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A Cautionary Tale of Open Source Social Technologies 330

Posted by kdawson
from the careful-what-you-let-go-viral dept.
eweekhickins writes "The 'country' drop-down menu on one organization's donations pages omits Israel as a country and includes 'Palestine.' Among other things, this means that Israelis can't donate to the organization from these pages; it also presents the risk of a PR nightmare for the organization. This EWeek story cautions that while basic Web 2.0 technologies combined with open source can be incredibly powerful and productive, they can also lead to disastrous results for an organization that isn't paying close enough attention."
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A Cautionary Tale of Open Source Social Technologies

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  • ...although not sure to classify it as FUD, but wondering if anyone else out there has similar stories?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by HiThere (15173)

      Well, there was this time the mainland Chinese government and the one on the island were in bitter competition as to whose flag would be displayed in Red Hat Linux. I forget who won, and why displaying both wasn't a valid compromise. (Probably neither side wanted to compromise.)

    • by Brian Gordon (987471) on Saturday June 21, 2008 @10:53PM (#23890999)
      I'm sure to classify it as FUD. They're just bawww bawing because someone forgot to add their country to some (noncomprehensive) list. If Madagascar or something were missing, nobody would bat an eye.. but just because it's Israel it's a huge issue. Come on, by shrieking foul over non-issues like this they muddy the waters of real problems with racism.

      I pointed out that this isn't just any omission and addition. When you omit Israel and add Palestine (which is not even recognized as a country by the United Nations) to a country drop-down menu, you seem to be making a very loaded political statement.
      Ugh, this is not a story.

      This isn't the case on the agency's own site, but it was the case on the pages for Causes, which puts widgets...
      Facepalm.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Detritus (11846)
        So you would be happy if they replaced "Israel" with "The Zionist Entity"? Whether or not you think it matters, it's important to many people. Maps are political statements, as are lists of countries and their names. Pretending that Israel does not exist is a common practice in the Middle-East.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Bandman (86149)

          While I sympathize with the Israelis in this case, it's open source, right?

          Fork it and add your country. Then make it better software than it was originally. Hit them where it hurts.

        • by MACC (21597) on Sunday June 22, 2008 @07:31AM (#23893163)

          The inital list was "feature" complete.

          Israel, Egypt, Turkey, Russia and a couple of other countries were ommited via the credit card processor.
          ( professedly due to exessive fraud.)

          The person from israel who could not donate
          found instant and easy issue with Palestine
          being included.

          The author blew it up for clicks or a donation
          from Bill of Borg.

          End of story.

          G!
          MACC

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by hairyfeet (841228)
        I have to agree it is FUD,and whiny FUD at that. You are using their Open Source software for free. It is THEIR software,they wrote it,they are entitled to their opinions. If they don't like Open source gives them a really nice remedy that they wouldn't have in proprietary land. It is called FORK IT!

        IMHO it is just the height of gall to take someone's free open source software and then bitch about his beliefs. Reminds me of those software companies that are like "We want all the software for our product

      • Bad, bad title (Score:2, Insightful)

        by rootpassbird (1276000)

        So, the next time we write code using FLOSS libraries, we must read every line of code?
        How productive is that?
        Where should I stop - 1000 lines, 10k, 100k, or all of the millions of the Linux kernel?

        From the Big Fucking Manual:
        http://catb.org/~esr/faqs/hacker-howto.html#believe2 [catb.org]

        Note, however, that "No problem should ever have to be solved twice." does not imply that you have to consider all existing solutions sacred, or that there is only one right solution to any given problem. Often, we learn a lot about the problem that we didn't know before by studying the first cut at a solution. It's OK, and often necessary, to decide that we can do better.

        Bah! stop the discrimination, you lofty fscking overlords.
        Umm..... "You know who you are."

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Ex-MislTech (557759)

          Bah! stop the discrimination, you lofty fscking overlords.

          The discrimination will stop after the KH-55's make landfall
          across most of the modern world.

          But at that point it won't really matter will it ?

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kh-55 [wikipedia.org]

          They are new and improved to with tech from the F117 shot
          down during the Bosnian-Serbian War during the Clinton Era.

          Makes me want to watch Dr. Strangelove, lol.

