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Casey attempts to sell Groups posts to Google, members protest en masse

If he was any more blatantly deceitful, we’d have to call him Zuckerberg! Step right up trusting travelers, and watch how Casey Fenton attempts to sell all your old (and current, and future) Groups posts for profit!

And if not for cash, then surely for the added marketing value (worth real money, and lots of it), to allow Google and every other web site and search engine to add what you thought you were sharing with only fellow CS-members, to their fully public, permanent record that is the global internet.

All the personal trip and traveler feedback you thought you were sharing only with other CS members? Sorry, surprise, now everything you posted on CS is part of the public record, forever. And, perfectly searchable.

I realize Casey’s announcement(s) have mostly to do with Groups posts, but isn’t he trying to put into place the exact same kind of exposure and sale of all your information, including your profile? Your profile picture? Isn’t he playing the exact same kind of despicable game that Zuckerberg plays?

Make no mistake about what Casey is attempting to do, exactly like Zuckerberg/Facebook – blatantly deceive you, to gain your trust and persuade you to add to his mountainous pile of traveler feedback, then once he has your trust (and your posts and personal information) he sells everyone’s posted information to enrich himself, personally.

This has been his goal since the inception of the entire CS project, he just didn’t have any buyers yet. Until now. Until Facebook became the story to copy. Until he invested considerable effort in building the largest list of users he could accumulate, to ensure the biggest pay-day he could arrange for himself.

I’ve noticed that despite several fundamental issues which members have complained about for literally years, that are never even acknowledged… in all this time, the most visible efforts seen from the inner circle and their hiring decisions, seemed to always be about PR (public relations), suppressing the publication of complaints, outright denial of reality, and spreading the gospel. To grow the list of users. To fatten the calf before the slaughter.

In classic Cult-of-Casey style, he sells you out without a warning or your consent, but when the backlash proves substantial and it turns out that people don’t want any part of what Casey’s selling, he tries to spin his scheme as something that he only intended in the best of ways, something to help you!

I don’t know which kind of people I despise more strongly – users, or liars. Let alone a career scam-artist highly skilled in both exploiting and lying to people. But the recent investors want the maximum return on their investment, so just as others have predicted… let the sale (of information you donated in good faith) begin!
Fresh email from HQ, just received, sent to all CS “members.” Stare into the face of pure exploitation and bald-faced lies:

“We’ve heard you: Change to plans regarding groups”
Dear CouchSurfers,

Last week, we sent an email in which we announced our plan to make CS groups available to search. We made this decision because the team had received member complaints that some newer members of the site didn’t seem to be joining for the right reasons. We thought that allowing people to see more of what CS is about before they join might help address this problem.

The members disagreed! We’ve heard from hundreds of people who are very opposed to this approach. I’m very sorry to have caused so much distress. It’s clear that this is something that members care deeply about, and I respect the need to approach it differently.

We have made two major changes to our plan:

Group posts created in the past will not be available to search. The only posts that will be visible to search engines will be those created after February 15, 2012. This will protect the privacy of any members who no longer use the site and may not be aware of the changes.

All members will have the option to keep all of their posts hidden from search and from non-members. Just as we currently allow you to keep your profile hidden from anyone who is not logged in, we are now building another privacy option that will allow you to easily specify that your group posts should not be visible to search engines or people who are not logged in. This privacy option will apply to all of your posts, both past and future.

These two factors combined mean that the only posts that will be visible to search will be those made in the future by people who choose not to make their participation in groups private.

I sincerely hope that this approach will protect the privacy needs of all CouchSurfing members while also giving people who are considering joining CS an accurate impression of who we are – a community, not a place to find a free place to crash.

If you still have concerns about this, I invite you to email me at and share your thoughts. The team makes all of its decisions with the intention of making CS better for its members. It seems that this time the change we wanted to make would actually have made it worse, and for that I’m sincerely sorry. I’m glad that you responded with your concerns: your reactions helped us see various sides of the issue that we had not considered. I know that CS groups are considered to be a safe and comfortable place to express yourself fully, and I would never want that to change.

Thank you for your patience and for your passion,

Casey Fenton
Co-Founder, CouchSurfing International

13 Responses to “Casey attempts to sell Groups posts to Google, members protest en masse”

  • The CouchSurfing groups are a public forum. I’ve always wanted them to be available to search engines, simply because the in-built search feature sucks. I’d also like profiles to be public. The idea that somebody can create a CouchSurfing profile and make it only public to the 3m members is ridiculous. Facebook has much tighter privacy settings, but even today, anyone can register on CouchSurfing in a couple of minutes and can view the whole site.

    So I say make it all public. There is no privacy in public forums on the internet. Perhaps that needs to be made more clear to users, but once it’s been written online, there’s no getting it back.

    I think Casey made a good decision here. He listened to people, he took on board the legitimate points (members who have left won’t know anything about this) and changed the plan. He stuck with the original (and sensible) goal, but modified in response to feedback. Sounds like good leadership to me.

    • blusterbuster

      “I’ve always wanted them to be available to search engines”

      Apparently “hundreds of members” did not share your desire. Myself included, obviously.

      “anyone can register on CouchSurfing in a couple of minutes and can view the whole site.”

      Not the same thing as opening all past, present, and future posts to Google and the entire WWW, without requiring a registration and login. Invalid comparison.

      “He listened to people”

      He was facing a revolt, and not the first one, by far. As documented quite thoroughly on this very site, that you founded. His choice to listen to his members (for once) wasn’t entirely voluntary.

      What I suspect, is that after the first announcement hundreds of users immediately deleted old Groups posts. Which then provoked a panic in Casey, as he watched years of our personal input start to evaporate, preventing him from selling that data or otherwise benefiting himself.

