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Going out in style…

So finally I have finished with my employer and my family and I are now in full blown ‘getting ready for college’ mode. However, as I finished, I managed to go out in some style with a final 24 hours that I don’t think I’ll forget in a hurry.

Before I get onto the reasons for such a colourful final day, I had better explain exactly who I am and for whom I have been working. On this blog in the past, I’ve had to keep things relatively anonymous because of specific rules and policies under which I’ve worked. Now that I am no longer with them, I can reveal my identity!

So the slightly anti-climactic news is that my name is David Green and until Friday evening, I have spent the last seven years working for Church House Publishing, the official publishing wing of the Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England.

For most of that time, I have been their New Media Manager with responsibility for a number of projects including Visual Liturgy, a popular software package that helps plan and prepare worship.

Now explaining why my last hours at CHP were so colourful will take a bit of explanation so pay attention and we’ll try and take it slow.

The background

On July 8 (a Saturday), Norton Antivirus software issued an update that essentially identified a crucial file that forms part of Visual Liturgy as a piece of spyware. On July 10 (the Monday), I came back into work to find a firestorm of clergy and other VL users whose copies of VL had been disabled by Norton. I wrote briefly and cryptically about the issue on this blog at the time.

Naturally enough, Norton were not my favourite people on July 10 and, while dealing with our users, we also got in touch with Norton and reported a ‘false positive’ or, to put it in plain english, the case of mistaken identity that they had created.

Their response was to tell us that they would get back to us within four weeks. We didn’t think that was good enough – particularly because we had a bunch of clergy and church administrators on the other line wanting blood. So my colleagues and I spent the rest of that week on the phone with Symantec (Norton’s owners) in London, Dublin and the USA trying to resolve the situation with no joy.

At week’s end, we gave up. I conferred with my colleagues and my boss and we decided that we didn’t have the money to pursue this further either legally or in the time that we as staff were wasting not doing our jobs and trying to get Symantec to act. So we placed a statement on our VL website, emailed all the VL users about what to do and left it at that.

The press

Just as I am preparing to leave, on my final Thursday, we get a call from a journalist at who wants to interview us about the story. Always happy to get publicity for VL and, at the same time, hoping that the press might succeed where ordinary business pressure had failed, I did the interview with my replacement at CHP, Andrew Sweeney.

Zdnet ran the story later that day.

What a fuss that created. The article got syndicated on some other similar IT sites and re-written on several others including the BBC website. Here’s a selection (I love some of these headlines):

On Saturday, the story also ran in The Times (p13) although I don’t think they could have got any more of their facts wrong if they had tried. Something that Andrew B blogged about over at Helmintholog that day.

As soon as zdnet ran their first article, they spoke with Symantec for comment. Surprise, surprise. Not only did Symantec let Zdnet know that they had fixed the issue but they even claimed to fix it on July 11… one day after we reported it and a full three days before we spoke to their staff for the final time on July 14 (at which point they still didn’t seem to know anything about it).

Anyway. On my last day at work with Symantec claiming it was fixed, we checked with some users and yes it was fixed. So we revised our statement and posted it online for the benefit of our users and anyone who happened across our site in the wake of all the press coverage.

One thing we wanted to keep clear in our minds was trying to avoid any sense of revenge or vindictiveness in our attitude… to keep it Christian. So we kept to our facts, we gave Symantec the benefit of the doubt and noted that the lack of clarity over when a fix was issued may have been our fault as well as theirs. We encouraged them to join with us in a bit of business processes ‘soul-searching’. We even welcomed the news the issue was fixed and wished Symantec all the best for the future.

Of course, the press would have preferred us to have been vengeful and publicly prayed for burning coals to fall upon Norton’s heads and for some, the story became a non-story as news of the fix and our optimistic outlook circulated.

Regardless, Zdnet (for whom I have much respect) called us again and wrote a follow-up piece. They were quite keen to get me to say that we wanted compensation from Norton but I declined to comment at that point and just said I thought it would be best to let Norton decide.

So what can we learn from all this

  1. As a company, I have as little respect for Symantec and Norton as I did the day that their ‘Systemworks’ computer wrecked my own home PC several years ago.
  2. If you want something sorted out, don’t try and sort it yourself. Don’t even try and engage lawyers to sort it out for you. The press have by far and away a better strike rate.
  3. Zdnet are a cool bunch of dudes in my humble opinion.
  4. Don’t believe anything you read in The Times. Given that no-one at CHP spoke to Alan Hamilton and all he had to go on was all of the other website coverage around the world – how can you repeat quotes from me verbatim from someone else’s article and then get every other fact completely wrong?

The final word

The final word has to go to Zdnet once again who have written a third piece which, for me, sums up everything perfectly. This one is well worth the read.