      • I pointed out that this isn't just any omission and addition. When you omit Israel and add Palestine (which is not even recognized as a country by the United Nations) to a country drop-down menu, you seem to be making a very loaded political statement.
        Ugh, this is not a story.
        Not the least because the country list (iso 3166) includes "PALESTINIAN TERRITORY, OCCUPIED, PS". So it could very well simply be an error.
    • I worked for the university webmaster back when I was in school. My boss noticed the option "Palestinian Territories, Occupied" appeared in the dropdown list of some web-form software we were using. Being kind of a joker, he then changed Iraq to "Iraq, Occupied". It remains like that to this day, years later.
    • by innocent_white_lamb (151825) on Sunday June 22, 2008 @12:20AM (#23891489)

      25+ years back, I somehow got "volunteered" into putting up the flags for the World Youth Baseball Tournament when it was held in the town where I lived at the time.
       
      There were about 15 or 20 countries involved and the organizers handed me a big box of flags, one for each country, and said "Here you go", and that was the extent of the direction that I received.
       
      Each flag had a little tag pinned to it saying what country it was for, so I just put them up in alphabetical order, more-or-less the way that they came out of the box.
       
      This almost caused an international diplomatic incident!
       
      Apparently you can't put country X's flag up next to country Y because they are fighting about something, or Y doesn't recognize X, or you-name-it. Phones started to ring, including mine, and I had to rush out again and re-arrange the flags to suit the diplomats.
       
      I ultimately put those flags up in four different orders over the course of the week or so that the baseball tournament was on, because the arrangements never suited everyone. I only had the "diplomatic incident" occur once, on that first day, but I spent hours on the phone with various mucky-mucks smoothing ruffled feathers. And re-arranged those damn flags almost every day afterward.

      • The first of the quote listed at this page from British comedy 'Yes Minister' [yes-minister.com] always made me laugh (from the 80s).
      • by Bottlemaster (449635) on Sunday June 22, 2008 @02:55AM (#23892143)

        Speaking of flags and diplomacy...

        At the school I attended for a few years, the University of Texas at Arlington, there was a "Hall of Flags" in the engineering building. Each foreign student who had ever been in the College of Engineering had his home country represented by its flag hung from the hall's ceiling. The monument was kept and updated for nearly two decades, and the flags included no-longer-existing states like the Soviet Union and the State of Vietnam. The tradition ended in 2006 when some students and community members protested the presence of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam's flag (representing 23 engineering students from the country), and the school quickly buckled to the pressure and took down all of the flags. I had already dropped out by that time, but I was saddened that such a neat celebration of diversity was destroyed by politics.

  • by quanticle (843097) on Saturday June 21, 2008 @10:34PM (#23890855) Homepage

    I don't know why EWeek is specifically highlighting open source software. I don't see how closed source software is immune from this concern.

    If you're a nonprofit, you need to look at all the software you're, open-source or not. If you're using software you need to examine it to make sure its not sending a message at odds with your organization.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by HiThere (15173)

      It actually makes a bit of sense, as FOSS projects are more likely to make choices that a business might recoil from.

      More likely though, EWeek is just being afraid of the new and different.

      • by masterzora (871343) <masterzoraNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Saturday June 21, 2008 @10:47PM (#23890957) Homepage
        If you RTFA, you'll find that the reasoning behind the decision is one you're more likely to find from businesses than from FOSS projects. Israel was among the list of countries from which they were receiving overly many fraudulent donations.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          If you RTFA, you'll find that the reasoning behind the decision is one you're more likely to find from businesses than from FOSS projects. Israel was among the list of countries from which they were receiving overly many fraudulent donations.

          So an organization that is developing a particular open source -- or even closed source -- software tool might make business decisions that are incompatible with your own?

          Shocking! Shocking, I tell you!

        • by rishistar (662278)

          If you RTFA, you'll find that the reasoning behind the decision is one you're more likely to find from businesses than from FOSS projects. Israel was among the list of countries from which they were receiving overly many fraudulent donations.

          Fradulant donations?! Man - it was just someone trying hard to overturn the Shylock stereotype of Jews!

        • by XNormal (8617)

          Israel was among the list of countries from which they were receiving overly many fraudulent donations.

