Mythbusting the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2015

If you’re an Internet user in Pakistan (We have so much in common! We should totes do coffee sometime!) or if you have access to a newspaper, chances are you’ve heard about the Cybercrime Bill of the Apocalpyse that will eat your lunch, take all your money, smash your petunias, and destroy everything you have ever loved. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Or maybe go on vacation, perhaps to La La land (tickets 50% off) because your loving and nurturing Government will protect you from all the bad things in the world. Maybe even yourself—you do get so naughty sometimes, you know, maybe it would be best if you just let someone else take charge of all your thinking.

Feeling dazed?

Have no fear, The Barefooted Bookworm is here. Here to tell you I feel ya, bro. Because I was starting to get pretty dazed ourselves, I decided to trust my own senses and get to the bottom of this mystery.

Mystery solving kit:

  1. A copy of The One True Bill
  2. Social media research (Facebook pages, Facebook posts, cat memes…)
  3. A brain
  4. Some more social media research
  5. Might need a new brain after this

Now to boldly go where no media circus has gone before. Presenting: The Truth or Something Like It.

“The Cybercrimes bill has already been passed, there’s no use protesting about it now!”

No, that was a draft. But thanks for playing.

Status: False

“The Cybercrimes act will make it illegal to post Facebook comments!”

No, unless you routinely post death threats to religious minorities and/or make unwanted sexual suggestions towards women you come across on Facebook. In which case: yes–but I doubt you’ll be missed.

Status: False.

“The proposed spam law is so broad, I could go to jail for Facebook messaging a friend about today’s college assignment!”

Yes. That is exactly what the government wants: prevent you from doing your homework. Try telling that to your professor. Keep in mind the clause requires “illegal marketing” and the expressed wish of the receiver to “unsubscribe” in order to count something as spam. So make sure you also offer to sell your friend smuggled AK-47s, but only after they tell you to quit asking them how many columns the prof wanted all the info sorted into because they already told you, like, three times during college.

Note “intelligence”. Breathe sigh of relief.
Note “intelligence”. Breathe sigh of relief.

Status: False.

“My hobby is street photography. Under this bill, I could be charged for posting photos of people without their permission!”

Rest assured, your Diane Arbus and Humans of New York inspired dreams are safe. If you intend to harass and/or blackmail the people photographed in your streetscapes, however, then we might have a problem.

Doesn’t get any clearer than “INTENT TO COERCE OR INTIMIDATE OR HARASS ANY PERSON”, does it?
Doesn’t get any clearer than “INTENT TO COERCE OR INTIMIDATE OR HARASS ANY PERSON”, does it?

Status: False.

“All I want to do is read some news, maybe blog something while having a nice lunch and this Bill orders my favorite restaurant to keep tabs on my browsing activity!”

The PEC expands the definition of “service provider” to include anyone who owns and operates a publicly accessible wifi network. It also orders them, under penalty of law, to keep records of all traffic data for up to one year. In case you were wondering, it defines “traffic data” as absolutely any data your restaurant can keep related to your Internet usage. But hey, look on the bright side—this could be the start of a long and beautiful friendship…with whoever is assigned to monitor you all. It’s like the NSA but so much closer to your home. Maybe with tastier cookies. You like cookies, don’t you?

You might want to put a stronger password on your home wifi now. FYI: the whole neighborhood knows your cat’s name.
You might want to put a stronger password on your home wifi now. FYI: the whole neighborhood knows your cat’s name.

Status: True.

“This Bill steps all over my constitutional rights and allows the government to block whatever it wants, whenever it wants, without being accountable to anyone but itself!”

What, you mean you didn’t want to live in an Orwellian nightmare nanny state where your every move online is watched and the government decides it’s better suited to being your moral conscience than your actual moral conscience, especially when its own interests are at stake? Then you shouldn’t have signed up to be born in Pakistan.

Govt: “Lolz.”


Status: True.

“Hey wait! There are NO such clauses about harassment or spamming or even censorship in the draft approved by the National Assembly!”

Well who would’ve thought that? You’re right. There are multiple versions of the “final” draft in circulation on the Internet. The version on the NA website, that Minister of IT Anusha Rehman insists she has and that she can confirm was tabled in front of the National Assembly, contains no clauses whatsoever regarding spam or harassment. (Yay? Boo?) On the other hand, noted industry representatives such as P@SHA have access to another “final” version of the draft that includes all these clauses and more. Which witch is which?

Click for Dramatic Evil Twin version.
Click for Dramatic Evil Twin version.

Status: True-ish.

So…there are different versions of the draft being used by each side of the debate, there’s an “official” version on the National Assembly’s website and a different “official” version on the websites of the organizations protesting this, and there many competing interests and conflicting sources, and there are potentially some VERY important rights hanging in the balance. This article is by no means an exhaustive analysis of the bill(s) and I will keep following this issue, including reaching out to all parties concerned for comment as the story develops , but at this point it’s anyone’s guess what the best way forward is. I don’t know where this will end up or whether we’ll be better off or not. But one thing is for sure: no number of sleazy social media teams or scumbag politicians can take away from the fact that this issue has managed to get more of the public actively interested in digital rights and the future of the Internet than we’ve seen in a long time.

