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The Hypocrisy Of Sam Yagan & OkCupid

OkCupid played a major role in the successful effort to bring down Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich.

On March 31 the company showed a message to all visitors using Mozilla’s Firefox browser. The message stated: “Mozilla’s new CEO, Brendan Eich, is an opponent of equal rights for gay couples. We would therefore prefer that our users not use Mozilla software to access OkCupid.”

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As we all know, Eich’s opposition to equal rights for gay couples stemmed from his $1,000 donation to support Proposition 8 in 2008. There are no other allegations that he ever showed any other discrimination against gays or anyone else.

Most people will argue (including me) that OkCupid is permitted to express opinions and take actions like this under its first amendment rights as a corporation.

But what was OKCupid’s motivation? And how does OkCupid’s co-founder Sam Yagan fit into this?

I believe that it was a PR stunt by OKCupid, that the company isn’t really committed to gay rights at all, and that OkCupid co-founder Sam Yagan was particularly hypocritical in this.

To go further, I think that a person and/or a company who deliberately destroy a man’s reputation and career under false pretenses just to get a PR bump is being explicitly evil.

Here’s my support of that.

1. Many people (here’s just one example, but a quick search pulls up far more) have pointed out that OkCupid’s actions appeared to be little more than a PR stunt to get attention. Regardless of motivation, there’s no argument that OkCupid benefited hugely from the saturated media coverage of their boycott.

This was a PR stunt, and as I show below, nothing but a PR stunt.

2. Sam Yagan is the co-founder of OkCupid and CEO of Match.com, OkCupid’s parent company. He certainly approved OkCupid’s actions, and his twitter stream shows numerous statements confirming his approval and, later, support of Eich’s forced resignation.

3. And yet Sam Yagan made a $500 donation to U.S. Congressman Chris Cannon in 2004.

4. Cannon has a special kind of hate for gays.

The Human Rights Campaign gave him a 0% rating on supporting gay rights. He voted no on prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientation. He voted for a ban on gay adoptions. And he supported a constitutional amendment defining marriage as man/woman only.

He also voted to make the Patriot Act permanent, and supports (literally) any limitation on abortion that anyone can possible think up.

He’s the kind of politician that led me to vow to never vote for a republican again.

5. Is it absurd to judge Yagan as a person based on a single donation, years ago, to a politician well known for waging war on gays? Yup. But that is precisely what Yagan and OkCupid did to Eich.

In this new reality, supported by Yagan, it is both acceptable and a moral imperative to judge people based on their prior political donations, even those made years and years ago.

6. How can a man orchestrate and support a boycott of Mozilla over Eich and yet donate to a hateful politician like Chris Cannon? How do you square that?

You don’t. A man who feels strongly enough to boycott Mozilla over Eich’s actions is not a man who would donate to Chris Cannon.

OkCupid received a clear benefit, media attention, for trashing Eich. But their co-founder and ultimate CEO has shown strong anti-gay tendencies in the past. That’s hypocrisy, and worse.

Division And Fear In Silicon Valley

I have not seen any issue that has divided Silicon Valley so deeply since first moving there in 1992 as this Mozilla thing has.

I’m not talking about the blogs, even this one. I’m talking about very emotional disagreements breaking out on Twitter and Facebook between people I respect and who until recently thought that they saw these issues of equality, tolerance and freedom the same way.

The worst of what I’m seeing is this – people who have steadfastly supported gay rights (and minority rights in general) but don’t like seeing how Eich is being treated are being called bigots and worse by their colleagues.

At some point soon everyone is just going to exhaust themselves, and an uneasy truce will emerge.

But the long term fallout seems to me to be that a lot of people simply won’t say what they think any more out of fear of retribution. That’s what will cost us the most.

Gun-Toting Mozilla Employees Demand CEO “Step Down” [Updated: Satire]

Note: Mozilla says that they are getting “alarmed” phone calls and this post is causing people to become worried that there has been some kind of shooting incident at the company. So just to be clear, this is satire.

This morning, a number of gun-owning and gun-sympathizing Mozilla employees took to Twitter with a united, nearly simultaneous message to new Mozilla Corporation CEO Brendan Eich, who favors gun control: “Step down.”

The internal response began this morning with two tweets from Mozilla Open Badges project lead Chris McAvoy. “I love @mozilla but I’m disappointed this week,” McAvoy said, referring to the controversial decision to appoint Eich as CEO after it was revealed he had donated $1,000 six years ago to the Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence.

“@mozilla stands for openness and tolerance for all, but is acting in the opposite way.” He then made a more pronounced declaration: “I strongly believe in the second amendment and as an employee of @mozilla and I’m asking @brendaneich to step down as CEO.”

