Defend and Respect the User’s Voice

A panelist in the “Connecting with Customers” panel highlighted the approach of “do first, ask permission later.” But Jarred Taylor, Product Counsel at Twitter, proposed a different approach in this panel: “do and ask for permission at the same time.”

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What does that mean? At Twitter, it takes the form of a “product counsel,” a concept developed at Google approximately a decade ago. A product counsel pairs legal counsel with product teams to both do and ask for permission at the same time. Jarred explained that this approach means companies like Twitter no longer just rely on Terms of Service and law to protect user privacy. Instead, a product counsel can help to develop a product where the user can understand the security and privacy tools as they use the product day to day. A product counsel balances existing law with user trust.

Historically, companies have addressed security and privacy with “Put something in your terms of service and you’re covered.” Now, however, user interface and user experience are as important as the information in a terms of service document.

When asked how the Twitter platform has evolved to be safer for users, the unanimous answer from the panel was this: User safety is constantly shifting territory. What qualifies as a “negative user experience” on the platform is always changing. It’s easier to handle experiences that are manifestly abusive than it is to handle situations where it’s not clear whether it’s abuse or not. For example, what is considered hate speech versus what is considered freedom of speech varies from person to person, across cultures, and from country to country.

“The best thing we can do is give users control over their experience,” explained Yoel Roth, Product Trust at Twitter. He explained that the tools for safety—such as the “block” and “mute” buttons—must be easy for the user to understand. If the customer gets it, then the customer can have more control. By considering privacy and safety as new products and features are being created, Twitter can proactively address security and privacy issues.

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A takeaway for other companies is to build legal counsel into product development early. Combining an early product development approach with thoughtfulness about the user experience can position a company to better defend and respect the user’s voice.

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