In recent weeks, I have seen lots of hype surrounding DigitalOcean, a web hosting company from the TechStars startup incubator. Unlike GoDaddy and other web hosts popular with the general public, DigitalOcean provides virtual private servers (VPSes). I prefer to use VPSes because they provide a greater amount of control and customizability than shared hosting.

I am pretty sure that I am one of DigitalOcean's target customers. Not only are many of the websites I manage already hosted on VPSes (provided by Linode), but I have been looking for a new VPS provider with servers that cost less than $20/month (Linode's current lowest price) to bootstrap a new project. I did some cursory research on cheaper VPS providers but was concerned on reading about providers with horrific performance and even worse customer support.

DigitalOcean's TechStars pedigree and the positive results of one developer's attempts at benchmarking made me wonder whether they might be exactly what I was looking for. In mid-February, I began to seriously evaluate them. While they seemed like they might deliver on both price and performance, I soon found that I had serious issues with their handling of customer privacy.

Before I sign up for a new service, I generally read its privacy policy and terms of service. I initially assumed that DigitalOcean had combined the two into one "Terms and Privacy" document in order to make it easier for customers to review it. Unfortunately, I found that their document contained lots of information about prohibited usage of the service and no information about how they protected their users' privacy. Since they launched in the summer of 2011, this means that they had spent a year and a half without a real privacy policy.

I found a user-submitted question on their website with the same concerns that had been submitted the day before. Since that question mentioned that DigitalOcean was "updating" the privacy policy, and the current Terms of Service made references to the privacy policy as if it was a separate document, I contacted DigitalOcean's customer support 1 to see if I had missed the link to the document. After some back-and-forth, they finally stated:

At this moment, it seems we do not have a clearly defined privacy policy in our TOS page. As we have mentioned, it is being worked on and will be updated as soon as possible.

A section entitled "Privacy-Policy" was added to the Terms of Service earlier this week, a month after the user-submitted question and my support ticket. Neither have been updated with the fact that a proper privacy policy has been added. I am not certain whether this is because DigitalOcean is embarrassed that it took them a month to write a privacy policy, or if it is because updating potential customers is not a priority for their support representatives. Either way, I am disappointed enough that I do not plan on using their services.

  1. I was a bit annoyed to find that there seemed to be no other way to contact them without creating an account, which seemed to start a free trial that I was not ready to use.