ET as software: "Phone Home"; was, Re: In search of better authoring tools

Subject: ET as software: "Phone Home"; was, Re: In search of better authoring tools
From: David Neeley <dbneeley -at- gmail -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Thu, 10 Dec 2009 13:00:43 +0200

To some extent, this discussion has gone round and round the same
points, nearly to the point of tedium.

First, a Feedback-enabled help file is different than Windows "phoning
home" to Redmond how, exactly?

Second, making this feature available to Madcap's developer customers
is not in itself an ethics issue, other than the fact that such a
thing may be completely resented by *their* customers and (as others
have pointed out) is probably illegal in much of Europe. (I say "much
of Europe" since not all Europe is in the EU, despite what some on the
list may think. I live in Europe but outside the EU, for example ...
in Ukraine, more specifically).

I think Madcap does have a responsibility to make this clear to its
customers, so they will be at least aware of the issue when they
decide whether or not to buy or employ the product. This, to me, is in
deed an ethical issue.

Not to put an opt-in feature for the end customer seems also to smack
of incompetence if not outright foolishness on the part of Madcap.
Their process is broken, to create such unnecessary problems for their
customers when it could have been so easily dealt with from the
beginning, in my opinion.

As for Madcap customers, it should be part of due diligence to
discover the potential minefields in this product.

Personally, I think such a reporting capability could be extremely
valuable if implemented so that it is clear to the end customer what
is happening.

On the other hand, as an end user I would not take it kindly for this
kind of reporting to be implemented without my express consent. I
would be seriously tempted, the first time my firewall reported it was
trying to contact the Internet, to have the product uninstalled and
demand my money back. Were I in the EU, I also believe I would be
bound to report it to the relevant authorities.

In short, I suggest it should be far more than a simple "feature
request" to Madcap developers--but that it should be elevated into a
rather high priority. The damage to their image, alone, is enough that
it simply does not seem worthwhile.

As others have said--if someone sent me software with this kind of
"back door", how are we to assume that they don't do worse elsewhere
in their product offerings? And, without advance permission, how are
we to trust the extent of the information being reported without
potentially extensive and expensive investigation?

Over the years, I worked in the marketing/PR arena as much as I did
with straight technical communications, so perhaps I am more sensitive
than many to these kinds of self-inflicted problems on the part of
software firms.

David
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