CEO Tony Espinoza Responding to CS Users in Ambassadors Group

WHAT IS A CS AMBASSADOR?

“Ambassadors” are CS users that have been selected by CSHQ to have a special yellow flag designation and text on their profiles. They are basically CSers that have been longtime voluntary cheerleaders and evangelists for the CS website. They do not automatically have any special powers or functions, though they are generally very involved in their host city. They typically host a large number of surfers, act as a referral source in emergencies and mediator in user disputes, organize local events and couch crashes, moderate on message boards, and communicate directly with CSHQ about users’ concerns.

Before the new CS Ambassador Guidelines, which were released in or around March 2013, ambassadors were free to criticize the CS website, talk about safety issues created by the website and within CS, and share both their positive and negative experiences with other CS users.

WHAT IS THE AMBASSADORS GROUP?

The ambassadors group is a message board that is currently public for anyone with a CS account to read without having to join the group. Only ambassadors are allowed to post in the group and the group is moderated by CS employees.

AMBASSADORS GROUP CHANGES FROM “PUBLIC” TO “PRIVATE” AND BACK TO “PUBLIC”

Around the time Don Shine, one of the Berlin ambassadors, was banned, the Ambassadors group was changed from “public” to “private” by the company. This change means that non-Ambassador users could no longer see what was being posted there. In addition, the group’s page lists new guidelines, including the perceived loyalty clause: “Couchsurfing Ambassadors do not actively discourage other Couchsurfing members from continuing to use the Couchsurfing site in their profiles, events, Place Pages, Groups, etc.” Under the list of guidelines, it says “Failure to adhere to these rules can result in the dismissal from the Ambassador Group, as well as the removal of the Ambassador Yellow Flag from your profile. Appropriate Ambassador behavior will be evaluated at the discretion of Couchsurfing staff. If you choose not to abide by the Ambassador Guidelines, we invite you to email …@… to request your Ambassador Flag to be removed.”

As of March 13, the Ambassadors Group was changed from “Private” back to its original designation of “Public” and therefore is visible to users without the “Ambassador” designation. The guidelines, including the one that’s perceived as a loyalty clause, are unchanged.

CEO TONY ESPINOZA RESPONDING TO CS AMBASSADORS IN AMBASSADOR GROUP
https://www.couchsurfing.org/group.html?gid=2125

Please see the links below:

“Direct Discussion with Tony Espinoza (CEO)”  https://www.couchsurfing.org/group_read.html?gid=2125&post=14262863#post14270267

“Tony Espinoza (CEO) Discussion – Week 2” https://www.couchsurfing.org/group_read.html?gid=2125&post=14288458

WHY IS THE CEO RESPONDING IN THE AMBASSADORS GROUP AND NOT MORE PUBLICLY?

While the CEO is publicly responding in the ambassadors group, where any CS user can see it, it does not appear that the ambassadors group is widely known or viewed by non-ambassadors and therefore the vast majority of CS users. In addition, by being a place where only logged-in CS users can read what he is saying, it’s possible that this is an attempt by CSHQ to speak to users in a way that is not easily viewable by non-CS users and a belated attempt to contain negative feedback to the CS website, and is therefore a public relations tactic. For example, the CEO could just as easily post intended website fixes/changes on CS’s official blog as well as react to member’s concerns there or through mass direct messages, but as of now, this has not happened.

 

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CS to Institute a New Zero Tolerance Policy

On March 14, CEO Tony Espinoza, in response to a post by a CS ambassador, posted “I believe the single biggest thing we can do to improve safety on CS is to enable every surfer and every host to provide confidential feedback to us directly. In April we will be rolling out such a system. The move to zero tolerance is no joke.” (This post is publicly viewable on the the Ambassadors Group.)

An email from CEO Tony Espinoza to JVH and posted on  JVH’s blog under the title “Zero Tolerance,” also mentions a zero tolerance policy.

On March 16, CEO Tony Espinoza, in response to a post by a CS ambassador, posted: “I’ve said a lot about Safety. Members who receive negative references or are reported to CS by confidential safety report will be removed without notice or appeal.”