Hey, it’s called a silver lining, you ingrates.


To Poach or Not to Poach? The Ethics of Marketing to Competitors’ Customers

Derek Halpern has a new post that provides some good food for thought: is it ethically acceptable to pitch to a rival’s clients? His conclusion: it’s not black and white, but why cross a grey line when you’re better off finding entirely new customers?

Put those gloves back on, ladies and gentlemen.

I asked them how they’d feel if I went down their client list, and messaged each of them. Both of them said they wouldn’t like it. Naturally.

Oh tech people.

They notoriously HATE marketing and selling. And they’ll slam people who try to grow their business…

…but then we look at their actions. Behind closed doors, when nobody is looking, they’re marketing and selling in the worst way possible.

I’m me. I LOVE competition. I grew up playing chess, had a stint as a professional gamer, and nothing makes me happier than beating someone who’s trying to beat me.

But this has got to stop.

Not because it’s slimy. Not because it’s border-line unethical. It has to stop because this is a HORRIBLE way to win business.

Is it? Is it slimy? Is is borderline unethical? (And what does that mean–almost bad or almost good?) Is it a horrible way to win business?

I’ve been following Derek’s blog for a while now: I love his ideas, consider him one of my mentors, and hardly ever comment on his posts because I’m too busy nodding in silent agreement. But besides being an introverted admirer, I’m also passionate about things like ethics and social justice. When it comes to business practices, “borderline (un)ethical” doesn’t cut it.

So I thought about it, and most of what I thought, I also posted as a comment on the blog post. Here it is with some differences.

“I don’t like it” is Not a Marketing Strategy

“Slimy” is an expression of personal disgust, not a strategy breakdown. “Horrible” is a subjective perception, not an objective assessment.

The objective assessment: unless you know exactly who to approach (the visibly unhappy, the barely interested), pitching to your rival’s clients runs a significant risk of being futile from the get-go. As a marketing strategy, it is ineffective. Not morally reprehensible. Not horrible. Not always useless. Just far more trouble than it may be worth.

You’re not going to get very far if you don’t focus on growing your own little garden of goodwill. But short of a mudslinging campaign (unless it’s a battle of the brands done right, with humor), underhanded viciousness (see also: buying toxic backlinks to mess up a competitor’s site), or outright lies and slander, I don’t see what’s unethical about scoping out your competitor’s lawn.

More Freedom, Fewer Gag Orders

If it’s not illegal, not malicious, not slanderous, not based on falsehood, and not even occasion-inappropriate (like telling somebody to sign up on on your job site after they just quit another one) then how is that message unethical? Since when did good business become all about coloring within ‘grey lines’?

Sure, pitching to another company’s clients may not win you friends (and that’s something you need to think about) but here’s the thing: Derek is right when he says tech people don’t ‘get’ marketing or selling. Because those guys are wrong–not when they go after his customers, but when they feel upset at the thought of him doing the same to them. That’s not how it works–you don’t grow by limiting the messages your customers receive, you grow by beating those messages with a better one. Monopolies aren’t fair to anyone, not even you in the long run.

My job as an entrepreneur is to make something that makes people’s lives better. My job as a marketer is to create value, not control what people say about it and to whom.
There are lawyers for that.

Every Time You Lose a Customer, Everybody Wins. Including You.

No, seriously.

Somebody on the post pointed out that they offer pain relief through massage therapy and that other massage clinics are not viewed as competitors. There’s a reason for that, and it’s the same reason why doctors and teachers don’t generally view other healthcare and education professionals as “competitors” in the traditional sense even if that’s exactly what they are: the bottom line is the welfare of the client. This is naturally more accentuated in some industries than others.

But here’s the thing: that’s exactly why competition is necessary.

The idea of client loyalty being something that must be earned and maintained is exactly what drives many of the best of us, but it doesn’t work if every company stakes out their patch of earth that nobody else is allowed to trespass on–and here’s the key part–by virtue of it already belonging to them. No. Just no.

There’s no grey line here: the people who love your service are NOT going to be swayed one bit by this approach, and Derek is absolutely right that if a marketer doesn’t realize when they’re barking up the wrong tree then they need to stop. (And preferably get another job.) If anything, this will only make those clients even more loyal to you because they’ll have consciously put themselves in your corner when propositioned to betray you. (Just spend two minutes watching a political or religious debate and see the power of cognitive bias in all its reinforced beauty.) Honestly, thank those competitors for that; you couldn’t have done it without them!

BUT then there ARE people who might be swayed. These are the people who weren’t happy with what you had to offer, for whom your service was not such a great fit. So what does that mean? It means somebody found a service they are (or think they will be) happier with, you got rid of an unhappy or unmotivated client, and the country’s economy is better off for it on the whole.

