Grouply Subscribers Violate Yahoo! TOS

February 18, 2008
[Posted here by permission of the author.]
Executives, staff and contractors employed by Grouply.com having access to their YG-mirrored archives are not members of any of my groups. 
Grouply is retransmitting content and putting it into the possession of people who are non-members (i.e., Grouply staff), if any one member of my group becomes a Grouply subscriber.
The access connection to my group happens by default when they join Grouply.  If someone in my group joins Grouply, by default Grouply instantly changes their YID primary email address in my group to @ grouply.com and immediately, by default, lists it as a connected group in the Grouply subscriber’s Grouply account and profile, and begins capturing and archiving postings from my group to Grouply.com.By giving Grouply.com their YID passwords, members grant Grouply.com access (and possession of data in their groups’ mirrored archives on Grouply servers) that neither Yahoo! nor I granted as the parties controlling access.  This is where I see a violation of the TOS by the Grouply.com subscriber.

Access (and retransmission to another web site) has been granted to parties who are not members of my groups, at least (if not others) those parties who are employed by Grouply.com and are not members of my group.

Note that the YG Guidelines do not require merely adherence to the “letter of the law” of the TOS.  Yahoo! advisedly reserves the right to terminate the account of any person violating even just the SPIRIT of the TOS and Guidelines.  I quote from the Guidelines page at:
http://groups.yahoo.com/local/guidelines.html

– – – – –
Yahoo! Groups, in its sole discretion, may terminate or remove any content, Group or your Yahoo! ID immediately and without notice if (a) Yahoo! believes that you have acted inconsistently with the *** SPIRIT OR THE LETTER *** of the Yahoo! Terms of Service or the Yahoo! Groups Guidelines, or (b) Yahoo! believes you have violated or tried to violate the rights of others. Please help us keep Yahoo! Groups an enjoyable and positive experience. If you see a Group or content that violates our rules, please let us know by contacting us [hotlinked to
http://help.yahoo.com/l/us/yahoo/groups/abuse.html ].
– – – – –
[emphasis mine]
But the Grouply subscriber’s violation of the TOS is in both spirit and letter.

The TOS does not say that retransmission to another website is prohibited ONLY IF that other website restricts access to YG members of the same group as the violating member (as GrouplyFans have argued to be permissible under the TOS).  It says in YG Guideline #11 (which is enforced under the TOS): “A Groups owner or moderator (or any other user) cannot re-post or re-transmit Groups content to any other site unless the person has the explicit permission of every group member whose content is being re-posted or re-transmitted.”

That phrase “any other site” is plain and clear.  It does not specify, “unless that site restricts access only to members of the group.”  It simply says “ANY OTHER SITE.”  The only condition under which it says such retransmission is allowable is also very clear: i.e., with “the explicit permission of every group member whose content is being re-posted or re-transmitted.”

Therefore, any Grouply subscriber in my group will be removed for TOS violation.  This is not to say that they are evil, only that they have exceeded the terms and conditions controlling their membership in my group, whether innocently or willfully.

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Non-Member Access Granted by Grouply

February 18, 2008
Reportedly Grouply has “fixed this,” but given their sloppy work in having allowed it in the first place, how can we trust them as they keep saying we should do just because they have “TrustE Certification” (as if that is any guarantee of safety).Posted here by permission of the original author:
————————————————-Through testing I have found that when a member pending approval in a Y! Group joins Grouply.com, that person shows up by default in Grouply as if they were already a member of the Y! Group, and is thereby able to see a list of other Grouply users in that Y! Group.

In fact, even before the pending member was approved, Grouply.com changed its email address to @ grouply.com as displayed in the Pending Member queue.  In the testing I did, that change was accompanied by a change of the test member’s email delivery mode from Web-Only/No Email to Individual Emails.

The email address originally reported to the groups’ moderators as that of a pending member changed before the moderators approved it.  I understand that this is indirectly caused by a volitional act of the pending member, but there is too much likelihood that the member will not understand what is happening, and some group moderators will understandably reject the member on certain grounds when they do something like that.  It seems untoward at best that Grouply would do anything to interfere in moderators’ processes for evaluating and approving new members.  That Pending Member queue is private and confidential.  Grouply.com should not be altering it in any manner whatsoever.

I understand that it can be argued that Grouply acted on behalf of the pending member, with their permission, but it is something like a “back door” type of activity that Yahoo! should not allow, and Grouply.com should not pursue.  It is a step in the direction of exposing Yahoo! Group moderator control of their group to
interference by parties unknown to them.

In my testing, the member pending approval was not able to see group messages yet, but I did not stick around long to wait to see if they eventually would (I know that Grouply says they cannot if they are not an approved member), as I feel that my testing activity may be further exposing the group to compromise of security and privacy.