It is not yet clear how the new zero tolerance policy will be carried out, such as if the deletions are automatic or if they will be reviewed on a more individual basis. In addition, some CS users are concerned that such a policy would lead to one or more of the following: (1) enable users to anonymously report one another in a malicious manner; (2) that users accused of being safety threats would be unable to share their side of the story and defend themselves against unfounded claims of being a safety threat; (3) in the cases where a CS user has been accused of committing a crime against another CS user, such as sexual assault or fraud, that information needed to warn other CS users, such as profile photos, will be lost; (4) users fears of leaving a warranted negative and receiving a retaliatory negative in return will be increased.

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RESOURCES

Ambassadors Group (Publicly viewable to anyone logged into the CS website): https://www.couchsurfing.org/group.html?gid=2125

Ambassadors Group thread titled “Direct Discussion with Tony Espinoza (CEO)”:
https://www.couchsurfing.org/group_read.html?gid=2125&post=14262863#post14270267

JVH’s Blog: http://kingsofcouchsurfing.blogspot.com/

 

Privacy and Safety Concerns Among Couchsurfing Website Users

CS USERS’ PHONE NUMBERS & OTHER PRIVATE INFORMATION EASY TO FIND ON GOOGLE

Prior to the Place Pages being instituted, groups moderated by CS website users were able to set the group to “Private” in such a way that postings made on the group’s message boards would not be visible to anyone not logged into the Couchsurfing website.

When the Place Pages were instituted and the previous city message boards were removed, the Place Page city message boards did not have moderators and could no longer be marked as “private” by CS users looking to protect user’s private information and communications. In addition, there was and still is no way for users to have all of their posts be set to “private” by default. Furthermore, the default setting was “public”, meaning that people who have not logged into the CS website could view their posts. Instead, a user must select a setting on each of their individual posts in order for that post to be made not visible to people who have not logged into the CS website.

In addition, not only is the default setting now “public”, search engines like Google appear to be able to easily find the contents of user’s posts. This concerns a great number of users, because users sometimes post confidential information like phone numbers, home addresses, travel plans, and what local CS events they plan to attend.

Don Shine/Dion Shields, a former CS Ambassador, after reportedly exchanging emails with Couchsurfing CEO Tony Espinoza regarding this problem, posted on his public  “Censorship on Couchsurfing” Facebook event page, the link http://imgur.com/a/AxatW/ to clearly demonstrate that CS users were posting their phone numbers and that this information was easy to find. (He blacked out CS user’s names and phone numbers before posting the link.) In response, another CS user posted a walkthrough of how to easy it is to find CS users’ phone numbers using Google (http://bit.ly/Z5v4dr), thereby demonstrating that this problem still exists.

It should be noted that while in the US, home addresses and home phone numbers of the majority of US residents are already easily accessible online and in print phone books, this is not the case with cell phone numbers. It is relatively common for some age groups to not have a home phone number and to only have a cell phone number. In general, cell phone numbers are regarded as confidential personal information.

It is also reported that Couchsurfing’s CEO, through his communications with Don Shine, is aware of the problem and says that CS will address it. It is currently unclear what changes, if any, will be made to the CS website to address this problem.

UPDATE ADDED 3/18/13

On March 14, CEO Tony Espinoza posted the following in the public Ambassadors Group (https://www.couchsurfing.org/group_read.html?gid=2125&post=14262863#post14270267)

Please note: In the post below, the CEO does not address what will happen with posts already on the Place Page that contain private information like phone numbers, only what will happen with new posts.

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CS SITE UPDATE:

The following changes will improve Place page usability, privacy and safety.

Recent changes you may have noticed:

1) Users must click through updated safety guidelines in order to post.

2) Conversations now feature a “send message” button next to each member’s name in order to encourage use of private messages instead of sharing contact info.

3) Typing a phone number or email address triggers an alert in red text recommending against sharing such info.

4) Login is required to view Place pages unless a direct link to the page is shared.

5) Google SEO is not permitted to index comments on Places including those set to Public.

BY 22 MAR 2013:

1) Many geography issues will be addressed. A new tool will enable us to fix problems faster — please feel free to contact me directly with geography issues: ….@….

2) New conversation threads and replies will default to “Visible to logged-in members only”.

3) Synchronization between the old site and Place pages will be in production.

BY 8 APRIL 2013:

1) New CS Events

2) We will require new users to fill out a minimum number of profile fields in order to post on Places. (This fix requires Synchronization to reach production.)

3) Detecting a member’s current physical location will begin working much better based on a new HTML 5 implementation.

4) When a member posts to Places they must select between the following subcategories:

– Looking for a host
– Interested in hanging out
– Seeking local advice
– Discussion

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