It’s a lot like romantic relationships, I suppose: if you love someone, let them go–if they don’t come back, they were never yours. You may or may not expect out of courtesy that people won’t hit on your partner, but even if they do–your relationship is only as committed as your partner’s decision to flirt back. That commitment is what makes the difference to your future together, not other people’s interest or lack thereof.

Because really. They’re people, not eggs.

The 5 Types of Pakistanis, as Revealed by the “La Maison” Controversy

Two days ago, a condensed version of my blog post was published by the Express Tribune. Although a lot might have been lost in the process of editing a 1376-word article into a web-ready 820-word copy, it still managed to ruffle some feathers. Despite the perceived originality of the comments that spewed forth, I’ve noticed that the majority of opinions (and presumably those who hold them) tend to fall in a few broad categories:-

    1. The Momineen Type: There isn’t much you can usually say to this lot (especially without incurring blasphemy charges) because they have a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of faith–that it can be imposed from without instead of generated from within. To them there is no problem with banning things in the name of morality (because how else should Muslims live, if they are not saved the inconvenience of having to act consciously along the edicts of their religion?) so there’s no problem if places ban all Pakistanis on the pretext that most Pakistanis are Muslims and hence cannot be trusted not to blow up the place if there’s (gasp!) haraam food on the menu. Just like they blow up in the many, many non-Halal eateries in non-Muslim countries all around the world–including France–where Muslims live and work. That this isn’t an issue of Halal vs Haraam food is of little concern here. (An interesting sub-type of this category is the Indignant Momineen whose reaction is something along the lines of: “You ban me? I refuse to enter where haraam food is being served!”) And end of that story.
    2. The Elite: The elite regret to inform us that we have made a grievous error in speaking out against this restaurant because their food is excellent and it’s a pity we can’t see the good this place is doing by still allowing non-hyphenated Pakistanis to apply for jobs here (because throwing money at people is the solution to every problem.) Seemingly oblivious to the fate of Marie Antoinette, their stance is not so much “Let them eat cake!” as “Look at this cake, this is delicious cake, so what if you can’t have it, as long as I can?”
    3. The Slippery Slope Strawman: If we stopped places in Pakistan from discriminating against Pakistanis on the basis of nationality, we would also have to stop colleges from preferring students on kinship and deny restaurants the right to cultivate exclusivity and then where would we be? Where indeed.
    4. The Average Javaid: This is your common man, the typical Pakistani; the only people who don’t call themselves “desi” anywhere ever because it is understood that is what they are. This type feels an inkling of offense, a vague unpleasantness that can’t quite be named, but which has been felt many times before on the numerous occasions when they are randomly stopped at check points and subjected to searches, denied entry, and so on. But this type also has several plausible explanations for why this must occur on a regular basis, the most pertinent of them being security. Despite the fact that terrorism is a global network and Pakistanis are around twice as likely as the rest of the world to be killed in a terrorist attack (excepting Iraq and Afghanistan) and although many Pakistanis continue to display an ‘inexplicable’ capacity for tolerance and compassion, we understand that we are all innately a threat to others and must be contained. In the palace of Sans-Souci sorrow is not allowed to enter and neither are the Average Javaids; the only people who think differently are the terrorists themselves, which is why they have killed more than 49000 people in the War-That-Isn’t-Ours.
    5. The Bitter Truthers: Of all the opinions out there, this is the type that raises the most valid criticism. It comes from a diverse group of people, but often those who have been working hard to do whatever they can to stem the tide of internal bigotry very much present in Pakistan. They point out that while discrimination against Pakistanis on the basis of nationality (or Muslimhood, as many misunderstand it to be) gets the majority outraged, there is hardly a whimper against much of the discrimination on the basis of religion. Bitterly they grumble that rest of Pakistan is now merely burning in the fire it started itself–and they are not wrong. When we made it acceptable to discriminate between our fellow citizens, to treat those belonging to minority faiths and sects as “lesser” Pakistanis, we left the door open for other people to discriminate against all of us. We made space for the creation of a violent behemoth of religious extremism and it was only a while before that would become a way to paint older prejudice in new colors. But it doesn’t make sense to speak as if non-Muslim Pakistanis are exempt from problems faced by all Pakistanis, because if Pakistanis face discrimination simply for being Pakistanis then non-Muslim Pakistanis face an added layer of discrimination–the injustices are not “evened out”, because they are not separate from the rest of Pakistan. Don’t rush to ouster non-Muslims like that even with good intentions, not only because this whole debate was initiated by a non-Muslim Pakistani, but also because that thinking plays right into the hands of those who insist Pakistan is only for and can only be represented by Muslims. Bigotry is a double-edged sword, and it bleeds those who wield it as well as those who suffer its blade; if it metes out what looks like retribution, you can be sure the only thing it is carving room for is bigotry itself.

And there you have it, folks.