Applications People

IFTTT v Pinboard Redux – Contracts and Condescension

When I wrote about the IFTTT v Pinboard standoff yesterday, I didn’t spend much time on the contract stuff in my article beyond this comment:

I would also have reservations about the contract they want developers to agree to as part of their transition to the new platform. Requiring developers to agree to the sorts of terms Cegłowski quote seems pretty unreasonable given what the clauses would seem to be saying.

I read through the contract terms that Cegłowski quoted. You can only really assess a contract effectively as a whole and while he quoted contract clauses in isolation, you can see why they are a concern.

IFTTT’s Contract land grab

These clauses are a sort of legal land grab. They may not have been intended that way by IFTTT (I tend to blame the lawyers for this sort of approach) but the effect of the clauses is to claim developers’ code created to integrate with IFTTT’s new platform for IFTTT with little credit to the developers. You can see that in clauses 3 (Ownership) and 12 (Patent License) in particular.

He also makes a good point about clause 11 which does, indeed, seem to have the effect of requiring him to “work for them, for free, on demand”:

  1. Compatibility. Each Licensee Channel must maintain 100% compatibility with the Developer Tool and the Service including changes provided to you by IFTTT, which shall be implemented in each Channel promptly thereafter.

I accept that IFTTT should be entitled to update its platform and, as a business which has profit generation as one of its primary responsibilities, perhaps even using a private API. Without knowing much about how these things work from a development perspective, requiring that developers bind themselves to a closed development environment with onerous demands seems pretty unreasonable. That said, this explanation makes some sense to me:

It certainly isn’t a good way to maintain constructive relationships with the many developers who help make IFTTT for its users by linking their services to IFTTT.

Who is really caught in the middle?

Shawn Roos made an interesting comment yesterday. I don’t agree with him, though. I think our tendency to leap to the defence of the lone developer facing up to the bigger corporation can skew our perspectives. For what it’s worth, I lean more towards supporting Cegłowski on this one.

At the same time, I don’t particularly appreciate his dismissive attitude towards the situation his customers, like me, find ourselves in but we don’t pay him for charm. We pay him to maintain and improve his bookmarking service. If he wants to behave in a certain way, well that is his choice even if being a little more empathetic could improve his relationship with his users and strengthen our support.

At the same time, while he is certainly affected by IFTTT’s new stance, Cegłowski is not the one caught in the middle here, we are. We are in the middle of this dispute because we made the decision to use both services and the positions both providers have taken means that we have to find alternative workflows to fill the functionality gaps the rift has caused.

If IFTTT vanished off the Web altogether, Pinboard would continue doing what it does now and would have value because of what it does. The same can be said for IFTTT. Changes to either service impact us users who have chosen to use the services together and when these sorts of services clash (the reasons don’t matter), we are impacted in varying degrees.

It’s a little like the citizens of Metropolis being caught up in the fallout of the battle between Superman and General Zod that we saw more of in the introduction to Batman v Superman. Granted, not nearly as devastating but you get the idea.

I was hoping this whole thing would be resolved in some way but it looks like that won’t happen. In my case that isn’t a catastrophe. I had some workflows running which automated a few tasks I wanted to run and I’m sure I can find another way to do them. It is just unfortunate that I need to and neither IFTTT or Pinboard seem to be particularly concerned about the effect on their users.

Anyway, moving along …

Image credit: Tug of War by Eva Funderburgh, licensed CC BY-NC 2.0


The right to assemble and protest, selectively applied

A Senior Citizens’ March To Protest Inflation. Rev. Jackson Is Shown Speaking, 10/1973

Yesterday the Democratic Alliance was forced to abandon its (misguided) march on ANC headquarters because ANC supporters seemed to view it as an assault on their territory and the police had something other than upholding DA supporters’ rights to protest and assemble guiding their actions. This isn’t the first time this has happened and won’t be the last time. One reason is that it seems the right to protest and march is selectively applied to the self-righteous who don’t tolerate opposition.

Constitutional lawyer, Pierre De Vos, addresses this issue well (as usual) in his article DA vs ANC: The importance of political tolerance. This bit stood out for me:

Despite these complexities, one would have thought that if there was any right that all democrats in South Africa would support unreservedly – whether you are a top-dog or an underdog, whether rich or poor, whether in power or in opposition, whether a Union member or a civil society activist – would be the right to assemble and to protest. This should especially be true in South Africa where mass protests helped to bring the Apartheid government to its knees – despite the best efforts of PW Botha and FW de Klerk to curtail such protests.

The true leaders in our democracy must know this. The question is why the true leaders were so silent this week.

The right to assemble and take part in protests is one of the most democratic of rights. When respected by everyone in society, it is one of the rights most easily exercised – regardless of your political, economic or social status. Moreover, if you fail to respect your opponent’s right to assembly and protest, you are poisoning the political space and giving your opponents the gap to curtail your right to assemble in protest in future.

