Slashdot has news, from Forbes, of a collaboration between The Internet Society, the University of Colorado, the EFF and the Center for Democracy and Technology. It is similar to ToSBack release by the EFF some time ago. Instead of tracking complete policies, though, and providing a centralized, dense tool for tracking changes, the ISOC Policy Audit Plugin, an extension for Firefox, works a bit differently but to similar ends.
From the plugin’s page at Mozilla’s addon directory:
The plugin accesses the Policy Library and alerts the user when they visit a website that publishes a policy that the Policy Monitor is tracking. The alert indicates whether or not the user has viewed the policy page(s) associated with the site. The user is able to view the policy page(s) from the alert icon displayed within the lower-right of their browser. If the policy page(s) changed since the last time they were viewed using the plugin, they are also presented with the ability to perform a “difference” comparison between the current version and the one they previously viewed.
It is clearly distinct from P3P which is the other tool that popped into my head when reading the story. That largely stalled initiative required machine readable policies and would actually mediate interactions in the browser based on a user’s preferences.
This plugin can only notify users of changes though it does so closer to the point of concern than ToSBack. It doesn’t offer any assistance in comprehending policies, another complaint I have with ToSBack. I really feel like there is a missed opportunity here, even more so pulling this much more in-line into the browser. Compare it to projects like Recap and Herdict which harness collective action.
Granted, parsing policies does require more expertise than these other efforts but I could easily see an extra registration step for legal experts, scholars and activists to enable supplemental interfaces for helping analyze and explain policies and in particular the changes the tool will already highlight.