Signing aaNet's death papers
Extremely curious processes are underway concerning my current ADSL provider. There are some very powerful lessons to do with business, censorship, spam and the power of customers unfolding here. Firstly, here is my trim summary of the events leading up to the current situation:
- aaNet was established as a cheap ADSL provider, by a hardworking crew that built a close and trusting relationship with their customers.
- Over time, various criticisms were made of the management, but their approachability and desire to do good by the customer was a consistent trait.
- aaNet was bought out by EFTel. I’m unsure of the circumstances here, but the process started late last year, is on-going, and has certainly not been entirely pleasant for both parties. The money owed for the business for example, has apparently not been paid yet.
- An email was sent to members of the aaNet forum on the 18th September, 2006 from the administrator of a new web forum called ookaz.com. The author identified themselves as Cat, the “former owner of aaNet”. In the email, Cat explained that aaNet had been sold to EFTel and that before the sale some aaNetters had talked about forming a cooperative. The email said that the ookaz forum had been established to discuss the idea further, and as a member of the aaNet forum we were invited to participate. Membership of the cooperative would be “free” to people who were customers of aaNet prior to the sale to EFTel.
- On the ookaz forum there were further details of the cooperative idea, and some reminising by the former aaNet team and their close customers. At some point Cat was asked by legal entities to remove references to aaNet and EFTel, and did so. It was also revealed that the cooperative and the ookaz forum (and Cat in general) could have nothing at all to do with ADSL or competition with aaNet.
- A few hours after the email was sent, access to the ookaz forum was blocked for aaNet subscribers by the new aaNet management team.
- The relevant aaNet, Whirlpool and ookaz (accessed by alternate means) forums were swamped with posts. Many were asking why the site was blocked, some were demanding the block be removed and others were expressing disgust with the email being sent in the first place.
- After much deliberation on the forums and silence from aaNet’s behalf, a response was finally provided, confirming that the site had been blocked for aaNet subscribers.
Up to this point I had been an idle observer, pieceing together the facts and weeding out the mistruths. I did not view the email from Cat as spam because I provided her my email when I registered with the aaNet forum and expected to be contacted via that link. Cat tends to nurture and maintain personal relationships with her customers. That’s her style and it is fairly evident to anyone that participated on the aaNet forums when she was around. Her use of the aaNet forum database to contact us after aaNet was sold is an interesting legal situation that is for someone else to figure out. Cat appears confident she is in the right and claims she has the rights to the database as not all of aaNet’s assets were sold.
I was mildly intrigued by some of the ideas being floated around on the ookaz forum, and it was the censorship of this forum that I, and many other passionate aaNetters, took offence to. But it was when EFTel General Manager John Lane revealed his motives on the Whirlpool forums that I involved myself in the discussion.
John Lane wrote on the Whirlpool forum:
EFTel has been around for many years and has never taken this action before. The circumstances are unique. We have acted to prevent a spammer from using stolen data to affect aaNet's relationship with its customers. We will at some point lift the block, after the spam is old enough so that it is unlikely to be read by any further victims. In the mean time a very small number of people have been slightly inconvenienced - and have found several means to overcome that temporary inconvenience, as we expected they would.
And the level of deceit of the new aaNet was quickly apparent. Blocking the site of course does nothing to prevent the email being sent. As other responders noted, there’s quite a few Nigerian sites which have avoided this “prevention”. Whether the email is spam or not is a tricky definition question, but to call Cat a spammer is terribly rude - everyone participating on that forum knows her and knows who John is referring to. Claiming the data is stolen is also a cheap shot. It was the property of Cat’s team in the first place, and Cat claims that that part of the business had not been sold. Who knows what the truth is, but we all know this would have been sorted out with much less mess if it were simply a case of stolen data. I also find it incredibly insulting when John describes us a victims, as if he is on a humanitarian cruscade. To call a most passionate, loyal and influential segment of the aaNet customer base a “very small number of people” who have been “slightly inconvenienced” is hubris at its worst.
f_bassman writes... What other personal details have been compromised? This is one of the questions for which we presently do not have an answer, but I have to admit I fear the worst. The actions with which we are dealing here are extremely serious and I don't think the culprit has fully appreciated how serious they are. And, for the record, it is absolutely true that by minimising the effect of the spam we are helping the spammer by protecting them from the consequences of their own actions.
Where I was motivated to reply:
Jees John, that's FUD at it's worst. You fear the worst? Your empty compassion is pathetic. Of course no "personal details have been compromised"! The only details available in the aaNet database are those that were provided by its customers. I certainly don't feel my details have been compromised if the contact details I provided are used to contact me! You're "helping the spammer"? You are low. Very, very low. I gave my email address to be part of the aaNet group - I was contacted on that premise. I didn't ask for it, but I don't ask for 95% of the legitimate emails I get. I get to exercise my discretion and take whatever action I like with regards to the content. Given your position in the industry I give you enough credit to figure out that your actions will *not* (and have not) minimised the effect of the email. So don't play us for fools by spinning us the benevolent observer line. Your arrogance in this matter is truly astounding. I keenly await the bad PR exposure, so accessible to us Internet connected citizens, to roll out.
This blog post, is of course, part of that exposure. John was kind enough to reply:
[re: no personal details being compromised] Credit card details, bank details, etc. are usually regarded as somewhat personal. [re: me not concerned that my provided contact details were used to contact me] I understand. But there are angry customers who disagree with you. If we wanted to hurt somebody, we'd be in court applying for various nasties, and we'd publicly answer the charges that have been leveled against us. We'd also have called the police, and reported the matter to various authorities, etc. We've done none of those things. Instead, we have simply prevented the spam from being effective, which is in both our interests and those of the spammer. Now, please stop spinning these facts away so that you can paint our actions in some evil light.
Notice the continued references to “the spammer” despite us all knowing who the other party is? Incredibly rude. My reply, along with the context (the previous post is useful), appears here:
I’m absolutely appalled at the actions of aaNet on this matter. For the sake of due course, I withheld judgement on the people involved when the site was initially blocked. It certainly looked like censorship based on a matter between aaNet and its former owners. This, in Australia, is certainly not grounds for censorship by an ISP. But until John Lane and co revealed themselves, it could have easily been a mistake or out of aaNet’s hands. To firstly discover it was a deliberate action to limit my ability to access a legal site I was interested in, and then to secondly learn that the new aaNet management team are immoral, dishonest, arrogant and rude is enough for me to take my business elsewhere.
Unfortunately for John Lane and co, I directly influence the broadband choices of many people I know personally, and indirectly many more. Further, I am annoyed enough by their treatment so far, to publicise my greivances and will happily discredit aaNet as a business to anyone that values ethics and customer care.