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Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The saga continues 

Watching the escalation of the HBS/Applyyourself debacle over the past week has been interesting. Clearadmit has a good summary of links to the the discussion, MBAboy did a really interesting post on it from a philosophical perspective and Poweryogi has linked to a discussion going on over at slashdot. One of the 119, who saw a ding letter, has demonstrated his entreprneurial flair at cafepress.

If I'd been waiting for a decision from one of the Applyyourself using schools, I don't think I'd have checked, but the decison not to would have been driven by eleventh commandment concerns, I don't think I'd even have got to the point of considering the ethics of the situation. I think my thought process would have been somehting along the lines of - HBS is going to be alerted to this, they're most likely going to be able to tell who's accessed the information and they're not going to take very kindly to it. That would have stopped me before I even got to a right/wrong consideration.

There's been huge amounts of debate elsewhere about whether the 'HBS 119' (plus the handful from other schools) should have done what they did, so I'm not going to add to it. What I find more interesting is the reactions of the schools, particularly HBS as that's where most of the attention has been focussed. Firstly the use of the term 'hacker' immediately puts a certain spin on the situation, which focusses all attention away from the schools and the software company. If someone breaks into my house, then they're most likely a burglar. If I go out and leave my backdoor wide open and someone then walks in, I can't necessarily make that assumption. OK, they probably shouldn't be in there, but there might be a valid explanation for their presence, and even if they are there to swipe the family silver I need to take some responsibility for the fact that I didn't make my house secure. I think the schools and the software company should be taking more responsibility for the fact that they failed to lock their backdoor.

I also think the whole thing has been played very badly from a media point of view. OK, there was naturally going to be media interest, but if it had been played differently in the first place, maybe the legs could have been cut off the story. Afterall, only a very samll proportion of the overall applicant pool tried to get in. An even smaller proportion saw anything concrete, and a smaller proportion still were 'peekers' who were potentially going to be admitted. If the numbers had been put in context and if emotive language like 'hackers' had been avoided then maybe things would have played differently with the wider media. And then, decisions could have been made out of the spotlight and without so much need to publically save face. After all, if you've branded someone a hacker and made it clear that you take no responsibility for information being accessible in a way that it shouldn't be, you can't admit them without being seen to condone behaviour that is at best dubious, at worst illegal. If on the other hand you make efforts to dim the spotlights and then get out your torch so that you can make a proper investigation of what actually happened, you can give yourself breathing space, look for explanations rather than quickly judging guilt, make better decisons, and learn from mistakes.

Finally, I wonder how brookbond, the person who originally tried the backdoor and then told others it wasn't locked, feels about how the whole thing has played out.

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