After this recent article on techcrunch.com many of our users have contacted freenode staff to express their concern, shock, surprise and unease that IRseeK have for some time now been operating covert clients in various channels on freenode (and other IRC Networks) logging all communication and publishing it on their website.
We, freenode staff, are also surprised, not to mention rather upset, that this company has chosen to completely ignore our policies and perform actions which our users see as an invasion of their privacy. While we have contacted B & C Advanced Solutions, the company behind IRseeK, to request that they discontinue unauthorized logging on freenode and also that they remove any published logs, we have unfortunately had to take the additional step of blocking new tor connections while we pursue the matter further. The logging bots primarily connect through tor, seem to have no distinguishing characteristics that we can identify, and so far the company has not been willing to remove them voluntarily. We are currently removing the bots as we see them, and if you do spot a client you believe may be a IRseeK logging bot, please do let staff know and they will look into whether the client needs to be removed from the network. To all legitimate tor users out there, I apologise for the inconvenience caused and hope to have normal service restored as soon as possible.
Our website clearly states our policies on this topic, which have been published for several years. For those who haven’t read them recently, I quote one of the relevant sections:
“If you’re considering publishing channel logs, think it through. The freenode network is an interactive environment. Even on public channels, most users don’t weigh their comments with the idea that they’ll be enshrined in perpetuity. For that reason, few participants publish logs.
If you’re publishing logs on an ongoing basis, your channel topic should reflect that fact. Be sure to provide a way for users to make comments without logging, and get permission from the channel owners before you start. If you’re thinking of “anonymizing” your logs (removing information that identifies the specific users), be aware that it’s difficult to do it well—replies and general context often provide identifying information which is hard to filter.
If you just want to publish a single conversation, be careful to get permission from each participant. Provide as much context as you can. Avoid the temptation to publish or distribute logs without permission in order to portray someone in a bad light. The reputation you save will most likely be your own. “
And this perhaps, is where I feel that IRseeK has gone horribly wrong. I believe that this could have become a popular service had it been done in a way which promotes choice — operating on an opt-in basis could very well have meant that a lot of channel owners would have chosen to request an IRseeK logging bot in their channel so that logs could be referenced and looked at later.
However, currently there is no way to opt-in, or even to opt out. The bots aren’t easily identifiable and you’re not aware that they are present in your channel. Ideally, I would have liked to see:
- Logging bots clearly identifiable as such.
- Logging of channels occurring only at the channel owners’ request.
- Channels that opt in to this service displaying, in a way which is visible to all current and new users of the channel, that the channel is being logged and the logs made publically available on the web. The channel topic and on-join notice could easily be used to this effect.
- An easy method to remove logging bots from a channel should it join in error or a channel owner decide that they no longer wish their channel to be logged.
Perhaps, in this regard, they could have taken a leaf out of CIA’s book and become a lot more popular in the process.
To me, the biggest surprise is that the people behind IRseeK defend their actions and believe that they are entirely within their rights to do what they do in the manner that they do it. Leaving our guidelines aside for a moment, what irks me is this: freenode caters primarily to people from the FOSS communities, people to whom choice and freedom are important. For us, providing a service such as freenode to our community is important; our users give a lot, we share code, knowledge, hints, frustrations, laughter.. and we like to give back in the little way we can. It then does not feel comfortable or at all right to have someone intrude upon our privacy, sneaking into the circle and observing with the singular aim of publicising our conversations entirely without our knowledge or consent. By taking the route that they did, IRseeK has taken away our freedom and our choice. They have forced something down on us and in the process soured and poisoned a community which thrives on trust and collaboration. It has created a bad atmosphere and made a lot of people uncomfortable.
I am really sorry that this problem has reached our network, and I am really sorry for the way it has affected our community. I am also sorry for the way in which IRseeK choose to perform their actions, and sorrier still that we did not catch it sooner.
I sincerely hope that IRseeK will honour our request to stop attempting to log channels on freenode without the channel owner’s explicit permission, and I also hope that they will honour our request to remove logs already in their system.
Lastly, I would like to wish IRseeK well, and I hope that you re-consider your approach. I believe that if done properly, what you have could be turned into a respectable service which would be used by and appreciated by a lot of people.
As I said, we have gotten in touch with the people behind IRseeK and they have asked to have until this sunday (tomorrow) to respond. I will give you an update when we hear back from them and know which way the tide is turning.
For now, thank you for using freenode and have a great day!