          Nowhere in the article does it say that they were actually getting "fraudulend donations". I

          If the "e-commerce experts" mentioned in the article claim that the rate of fraud in transactions from a certain country is higher for commerce applications I would tend to believe them. But how is thos relevant to donations? Donating with stolen credit cards is not exactly a common criminal activity, for obvious reasons.

    • Case in point (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 21, 2008 @11:23PM (#23891171)
    • by grcumb (781340) on Saturday June 21, 2008 @11:31PM (#23891213) Homepage Journal

      I don't know why EWeek is specifically highlighting open source software. I don't see how closed source software is immune from this concern.

      Indeed. One of the fringe benefits of introducing FOSS to the tiny Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu was when I showed local geeks that they could actually choose the 'Pacific/Efate' time zone setting. (Efate is the island where the capital of Vanuatu is located.)

      Windows and Mac OS X both display either Noumea (capital of New Caledonia to the South) or Honiara (capital of the Solomon Islands to the North). This creates a very real sense that, as far as the Big Boys are concerned, we don't exist. Worse still, Mac OS X thinks that Vanuatu uses Daylight Savings Time, like the adjacent time zone in Australia. My clock has been off by an hour for months now.

      That may not sound like much, but believe me, that tiny little bit of tzdata goodness has created the impression among many local geeks that this software is designed not just for office drones in some distant country, but with them in mind.

      • by Firehed (942385)

        That may not sound like much, but believe me, that tiny little bit of tzdata goodness has created the impression among many local geeks that this software is designed not just for office drones in some distant country, but with them in mind.

        Let's be honest with ourselves here. It is.

        At least if by "office drones" you meant "basement lurkers" anyways ;)

    • by dwater (72834)

      > If you're a nonprofit, you need to look at all the software you're, open-source or not.

      I am NOT software of ANY kind (including non-profit, open-source, or 'not').

      I'm a human being, dammit!

      "Get your hands off me, you filthy software!".

  • by joocemann (1273720) on Saturday June 21, 2008 @10:35PM (#23890861)

    Seems like people will always look for reasons to hate each other. Can't just make a suggestion; this is something we can HATE over!

  • They see a huge number of bogus transactions from one country, so they ban it. It's perfectly fine if you want to avoid getting burned.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Vectronic (1221470)

      Not really, its a decent immediate decision for a temporary duration (over the weekend maybe), but what they should have done is made the sign-up/donation system to better to weed out bogus donations.

      Just because Israel may not support them as much as a different country, it may not mean that the per-capita support wasn't equal.

      I'm sure they get a lot of bogus donations from the US, UK, etc, but they also get a lot of legitimate ones as well. So they were just willing to sacrifice Israel as a whole, and thu

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Saturday June 21, 2008 @10:41PM (#23890917) Journal
    This particular anecdote is rather punchy, as stories of the "OMG if I say something about geography on te7 interwebs someone willz hate me!!!111" variety generally are; but the connection with open source software seems deeply tenuous and circumstantial.

    I, for one, am shocked, shocked that a program might not have sane defaults for every situation, particularly if "sane" is not terribly well defined.
    As for the payment processing thing, various sorts of black holing of countries based on their dubious reputations is not an "open source" thing, or a "closed source" thing or, for that matter, anything to do with code at all. It is wholly a matter of CYA and cost/benefit calculations, no matter what software the vendor doing the deciding is running. An interesting anecdote about the complexity of doing stuff that seems simple; but barely source related at all.
  • This has nothing to do with Open Source. It didn't occur to these doofuses that it just might be a good idea to systematically _test_ their Web site?

  • so fix it already! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by spikedvodka (188722) on Saturday June 21, 2008 @10:52PM (#23890991)

    It's Open Source... How hard can that be! I mean really. it might be 2 lines of code more, or (if done right) just another database entry.

    It isn't rocket surgery people. that's the strength of OSS, you *can* fix it without having to beg for a fix from your vendor!

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Tubal-Cain (1289912)
      The lesson to be learned here isn't that FOSS is bad, but that people using FOSS should look at what they are using a little more closely before the public gets to interact with it.
    • by blhack (921171)

      t isn't rocket surgery people.
      /me raises glass, toasts //me then uses glass to beat you over the head and steal your kickass phrase.
    • by dave420 (699308)
      Or if it's osCommerce, it'll require a total rebuild from the ground-up, taking millions of innocent lives in the process :)
  • Overreacting (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 21, 2008 @10:55PM (#23891007)

    If my reading of the article is right, it goes something like this:

    There's a Ruby API that lists countries and regions. One of these is "Palestinian Territory -- Occupied". Someone decided to shorten this to "Palestine".

