The Ethics Of Publishing Hacked Information

Like many people I’ve been fascinated by the Sony hacks. So much interesting information (and gossip) about the inner workings of a major movie studio.

I was also waiting for Sony to start balking at the re-publication of a lot of that information by the news sites. And sure enough, they’re now calling it stolen information, and threatening publications that are sharing it with the public.

It reminds me distinctly of the situation we found ourselves in in 2009 when a hacker delivered a truckload of internal Twitter information. See In Our Inbox: Hundreds Of Confidential Twitter Documents. See the updates to that post for how it all played out.

Twitter also halfheartedly threatened to sue us over the publication of that information, although we felt that we were on pretty firm legal ground in moving forward. People were both fascinated with the information, and enraged that we would publish it. Some comments we received:

I think it is unbelievable that we are able to read this documents. This could very well be one of the most powerful internet companies since Google and Facebook and here we are reading their private company notes.

Posting any of the information is unethical. The information is stolen property of a legal company, and releasing that information to the public without the consent of said company is quite unethical. Releasing business strategies and funding information could also be the basis for unknown lawsuits due to damage caused to the company by early release of this confidential information. Its so nice to see that ethics are no longer ethical.

You are receiving stolen property, pure and simple. Now, I have a different perspective on this many others – I was an investigative reporter for many years. Many times, I had people offer me documents. However, a private company’s document are different matter. There is no “public right to know” what a private company’s plans are. The hacker stole them, pure and simple.

What you have done by posting this information is no different than “fencing” stolen merchandise of any kind. Using anything illegally obtained for personal gain is not right! Furthermore, it encourages more criminal activity (theft) and makes it “OK”.

etc.

We actually held back the personal and/or embarrassing information we had, because we thought it was the right thing to do.

In this case, the press is actually focusing on the really embarrassing stuff, the private emails that show drama between actors, directors, studio execs, etc.

Still, I don’t think there’s much of an ethical or legal question here (other than the distribution of the movies, which is a clear copyright issue). The data is out there and it’s going to be talked about. No matter how many threatening letters Sony sends.

And I see little or no public outrage over any of it.

The upside from situations like this is that companies might take security more seriously than before, and that’s a good thing.

MTailor: The Perfectly Tailored Man’s Shirt

mtailorMTailor, one of our recent investments at CrunchFund, is a really amazing company.

They make tailored shirts for men, except your mobile device is the tailor. You go through a quick scanning process that involves leaning your phone or tablet against a wall and then spinning slowly in front of it. Once that’s done MTailor has your measurements, which they say are 20% better than actual tailors they used for a study.

I’ve never owned tailored shirts but I should have. I have a longer body than average and generally buy tall shirts when I can find them. That’s been harder with dress shirts over the years, and I generally just make do with what I can find. With MTailor though, it’s not an issue.

Once you have your measurements you can choose the type of shirt you want (collar, cuff, cut) and the fabric. I’ve now bought five of them (I couldn’t resist the recently added “Blue and Bronze Paisley”), and will order more soon. The great thing is that you only have to measure the first time, after that you just order the shirts you want.

The return policy is awesome. If you don’t like something about the shirt they’ll redo it for you for free. And if you’re still not happy they’ll refund your money (and you can keep the shirt). Based on my experience, though, you’ll be very happy the first time.

Get $20 off by using the code sdjoydlq. It also makes a great holiday gift.

“Time Collapse” And My Broken Brain

I was perusing the news headlines this evening and I noticed this article about Glenn Beck’s health troubles.

A few sentences early on in the article floored me, because it describes how I feel exactly:

“Doctors tell me that up until recently, I hadn’t had a real REM sleep in maybe as long as a decade,” Beck said. “I didn’t have a dream that I remember, except one in a decade. And quite honestly, this isn’t a symptom you look to fix if you have a ton to do. But the first sign of trouble I noticed was what I call a ‘time collapse.’ If we had met before, I couldn’t tell you if it was a month ago, a year ago or when we were in high school. I then began to lose names to faces and over time, entire conversations would go away.”