Within minutes, many other Mozilla employees followed suit, using similar language or copying each other’s statements outright. Those included Mozilla Festival curator Chloe Vareldi, partnerships lead John Bevan, designer Jessica Klein, and engagement team member Sydney Moyer.

McAvoy added that he feels fortunate to work at a company like Mozilla, “where now, at least, I feel safe speaking out about my gun rights and bringing my concealed gun to work so that I can protect myself.”

Other employees demanded Eich apologize for his support of gun control: “Pressuring him until he finally apologizes properly, which I hope is the end of this, is reasonable. He deserves every bit of condemnation he is receiving. He hurt people. Why shouldn’t he be held accountable?”

““I was wrong to support gun control, and I no longer oppose the NRA.” Until an apology includes that sentence or words to that effect, it’s not an apology for his actual offense.”

He added “It wasn’t evil when we shamed the racists out of the public square. It isn’t evil to treat the anti-gun bigots the same way.”

Neither McAvoy nor the other quoted employees mentioned Eich’s statement this week expressing sorrow for those he’s hurt. All of them expressed surprise to learn that the definition of “tolerance” includes “the willingness to tolerate something, particularly opinions or behavior that one does not agree with.”

Now Can We End The Barbaric, Repulsive, Germ Spreading Handshake?

Last week was the semi-annual gathering of large parts of Silicon Valley at Y Combinator Demo day. We met and invested in a lot of great startups. But I also picked something else up (I think) at Demo Day – A godawful nasty case of the flu.

This wasn’t just a normal flu. This is the kind of flu where you become a drugstore cowboy, taking any and every pill that can possibly mitigate your suffering. The kind of flu that brings your face into intimate contact with your toilet seat.

Parts of Saturday night I was tripping balls, although I don’t know if it was from the half bottle of NyQuil I downed or from the raging fever slow roasting my brain. I was easily sicker than any time I can remember since I was seven years old.

Two days after I started my girlfriend got it (I’m sorry). We took another swing through CVS today to stock up on more drugs. Most of my symptoms have receded, although I now have a thriving cough and brutal sore throat that I’m pretty sure is planning on sticking around for as long as possible. I also have a very grumpy girlfriend on my hands.

Anyway, I’m blaming Demo Day, particularly after reading about YC head Sam Altman’s own flu woes just now on Facebook. A bunch of other people who were there seem to have gotten sick as well, based on the comments to his post.

How do we fix this? We end the goddamned barbaric practice of handshaking, that’s how.

I first wrote about this in 2009, noting that we continue this repulsively stupid activity only because so many people find it so odd and insulting, not to shake hands.

I wrote again and again about the evils of handshaking, but I eventually gave up and simply started carrying hand sanitizer with me at all times.

I forgot to bring hand sanitizer to Demo Day.

I sincerely hope that Y Combinator bans handshaking at future Demo Days. I also call on TechCrunch and other conference organizers to institute no-handshake policies at events, starting with TechCrunch Disrupt in NY next month.

We know people don’t stay home when they’re sick, and we know that most people rarely wash their hands, even after using the bathroom. The only solution I see to this is for events, where the germs really run wild, to strongly suggest to attendees that they keep their damned hands to themselves.

This Is Intolerance

Watching all of these Mozilla employees demand the removal of Brendan Eich as CEO makes me extremely uneasy.

What did Eich do? He donated a thousand dollars in support of California’s Prop 8 back in 2008.

I was against Prop 8 and am pretty clear on my feelings about gay rights in general. In short, I disagree with Eich’s positions in 2008.

But Eich has changed his mind and has apologized, just like millions of others, including our current president who was against same sex marriage when he first ran for president in 2008.

One Mozilla employee, Chris McAvoy, says he feels fortunate to work for Mozilla where he can speak out against Eich “without fear of retribution.”

McAvoy clearly appreciates his ability to speak his mind without fear of retribution. But he also demands the termination of employment of a person that he disagrees with.

That sounds like hypocrisy, and intolerance, to me.

America continues to shift dramatically towards less intolerance towards gays. Those that are happy this is happening, like I am, should not aim to destroy those citizens who just took a little longer than we did to come around to our way of thinking.

About That Time Google Spied On My Gmail

I’m reading about how Microsoft read a blogger’s Hotmail (or other Microsoft hosted email) to determine who leaked Microsoft information to that blogger. Microsoft’s response is pathetic, stating that “the privacy of our customers is incredibly important to us” in the same post that explains that they’ll keep doing it.

While I think that doing this is both evil and shortsighted (they lose trust and users), the only thing that surprised me was that they admitted it.

As the Guardian points out, other email providers also reserve the right to do this in their terms of service.

I have first hand knowledge of this. A few years ago, I’m nearly certain that Google accessed my Gmail account after I broke a major story about Google.

