Kevin Ohashi, Founder of ReviewSignal, will be facilitating the Ethics in Hosting topic at HostCamp 1.0 this year. Kevin is an entrepreneur with a rare combination of technical and business expertise. He has a rich background in WordPress and data science and has combined the two in numerous projects, including ReviewSignal, which is known and respected across the hosting industry for its in-depth and unbiased hosting reviews.
What To Expect
Kevin will start with an introduction and an overview of his experience across the hosting industry. He’ll then open a discussion on the ethical problems that we see prevalent throughout web hosting. From there, he’ll lead a discussion on ideals and suggestions for ways that we can raise the bar, starting with WordPress.
Q&A with Kevin
I asked Kevin a few questions and included his answers below.
How would you explain what the topic of ethics means within the context of web hosting?
Ethics in web hosting really is just behaving in an honest manner in the context of the web hosting industry. There core concepts of good behavior aren’t unique and can be simply applied to the web hosting industry. For example, selling a product marketed as costing X and then charging X+Y for the service is misleading at best and dishonest at worst. It would be unethical. The primary areas that I think need ethical attention are:
- Marketing Claims
- Dark Patterns
- Affiliates and other financially interested parties
- Community Participation and Behavior
Why should hosting companies and those who do business with them care about ethics?
The foremost concern should be legality. Laws are evolving and I still think we’re behind legislatively in terms of what should and shouldn’t be allowed online. We saw GDPR implemented not long ago and it added tremendous cost to many businesses especially in Europe. I don’t think it will stop there, and some other unethical behavior will be stopped and punished – as it should.
Companies in the web hosting space are often treated as commodities, and the brand capital one builds can be taken away by being caught behaving unethically. We see case after case of companies being called out on Twitter and causing outrage. Just in the past few days, someone tweeted that Digital Ocean has taken down their company, and it received 2,581 Retweets, 4,574 Likes, was shared all over other social platforms like Reddit, HackerNews and I’m sure more. They published a post-mortem and stated all the steps they were taking to make sure things like this do not happen in the future. But a negative experience reached tens of thousands of people associated with a brand name simply because of some well-intentioned scripts and human error failed. The issue was framed in a way that it made seem like Digital Ocean was acting unethically suspending a client which drew outrage from others, “Wow! Horrific! I’ve had great experiences with DO myself but this is enough to ensure I’ll never recommend them again, there are so many players in this space that customer service of this level is totally unacceptable.”
If we accept suspending a customer without explanation or notice and not restoring them quickly is unethical, this incident highlights how quickly perceived unethical behavior can influence sentiment.
(I did a more detailed write up inspired by answering this here)
What have been some of the highs and lows of your experience in observing ethics in action across the hosting industry?
The lows are easy. I’ve caught multiple companies engaging in what most people would consider fraud – lying to people or paying other people to lie on their behalf. CEOs saying it’s acceptable for employees to post reviews. Security incidents which don’t go reported and breaches that show companies haven’t encrypted their passwords. This is only the worst types of things you see, but on a daily basis, there’s a lot of greys.
At the good end of the spectrum, companies being brutally transparent and accepting responsibility for their shortcomings. One example in my performance benchmarking is how some companies deal with less than ideal results. Some really dig into what happened and find it helpful to find, fix and improve their services. Others deflect, blame or I’ve had a few try to withdraw after bad results (sorry, I publish anyway). It’s so rare these days to see a company actually admit fault and correct as best as possible.
Ultimately, It’s harder to see the best behavior of companies because if they are doing it properly, often nobody notices. It’s also a decision to be made at every moment, ‘do we do what is right or most convenient?’