Beck said doctors told him it was normal for someone processing as much information as he was, and the phenomenon has been discussed by figures like Winston Churchill.

“While essential facts remained, life became fuzzy,” Beck continued.

I also had sleep issues and in 2010, six years into TechCrunch, I began having these vertigo attacks that would knock me out for up to 48 hours. I went to a sleep center and my sleep improved dramatically; the vertigo attacks stopped by mid 2012.

I also looked back at an article about my life in 2010 in Inc. Magazine tonight. By then I had had a big weight gain while overseeing TechCrunch, and I’m sure that it was all related – a cycle of stress/weight gain/sleeping disorders that fed on itself until I left TechCrunch. My body fell apart shortly after that interview for Inc.

None of that is particularly interesting, though. Stress and all the negative health issues that come with it are a common topic on Hacker News and other tech water coolers.

Time Collapse

But I keep going back to that part about Beck where he talks about memory issues, possibly caused by or related to the amount of information he was processing.

After years running TechCrunch I began to notice significant short term memory loss.

I mentioned it in the Inc. article – “But then at some point in the past year, I suddenly lost my short-term memory,”

But over time it’s become much worse. I have significant trouble putting faces with names, and my memory loss is becoming so obvious to family and coworkers that it’s become sort of a joke.

I can remember conversations, or doing things, but I often can’t recall if they happened today, or last week, or even sometimes last year. It’s near universal, and unless I make a significant effort to really put an experience into “long term memory” as it happens, it just sort of fades away.

These things tend to creep up on you and it isn’t something I’ve thought about much until tonight when I read that Beck article, but it really does seem to be getting worse. Or perhaps just not getting better.

There are lots of ways I compensate. Like taking copious notes when I never used to write any. A lot of times I just accept it for what it is.

Beck calls it a “time collapse” and that really is a good way to describe what I feel. He links the issues to “processing as much information as he was” and that feels right, too.

“While essential facts remained, life became fuzzy,” he says. This, again, describes much of the last several years of my life perfectly.

While running TechCrunch I was processing a lot of information. Like nothing I’ve ever experienced before or after. I don’t think I could exaggerate this – “a lot” as in all-caps “A LOT.” Thousands of startups, many thousands of entrepreneurs and sources, and keeping all the details and interconnections straight. There’s a reason I started CrunchBase, to keep all that information organized.

Beck says that it took five years for his mind to recover. I’m about three years post-TechCrunch now. I hope that things will be getting better. Family and friends will certainly appreciate it.

PS – Beck says that Winston Churchill and others have discussed this, but a few minutes searching has turned up nothing. If anyone is familiar with “time collapse” or whatever it’s properly called, I’d love to read more.

Abacus, The Expense Software Employees Love, Raises $3.5 Million

abacus

I hate expense reports. I do them once a year and I still hate it. Back when I had to do them monthly or have the finance department all over me I hated them twelve times as much.

Abacus fixes all that. The company was founded by Omar Qari, Ted Power and Josh Halickman (Foursquare, Google, Etsy Venmo and other experience) and they launched earlier this year at Winter Y Combinator. You can read their launch post here.

How does Abacus fix expense reports? When a company starts using Abacus, they link their bank account. Employees set themselves up in the app and also link their bank account. Employees then submit expenses via taking pictures of the receipts, uploading PDFs or forwarding emails. Managers approve, right away if they want, and the money is reimbursed to the employee the next day. Once the money clears, Abacus automatically syncs transaction information with the company’s accounting software.

No more filling out reports. Abacus does that for the company automatically. That’s most of the pain gone right there. And you get reimbursed immediately – meaning you don’t float the company for 30-60 days while your create your report and it goes through the system.

