I beta test a lot of software, and have done so now for over 25 years. Some betas are public, most betas are not, and a few apps and services I’ve tested are seemingly in a permanent state of beta.
For the last four cycles, I’ve beta tested iOS. I’ve paid to do it legally as outlined in my audio presentation on beta testing iOS. While it’s fun being on the cutting edge, it can also be frustrating at times. Beta software is beta for a reason, it has bugs, and in the early stages, some of them may be quite significant. But I enjoy it because I figure that if experienced users provide feedback before release, we all benefit from a more stable OS.
Many people who don’t have the inclination, the money, or the skills to test are understandably excited about what’s in iOS. They’re keen to get any hint of what’s coming in each major release, and at the World Wide Developers’ Conference, Apple spills a lot of beans. They can do that of course, it’s their software.
But what tends to happen after the software is put in the hands of developers, usually on the day of the WWDC keynote, is that we soon read a lot more than what Apple revealed thanks to the tech press. Credible sites such as iLounge, 9 to 5 Mac and many others post detailed descriptions and demonstrations of the features that were announced, and some that were not.
Apple employees often frequent these sites, at least if the sites themselves are to be believed. Posts on such sites often refer to how they’ve seen an increasing number of visitors from Apple using software that has yet to even be released to developers.
You’ll notice that on this blog, I don’t comment on iOS betas. That’s because as I read the Agreement I signed when I became a tester, it would be in violation of that Agreement, a legally binding contract I willingly signed with Apple, to do so. I reach this conclusion based on section 10.1 of that Agreement, which says:
Information Deemed Apple Confidential
You agree that all pre-release versions of the Apple Software (including pre-release Documentation) and services, any terms and conditions contained herein that disclose pre-release features of the Apple Software or services, the terms and conditions of Schedule 2 (available separately to cover distribution of paid-for Licensed Applications via the App Store) and the terms and conditions of Schedule 3 (available separately to cover distribution of Custom B2B Applications to VPP Customers via the VPP/B2B Program Site) will be deemed “Apple Confidential Information”; provided however that upon the commercial release of the Apple Software the terms and conditions that disclose pre-release features of the Apple Software or services will no longer be confidential. Notwithstanding the foregoing, Apple Confidential Information will not include: (i) information that is generally and legitimately available to the public through
no fault or breach of Yours, (ii) information that is generally made available to the public by Apple,
(iii) information that is independently developed by You without the use of any Apple Confidential Information, (iv) information that was rightfully obtained from a third party who had the right to transfer or disclose it to You without limitation, or (v) any FOSS included in the Apple Software and accompanied by licensing terms that do not impose confidentiality obligations on the use or disclosure of such FOSS. Further, Apple agrees that You will not be bound by the foregoing confidentiality terms with regard to technical information about pre-release Apple Software and services disclosed by Apple at WWDC (Apple’s
Worldwide Developers Conference), except that You may not post screen shots, write public reviews or redistribute any pre-release Apple Software or services.
As I read the Agreement, this means, for example, that I could blog about the arrival of Alex in iOS 8, and go on to talk about the fact that Braille input on the virtual touch screen will be coming. I can do that because Apple itself disclosed it at WWDC, so they’ve put the information in the public domain. What I can’t do though is upload an Audioboo or podcast showing you how those features work, because that Agreement expressly forbids me from doing so. I am also not able to talk about things in iOS 8 relating to VoiceOver that Apple didn’t disclose, because until Apple talks about it, it’s confidential.
There is an argument to be made that blind people are being far too precious about this. If some of these major blogs and news sites that can hardly be described as under the radar are disclosing features left, right and centre, what’s all the fuss about? My answer to that question is twofold.
First, we don’t know for certain that Apple hasn’t given permission to certain sites to disclose. Frankly I think it’s unlikely that all the widespread disclosure on blogs, news sites, YouTube and more is sanctioned, but I simply don’t know.
But that brings me to my second point, which for me is the clincher. If others are indeed not abiding by the NDA, does that give me the moral authority to disregard a legally binding contract I signed voluntarily? I like it when people come to the site, read my blog posts and maybe buy a product or two, and I’ve no doubt that a tell all about iOS 8 right now would send my traffic stats sky high. But to me, this is a matter of personal ethics. I’m not making any comment on what others do or don’t do, I’m merely telling you why I personally feel uncomfortable breaching an Agreement.
What’s also important for me is what violating the NDA would potentially do to my reputation with other app developers and companies who may want to trust me now, or may consider trusting me in future, with confidential information. If I’m willing to flagrantly disregard Apple’s confidential information, why wouldn’t I disregard theirs? It’s a fair question and given that I work with app developers, it’s something I take very seriously.
After a lot of requests following the enormous success of “iOS 7 Without the Eye”, I’ve already begun work on the iOS 8 version of the book, and will look forward to sharing that with you when permitted. And while it may advantage me to drop a few teasers, I just think agreements like this should mean something. Even if you have no regard for the company, and my regard for the company is in abundance in this situation, it’s about one’s own personal brand.