Jenn Frank of Infinite Lives reports that Enfour, the company that publishes the $55 Oxford Dictionary of English (ODE) mobile phone app, accused her of pirating the app and that the app hijacked her Twitter account and started autoposting tweets that Jenn is a software thief. (See examples of other Enfour autotweets.) And Jenn's not the only victim of Enfour's reputation-damaging witch hunt.
Some are wondering whether the auto-posted tweet constitutes “libel”; still others wonder why a customer would ever permit the Oxford Dictionary access to her Twitter account. I remember seeing the app’s request pop up, and I’d simply assumed the dictionary had added some sort of social networking functionality, something like “share this crazy new word with your friends!” or whatever. (Enfour’s software integrates very nicely with another app, the excellent Terminology, which does indeed include a “Twitter” button along with each definition.) At no point did Enfour disclose its intention to “post to Twitter on [my] behalf,” however. The request seemed perfectly innocuous.
One user did deny Enfour this permission request, and he discovered that Oxford booted him from the software entirely. This is to say, he could not use Enfour’s Oxford at all unless he granted the dictionary permission to humiliate him publicly.
Enfour has since admitted there was a “glitch” that caused “false positives” in the software. What’s especially harrowing, though, is that Enfour apparently mined the data in the iPhone itself in an effort to determine, not whether Enfour’s own software is pirated, but whether any software on the iOS device is pirated.
Tracey Northcott VP of International Communications for Enfour tweeted: "#softwarepirateconfession We do sincerely apologise for any inconvenience. The anti-piracy module kicked in today for legitimate users. Bug"
In an "open apology letter," she states again that the horrible idea was just a "bug."
UPDATE: Take a look at the reviews for this app. Some people report that they paid $55 for an app that crashes repeatedly and then sends notifications to the screen that read "I am a software thief!" And Jenn adds: Also, I apparently missed Enfour’s "apology":
Nevertheless, a number of users with certain system configurations were affected during this time period. Some may still be if they haven’t updated to the fixed version. If you are not running the latest version, we urge you to update your app immediately to avoid the potential embarrassment of an unexpected tweet.
Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the editor-in-chief of MAKE and Cool Tools. Twitter: @frauenfelder. His new book is Maker Dad: Lunch Box Guitars, Antigravity Jars, and 22 Other Incredibly Cool Father-Daughter DIY Projects