That’s the way expenses are supposed to be. And that’s why more than 150 companies are already using Abacus, including Pinterest, Foursquare, Coinbase and Betterment. Other very large companies are using Abacus but haven’t yet agreed to be announced publicly.

Companies love Abacus because employees love Abacus. And investors therefore love Abacus, too. The company has raised a $3.5 million seed round led by Bessemer Venture Partners and General Catalyst, with participation from Bloodstone, CrunchFund, FundersClub, Google Ventures, Homebrew, Sherpalo, Patrick and John Collison of Stripe, Josh Reeves of ZenPayroll, Jeff Epstein, former CFO of Oracle and DoubleClick, Naval Ravikant of AngelList, Andrew Kortina and Iqram MagdonIsmail of Venmo, Adam Erlebacher of Simple, Nas and Paul Buchheit of Y Combinator.

Oh, and if you’re wondering why I’m writing this here on Uncrunched when you don’t see this news anywhere else, here’s why. The company had a bunch of press lined up to write about this yesterday but someone (who only publishes a private subscription service) accidentally broke the embargo and then absolutely no one wrote after that. So I am. This company is amazing, we’re proud investors and more people need to hear about it.

And I’ll be sending Omar a copy of Jason Kincaid’s new PR book. I’m not sure he could have foreseen this disaster, but reading Jason’s book will at least give him the comfort of knowing lots of other people have gotten screwed from tech blog politics, too.

Update: Abacus blog post on the new financing is here.

Who’s Lying About Whisper?

Separately, Whisper has been following a user claiming to be a sex-obsessed lobbyist in Washington DC. The company’s tracking tools allow staff to monitor which areas of the capital the lobbyist visits. “He’s a guy that we’ll track for the rest of his life and he’ll have no idea we’ll be watching him,” the same Whisper executive said. – The Guardian

As far as I can tell from what The Guardian has alleged, and from Whisper’s denials, what happened is this:

1. When talking to potential partners, Whisper hypes its ability to track users so that those partners will know who the anonymous sources are and then write stories based on the data. The screenshot of the Whispers being written from (or near) the White House supports this (below), as does the quote above.

918b24b2-211b-49d0-b3f0-b26e8d40bce7-620x372-2

2. But when Whisper talks to the public, they say different things and deny that they track users (although I haven’t seen any comment denying the quote above, and only obfuscating comments about the screenshot).

The denials are strong, but 1 & 2 above can’t both be true. That means someone is lying, and based on what I’ve seen so far, and looking at who has what incentives, that someone is Whisper.

The additional information about Whisper working with the Department of Defense, and likely the Chinese government, are also huge stories on their own.

As an aside, I interviewed Whisper CEO Michael Heyward earlier this year at TechCrunch Disrupt in New York.

Picture Of Kevin Rose’s First App From North

photo__2_-2

Kevin Rose was just backstage at TechCrunch Disrupt and gave me a brief preview of his first app, called Tiiny, from his new development company North Technologies. He said it’s going through the app review process now and should be released shortly.

Image is terrible but this is his story to tell when he’s ready. Website describes it as “Share tiny little photos that disappear after 24 hours” but it’s more than that. Pretty slick though.

The Three Skills Needed To Become A Legendary Tech Blogger

Every once in a while someone asks me who I think the best tech bloggers are and why. It happened today, in fact, back stage at TechCrunch Disrupt.

I also have blogging on the mind in general after reading Jason Kincaid’s new book today.

Here’s my short answer – A great tech blogger needs to be exceptionally good at (1) breaking big stories, (2) writing powerful thought pieces, and (3) doing live interviews.

In my mind, there are just three or four great tech bloggers in the world.

The average tech blogger, which is just a commodity, probably isn’t good at any of these things.

They’ll muddle through a story that’s been handed to them, often leaving readers confused and bored. They won’t try to write thought pieces about the state of (or future of) the industry (although they’ll occasionally write outrage articles and think they’re adding to a discussion). And if they’re ever in a position to do a live interview they’ll be nervous, possibly sycophantic and definitely boring.

