Facebook cheats, and animals pay the price

UPDATE (3/31/18)

Until Google develops a better system of communicating to Android app users about the various ways that apps interact with a user’s list of contacts, Animal Help Now is pulling its “Add Helper to Contacts” functionality from its Android app. We are doing this because a few of our users have expressed concerns about Animal Help Now invading their privacy.

This, despite the fact that Animal Help Now cannot access their contact lists. All we can do is add a helper to their contacts – at their behest.

** The pre-digital analogy: Animal Help Now tells you about a wildlife rehabilitator. You ask, do you have their card? We hand it to you. **

We are saddened that governments, for-profit corporations and even some non-profit corporations have violated the public trust, that public trust in general is evidently eroding as we move further into the 21st Century and that these dynamics together are making the world even more dangerous for the most vulnerable in our society, including our animal friends.

** The pre-digital, post-truth analogy: Animal Help Now tells you about a wildlife rehabilitator. You say, I’d ask for their card, but then you’d insist on seeing my Rolodex. **

It’s enough to drive us mad.

Here is the letter we are submitting to Google (purveyor of Android) in response to this debacle:

Our nonprofit organization helps people with wildlife emergencies find the nearest professional help. We recently added a feature that allows users to add a wildlife emergency professional’s contact information to their contacts.
We are now hearing from the public that they will not download our app because Google is telling them we need “Access” to their contacts and they do not trust that we will not violate this access. If Google were to make it very clear that the access we need is “write only” and that we cannot see the users’ contacts, we likely would not be losing users and users’ trust.
Further, if Google were to allow a person to download the app while exempting the contact access, this would also solve the problem.
As it is, the existing solution is untenable and, unfortunately, in this age of distrust, indefensible. One must, as has been said, avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

ORIGINAL BLOG POST (3/30/18)

Animal Help Now received an email today from Mike M, who wrote: I like your app, but I won’t be using it any longer or recommending it because the latest upgrade wants to access my contacts. Respect user privacy.

I can see where Mike is coming from. He went to update his Android app and saw that we now request access to his contacts.

After all, why on earth would the Animal Help Now Android app need access to Mike’s contacts? Before your imagination gets on a plane to Russia, allow me to give you the quick and complete answer.

The Animal Help Now app needs access to Mike’s contacts because we now offer a new feature that allows Mike to save a wildlife rehabilitator’s contact information in his contact list (see image).

Image showing new feature

This does not mean we can see Mike’s contacts. We cannot.

Let me say that again: We cannot see Mike’s contacts.

We added the “Add Helper to Contacts” functionality because we want to make it as easy as possible for Mike and our other users to contact his area wildlife rehabilitators today, tomorrow, anytime.

That’s what we do.

Unfortunately, Android doesn’t give us the opportunity to explain that we are not asking for permission to access our users’ contacts, unless the person downloading the app happens to read the “What’s New” section in our store.

What’s worse, it’s an all-or-nothing thing. If Mike doesn’t want Animal Help Now to be able to his contacts helpers of his choosing, Android won’t let him upgrade his app.

Thankfully, Apple takes a more reasonable approach. The company doesn’t even ask for your permission to let Animal Help Now add a helper to your contacts until you try to do so, and it certainly doesn’t require you to give us this access before downloading our app.

Recent events have heightened privacy concerns. Facebook and so many others have shown themselves to be untrustworthy. As a result, people seem warier than ever about others’ intentions.

But let’s be clear: The difference between Facebook’s interest in your personal data and Animal Help Now’s interest in your personal data is as great as the difference in the two organizations’ revenue. Animal Help Now not only has no interest in your contacts, our privacy policy is clearly written to protect you. We are not here to make money. We are here to serve you and save animal lives.

Pitying Predators, Pitying Ourselves

spiderA spider built a beautiful web on my front porch three days ago and took up residency at the center. As far as I can tell, she hasn’t snared any prey, and in fact the web already is in disrepair and seems to be about a third its original size.

Still she sits at the center, awaiting a reprieve from what I imagine to be her increasing hunger and concern.

Another spider did the same thing in my garage over the summer, apparently dying of hunger before successfully catching a meal.

Surely this happens all the time all over the world to predators – carnivores and omnivores alike.

We animal advocates tend to sympathize with the prey. I think that’s because so many of us reject the idea that might makes right, or at least we reject the way humans have perverted this axiom by taking it to its extreme. So we end up wanting to warn the rabbit about the hawk overhead.

But the hawk must eat, as must the spider, as must we all.

People say nature is cruel, but killing and eating is an act of survival, not cruelty.

Sadly, the human approach to eating animals is fraught with cruelty, both directly – as is the case with intensive confinement operations – and indirectly – in the devastating effects of intensive animal agriculture on wildlife habitat and the climate, and indeed on our fellow humans, an obscene number of whom go to bed hungry every night even in the United States because of the inequity and iniquity of our food systems. Might makes wrong here, no two ways about it.

It’s the animal advocate’s job to accept that nature involves killing. Becoming comfortable with natural animal behaviors allows us to more clearly identify (and thus eliminate) the aberrant behaviors of our fellow humans, to save our energy for effective and meaningful advocacy and, quite frankly, to stay sane.

If you must choose to pity the rabbit who dies in the hawk’s talons, pity too the spider who sits waiting in her tattered web for a meal that will never come.

But I recommend against expending your pity on either. Pity instead the victims of human callousness and disregard. But don’t swim in it, you know? We are surrounded by pain and suffering that can easily overwhelm us. Be mindful with your emotions. We have to take care of ourselves.

My good friend Dyne told me years ago, “Dave, you can’t take on all the world’s suffering and pain.” Those words possibly saved my life, and they certainly enabled me to remain effective in my advocacy.