[NOTE:  ANOTHER MODERATOR FOUND THAT INDEED A PENDING, NON-APPROVED MEMBER **WAS** GRANTED ACCESS TO THEIR MESSAGE ARCHIVE BY GROUPLY, AND GROUPLY CEO MARK ROBINS PUBLICLY ADMITTED IT AND SAYS IT HAS BEEN FIXED.  BUT KNOWING THEY MADE SUCH A GRIEVOUS ERROR, HOW CAN WE TRUST THEM TO NOT DO IT AGAIN, OR TO NOT DO EVEN WORSE THINGS?]

It is entirely unsatisfactory and highly disconcerting that Grouply’s activity compels concerned group owners to have to use the Grouply service to find out how it may be interacting with private, restricted group activity.

In my testing, the member pending approval was able to see the identities (full names, photos, personal data and private, non-grouply.com email addresses) of other members already in the group who are Grouply users.  I have not verified this for certain, but it appears that those existing members using Grouply probably can also see the new pending member as if they were already a member.

In my view, this constitutes unauthorized access and usage of the group’s Member List and Pending Member queue.  It is a breach of security and privacy.  I intend to file an abuse report with Yahoo! about it, and write separately to Yahoo! executives and managers about it, though I will wait a bit to see if Mr. Robins will stop this behavior first, and prevent it from happening again.

The Pending Member queue is confidential between group membership applicants, Yahoo! and the group owners/moderators.  Pending Members also must not be allowed to see any content of the Member List of a group that restricts view of the Member List.  That Member List is confidential data.  For Grouply to make any portion or derivative of that content available to NON-MEMBERS (such as ones pending approval) is abuse.  It is especially disturbing that Grouply displays to a pending Y! Group member not just a Yahoo ID (which Grouply does not display), but personal names, photos, email addresses and other personal data of and about the group’s members who use Grouply.

I understand that Grouply members can restrict view of their information within the Grouply system, but the fact is that most of them do not, from what I saw in my testing, and I feel strongly that Grouply.com has no right to inform a pending group member of ANYTHING about the presence of any content on the group’s Member List, even if it is NOT set for restricted view, because if it is to be viewable at all, it should only be via the Yahoo! Groups service.I see no honor at all in any person or service scraping data from Yahoo! Groups Member Lists, for any purpose at all.  Legal or not, it is wrong, and I find it easily construed as a Yahoo! TOS violation.

I Should Care About Grouply’s Survival?

February 18, 2008

——————–
In http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/GrouplyImprovements/message/195
Shal said:
On a purely business level, you may as well ask them to turn out the lights and close the doors.
——————–

So?

In this sentence, and in the overall thrust of his post, Shal seems to refer to some sort of necessity that we take into account Grouply’s business interests.  I do not see any necessity for telling a group owner that they must now accept a new paradigm for their group’s experience just because someone’s business interests are at
stake.

Many (if not most) YG owners are volunteers running non-profit civic types of groups where nobody has a business interest except Yahoo!, who deserves to make money on the service they are providing to us for free, and does it in a way that costs group owners nothing but the sweat of their brows to make a good thing happen for their group members.  If Grouply offered those group owners an option (a true OPTION, not an imposed thing they must opt-out of), then perhaps they might also deserve a piece of the business pie, if what they offered had value in the opinion of the group owner.

How this massive movement of volunteers in online communities should be deemed NECESSARILY open to companies like Grouply making money off of our painstaking work for our group communities (I refer to Shal’s phrase, “on a purely business level”), against our will, is beyond me.

Grouply CLAIMS to be improving the members’ experience.  Some members may agree with that, and that’s their prerogative, of course.  Group OWNERS also have rights and prerogatives.  Those owners who do not agree with their Grouply-fan members should not be subjected to having the groups that they OWN “opted-into” a third party service that they find contrary to their groups’ interests, regardless of what anyone else thinks of those owners’ opinions about what is good or bad for their groups, especially when they are “opted-into” it by a tiny minority of members (or even JUST ONE member!) who have no right to unilaterally change the paradigm on which the owner built and manages the group.

Nobody is obligated to take into account another party’s business interests unless they are contractually committed to do so, or obligated to do so under some provision of law or morality.  I have no legal or moral obligation to take into account any business interest of Grouply in my groups’ existence.

————-
Shal said:
If each new subscriber finds that they can access nothing until they go and pester the owners of all their groups into each giving them the ok — well the would-be subscribers will just walk away.
———–

Yes, Grouply’s would-be subscribers may well just walk away from Grouply if they have a strong interest in a Yahoo Group that opts out of Grouply involvement.

