EFF’s Big Tent

by on February 28, 2006 · 6 comments

I just sent the following email to the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

From: Tim Lee
To: membership@eff.org
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.

Sincerely,

Tim Lee

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.

  • http://dr-flippy.livejournal.com/ LewisB

    While I agree with your view on letting AOL users make up their own mind, I see no problem with EFF using an open letter to AOL as part of a campaign to educate those users as to the danger they are in. In fact, I encourage it — better to give them the information so they *can* make up their mind. They certainly wouldn’t get the complete picture from AOL itself.

    The bonus will be if AOL sees the error in its ways and changes, thus helping them stay in business.

  • http://dr-flippy.livejournal.com/ LewisB

    While I agree with your view on letting AOL users make up their own mind, I see no problem with EFF using an open letter to AOL as part of a campaign to educate those users as to the danger they are in. In fact, I encourage it — better to give them the information so they *can* make up their mind. They certainly wouldn’t get the complete picture from AOL itself.

    The bonus will be if AOL sees the error in its ways and changes, thus helping them stay in business.

  • V

    My understanding is that AOL’s tactics won’t actually do anything. They are not forcing fees on those who don’t pay, they’re just slipping the spam filters away from those who do. And if they start blocking, not just moving to junk, but actually deleting legit email, their users will decide for themselves as the mass mailers inform them that they can’t send to AOL addresses.

    We’ve already learned that online email is based heavily on competition. Hence why after Gmail’s launch MSN and Yahoo gave away larger accounts.

    And most, some spammers and phishers will start paying fees to get straight into your inbox. The results won’t be pretty: AOL users are generally not the most tech-savvy of people. While it’s a good idea for the EFF to say something about this, they should not be pulling serious resources away from the things that matter like DRM and net neutrality.

  • V

    My understanding is that AOL’s tactics won’t actually do anything. They are not forcing fees on those who don’t pay, they’re just slipping the spam filters away from those who do. And if they start blocking, not just moving to junk, but actually deleting legit email, their users will decide for themselves as the mass mailers inform them that they can’t send to AOL addresses.

    We’ve already learned that online email is based heavily on competition. Hence why after Gmail’s launch MSN and Yahoo gave away larger accounts.

    And most, some spammers and phishers will start paying fees to get straight into your inbox. The results won’t be pretty: AOL users are generally not the most tech-savvy of people. While it’s a good idea for the EFF to say something about this, they should not be pulling serious resources away from the things that matter like DRM and net neutrality.

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