Ex-TechCrunchers Decry TechCrunch-like Practices

Another day on the InterWebs, another blogger squabble: This one has to do with the quality of online tech journalism itself, and it comes from a rather ironic source.

But first, some backstory. It starts with Path, a mobile social networking app that did a major privacy faceplant last week. Developer/blogger Arun Thampi discovered that Path 2.0 automatically copies users' smartphone contacts to its servers without asking permission or notification. As privacy violations go, this is way worse than anything Facebook has ever done, and it approaches Google's Wi-Fi spying debacle.

Path CEO Dave Morin's first response was to say, in effect, "Meh, no big deal, we do this to ensure a better experience, blah blah blah, but we are finally getting around to telling our users this is happening, so calm down already."

That did not go over very well on the InterWebs. So Morin's second response was to cry mea culpa, offer an abject apology, and fix the problem. That was the right thing to do. But now everyone in that little tech bubble is singing Morin's praises instead of asking what the frak he was thinking by stealing everyone's address books in the first place.

Nick Bilton at the New York Times had the temerity to ask this question, pointing out along the way that such blithe data sharing could have serious consequences for the wrong users. For that, he gets roasted by former TechCrunchers-turned-venture-capitalists, MG Siegler and Michael Arrington.

Faithful readers may remember a little spat I had with Siegler in October 2010, when I complained in this space about many of the same things Siegler has apparently just discovered about the blogosphere -- only my complaints were about him and TechCrunch.

Siegler's 2,100-word rant is sure to exceed most sane human beings' tolerance for whining, so I'll just quote a representative snippet:

Most of what is written about the tech world -- both in blog form and old school media form -- is b******t. I won't try to put some arbitrary label on it like 80 percent, but it's a lot. There's more b******t than there is 100 percent pure, legitimate information.

The problem is systemic. Print circulation is dying and pageviews are all that matter in keeping advertisers happy. This means, whether writers like it or not, there's an underlying drive for both sensationalism and more, more, more.

You won't find a more accurate description of TechCrunch anywhere. Bravo, Siegler.

Arrington also pooh-poohed Bilton's criticisms, saying he "doesn't seem to get the big picture here." To Mr. Crunch, the big picture is that when a CEO rolls over and shows you his belly (that is, apologizes), we're supposed to be so grateful for this show of humility that we never ask any other bothersome questions about why he had to apologize in the first place.

Arrington likens Path's fast response to the "press fiasco" suffered by Airbnb last July, which didn't die down until its CEO apologized. In that case, a San Francisco woman's life was turned upside down when she rented her apartment to a stranger using Airbnb, only to have it thoroughly vandalized in a sadistic way and her identity stolen. Once she blogged about the incident, Airbnb stopped helping her to recover and instead tried to get her to shut up. When news of that got out, Airbnb was forced to respond in a semi-humane way.

Arrington calls that a "press fiasco." I call it a personal tragedy. But then again, I'm not an investor in Airbnb, and Arrington and Siegler are, via their CrunchFund. They're also investors in Path. Surprised? You shouldn't be.

There are many problems with tech journalism on the Web, including some of the ones Siegler correctly points out. But a bigger one in my opinion is venture capitalists -- and other parties with clear vested interests -- pretending to be journalists in order to manipulate public opinion. Maybe Siegler and Arrington will discover that next.

[Update: The Real Dan Lyons (aka, the former Fake Steve Jobs) weighs in with his own brilliant deboning of Siegler, Arrington, et al. Worth a read.]

Does online tech journalism suck? If so, which suckers are to blame and how do we fix it? Post your rants below or email me: cringe@infoworld.com.

This article, "Ex-TechCrunchers decry TechCrunch-like practices," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

Subscribe to the Today in Tech Newsletter

Comments