• NDAs and why you should not be part of breaking them

    Non Disclosure Agreement - that's what the three letters NDA stand for. This kind of agreement is usually put in place between people willing to keep their mouth shut until a certain point in the space-time event continuum is reached and someone who has an interest in getting that specific information out to the public in an orderly fashion.
    But not keeping to an NDA can be rewarding, especially if other media helps spreading that information - and that can evolve into a serious problem over time. Why? Read on.
    First, some basic webconomics: In order to attract visitors and generate enough page impressions to keep the stream of ad revenues flowing in the long term, each website has to generate unique and exclusive content. This - thanks to the dynamics of the web - requires other sites reporting on that specific topic to link to the original source, thus redirecting their visitors to it and helping to build relevance for search engines. But it also helps secondary sites reporting on that topic: Their regular visitors feel informed and they show up on google rankings for that particular keyword generating more traffic for themselves - the earlier their report gets indexed by the search engine the better. So, naturally, the urge is large for people to report on a story they know they shouldn't - at least not now (for whatever reasons - examples following).

    An NDA - to get back to the original topic - is not only protecting the information for the good of the party that is providing them, but also serves another purpose that normally gets by unnoticed. Fairness. And more important, the chance of working thoroughly. As I've outlined above, on the modern internet it seems critical to be among the first to break a story in order to satisfy your audience as well as attracting visitors via search engine listings.

    Unfortunately, that urge includes reporting on people breaking NDAs. They usually have exclusive information that - provided you're fast - make your site also an attractive place for people getting informed. Technically, if you're not under NDA for that specific topic as well, you're well within your own discretion to report on and link to NDA-breakers. Hell, even if you're under NDA as well you could argue that as soon as someone breaks that NDA, the specific portions of information published are no longer confidential thus enabling you to report on what has been reported elsewhere.

    Now, here's the problem. By providing NDA breakers with an audience multiplier via story and link, you're making it more attractive for people to break an NDA in the first place. And you're putting your competing websites under pressure to cover the story as well - and being put under pressure by them when doing your own story. No time to do proper research, probably no time (or chance, if you've not access to the NDA'ed information yourself) to validate the information.

    This kind of omnipresent pressure as well as some aspects of certain NDAs themselves can become dangerous to the quality of information available on the web. Take for example a game in it's early alpha phase that's being tested right now. Probably the performance optimizations are not yet complete if they're included in the alpha release at all. IHVs have not had the opportunity to tune their drivers for the upcoming game's code - or worse: only one of the IHVs had! Now someone (not necessarily the one who publishes an article about it) breaks the alpha-tester's NDA and makes available performance numbers for different hardware configuration - without tuned code, without tuned drivers and probably even gathered from multiple systems which can't deliver comparable results in the first place.

    What's the value in that kind of information? I dare say: none. You may have raised ad revenue on a short term basis. But you have provided potentially misleading information to your readers and you have raised the incentive for people to break their NDAs in the first place. Moreover, with some people not really understanding the background and mechanics of this kind of information you probably have made it even harder for later legit reports on that said game to get the facts straight - because people need to be convinced first that the older information from the alpha test was just worthless and is not valid (any more). That may even discredit your own report. Imagine to have to type the following line into your article:„These results, even though contradicting our ealier reports from the alpha stage, are final. Our earlier report on leaked performance numbers does not paint the final picture with regard to this game.” That's not only a smack in the face to your readers, but also an epic self-smack because you're admitting on reporting something that possibly does not hold true any more.

    Even if you do write a word of warning to your readers (which, as experience tells us, will be disregarded anyway) - why publish this information if you cannot really stand behind it? You as a writer have a responsibility and that for your readers, your site's reputation and the quality of your articles.

    So, please - pretty-pah-lease!!! - don't report on any leak, any performance number or anything else that's just contributing to misinformation on the internet. Check your facts before publishing and thereby show respect to your readers and yourself! Even if they might go elsewhere to get that piece of information, don't play a part in this!

    P.S.: No this is not some hypothetical rant about NDAs but has a very real motivation. So called „Benchmarks” from Dice's upcoming Battlefield 3 have been leaked and at least one larger site already reported on it a few days ago. Go find the links for yourself if you must.
    Comments 3 Comments
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      Nice rant. R u frustrated or something?
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      I agree, certainly NDA's are good for something except keeping press mouths' shut.
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      wow you have too much time on your hands... bore us more?