Shal has been known to say, as he does in this thread (and I agree), “Your group, your rules.”  So yes, if my group members want me to change those rules, they will have to consult with me about it, lobby for it (“pester” me, in Shal’s words).  And if they don’t like the rules established by the owner for the sake of the good of the whole group (not just a few Grouply fans, or just one seeking to opt the group into Grouplyfication), then indeed, they can and maybe should “just walk away,” and I would bid them a farewell with best wishes, if I had opted-out my group from Grouply.

But clearly group owners who prefer not to have to deal with the behaviors of Grouply, or don’t like it, do not have that option to just walk away from Grouply, or will not have such an option until Grouply grants it to them through an opt-out procedure to reverse the decision of one group member who opted-in the group’s archive … a procedure offered to us only after many of us “pestered” Grouply for it.  Such group owners, unlike members of our groups “pestering” us for changes (which, by the way, almost never happens in the groups I own, because I usually consult the members BEFORE imposing significant changes on the environment they joined), never voluntarily joined Grouply the way our “pestering” members voluntarily joined our groups and accepted the rules as they were upon joining.  But Grouply subscribers decide to redirect our archives to Grouply’s web site, at Grouply’s profit, and we are left with only “pestering” Grouply to stop their interfering, if we deem it to be interference, an opinion which is our right to hold as the grantors of the keys to our groups’ archives.

Is it truly interference?  That is a subjective matter, and nobody has a right to tell a group owner what their subjective experience should be of something they own, and built with their own hard labor and the support of their members.

What happened to “my group, my rules?”  If my rules were to now say, “No Grouply,” Shal’s statements seem to say that he would oppose it “on a purely business level,” based on a notion that I should have some sympathy for Grouply’s business interests.  My degree of concern for Grouply’s business interest is entirely dependent upon the quality of their concern for me, and my realization of some benefit derived from their business activity, a benefit I have yet to see.

Treat me in an honorably businesslike fashion, and I will be happy to reply in kind.  Barge into my house and say, “New rules, folks!” and I may be rather defensive and intolerant of such a presence.  My group, my rules.

I didn’t create and run my groups for the past several years so that Grouply could come along and reap a profit off my  labor.  I already know that my biggest group’s co-owners, moderators, and leading members object strongly to the idea, simply on principle that our volunteer labors should not be used by anyone, anywhere, to turn a profit.

Recently I kicked another corporate entity out of one of my groups because they were found to be using a trojanesque member account to redirect postings to an external web site to generate revenue off them with Google context-sensitive ads (and Yahoo finally shut down that operation, I was glad to see, after an outcry by group owners  and members, one similar to what we are seeing about Grouply, and for similar reasons).  I also work to prevent thievish “sploggers” from doing the same.  I enjoy the use of alert services continually crawling the web to notify me of such activity, among other measures I take to prevent profiteering on my group’s non-profit volunteer activity.

My group expects me to practice such measures.  They are not happy with the Grouply situation.  They expect me to do something about it.

————–
Shal said:
Yes, eventually enough groups may have approved that a subscriber’s initial experience would be more positive, but with 7+ million groups out there that day would probably be too far off for Grouply’s survival.
————

“Grouply’s survival” is not a concern of mine, especially if I do not agree that their product is an improvement on the experience of my group, and doubly especially if I find it detrimental to my group.

————-
Shal said:
Granted that from a moderator’s point of view I often say “your group, your rules”, but from the point of view of a group member, the requirement of an owner opt-in is unworkable and unfair. It is likely to be at least as unpopular with group members as are those moderators that choose to mess with members’ email delivery settings.
—————

Shal is certainly entitled to an opinion of what is “workable and fair,” and so am I.  Under the terms and conditions of the Yahoo agreement under which my group exists, and to which I and the group members are accountable, Yahoo and I define what is workable and fair for my group, not the members.  (Though I do take their opinions into account, I don’t let any one of them change the handling of my group archive unilaterally, yet that does not abrogate my right as owner to change the group rules unilaterally, within the Yahoo TOS).

Shal’s opinion of what may or may not be “unpopular with group members” is as valid as mine, but I own my group’s site in the YG system and I have been granted owner-level rights and responsibilities by Yahoo for that group resource.  Shal does not own it, nor does Grouply, and neither of them are party to my contract with Yahoo.  That makes my opinions about usage of my group archive take precedence over Shal’s and the company whose business interests he appears to defend.

—————-
Shal said:
Before Grouply accesses any group there has been a positive opt-in — by the member.
—————-

On principle if nothing else, I am not comfortable with the idea that Grouply has enabled any single member of my group to choose unilaterally to grant Grouply an opportunity to forever make untold sums money on my group’s existence, its history of activity, its future activity, and its non-profit volunteer labors without my explicitly opted-in consent (and that of all other members of the group, as I would prefer).  People tend to be touchy about others using their volunteer group work to make money without something in return that they actually want or need and that serves the mission of their group.

