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Trust Violated = Permission Withdrawn

I wrote recently about how important our users / visitors trust is to us. If our users don’t trust us, they’re not going to use our services.

Following up on this theme, I’d like to tell you a quick story of how a software developer has turned me from being a big fan to losing me as a user by violating my trust.

When editing the last post to The Startup Gardener, I had the need to hand craft some of the html behind the scenes. It was then that I noticed the following in the code:

<div class="zemanta-pixie">
<img class="zemanta-pixie-img" src="http://img.zemanta.com/pixy.gif?x-id=[tracking code]" alt="" />
</div>

W.T.F?

Somehow an image from an unknown server was being inserted into the post. In fact, it had been inserted into a number of posts on The Startup Gardener. This image would allow “zemanta” to know whenever someone reads one of my blog posts. So not only was my trust violated, but also the privacy of my readers. Add the fact that this image could have easily been slowing down The Startup Gardener’s post load times, I was not a happy camper. How on earth did this happen? Was my server hacked? Did I have virus on my machine?

Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!

Nothing stings as much as betrayal, except maybe a T-Rex bite...

Well, after quick bit of google sleuthing I found the following illuminating blog post that explains that ScribeFire, a firefox plugin that I was using for blog post editing, was responsible for inserting this code into each blog post that I had used it to edit. Out-fracking-rageous. The author of the plugin has stated that “we were very open, it is in every release notes. Also, that’s why there is an off switch”, but that does not cut it in my book. Such functionality should be off by default, and turned on only after giving explicit warning to the user about what is going to happen. Anyway, it took me no time at all to decide that I didn’t want this author’s software on my machine. If he plays it fast and loose like this, what’s to say he doesn’t upgrade the plugin in the future to do just about anything to my posts and machine. Heck, the people responsible don’t even need me to upgrade the plugin to wreak havok, they could just replace the image file they inserted into a whopping big banner and there it would appear plastered all over my posts.

So, I have uninstalled it and written this blog post as a warning to others about using this sofware. I have also put up a review on the mozilla plugins page warning others of this “feature” of the software. See how quickly someone can go from being a happy user promoting your software to someone who will go out of their way to warn people to stay away from you.

It’s a shame too, as the functionality of the software was pretty good, but not good enough to put up with those shenaigans. And as the sayung goes, once bitten, twice shy. I will not be using ScribeFire again.

And that is that.

-J

What do you think? Am I overreacting? Share your thoughts by commenting below.

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7 Comments

  1. Sean says:

    That is exactly how I feel about Google Buzz. I thought I opted out when I logged in — turns out I only opted out of the “Tour”. Find out I’m sharing info and following people I had no clue about. Including my reader settings being shared automatically!

  2. Jimmy McGrath says:

    Sean, I totally agree. I was really surprised when I found I was automatically using buzz, then I was really, really surprised when I read about Google was sharing all my contact list with the whole world. You would think that a company the size (and supposed smarts) of Google would have more sense. With great power comes great responsibility and all that. At least they didn’t do it with my business emails accounts which they are hosting. It is so important to respect the trust people give you, ’cause the backlash can be quite severe. This is just one more reason not to host my email with them.

  3. Jimmy McGrath says:

    It just occurred to me how foolish the developers of ScribeFire are. Of all of your users that you want to make the happiest are those who like to blab about stuff, and the loudest blabbers on the internet are bloggers. ScribeFire’s whole userbase is made of bloggers. If they do something dodgy, what’s the chance people are going to silent in their consternation?

    How can they think what they are doing is a good idea? It beggars belief.

  4. Monica says:

    Wow! That’s disgusting! I’m surprized Mozilla aren’t doing something about it… Aren’t there guidelines to building Firefox extensions? I would email them.

  5. Jimmy McGrath says:

    That’s a good idea Monica, there are guidelines for extensions but I suspect that they mostly involve what the plugin does to the computer it is installed on, rather than content on remote machines. Anyway I’ll check it out and report what happens.

    Cheers.

  6. [...] I think that most people don’t realise that their movements being quietly track by the likes of Google, and if they did realise they would probably be a bit miffed. I also suspect that many would sigh and quietly resent the fact and resign themselves to the fact that there is nothing they can do about it. But there are ways to defeat these tracking bugs, one that I know of is really easy to do. If you use the great free web browser Firefox, there is a really easy to install/use extension called Ghostery that will protect you from being seen by Google Analytics and other profiling tools. I’m a happy user, and so are many others (it’s been downloaded over 1.3 million times!) and I have to say that I quite like the fact my I’m not being tracked by unknown third parties as I browse the net. When you do install it, jsut make sure that you turn “blocking” on as by default it is turned off (as it should be). [...]

  7. [...] If you use the great free web browser Firefox, there is a really easy to install/use extension called Ghostery that will protect you from being seen by Google Analytics and other profiling tools. I’m a happy user, and so are many others (it’s been downloaded over 1.3 million times!) and I have to say that I quite like the fact my I’m not being tracked by unknown third parties as I browse the net. When you do install it, just make sure that you turn “blocking” on as by default it is turned off (as it should be). [...]