    Meanwhile, someone at Facebook decided that a certain list of countries contains high risk of credit card fraud. One of those countries is Israel. So they won't take your credit card if you live there, probably because they've run into fraudsters operating in that country and they don't want to risk it. Just like they won't take a credit card from Nigeria, to name one.

    So, someone sees this and concludes the worst. The Facebook application is anti-semitic. Overreact much?

    Honestly, I think people are a bit too touchy about Israel/Palestine. Sure, it's a touchy subject, but a simple set of unrelated mistakes and people assume you're part of a vast conspiracy to destroy their nation? I think we as a society owe it to ourselves to be more careful about such accusations, and not simply react.

  • Worst summary ever (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Vexorian (959249) on Saturday June 21, 2008 @10:58PM (#23891029)
    Quite substandard for slashdot (and that's quite an statement).

    Really, what article is the summary about? I was afraid that after reading all that gibberish it could lead me to a rick roll...

    However, it turned out that this was not intentional, but the result of a set of unrelated circumstances that are the direct result of using open source and Web 2.0 frameworks carelesslytools carelessly and do ZERO TESTING.
    So, even assuming the story is real, quite it could actually not be real, it has nothing to do with open source, I'll tag it FUD, thanks.
  • Web 2.0 (Score:3, Insightful)

    by kaos07 (1113443) on Saturday June 21, 2008 @11:08PM (#23891089)
    Wtf does this have to do with the crap that is "Web 2.0"? When has giving a donation been considering "Web 2.0"? Online donations have been around since forever. Well I guess everything else that is labelled "Web 2.0" such as social networking and user generated content has been around forever as well, so from that stupid and pointless viewpoint I guess it would be "Web 2.0". Did Kdawson post this story?
  • by gmuslera (3436) on Saturday June 21, 2008 @11:13PM (#23891119) Homepage Journal
    neither why is open source per se or social networking potential culprits there.

    - Palestine appearing in the countries list because is a (valid?) short form of "Palestinian Territory, Occupied". If isnt valid is not Web 2.0 or open source fault, was a developer decision that could had been taken in any part of the chain (i agree that the chain in this particular case is pretty long).

    - Israel not listed because, as with other 14 countries, their IP space is very used by fraudsters. Maybe with spam is easier to understand... If Israel were responsible for 80% of world spam, and because of that becomes filtered from a lots of mail servers (lots of countries used to be widely filtered because of spam coming from them), that would be anti-semitism of those servers admins? Maybe a bit worse, if an israeli ISP a lot of spam is being sent, and it ends a rbl (if behaves badly that way, will end in most), would be antisemitism too?

    Is a nice spin to blame web 2.0 and open source for things that dont implies them to happen. Next big hurricane, if being tracked by web 2.0 sites and with open source software, will be blamed to them too.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by bsDaemon (87307)

      Yes, that would be anti-semitism by the new definition.

      An anti-semite used to be someone who hated Jews. Now an anti-semite is someone hated BY Jews. YOu don't need to look much farther past Jimmy Carter to see what I mean.

      Carter, who is hardly a skinhead, was recently lambasted for being an "anti-semite" for suggesting that maybe, just maybe, its not OK to use tanks to fight kids with rocks.

      Apparently, if you don't support the murder of palestinians, you must clearly support the murder of Jews. If you'r

    • Actually the Palestinian state as created by the UN existed until it was annexed Jordan after the 1948 war.
  • by lightversusdark (922292) * on Saturday June 21, 2008 @11:23PM (#23891167) Journal
    My company does exactly this, and it is a conscious decision.
    Anyone that tries to tell us that we "can't" do business like this needs to join the free world.
    And to be blunt, it is really only a PR nightmare for American companies.
  • by martin-boundary (547041) on Saturday June 21, 2008 @11:26PM (#23891187)
    Please don't bring the Israel/Palestine mudwrestling into slashdot. The walls have just been freshly painted, and it's not fundamentally a technology issue anyway, since those lobby groups will latch onto anything for publicity.
  • Meh (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sentientbeing (688713) on Saturday June 21, 2008 @11:30PM (#23891211)
    FUD. The pro-Israel activists are more annoyed that Palestine is recognized and is in the drop down menu more than Israel being omitted.

