bellatrys (bellatrys) wrote,

Folks, Bullshit comes in "Apology" flavor, too

So Rapleaf's leader published a fulsome apology for their privacy violating behavior on their website, and people are falling for it and exscusing them: after all, they're just a startup, everyone makes mistakes, cut them slack - bullshit, I say, and again - Bullshit. I can use google, see - and it turns out this guy Auren has been around online for quite a while, he's been touted as a star in the IT world for having founded three internet companies before the age of 30, he's not a just-outta-college n00b to be excused for being more clueless about online communities and user privacy concerns than I was as an outsider n00b five and ten years ago, when I was first setting up my own websites, first venturing onto Usenet via AO-Hell, with nary a comp-sci class to my CV.

I went and googled on Auren however, because his apology set off many of my internal bullshit meter alarms based on RL experiences, first and foremost - the same as reading that "Environmentalists Killed The Space Shuttle" astroturf back in 2003. See, I once worked with a guy who turned out to be the biggest poseur I've ever met (and I've met many) and one of the things that was very typical of This Guy, as I'll call him since the world is too small* was that he would first overstep boundaries in the most egregious ways - he did everything but stuff his nose into your crotch, without any of the mitigating charm of a Labrador Retriever - towards those who were subordinate to him, and then when enough people resisted and he was put on the defensive, on the rare occasions he could not get the upper tier of the company to protect him (for he was the most expert ass-kisser I have ever seen in action, revealing to me how all those foolish kings in fairy tales could be hornswoggled by toadies and sycophants) he would in a flash turn to the most fulsome apologies and breast-beating grovels I had ever seen outside the pages of David Copperfield or The Two Towers - with the same reaction that I had when reading the lines of Mr. Heep and "Slinker", although I was chastised for my uncharity at the time by those to whom I revealed my doubts.

However, my suspicions were validated in my own mind, at least, when I remembered that he had praised a book called How To Win Friends And Influence People - a book whose title I like many had always laughed at, and never opened - and I drove one night to the mall and bought a copy and took it home and read it, and within a very few pages I was alternately pounding on the table, spluttering, and grabbing my highlighter and marking up pages. It was all in there - the phony concern for coworkers, the flattery, the fawning apologies - all recommended as tactics to "get ahead" in the corporate and social spheres. This Guy had given us his game plan early on - we just hadn't paid attention and taken him seriously. FWIW, he wasn't actually very good at doing it, at least on some levels - most of us who were under him considered him a phoney creep, it was just the administration who was taken in by his smarm.

It eventually came out that he'd been dipping into the till in a variety of ways, that he had lied about his qualifications (this was obvious to all of us underlings who had to clean up his messes during that year or so), that he had indulged in inappropriate touching of at least one of the lowest-status female coworkers, and that his lack of clue as to what the business was all about and what was practical was exponentially opposed to his arrogance and self-confidence and mastery of buzzwords. (Much of what he had been up to didn't even come out until after he'd been given the heave-ho, because he had at least managed to do some divide-conquer with his Heepishness between the departments, and particularly to shut down any communication between the workers and the management, as he was supposed to be the HR fixer-upper among other things.) But we had caught him in so many lies and weasel-word situations that much of it wasn't a surprise, except in the "OMG! He said/did WHAT? You're kidding! Who could be so stupid?" mode when it came to his suggestions to "improve" the company or his aggressive shenanigans and backbiting sabotage attempts as he tried to "people-manage" us for his own advantage.)

So this RL experience (which contributed signally to my leaving that company after a lot of personal investment in it) has, unsurprisingly, helped make me into the not-nice, cast-iron, bloody-minded hellion I am to day (Remember, kids, it's not paranoia if they're really out to get you!) both IRL and online, and is part of (tho' not all) why I react so badly to anything that even seems to smack of flattery, and also why** I am not impressed by people going "Sorrysorrysorry! Let me lie down before you and abase myself so that you can step on me, for I am a Worthless Wretch!"

And that's exactly the same vibe I got from the proto-apology by a Rapleaf functionary I saw on Carlo's post, the "oh we're just poor naive babes-in-the-woods, forgive us our trespasses" and even more strongly from the formal Rapleaf apology which has quite a few supposedly-internet-savvy types falling all over themselves to accept it.

For one thing, the long list of all the critical posts at the bottom of Auren's post gave me the pip, though I couldn't at first pinpoint why - it felt like the "Lo, I am a worthless Wretch, Beat Me!" grovels That Guy would do, and so my Nasty Suspicious Mind™ started looking for material gain from it. And Lo, within a very short time I had found it: the secret magic of Trackbacks. It won't work for every post - LJ doesn't use trackbacks, for one - but for all the blogger/blogspot posts and others that employ the trackback model, now when you find one of those critical posts by googling or other linkage, and read it, the first thing you will see at the bottom is Auren's fulsome grovel. It's a kind of automated sabotage of his critics, in the guise of 'umbleness...

And I was quite right to be suspicious, beyond the suspicious already raised by the activities of Rapleaf/Trustfuse/Upscoop and their stated purposes and business model. See, I used to work in direct marketing, and database maintenance, and so I know just how annoyed people get when they receive three of the same catalog, and how important it can be to keeping customers to respond instantly by consolidating addresses, and how many people get annoyed just at the concept of junk mail back in the snail-mail days, and how angry the sense of violated privacy from maillist sharing made many even who liked the contents of the catalogs, since they hadn't realized that they were "opting in" by default just by buying something. And I know exactly how much work it is to go in and delete an address, or put a DO NOT MAIL block on it so that they will never get another catalog, because I used to do that, back when it involved DOS prompts and manual search strings, and it never took me longer than 2 minutes to do so ten years ago, unless the server was lagging.

So their claims that they could only remove people by having them send in snail mail requests - well, sorry, that didn't wash, that was obviously a lie/stalling tactic, designed to make people give up the way most people never go through all the hoops to get a rebate. And I told them so in my email, very bluntly. And they stopped demanding that, proving that it was BS, though it's not clear that they're actually deleting profiles as they promised in their form email back to me and others.

And they aren't addressing that, in their "apologies", and they aren't addressing the whole HUGE scandal of how they're raking up and connecting personal information that people have been working hard to keep separate, online, making it a stalkers'/abusive-ex's paradise, or that merely looking to see if you have a profile there creates one for you and gets the whole infernal machinery going, making it dangerous to try to protect yourself proactively there! Let alone the changing of their policy (still in googlecache as of yesterday) on Upscoop from "We promise not to spam your contact list" to silence on that subject.

In other words, it's an apology told by an idiot, signifying nothing. And a grandiose idiot is exactly what Rapleaf's founder is - just like This Guy I used to work with, only a lot better at the bullshitting than he was.

nwhyte found a link to a Silicon Valley gossip journal which has quite a lot of Auren Hoffman stuff going back a ways, all of it showing that he's far from a born-yesterday clueless newbie and should be given no benefit of the doubt when it comes to either his awareness of online mores or his mastery of the art of the bullshit.

...After graduating from University of California at Berkeley, Hoffman founded Kyber Systems, an intranet-development company. He sold that company and in 1997 started BridgePath, which at first mirrored job-search Web sites such as Hoffman soon had a new idea: to build a Web service that will bring staffing and employment agencies together and pool their resources to make collaborative placements.

"We realized, over time, there was a much bigger opportunity, which was to do this exchange for staffing companies," Hoffman says.

Now, BridgePath gives agencies that can't fill jobs internally the ability to outsource them to other companies through the online competitor-to-competitor marketplace. The company recently won nearly $10 million in investments and signed a deal with California Staffing Professionals, a membership organization of some 1,000 staffing agencies in the state, to provide members with access to the BridgePath Exchange marketplace.

Hoffman, however, isn't content with just business enterprises. He serves on the Council on Foreign Relations and is also the founder of the Silicon Forum, a 2-year-old group of 40 IT executives who meet monthly to discuss industry issues related to public policy, including education, immigration and even the Middle East conflict.

"A lot of these young entrepreneurs are going to have an opportunity to use their skills in a public-policy setting," Hoffman says. "And I think that's going to be very positive for the country and for the world."

According to this article, Auren was 26 in 2000, making him 33 now, just a handful of years younger than I am. He has no excuse for his proclaimed internet "naivete", even if he weren't also a longtime Silicon Valley entrepreneur, at that age - he has hardly been raised in the Outback by dingos, or kept in cryogenic sleep since the Neolithic, to be oblivious to the history of privacy concerns and identity protection debates that have been raging for at least as long as I've been online - and I was a late adopter, only getting online in the middle of the '90s, with intermittent GAFIAtion until 2001.

It doesn't surprise me at all that he's been responsible for puffing up his Wiki entry, either. This Guy I worked with, turned out that a lot of his credentials were working for other companies founded by himself and/or his buddies. This is very typical of the narcissistic personality - they hype themselves, they believe their own hype, and if they've got enough of a Charisma Bonus, enough other people believe it too to make them a success, for a while at least.

We also find out that Auren has lots of company in his smarm, being an old buddy of many GOP pols, including old favorite Sam Brownback - yes, that Sam Brownback. There's no intrinsic and necessary link between being a grandiose fantabulist and being a Young Republican, but there does seem to be a lot of Venn overlap. However, IMO the only thing worse than that is being a dishonest one who tries to retcon out his disreputable associates once they become inconvenient baggage...

The other thing to remember of course in the "We're just poor little startups who have lost our way, Baa, Baa, Baa!" chorus is that this is not just three guys in a basement kludging something together, in over their heads - they have big money backing from longtime Silicon Valley pros, they are a much larger organization than the dudes-in-a-garage setup (and frankly, there have been enough dudes-in-a-garage-started businesses who have gone about things in a sane and thorough and careful manner to make this no excuse either). Even if one or two people really didn't know any better, that "upscooping" people's mailboxes and spamming their contact lists wouldn't create mass Outlook & Word Macro Virus flashbacks, there damn well should have been enough communal wisdom to put a hold on it.

So, in short, it's a free universe, you can certainly accept the Rapleaf Apologia at face value and trust that old Auren's a Nice Guy and a Genuine Honest Man (because He Says So) but, well, you have been warned. Don't blame us if the football gets pulled away from y'all again...

"We're sorry we got caught" is NOT an apology!

Edit: Aw, geez, here we have old Auren vouching for one of the Lincoln Group guys - the guys who were getting paid the big bucks from the Pentagon to put propaganda stories into Iraqi newspapers until they got caught, remember?

* Alas, I dare not set out the gory details of his incompetence and mendacity, for the same reason, but if I ever write a reality-based novel I will put them into it, and everyone will consider it a work of surrealist humor. But imagine if you worked for a charitable foundation that rescued pet dachshunds and matched them up with new homes using the internet, say, and your new consultant/lord High Everything Else started saying that you should start a sideline in parrot treat and toy manufacturing, because parrots were big business and there were a lot of parrot fanciers and you should tap into that market, and every attempt to point out that none of you knew anything about a) parrots, b) pet treat manufacturing, c) marketing things to parrot owners, were brushed off as "negativity", "pessimism," and being unwilling to adjust to cheese-moving, and you'll have a fair analogy of how it started. Then add in theft of office supplies and personal belongings, and keep on going downhill from there...

** Being the oldest of many children and having much experience with the "I'm really sorry I bit you, don't tell Mom!" apology [sic] contributed a lot, too.

***Here is a link to a screenshot of the Aug 17 googlecache of Upscoop's privacy policy (here's the googlecache itself but I don't know how long it will stay there), and here is the current Upscoop privacy policy. Promises not to spam or anything like that with your data have been completely removed

NB: See also "Plaxo: Now With Less Evil". An institutional memory of less than 18 months is really very sad...
Tags: auren hoffman, bullshit artistry, gop, imperfect contrition, internet, meta, politics, rapleaf, spam, upscoop
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