There are time when I wonder if South Africans are too politically immature for the democracy the Constitution enables and whether we should have some sort of autocratic leadership until we are. Then I realise that an autocrat would end hopes of a democracy and we pretty much have the seeds of an autocratic regime anyway, in the form of our President and his party.

Perhaps what we need is more protests and deliberate and co-ordinated actions to exercise our rights even as we accept it is going to be messy, bloody and will involve brick dodging and ineffective police action for a while longer.

Mindsets Mobile Tech Social Web

From privacy to publicity and the #JugCam debate

The #JugCam debate is a minefield and its probably not a good idea for anyone other than a woman feminist to say or write anything about it. Any perspective other than a feminist one is sure to be as incorrect as any answer to the dreaded “Do I look fat in this?” question.

If you haven’t discovered the #JugCam meme yet, its pretty simple. The idea is to tweet photos of women in bikini tops at cricket matches in an effort to spice up the game a bit. I believe the person who came up with this idea is person tweeting as @followthebounce (almost certainly a guy). A couple guys responded to the idea with tweeted photos of women at cricket matches in bikini tops. One or two photos were of women who posed, a couple were women in the crowd and a number were screen grabs from the TV feed.

I went back a bit and as far as I can tell, the woman tweeting as @Fleabeke sounded a call to action against the #JugCam meme and declared her intention to fight it. A number of people (primarily women) joined the Twitter protest against the meme on the basis that it is illegal (I doubt it); exploits women; encourages photos of women’s breasts being published without their knowledge and consent and is downright sleazy. Intellectually I understand some of the arguments and where they come from. To me the arguments against #JugCam resonate a little with some of the ideas behind the Slut Walk movement (my favorite slogan is “Its a dress, not a yes”). I don’t really agree with the protest against #JugCam.

I am going to throw what I am certain will be an unpopular argument against the wall. As the Twitter debate evidences, we live in a time when we are increasingly online, socially connected and capable of publishing a dizzying amount of content on the Web for virtually anyone to see. This is not new. We’re had the ability to take photos with out phones and upload those images to the Web for several years now. As more people use more capable smart devices we will share even more of our daily experiences online. Often this sharing will be inappropriate and perhaps even malicious. For the most part people will just share stuff because they can. We are getting to a point where you can’t go anywhere without seeing smartphones or other devices being used to take photos, record video and publish that content to sites you have no control over.

When it comes to the #JugCam meme (which is an organized version of what guys have probably been doing at sports events for some time now), we have to start making decisions about how we behave in such a connected world. I know how this next bit sounds but I think it has to be said and really does have some merit as an argument: women who wear bikini tops at public sports events like cricket matches must be aware that their photos could be taken and uploaded for broader consumption. I’m not saying its ok for that to happen, it is a little creepy, but it happens. Arguing that people (ok, men) shouldn’t be allowed to do this in public spaces without express permission is a little disingenuous. If a woman is opposed to being photographed in a bikini top and having her photo published online then she should reconsider wearing a bikini top at these events. Women should also be free to express outrage at their photo being published and demand that it be removed but whether that actually happens will likely come down to a decision based on the rights to freedom of expression, dignity and privacy being weighed up. I suspect the legal position will be something along the following lines: women in public wearing bikini tops have no real legitimate expectation of privacy when they are in public and can’t complain if their photo is taken and published online, particularly where they are aware that this could (and does) occur.

As I mentioned at the beginning of my post, this debate is a minefield. It includes elements of historical gender-based discrimination and objectification. It touches on how men, generally, tend to treat women as means to satisfy their own desires without consideration for women’s feelings and sensibilities. It also touches on notional privacy issues and the idea that “its a dress, not a yes” (although there is no suggestion that taking photos of women in bikini tops and tweeting the photos is directly and necessarily linked to sexual assault). Another argument is that women should bear in mind that wearing a bikini at a public and televised cricket match can draw attention from smartphone toting guys who have an impulse control problem.

I think our privacy norms are changing and we are becoming accustomed to being a little more public. I also think the vocal feminists on Twitter are going a little too far with their protest. They’re entitled to oppose what they view as offensive but its practically fashionable to assume we don’t live in a world where people don’t always behave with utmost respect and where women (justifiably) dress as they please but in a fictional world where doing so doesn’t attract any unwelcome attention, whatever that may be (it still amazes me how men are expected to just know what is appropriate behaviour and what isn’t without being given much guidance and I’m not talking about obviously offensive comments, touching and assaults – those guidelines are pretty well established).

The Web and all its bits and pieces have changed how we live our lives and relate to each other. We have to start making more decisions about our publicity levels and act accordingly. Perhaps women who object to being photographed in bikini tops at cricket matches shouldn’t wear bikini tops at those matches. Perhaps people should be discouraged from taking the photos of bikini clad women in the first place so women feel more comfortable wearing less at these matches for whatever reason. Or perhaps we should reassess our norms when it comes to our privacy expectations and publich sharing on the Web.