    They spend a lot of time discouraging recognition of Palestine as an independent state and at every opportunity. Re-read the article again with that in mind. Palestine certainly IS a country and is recognized by many others around the world. The UN reference is a red herring. Israel occupies Palestine with military force.
    Take note that it was a pro-Israel pressure group that started this 'controversy' with immediate threats to the developers.
  • by Viceroy Potatohead (954845) on Saturday June 21, 2008 @11:49PM (#23891313) Homepage
    It might as well read: "A Cautionary Tale of Closed Source Social Technology". Go check ten random sites with nationality registration. Chances are, "Israel" is on the list, but "Palestinian Territory" isn't. They are no more indicative of the failure of closed source than this is of a failure of open source.

    I wonder how many times they've bitched about the omission of Palestine... gee, none? What a surprise. Hypocrites.

    I'm a little bitchy, but one can't play the anti-semitic card every time Israel is omitted/criticised. It devalues everybody.
  • by JoeCommodore (567479) <larry@portcommodore.com> on Saturday June 21, 2008 @11:52PM (#23891339) Homepage

    People leave things out, forget, or usually just plain didn't know better. Similar things were said for some commercial product a few years back (I think it was Windows or Office, but I could not recall). It was either a language or time zone setting that neglected the country.

    This is like all the software bug news articles - yes, there are bugs in software, but you know what, people actually FIX them, they don't STAY that way there are new versions, etc. It's all just some techno-political FUD mudslinging to influence the ignorant.

  • Article shows bias (Score:5, Informative)

    by nwetters (93281) <ngourlay.gmail@com> on Sunday June 22, 2008 @12:16AM (#23891473) Homepage

    From TFA:

    I pointed out that this isn't just any omission and addition. When you omit Israel and add Palestine (which is not even recognized as a country by the United Nations) to a country drop-down menu, you seem to be making a very loaded political statement.

    Israel was omitted because of fraud from that country, which seems like a good reason. Palestine was probably included in the list because it is recognised by the UN, and is included in ISO 3166-1 [wikipedia.org]. If you were to delete Palestine from the list, it would certainly be a very loaded political statement, but its inclusion is not.

    • Well said.

      Most of us are willing to accept this hateful rhetoric, and there's always a few who do find the answers. Good Job.

  • "This means that if you're using open-source code, you have got to be very scrupulous and diligent to make sure that another developer hasn't surreptitiously slipped in a political message or a feature that could make your organization look bad or even lose it money.

    And always be mindful that once you let third parties touch your enterprise in any way, decisions they make will be broadcast around the Internet whether you like them or not. Basic Web 2.0 software technologies are proving to be both incredi

  • I don't see any risk here that's particular to open source. Analogous issues have come up with proprietary vendors, including Microsoft. And often, there is no way to win, because no matter what you do, someone will be upset.

    As for Israel, personally, I think it is a country and it has a right to exist and I'm glad that the US supports Israel.

    But it is simply a fact that hundreds of millions of people do not share this view. Odd as that view may seem to you or me, it doesn't seem odd to them. And some

  • This is an issue, and it is an issue with Open Source.

    First, this isn't an Israel vs. Palestinian rights question. However, it did put this organization in the midst of the issue. His wife's organization trusted a commonly used Open Source widget and got pulled into an unfortunate debate.

    Why is this an Open Source issue? Because the way Open Source works: If I buy a program from Microsoft, I can completely hold Microsoft responsible for the results. However, many times, Open Source software depends upon mul

  • by damburger (981828) on Sunday June 22, 2008 @09:32AM (#23893795)
    Most people wouldn't kick up such a stink if their country were excluded. They would be mildly annoyed, rather than accusing the person who made the list of being an outright racist. I think they are more pissed off that Palestine was included. Yeah, its a loaded political statement - but the problem is that it is a loaded political statement that recognizes the existence of people that Zionists would rather we all forgot about.

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