      “He stuck with the original (and sensible) goal”

      Sensible, to whom? And actually, no, his original goal was soundly thwarted, by allowing members to hide Groups post from Google.

      “Sounds like good leadership to me.”

      If you would now like to characterize Casey’s leadership as “good,” then why did you establish this site, and why are you throwing your official, public endorsement behind BeWelome?

      Anyone paying attention Callum, can see that you’ve lived (practically) rent-free for 3-5 years while relying on the kindness of dozens of strangers, and while extracting absolute maximum value from CS.

      Your entire lifestyle and cost-of-living budget would change drastically would it not, if your CS account was closed? In the crudest simplification, you’re reliant on Casey paying your rent, so you can’t afford to rock the boat too much, can you?

  • Same here. I was all like “finally” when I got the newsletter. What can there be to be pissed off about? A forum that is not searchable is only the shadow of a forum.

    • blusterbuster

      “What can there be to be pissed off about?”

      You really don’t understand the situation, do you? Apparently hundreds of other members, do. +1.

      “A forum that is not searchable is only the shadow of a forum.”

      Couldn’t agree more. Still doesn’t require opening all old and future posts to Google and non-members.

  • (Replacing every instance of the word [Facebook] with [Couchsurfing] doesn’t change the focus of this article in the least.)

    “Five Billion Dollars of Personal Information”

    Facebook’s IPO is expected to be largest ever sale of shares by a US web company, with the business looking to raise raise $5bn. That would dwarf Google’s float in 2004, which raised $1.67bn.

    The issue puts front and centre the commercial value of our personal information and raises some serious questions about the protection of privacy.

    Facebook’s business is based on advertising, like most online companies. The number of ads on the site rose by 42% in 2011, while the price per ad grew by 18%. To increase the amount of money it can charge for ads, Facebook needs to convince advertisers that it is better able to target advertisements than alternative services. The more personal information about us Facebook has, the better Facebook can target advertisements, and the more it can charge for them.

    So if investors start to see Facebook’s numbers sliding – and given that 2011 earnings were around $500m lower than analysts expected that isn’t too remote a possibility – the company may find itself forced to choose between user privacy and profit.

    Indeed, they may see privacy as an obstacle to profit. In the five core values published by the company, the word privacy does not appear once.

    As Facebook’s social mission to make the world more ‘open and connected’ meets the harsh reality of the stock market, consumer privacy is more at risk than ever before.

  • There are ad’s on Facebook? Never noticed!

  • blusterbuster couch surfing does not belong to you . and if you did not know if would be public then you just did not understand the structure of couchsuring.

    you DO NOT NEED to be a member to read group posts if you know how to do that.

    And content is king.If couchsurfing needs to grow (and get more funding) they need to increase their traffic which is getting lost to the much cooler (less flame wars, easier for fb members to share ANY info they want to share link to their blogs (1000s of times) or any other info )also they dont have members who think they own the site (which disables half of the site ) . This is also the case on bewelcome where there are so many guys like midsch who are so scared of privacy they the site just cant function like a truly social site .

    adblock does not work on facebook ads (so that means you DO NOT understand how the site works) .

    couchsurfing is not a community driven site anymore so try and get over it . Callum has rightly said time to move on!!

    • porkee: “adblock does not work on facebook ads (so that means you DO NOT understand how the site works).”

      I specifically mentioned AdBlockPlus, not AdBlock (and gave you the link.) So that means you DO NOT understand how to read.

      I don’t see a single ad’ on Facebook. I also have several keyword list services installed into ABP, like EasyList.

      So that means you DO NOT understand how the tool works.

      • Good.That means you use FB a lot . So stick to it and quit whining about cs which will never change and will never below to you .

        Also cs is right to move away from the non profit /community driven structure
        they both are filled with flame wars/politics/groupism and everything which is really bad for a site which is looking to give value to its share holders.

        Also we have threads with idiots like you who argue about useless stuff like ( AdBlockPlus, not AdBlock).Any idiot would have known the only extension is called AdBlockPlus but users refer to it sometimes as AdBlock.The trouble with your reply is it lacks substance and this is the biggest problem with the threads on cs. They are will with users finding fault with the previous posts.If a site wants to grow they need to ban users like you . It is so commons for people like your to totally make a thread go off topic with dumb replies like this (causing major flame wars and thousands of posts where are off topic)

        yes you are right the extension remove sponsored posts but users on facebook do not need to use the sponsored feature at all to get to their target audience. (sadly this thread is going off topic because of idiots who still are on cs and have learned the wrong habits from mingling with the wrong people on the forums there). Cs forums instill a sense of hate,anger and everything negative (this is the brainstorm groups ).People post bs on the bs group for years and then cry wolf(like you just did) when cs makes changes and never cares about the stuff posted on the bs groups(whose users feel “a fall sense of entitlement”). You are a USER of the site NOTHING MORE.IF you have not figured that out till now (in the past x number of years ) then you are dumber than most of the users who left .

  • “The members disagreed! We’ve heard from hundreds of people who are very opposed to this approach. ”

    What is the real reason?

    each thread is ranked by google. so when you search a particular forum the “worst” threads (usually about woman safety,ugly flame wars ) ranked the high and showed up to a user who searched google . The threads could be from any where in time 2005-2010 depending on how many times the particular thread was viewed and linked . This showed the nastiest part of the community driven site. This would have not happened if the forums were regulated (proper rules and guide lines were set down ).Sadly with designations like “ambassadors” users felt they were privileged to make rules or suppress whole communities with their virtual power.This caused the many flame wars on cs.

    As usually just like the UN and security council the reason reasons for a statement will never come out.

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