I’m co-founder of safing, a company sponsoring PTIO. Here are my two cents from a founders perspective.
only read Section 5.
1. What the PTIO team does is incredible
I’m a web developer. I understand what it takes to create and maintain a website. Through colleagues I know about the implications of hosting and server management. Through the last year I’ve also invested more and more time participating and contributing to the privacy community. And striving for the same kind of transparency as a company, I’m also responsible for the presentation of all our information. Oh yes, and then there’s policies, legal stuff and management. The point of all this being - I feel I can somewhat grasp what your responsibilities are and the sheer amount of work it all requires.
To top it off, this is my full time job (and I still struggle to keep up with it all). But you all are doing this in your free time! It really is mind blowing what the PTIO team has done and continues to do. You do not hear this often enough: THANK YOU!
So even though you are buried in work you still manage to prioritize correctly and hit your high set standards. This discussion is another example of it. A crucial affair that needs to be discussed and resolved. Thanks for all of your transparency in the matter.
As a result it really does not surprise me that your venture is seen as an exemplary role model in the whole privacy space. As Dan correctly said:
But this is not the end of the story, let me elaborate:
2. Perceived trust vs Trust
How trust works is that a person simply has to perceive you or any other entity as trustworthy. This is based on metrics that vary from person to person. You normally are only able to have any kind of relationship if this perceived trust exists. Be it friend <=> friend, customer <=> company, community <=> ptio, etc…
Now take note it does not matter if the trusted entity is really trustworthy or not, as long as the perception upholds, the relationship can continue. (*cough*, shitty VPNs, *cough*)
The same applies the other way around: if you are perceived as untrustworthy but are the most honest and trustworthy project in the world, you will still not succeed.
There is a whole industry aware of that fact and willingly exploiting our psychology. Marketing.
3. The Privacy Community
We are a bunch of people who have been exploited and lied to time and time again. Marketing claimed this, marketing claimed that. And yet, companies failed us again and again and again.
As a result we have become one of the most skeptic bunch in the world. We question everything. Every marketing claim thrown at us we inspect and take apart with scrutiny. And that is a great thing! No marketing claim without truth behind it lives long in the privacy realm. I truly believe that our community is one of the few places where truth and transparency prevail.
But beware, we are still driven by psychology. We still have limits and draw lines since we cannot investigate everything. So where do we draw the lines? It depends on each individual, but as a whole I believe there are a few strongly agreed upon “rules”. Think open source vs closed source. And another one is:
4. Money corrupts unbiased judgement
A recent blog post by @jonah shows how money corrupts top ten lists. As @danarel mentioned, your commitment to being unbiased as a team made you set up wonderful barriers to prevent any room for bias. Your finances team is decoupled from your review team. And you clearly state what sponsors get and what they don’t get.
And you communicate this clearly, so the community can perceive you as trustworthy - and there is a lot of evidence to back it up after their investigating. This is why you got where you are.
But your policies do not address the current affair.
5. There’s no way around a policy
I can exactly predict what will happen when you allow team members to be financed by a company listed or wanting to be listed on PTIO. The community will investigate and take apart that decision with scrutiny (see 3.), they will agree on their conclusion that this will corrupt you (4.) and their psychology will kick in and perceive your whole venture as untrustworthy (2.) - and start advocating this perception throughout the space.
Sadly, in this matter I cannot see a room for compromise. Because where should we draw the line? Is part-time OK? Consulting? What amount of consulting? What if it turns out to be “just 5 hours” of consulting (but paying 10.000$/h)?
And from a company perspective, there is another conflict: Why would a company go down the official and transparent route of supporting you via sponsorships when there is a potentially “more effective” way? (this whole story does not shine any good light on Startpage fmpov, but that’s another story)
And I really want you to get more sponsors and ideally even gain the possibility to pay some of your work through the opencollective initiative.
You’d shoot yourself in the foot in too many ways. You need a policy.
After a long buildup and some blunt words I’d like to wrap up with words of thanks.
Thanks again for all your work (1.), thanks for your transparency - not only in this concern but in general! And thanks for always holding the bar so high, prioritizing the PTIO mission before personal gains.
I am in no doubt that you never meant any malice and I believe that you could cope with consulting a company without it corrupting your judgement. Thanks to you personally for being so open about it. It kinda proves my point. But sadly, perception is stronger which fmpov, excludes that as an option
to @all PTIO team members:
If a great opportunity emerges for you and you are excited about it, by all means, take it. Nobody will blame you for prioritizing financial stability. As mentioned before, you’re taking up an humongous amount of work for free. I can only assume some of you will struggle more financially because of it. And likewise nobody will think lesser of you if you resign (for whatever reason) after a while and pass on the baton.
I truly hope you know I and so many others appreciate everything you do. Kudos to all of you!
And 7. consider supporting their work, individuals and companies alike!