Freecycle Finder vs Grouply

February 19, 2008

Groupycans are claiming that there’s no comparison between Grouply’s group invasion and the former Freecycle Finder debacle.  Well, they’re not the same beasts, but there is a comparison.  One is an opt-in scheme, the other is a hijacker who offers a parachute to its victim.

Freecycle Finder was a scheme where The Freecycle Network, Inc. (TFN) coerced group owners to plant a message-harvesting “member” account ( as a member of their Yahoo! Group, set for Individual Emails delivery mode.  TFN collected the messages and published them for public view on their secondary website, where they used Google context-sensitive advertisements triggered by member postings to generate revenue.

After more than a year in operation, it got shut down when Yahoo! declared the scheme to be contrary to their Terms of Service (TOS) and Groups Guidelines (enforced under the TOS).

Grouply says that they will only make Yahoo! (and some day Google) Groups message archives available on their site to existing members of the respective groups they sink their hooks into.  They have said that they intend to use the message traffic to generate revenue with targeted advertising, assuming their product survives beta.

So grouplycans are saying that Grouply’s invasion is not the same as Freecycle’s, and that is true.  It’s not the same.

It’s worse.

Freecycle owner-moderators remained in full control of their groups.  FreecycleFinder could not plant itself as a harvester at the behest of any single non-moderator member.  The moderator had to put it there at TFN’s behest.  Mods who didn’t like it balked, and either walked (disaffiliated their group from TFN) or fought until they convinced Yahoo! to step in, as they did, after a long fight.

Grouply plants itself into a group without the moderator’s knowledge.  If just ONE member of a group subscribes to Grouply, via Grouply’s possession of that member’s Yahoo! ID (YID) and password, Grouply harvests the group’s entire message archive forever, and opens the group to a variety of risks, including security problems already identified and overrides on some moderator controls of archive access, among other problems.

If a moderator did not want to participate in FreecycleFinder, all they had to do was refuse to install the Finder account in their group.  To participate, they had to OPT-IN by intentionally adding the Finder account.  Grouply, in a far more intrusive manner, lets any one member “opt-in” the entire group, without moderator permission or knowledge.

After an outcry from wary moderators alerted to the scheme by Grouply’s spam guns blasting at their back door, Grouply bestowed upon them the gift of opting-out via their new access control for moderators.  Wasn’t that nice of them?



February 18, 2008

Ungrouply Behavior,

I posted this message in the GI group in response to Grouply’s assertion that they “had lawyers review the Yahoo TOS to make sure we would be ok.”

You have my permission to post this in Ungrouply Behavior.  The original is at:

Enron’s chiefs had lawyers, too, who fought hard to defend them.  Not to compare Grouply’s tiny place in the world to theirs, or Grouply’s activities to theirs, but the argument that lawyers said it is okay means almost nothing to me.

Case in point:

The Freecycle Network, Inc. (TFN), which also has a lawyer reviewing its practices (a respectable law firm, as I understand it), said repeatedly (including directly to me personally) that it had Yahoo’s okay for their YG message aggregation scheme (“Finder”), until Yahoo publicly pronounced the technique involved to be contrary to their TOS.  That came only after an outcry from YG members and moderators, and many complaints filed about it, and even then not before national press media gave attention to the matter.  Prior to that, for a long time (more than a year as I recall), the scheme was in place and operating successfully without visible interference from Yahoo.  Once Yahoo became convinced that it was a problem, and pronounced on the matter, TFN immediately took its revenue-generating off the web, despite all the prior lawyerly claims made by TFN that it did not violate Yahoo’s TOS, operated with Yahoo’s knowledge, and allegedly even with their consent.  Grouply’s similar lawyer-reviewed claim of TOS compliance is unconvincing to me.

In their public statement made recently on third party access issues, so far clearly Yahoo is leaving the matter to the discretion of moderators, advising them to do what they think is best for their groups regarding membership eligibility of YG users connected with or enabling access of third parties.

As a group owner-moderator responsible for working to ensure TOS compliance in and by my group, I find that Grouply subscribers are complicit, whether willfully or not, in at least an end-run around certain provisions of the Yahoo TOS, if not directly violating it.  I find that they participate in enabling iGroup, Inc. to abrogate aspects of the spirit and the letter of the Yahoo TOS.  I find that Grouply encourages behaviors contrary to my understanding of the spirit of the Yahoo TOS.  Access and usage via the Grouply method also infringes on previously established internal policies of my groups.

Therefore, members are not allowed to use the Grouply method to access my groups.  There are so few of them, their not being allowed to use their Grouply account to access my group has no effect on the mission effectiveness of my groups anyway, but the presence of just one of them using Grouply does involve significant risks, in my view.  Grouply subscribers otherwise eligible for membership are welcome to participate in my groups, just not via the service, or any other like it.  Not being allowed to use Grouply does not prevent or inhibit their full participation in the missions of my groups, in well established, reliably convenient ways provided by Yahoo!.

Feeding Grouply

February 18, 2008

I’m sitting here wondering if there might soon be dozens or hundreds of new “anyone can post without joining” listed and unrestricted (i.e., spam-collector) YG groups (maybe created in Nigeria?) called something like ungrouply1, 2, 3, etc., where people who don’t like, but are registered users, each holding two ungrouply group accounts, one set for Individual Emails with an @ address, the other with some other domain but with an auto-responder or auto-forwarder on that second account replying to every posting with a full copy of the original going back to all the ungrouply groups, and they sign their group address up for every kind of spam they can get, or some other even more clever looping-flooding arrangement (I have not thought this through carefully, because I’m not criminally inclined to do something like this), and fire up another ungrouply group (or ten) every day, to keep chasing them around the web with a cyberbroomstick, and so forth.  Surely there’s some unhappy spammer out there thinking about such things.

I seem to recall a few freecyclers unhappy with Finder talking about feeding Finder a very fattening diet.

Worse Than Freecycle’s Finder Scheme

February 18, 2008

Someone wrote, “What if, instead of passing your yahoo ID to grouply, you just set up a grouply account with a grouply email then as a user MANUALLY went to your yahoo account and made the grouply addy the default account address for whatever group you wanted.”

That would work just fine.  It worked great for  I remember during the FcFinder ruckus some people saying things like, “This is just the beginning.  Now that this concept has been brought to light, every huckster will be looking to make a buck on YG posting activity.”  Sure enough, we saw the event of sploggers planting an account in a group and redirecting its postings to a blog with AdSense context-sensitive ads ringing the cash register for the blogger.

But the FcFinder approach you propose, which is elegantly simple, would not grant access to the entire archive, only to future postings.  Data-mining and context/content analysis of long-term member activity and archive content would not be as richly endowed that way, making targeting of advertising less keen.  (We have to consider Grouply’s business interests, its survival as a company, and all the money waiting to be made, according to Shal and Srihari.)

And, the current Grouply arrangement makes it easy for their subscribers to endow Grouply with the archives of ALL the groups where they hold membership, in a few simple clicks, as opposed to the member having to go open the back door to every one of their groups one by one.  Mass aggregation is a very sophisticated business.  Reportedly a couple million dollars are riding on this instance of it.