A couple of weeks after the story broke my source, a Google employee, approached me at a party in person in a very inebriated state and said that they (I’m being gender neutral here) had been asked by Google if they were the source. The source denied it, but was then shown an email that proved that they were the source.

The source had corresponded with me from a non Google email account, so the only way Google saw it was by accessing my Gmail account.

A little while after that my source was no longer employed by Google.

I certainly freaked out when this happened, but I never said anything about it because I didn’t want people to be afraid to share information with TechCrunch. But I became much more careful to make sure that communications with sources never occurred over services owned by the companies involved in the story.

So, yeah, the Guardian story is accurate.

Update: Google says this never happened (also in a comment below that I just approved). Some of the wording is (just slightly) odd (“opened” denial v. “accessed” accusation) but I assume that was inadvertent and they’re flatly denying this whole story.

Fail Fail Win: Never Give Up

Two 2009 tweets by WhatsApp (acquired for $16+ billion today) cofounder Brian Acton that show that even the most successful entrepreneurs need to face a little failure here and there:

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Via

Jesus, Vonage, This Is Pathetic

I’m a long time Vonage user, staying loyal even as Comcast offers a better (bundled) deal for phone service. But lately they’ve been calling me non-stop with sales calls. I stopped answering at some point but they just leave voicemail messages saying I need to call them back urgently. For a sales call.

Anyway, putting aside the fact that the person talking seems supremely uninterested in what she’s saying, the quality of the calls is atrocious. I’ve noticed this before, but this message today really shows how bad the call quality is, particularly near the end.

Vonage, is this really the brand image you want? At least make sure your calls can be heard.

Listen here.

“We Just Cared More”

When I reflect on the last 10 years, one question I ask myself is: why were we the ones to build this? We were just students. We had way fewer resources than big companies. If they had focused on this problem, they could have done it.

The only answer I can think of is: we just cared more.

Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook’s tenth anniversary, pondering the same question so many other people have asked.

Startups have a great disadvantage in resources yet consistently beat established companies in building new products that people want. This isn’t going to change.

The Disinformation

When Jessica Lessin’s The Information launched a month ago I was an enthusiastic supporter, paying the $400 yearly subscription fee right away to get access to quality tech content.

I remember blinking when I read about her joking to tech execs at the launch party that they could pay $10,000 and kill a story, thinking that it really wasn’t all that funny.

It was clearly a joke, but it wasn’t the kind of joke I would have ever made when running TechCrunch. People fawn all over tech reporters in the hope of getting good coverage or being able to squash bad coverage. A lot of reporters eat it up. Joking about being able to pay to kill a story isn’t just a joke, it’s a reminder about power relationships that often lead to bad reporting.

Anyway, I put that out of my mind almost before I finished reading it.

But now something has happened that really leaves a bad taste in my mouth. They have apparently altered a quote in a story about Y Combinator’s Paul Graham. In addition to altering the quote, they left out all the context of his statement, which was an answer to a question that wasn’t printed in the final post.

Graham’s blog post on the issue is here.

A quote from an “interview” with me (I’ll explain the scare quotes in a minute) went viral on the Internet recently:

We can’t make women look at the world through hacker eyes and start Facebook because they haven’t been hacking for the past 10 years.

When I saw this myself I wasn’t sure what I was even supposed to be saying. That women aren’t hackers? That they can’t be taught to be hackers? Either one seems ridiculous.

The mystery was cleared up when I got a copy of the raw transcript. Big chunks of the original conversation have been edited out, including a word from within that sentence that completely changes its meaning. What I actually said was:

We can’t make these women look at the world through hacker eyes and start Facebook because they haven’t been hacking for the past 10 years.

I.e. I’m not making a statement about women in general. I’m talking about a specific subset of them. So which women am I saying haven’t been hacking for the past 10 years? This will seem anticlimactic, but the ones who aren’t programmers.

Lessin has so far stood by her the story, saying that their editing and excerpting were for clarity.

This is, in my opinion, one of the worst sins in reporting.

And really, three sins were committed. The first was changing a quote. You just can’t do that, ever. The second was omitting contextual information which would have made the statement intelligible. And the third was taking a background discussion about Paul’s partner Jessica Livingston and turning it into an “interview” in the first place.

It’s extremely frustrating to have your words rearranged, edited and taken out of context to make it seem like you’re saying something you aren’t. It has happened to me repeatedly, to the point where I rarely even consider doing interviews any more. More often I’ll make statements in writing, but only under the condition that my entire answer be printed, not just an excerpt.

When reporters do this they’re spreading disinformation and being unethical. The result is that people don’t want to talk about anything controversial, because they know there’s a chance that they’ll be made to look like fools.

Yesterday I said I will cancel my subscription to The Information if what Paul says is true. Unless Jessica has anything further to say on this in her defense, I’ll be doing that shortly.

Update: Jessica writes about this here. My response (and I think I’m done here).

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