I recently wrote about bloggers who seek to elevate themselves by launching unprovoked attacks on other writers in their field. As if on cue, someone has tried it with me.
A British writer, whom I have never met nor named in any of my published work, went after me for the warning I wrote for WalletPop about iPhone travel apps, which often require expensive data connections to function. The problem lies, essentially, in 1) exorbitantly pricey international access and 2) apps that suck data from the network without telling you how much you’re actually using. People get routinely slammed with massive bills, and they are taught by AT&T itself to thwart disaster by switching their iPhones into Airplane Mode the minute they board the flight to fly abroad.
This guy hated the example I supplied of a $3,000 bill because it happened in 2007 — even though I linked to the report of it so readers could fully investigate for themselves. He was fixated on the fact apps weren’t yet for sale then, but the truth is that astronomical charges unquestionably still exist. A friend went to Toronto for two days last week and was charged $300 for just 20MB of usage. (Can you imagine a full vacation’s worth of damage?) He hated the headline that said a person can spend “thousands” using data on vacation. (They can. You have to know the tricks.) He also didn’t say much about my publication, which is owned by Aol, or post constructive comments beneath the story in question, where true corrections would presumably most help the public, choosing instead go after me by name in a post published on his home platform.
Unfortunately, this man was disingenuous about his primary assault. For one, he neglected to disclose he has a dog in the fight: He makes and sells travel apps. He only admitted, near the bottom as a sort of footnote, to being “an app developer.”
Fortunately, his tirade has not gotten much traction, which is probably good for him, because the unpleasant truth hiding behind the attacks is that his own guide apps work best when they access Google Maps, otherwise, you don’t get to enjoy the entire functionality. (It must also be pointed out that Google Maps was one of the culprits in the $3,000 bill this guy didn’t like reading about.)
This is what my critic told his followers about his apps:
“All our travel apps store content when you first download them. All the images, all the information, it’s all inside the handset and you don’t need a data connection to access it.”
Notice the perhaps-tactical omission of the word maps (and what good is a travel guide without a map?). I can’t locate a clear truth on this one. This screenshot (below), taken from the App Store product page of one of the apps he is associated with, contradicts his presentation of the facts: As you can see, it declares that users “need a 3G or wi-fi connection to view Google maps [sic] or external website links.” Another sales page for another of his products words it as “you only need an internet connection…” for the same features. Still other sales pages for apps he sells make no mention at all of the warning, but I don’t know if that means the maps are stored offline for those. Now, data connection for external sites can be forgiven, but when it comes to protecting the traveler from shocking mobile phone bills, Google Maps is dangerous indeed.
I can understand why this man might object to my call on consumers to be smart about their travel app purchases, because he stands to lose money if I drum up awareness about iPhone app design that allows data charges to creep in the back door. Most consumers are not as versed as app designers, and many people have no idea how much they stand to lose by using a travel app that accesses the Internet.
He also didn’t seek any comment from me for his first post despite the fact he repeatedly named me and invented assumptions about my professional practices.
Those omissions, together, raise significant questions about his motives and standards.
Considering the omissions so far (and there are other perceived misrepresentations that reach outside the scope of iPhone apps), it will surprise no one to learn that his three posts about me, plus updates, are selectively presented to make it appear as if it were me who picked the fight. He even published tweets I sent to his personal account to his wider platform, and then claimed it was “defamation.” It is not defamation, however, if 1) it’s true, and 2) you yourself are the one disseminating it.
Regardless, with his third attack post, he’s finally taking a more reader-conscious course by countering with solid information of actual service to the purchasing public. This morning, the guy put up a list of 11 data-use workarounds for using your iPhone while you travel. I must say there’s quite a bit of helpful information in there, particularly if you have bought one of his travel products (of which I have no opinion otherwise) and want to use Google Maps.
But if expensive data connection expense isn’t much of a problem, why did he feel the need to craft a long list of helpful tips, tricks, and hacks?
Having written this, I fully expect a fourth installment in his self-serving vendetta, and more fixation on minor points at the expense of the whole. I know I have played somewhat into his game. But this man’s hyperbolic campaign obscures the truth behind it — a truth that’s obviously more complicated than a rabble-rousing 140-character tweet. His vociferous objections to my consumer reporting remind us that you should never believe everything you read on the Web. Motives are shadowy things.
Update: I was invited to discuss this topic on Arthur Frommer and Pauline Frommer’s national radio show. You can get the .mp3 here; the chat starts about midway through. I encourage everyone who uses apps to make sure they understand the possible expense of data usage, and to be duly appraising of those with vested interests who try to deflect attention from, or blame consumers for, this very costly problem.