Thursday, December 16, 2010

You May Not Leave Gawker

It couldn't have happened to a more deserving group. Gawker, the flagship blog of the Gawker media empire, was hacked, with hundreds of thousands of emails and passwords made available to the public. Maybe it's millions, I don't know. But mine was among them and I've been changing most passwords this week just to be safe. I hadn't logged into Gawker in probably two years, the level of cynicism and sarcasm beyond what even an ass like myself was willing to engage in too often. I could not play with those kids. It is the Big Leagues of Dickishness, and I am only a farm-club player. I can't live in full-time snark. It's fun as a hobby and something I dabble in out of my own frustration with not being able to rule the world as its benevolent dictator, but it can get into your soul if you play with it too seriously. Kind of like Satanism. It's fine on the weekends, but once you start drawing pentagrams in the kitchen on a Wednesday morning, well, you're only a couple steps from sacrificing virgins. 

The commenter community at Gawker is nothing like the YouTube comment community. On YouTube you expect little more than name calling, insults, blatant spam and expletives, all usually spelled poorly or typed in Middle School Text Speech. On Gawker, it's more like a giant convention hall of would-be comedians who also happen to be the most smug, snarky and snide group you will ever encounter. In fact, Gawker states, "You need to audition to become a commenter." That was half the fun of dropping in on a Gawker thread. Some of the comments were hilarious one-liners and rapid-fire jabs just dripping with the kind of cruel comedy usually reserved for celebrity roasts. And I'm pretty sure it was that attitude of superiority that caused the hacker collective Gnosis to attack them.

So I thought now would be a good time to renounce the Church of Gawker. I got my "You'd better change your password" email from the administrators of the site, and I complied. But then I wanted out. Hang up my black robe and turn in my goblet of goat's blood. No such luck. From Gawker's recently modified FAQ:

How can I delete my account?
We understand how important trust is on the web, and some of you may wish to delete your Gawker Media account. Currently account deletion is not available. We will, however, give you this option as soon as possible.

That is the biggest load of corporate bullshit I have ever read. I know because I often write it. What Gawker is saying between the lines here is:

Look, if we let everyone bail right now we'd be in a world of hurt. We know you're pissed and we understand you want to leave, but we're not going to let you. We covet this list of users as our lifeblood. It is one of the things that tells advertisers how valuable we are. A mass exodus right now would screw us bad. You may not leave. Maybe later, but not now.

I tried to look at this from an IT standpoint and I still think it's bullshit. OK, maybe Gawker is afraid that some of the hacked emails and passwords will cause other crafty types to just start deleting Gawker accounts willy-nilly. Yeah, I could see that. But if I've already changed my password and confirmed I am the account-holder, why can't I get out now? Are we waiting for EVERYONE in the Gawker community to change their passwords before we are allowed to opt out? That'll take a while. Gawker's true hope here is that when they finally announce you are allowed to opt out, you will have forgotten or forgiven the Hack Heard Round the World. And they'll bury the announcement somewhere deep on the site if and when that time comes.

If an IT guru knows differently, please let me know, but my own consultations with a few skilled coders have confirmed for me that this is a giant load of shit on Gawker's part. The time it would take to write and test a code allowing confirmed users out of Gawker would be minimal.

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  • Not sure it’s a giant load of shit, but some of your hunches are likely true. At the same time, would any smart business want to have staffers focused on deleting accounts? Seems kinda negative thinking, no? Like AT&T or Sprint hiring staff to help subscribers drop them. I remember an Internet provider who, when I canceled my service, told me they could not delete my credit card number from their system for at least 6 months—of course, they assured me I would not be charged. Made me uncomfortable, to say the least. Why would anyone ever register with Gawker anyway (must admit never going there, unless they picked up a post from my blog, which has been a rare occasion)? What is the value of registering?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at December 16, 2010 at 8:17 PM  

  • Anon:

    "Would any smart business want to have staffers focused on deleting accounts? Seems kinda negative thinking, no?"

    Seems to me a good back-end coder could write a simple script that said [if] user has confirmed their account and changed their password [then] that user may delete their account. Shouldn't require someone focused on deleting accounts manually.

    As for why someone would want to register at Gawker: it was required to get into the conversation, and as much as I resent being required to register to comment, it seemed worth it given the level of commentary, which was far above the average commenting community.

    By Blogger Jetpacks, at December 16, 2010 at 9:03 PM  

  • Interesting. I thought most commenters were using aliases anyway. I never post comments if someone mandates revealing an identity, even if it's an email address. Hell, Discus allows you to enter fake email addresses.

    Regarding your thoughts about a good back-end coder, you're right. But the operative word is "good." You'd be surprised at how most of these online enterprises run. They only care about keeping things up (i.e., no breakdowns that might prohibit visitors from viewing shit) versus stuff that might be deemed "customer service." As you noted earlier, their focus is being able to tell advertisers they have tons of traffic. They do not want to think about allowing the traffic to unsubscribe or delete accounts.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at December 17, 2010 at 11:45 AM  

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