Zazzle’s anti-free-speech practices

So this is interesting. I recently created a product on Zazzle called “NSA-proof communication device.” It’s a dry erase board. (Get it? Get it?) It looked like this:

zazzle nsa proof communication device


It was up for a couple of days before I received an email from Zazzle’s Content Review Team reading,

Unfortunately, it appears that your product, NSA-proof communication device, contains content that is in conflict with one or more of our acceptable content guidelines. We will be removing this product from the Zazzle Marketplace shortly.

Product Title: NSA-proof communication device
Product Type: aif_dryeraseboard
Product ID: 256940178052035216
Result: Not Approved
Policy Notes: Design contains an image or text that may infringe on intellectual property rights. We have been contacted by the intellectual property right holder and we will be removing your product from Zazzle’s Marketplace due to infringement claims.

Translation: The NSA told Zazzle that some part of “NSA-proof communication device” is their copyright, and Zazzle interpreted my dry-erase board as infringing on that copyright. I can only assume it’s the NSA’s name that is allegedly copyrighted. Obviously, this product’s invocation of the NSA name falls under fair use, since it’s parody.

Zazzle is treading into dangerous territory if they think they should take down every single instance the letters ‘NSA’ appear in products on their site. Really makes it look like Zazzle is an enemy of free speech. Or at best, too darn lazy to protect free speech in the face of an email from a big corporation or government agency.

I’ve been fighting with their customer service for a day and a half now, and the most recent action they asked me to take (which I obediently complied with since I’m a peon) is to state, with my e-signature, that I agree to get sued by the person who filed the takedown request. Bring it on.

Measuring site engagement: A means that has become an end.

Engagement is the level of interaction and duration that a user is on the site.

While product teams themselves keep the site/app’s features oriented around the product’s larger goals (e.g., helping people share photos, helping people communicate in general), metrics of engagement are used by product marketing teams to show advertisers that it’s worthwhile to buy ads on a site or app. Engagement was never meant to be an end in itself, but to figure out what the users are doing, and see if the product is meeting its original goals.

Gradually over the course of a company focusing more and more on monetizing, these engagement metrics play a bigger and bigger role in dictating product decisions, spurred by a marketing team seeking more advertisers, and, ultimately, management seeking more revenue.

When engagement takes a front seat, we start seeing the product’s original goals being uncomfortably edged out. Where once Facebook’s goal was to let people share stuff with each other and see who’s connected to who, now their goal seems to be to draw back as many eyeballs to the newsfeed as possible (where the ads are) by lighting up the ‘home’ link with a red jewel as soon as there’s new content.

Surely someone on the design team understood that a news feed jewel would be counterproductive to the user’s goals (eg. reading inbox messages with their undivided attention and responding without distraction). But that usability wisdom got swept away by the product team or management when the promise of more eyeballs was proposed.

Now the question is: can we hack the standard list of engagement metrics to be tailored more towards a product’s original goals and value mission, and avoid engagement metrics from being focused on just monetization and catering to advertisers?