A good tech blogger, which is someone who’ll develop an independent following on social media and be an asset at any publication, will usually excel at one of the first two categories – either they have enough sources and reporting skills to break stories (you need both), or they’re smart and articulate enough to write interesting columns about technology. But not both. Those people can usually become passably good interviewers, too, once they overcome stage fright and learn to listen.

Then there are the great tech bloggers. These are the bloggers who attract others to them, and are able to build teams and companies around their personalities.

They break big stories without even pausing to watch as everyone else tries to catch up. On a slow news day, or just because they’re feeling it, they’ll write about something that shakes the industry, or focuses everyone’s attention for a time, or from which new companies are born. And they are naturally ferocious interviewers.

Sometimes someone is extremely good at just one category, so good that they rise to the very top of their profession. But for whatever reason they can’t crack the other category. It almost seems like having the skills needed for one category mean it’s much less likely they’ll have the skills for the other.

So when people ask me who the best of the best are, I talk in these terms. This person breaks stories but isn’t a thought leader at all. That person writes fascinating, thoughtful stories but has never broken news. Or they haven’t figured out how to maestro an interview yet.

So who are the legends in the industry today? I’m not going to say, but I’m happy to listen to your thoughts, below.

Jason Kincaid’s New Book Is A Must-Read For Founders

I had the pleasure of reviewing former TechCrunch writer Jason Kincaid’s new book The Burned-Out Blogger’s Guide To PR today for Techcrunch. It’s a must-have book for entrepreneurs, and laugh-out-loud funny. Read my review here, and buy the book here. Kindle only for now, but you can get a printed version in a couple of weeks.

Regarding Alexia’s Mind

Alexia Tsotsis, the editor of TechCrunch, interviewed Peter Thiel yesterday at TechCrunch Disrupt. Pando editor Paul Carr has this to say:

Alexia

Alexia is the editor of TechCrunch. And that means she’s a competitor to the sites that regularly call out sexism, subtle or overt, that pops up in our industry. So she goes without defense.

Not only does she go without defense from her peers in the industry, it’s actually one of her peers calling her stupid.

Which is fine, she’s very tough. But if you see her today, let her know how much you respect her. She won’t show it, but comments like these might even be somewhat more ego-shattering than that time Jessica Livingston had someone hit on her at a bar.

And for Paul – if he takes a moment to think about it – he might even agree that some comments should be out of bounds.

Apple Is Totally Screwed

Apple has a very large problem right now.

I’m not talking about legal liability over the nude celebrity photos and videos being posted all over the internet right now (dubbed “The Fappening”), although I think that’s also an issue. Celebrities tend to have aggressive attorneys, and the damages here are extreme – some celebrities have had careers ended from leaked photos (while others have benefited)

But a much larger crisis looms – everyone, and I mean everyone, now knows that everything private they’ve done with their iPhone, if they use iCloud, is not only vulnerable, but extremely vulnerable.

The Next Web says that a tool that allows brute force attacks against the Find My iPhone service gives hackers a way in to iCloud.

That may or may not be what’s actually going on. Hacker Nik Cubrilovic, for example, says it isn’t slowing people down from accessing new accounts:

And it doesn’t really matter. Even if Apple fixes the problem, or has fixed the problem with the patch they just released, or even if all of this was caused by something else entirely, they’re still screwed. The damage, the massive damage, has already been done, and people associate it with Apple.

Because everyone now understands that their phones aren’t secure. Even things they thought they deleted are vulnerable. That’s something that will haunt Apple for a decade.

I’m not talking about people who trade their iPhones for Android devices. That isn’t a big issue, and Android isn’t any more secure than Apple anyway.

I’m talking about the fact that people won’t feel the same way about their phones after this. Your phone is no longer a part of you. It’s a weapon, pointed at you.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 15,452 other followers

%d bloggers like this: