I just sent the following email to the Electronic Frontier Foundation:
From: Tim Lee
Subject: AOL Campaign
As an EFF contributor, and I wanted to express my disappointment at EFF’s decision to expend resources publicizing its criticism AOL’s GoodMail plan. While the technical merits of the plan are debatable, I don’t really see why EFF–an organization ordinarily dedicated to fighting to protect our rights online–should be involved in this fight. AOL’s customers voluntarily chose to subscribe to the company’s email service. If, as you predict, AOL’s policies are detrimental to their customers’ user experience, the customers are free to sign up with any one of dozens of other email services, many of which are available for free.
As I write this, there are many attacks underway on Internet users’ freedom. EFF’s viability as the “ACLU of cyberspace” depends on its remaining focused on that core mission. If it branches out into other issues, you risk alienating people who agree with you on core civil liberties issues but disagree on unrelated issues such as AOL’s email policies.
In the interest of maintaining the EFF “big tent,” I hope that you will refocus your efforts on fighting threats to users’ rights, and leave it to others to criticize the business decisions of companies like AOL.
I was briefly a financial supporter of the ACLU, until I got their first newletter, in which the executive director talked about their fight to protect affirmative action against California’s Racial Privacy Initiative. Now, reasonable people can disagree about the initiative, but I had trouble understanding why a civil liberties organization would be defending the government’s ability to discriminate on the basis of race.
They haven’t gotten any money from me since. I would gladly be an ACLU supporter if they would focus exclusively on genuine civil rights issues like free speech and privacy, but if they’re going to branch out into supporting generic left-wing causes, I’d rather give my money to a civil liberties organization whose positions I support 100% of the time.
I hope that the EFF doesn’t succumb to the same temptation. I recognize that most of their supporters are probably left of center, but I think they’re a lot stronger if they have some of us right-wingers on their team too. They jeopardize that broad base of support every time they wander off the reservation, as they have in this instance.