressed to email@example.com and will be treated in a serious and confidential manner. If and when contributions lead to changes in the code a new version of the code will be released which will be made available here as well, on a page of its own.
Newer versions of the code will always be more restrictive than previous versions so you may adopt a later version if you desire, but you can not switch back from a later version to an earlier one.
This is the written version of that unwritten contract with end users and companies that come to depend on your service.
The document is structured around the life-cycle of the typical start-up and tries to limit and/or document the effect of changes to the structure of the start-up and any other major changes that a start-up can go through, and to lay down a set of ground rules that will create a greater degree of transparency than before.
As of now this document has the status of RFC, but you are already welcome to make use of it in its current state. If a newer version will become available and you have requested a link back from this page I will notify you.
This document is written in ‘plain English’, instead of in legalese with the intent that end users will have a level playing field when it comes to understanding the rules of the game.
The reason why it is an online start-up code of conduct and not a general corporate code of conduct is because an online start-up has nothing to lose and everything to gain from subscribing to this code of conduct. Of course, for an existing company it would be very honorable if they retrospectively subscribed to this code and I would be very impressed by any existing corporations that voluntarily give up some of their rights in order to do ‘the right thing’ but for now I’m concentrating on start-ups because I feel that is where the biggest difference can be made.
After all, the start-ups of today are tomorrows giants.
It is my intention that start-ups will use the start-up code of conduct and ethics to set themselves apart from those companies that do not have their users best interests at heart, that plan to do a bait-and-switch in the future or that simply do not care about such issues.
Subscription to this code is voluntary, but once subscribed you can (for obvious reasons) not back out.
The start-up code of conduct and ethics v 0.1
1 User Data
1.1 Your data is owned by you, the user. It will always be yours, we respect your copyright on your data and we will try hard to be good stewards of the data that you have entrusted us with.
1.2 Your data, profile and other information you trust us with will not be sold, directly or indirectly, without explicit consent of you, the user.
1.3 We will provide you with clear and simple mechanisms to
1.3.1 view your information
1.3.2 edit your information
1.3.3 delete your information (in bulk or detail)
1.3.4 export your information (in bulk)
1.3.5 close your account completely
1.4 Third party arrangements which will open up data of end users for API access or other bulk methods will be opt-in by default. In other words, only after you, the user have given explicit consent will a third party be able to access your data, and it will be made clear to you exactly which data that third party will have access to.
1.6 We will not ask you to supply us with more data about you than we need in order to make our service work. We will explain to you why we need a certain piece of data.
2 Changes in structure or Life-Cycle
2.1 You will be notified in simple language of any major changes in corporate structure, mergers, acquisitions and changes of management, so that you can evaluate whether or not you wish to continue to do business with us.
2.2.1 If and when we are acquired the conditions upon which you gave us your data will be made an integral part of the acquisition contract and our commitment to the start-up code of conduct and ethics will survive the acquisition. In other words, the acquirer will be bound by this document as well.
2.3 If and when we are acquired the service will continue to function stand-alone, even if part of it may be rolled in to the products of the acquirer as well.
2.4 The quality of the service will not be reduced after an acquisition
2.3.1 A shut-down will be announced at least 6 months ahead of time, this announcement will be done via email to the contact information that you give us on sign-up.
2.3.2 When shutting down we will open-source all our software.
2.3.3 When shutting down we will first return all your data to you, the user and after that we will destroy our copies. such an export will be done in the form of a well-documented, suitable non-proprietary file format, such as XML.
2.3.4 If our shutdown is involuntarily (for instance, because of bankruptcy) the bankruptcy trustee will be bound by these terms.
2.3.5 From the moment a shut-down is announced until it is effective new sign-ups will no longer be allowed.
2.3.6 If a shut-down is done by an acquiring party old URLs will continue to function until 10 years after the acquisition, even if no new content can be added to the site, old content will still be available in the old locations as long as users have not exported their data.
3.1 Any API that we create will be available in perpetuity, or a least as long as the company exists, and will survive any acquisition. ‘In perpetuity’ is a very long time, so a practical way to interpret this is ‘as long as there are still active users of the API’.
3.2 There will be no removal of features, though features may be superseded by new features that offer at a minimum exactly the same functionality as before