Under the Yahoo TOS, members do not have the right to redirect group content to another web site.  They don’t own the group content.  They only own the content of their individual postings that they wrote.  They can send their own postings anywhere they like.  But they don’t have a right to “opt-in” all their groups’ entire message archives, past, present and future, to an external profit-making environment that the owner of the group opposes and the members were not given an opportunity to consult on.  (However, I will not mind if Grouply can find a way to make a few pennies on THIS post, and I won’t even ask for a royalty.  LOL.  Just kidding.)

Shal’s assertion that a SINGLE member’s decision to opt-in a group to Grouply.com seems to clearly imply that he thinks individual member rights are greater than owner rights, and greater than the majority of members’ rights, as any such rights may affect changes to the way the group archive is used.

Do you detect that I disagree?

———————-
Shal said:
To the extent that Grouply makes good on its promise to safeguard message access, mirroring the access afforded by Yahoo, I’d argue that Group owner opt-in is unnecessary.
———————-

That mirroring access Shal mentions is not being accorded to Grouply BY YAHOO, as he mistakenly asserts here.  It is done by individual members giving their Yahoo account IDs and passwords to Grouply, and, in all cases, by JUST ONE member initiating a relationship between Grouply and affected groups.

Opt-in by owner is the right way to go.
 


Grouply One Percenters

February 18, 2008

After the massive amount of traffic in discussion about Grouply in the EmailList-Managers group …
http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/EmailList-Managers
… right now less than one percent of the 3,322 members of that group (including Grouply staff who are members there) are Grouply users [as of the original date of this writing].  And I KNOW from personal contact with some of them that some have no intention of staying with Grouply.  They are only there to keep an eye on what Grouply is doing it and how they do it, so they can be sure of how to defend their groups from abuses that may arise through Grouply users’ errors.Doesn’t sound like the Grouply story of “improving your experience of Yahoo Groups” is selling very well among LIST MANAGERS.

If you discount the curiosity seekers and spies … gee … how many of those 3,322 members really like Grouply enough to actually use it?

ALMOST NOBODY.

But that’s okay.  Grouply does not need many subscribers.  They only need one member in each group to get access to zillions of postings.

The question is, “For what?”  (Besides Grouply’s dream of making money on the volunteer labors of thousands of group owners.)

One percent of members, 100% access.  Pure genius.

What cracks me up is how often I see those One Percenter Grouply fans posting their defenses of Grouply via their email client, and via the YG Post menu item, but not via Grouply’s interface.  Maybe they find that having one more web site to have to deal with just to be a YG member isn’t all that efficient?


Ungrouply Improvements

February 18, 2008

This message was rejected by the moderator of the GrouplyImprovements
Yahoo! Group on the grounds that is was, in the moderator’s
words, “primarily negative and distrustful.”  That moderator is now
known to be a vocal advocate for Grouply.
—————————————-

> You do have some control thru the proposed owner controls to limit
> whether your group is shown at Grouply at all or whether it’s shown
> in member profiles.

I know the comments I’m about to make may seem off-thread, but I’m
only responding to your comment here on the matter of owner control
and the effect of the proposed/pending opt-out arrangement.

I had more owner control before Grouply arrived on the scene.  Now I
have to follow Grouply’s external, non-Yahoo-governed-or-sanctioned
protocol in order to have Grouply’s permission to retain the former
owner control that Yahoo had granted me.  Hunh?  Wha?

Even after the opt-out procedure is in place, to trust it completely
I’d still have to join Grouply to confirm with certainty that it was
effective, and monitor my group indefinitely for appearance on
Grouply to ensure that I remain opted-out in the future (i.e., retain
my owner control).  All it takes is a little glitch or programming
mistake or accidental data loss to throw my opted-out status into the
null bit bucket, or Grouply could change its mind about the
permission it granted me to opt-out.

In order to effectively monitor whether Grouply’s permission to
retain owner control is remaining in effect, and to do it without
compromising my group and my YID password, I have to jump through
hoops within the Grouply system, too.  That is, each time I go in to
check on my group, I have to do it quickly before they scrape my
archive, and be sure to disconnect my group and delete my password in
Grouply’s settings before leaving, and then go change that password
on my YID … unless I place my blind faith in this company with whom
I did not ask for a relationship in the first place, nor have the
vast majority of my group members (just a few shy of all of them).

Then I’ll have to do the same for every such “aggregator” that comes
along in the future?  Herding cats is not what I signed up for with
Yahoo.

I stand with many others in the conviction that the only
right way to do it is true opt-IN, and I feel that should be provided
by Yahoo as an option for all such external services that Yahoo may
decide to allow to integrate with YG.