Mod to view member PM's

motokochan

Habitué
Joined
Feb 18, 2007
Messages
1,128
OK, out of the blue: does SMF allow administrators to read PMs on the board?

Not by default, and there are no mods on the official site to do so. I'm sure someone will build a mod, but you'll need to track it down elsewhere.


I can understand some of the ethical concerns, but sometimes it might be necessary like when you have a member accused of harassment via PM or members exchanging personal information on other members behind their back. It's not pretty, but if you're an administrator, it's somewhat of a necessity. Just tell your users you have the capability of doing it and what situations will bring it on. I've had too many "he said, she said" messes.

Most of the time (99%?), the "report PM to admins" feature will work perfectly fine. A user can't edit the contents of what they forward, so you'll get an unadulterated copy. The few times otherwise, a quick look in the database can get you the information you need.
 

Rockatteer

Devotee
Joined
Apr 4, 2007
Messages
2,706
people seem to forget that admins/owners have direct access to the database table where the PM's are stored.

All a mod does is provide a pretty interface. Admins can read PM's directly in the database.

The ethical side of the question only exists if you let it. My privacy policy states that PM's are a function of the forums which allow a member to post messages to another member or group of members away from the public view. Like any other message in our forums, these messages are stored in the forums database.

It then goes on to explain that while these messages are considered private and personal, the administrators are able to view these messages if so required by law enforcement agencies or in cases where illegal activities or severe rule infringement is suspected.

SO it really comes down to the perception you maintain in your community. We encourage the "Non private" perception rather then the "private messages" culture.
 
Last edited:

motokochan

Habitué
Joined
Feb 18, 2007
Messages
1,128
SO it really comes down to the perception you maintain in your community. We encourage the "Non private" perception rather then the "private messages" culture.

Yeah, it's a difference in views. If you have access to the DB, you can do pretty much anything.

The official SMF stance is that they are called 'Personal Messages' for a reason, so it shouldn't be made easier for someone to go poking around in them. If there is a problem, the report function exists. If you can't trust your members to use the PM system correctly, you should be disable it.
 

annakey

Charter? What Charter?
Joined
Apr 19, 2007
Messages
1,569
... or severe rule infringement is suspected.

I've seen, again and again, forum admins use the "suspected severe rule infringement" excuse to snoop PMs. You then discover that "severe rule infringement" has become confused in their minds with "a member may have written something politically inconvenient to me".

It's the old, old problem of someone in a position of power confusing what is in their personal interests with what is in the interests of the community. The two are seldom the same. Often they're diametrically opposed.

It goes hand in hand with admins puffing themselves up like toads and talking about "my members", referring to those who argue with them as "trouble-makers" and "trolls" and seeing a digital community as there to serve their interests, rather than the other way round.

Why does power effect some people in this way, even the tiny amount conferred by an ACP? Once they get their backside in the ministerial limousine why do perfectly nice people pupate into snooping Orwellian nightmares?

"No question now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."--George Orwell, Animal Farm.

Well done SMF for taking a principled stand. Proboards takes a similar line.

I... do not care what you guys think about it being wrong.

Fair enough. But if the members whose PMs you may be about to snoop find out and roast your snoopy arse you won't mind me laughing will you? If you snoop their PMs and you're caught you deserve to lose every member on your site. Up to you mate.
 

Neostar

Participant
Joined
Jun 22, 2008
Messages
79
It's already been said before, this is just a difference of opinions between Admins as to what is morally correct to do. I'm one of those Admins that falls on the line of PMs being private from everyone in the forum, but not secret from the Staff. It is my personal belief, and in my forum ToS, that PMs are considered personal in nature, but not secret from the staff, if I feel that severe rule infringement, illegal activity, or conspiracy of either is occurring between members, I feel it is within my right as an Admin and forum owner to glance at any suspect PMs between the members in question, reported or not. The PM inbox of my members is not Sunday reading material for me when I'm bored, but if there's an issue that I suspect or has been rumored to me, I will look. Currently, I have to search the database, which, thanks to the wonders of SQL, isn't too user-friendly, but, thanks to SML's stance, I can't find a mod that interprets on the official site, and I don't feel it is currently important enough to dish out some money to commission the mod.

Furthermore, I think it's damaging to the objectivity and helpful atmosphere of this site if you as staff "pick and chose" as to what mods you will or will not permit to be shown and discussed here. But, that's just the humble opinion of a salty small community admin and is neither here nor there.
 

Docpixel

Habitué
Joined
Feb 17, 2008
Messages
1,414
Okay, because I'm curious now, what damage can possibly be caused by individual private messages between two members?

I can see that if one is harassing another, that's a problem, but the harassed one can report it on to admins. Or if a member PMs other members too much, that can also be reported if it's a problem. (I have one who's not content with 5 an hour, but she's just very friendly.)

But what "severe rule infringement, illegal activity, or conspiracy of either" can be accomplished between private member communication that would jeopardize the forum and so require intervention?

Please educate me here.
 

motokochan

Habitué
Joined
Feb 18, 2007
Messages
1,128
Furthermore, I think it's damaging to the objectivity and helpful atmosphere of this site if you as staff "pick and chose" as to what mods you will or will not permit to be shown and discussed here.

As far as I know, there is no rule here. While no PM reading mod will be allowed at the modification repository hosted on simplemachines.org, there isn't really anything that can be done outside of that. If someone posted such a link here, I know I wouldn't remove it, but might ask the other staff members what they think on it and allow them to act if needed.


But what "severe rule infringement, illegal activity, or conspiracy of either" can be accomplished between private member communication that would jeopardize the forum and so require intervention?

I can see a reasoning for an older member of a forum soliciting minors on the same forum, but that is what the whole reporting functionality is for. If evidence of this comes up in a report, then it would be a good reason to check for more things concerning that member. Of course, those kinds of rare events don't call for such functionality to be installed all the time, and a database check would be quite fine at that time.

The only other things I can think of would be advertising a competetor in PM (which you figure would be reported by someone), discussions about mutiny (silly to do if the admin is the only owner), etc.

Maybe I'm missing some situations and Neostar can provide a mention of them.
 

Neostar

Participant
Joined
Jun 22, 2008
Messages
79
...Not by default, and there are no mods on the official site to do so. I'm sure someone will build a mod, but you'll need to track it down elsewhere...

Sounds like "it's not here, and you won't ever find it here, so look elsewhere."

Not trying to instigate here, just pointing a perception out.

And as far as my own examples, the few experiences I've had that I wished I had the functionality to read Pms didn't involve mutiny per se as much as it involved staff and other members working together to undermine my authority as administrator. Stuff that I would like to be privvy to and keep tabs on even if it isn't necessarily reported. It sounds silly, and currently i am not in a situation that it would happen, but, tis better to have and not need, than need and not have.
 

Docpixel

Habitué
Joined
Feb 17, 2008
Messages
1,414
And as far as my own examples, the few experiences I've had that I wished I had the functionality to read Pms didn't involve mutiny per se as much as it involved staff and other members working together to undermine my authority as administrator. Stuff that I would like to be privvy to and keep tabs on even if it isn't necessarily reported. It sounds silly, and currently i am not in a situation that it would happen, but, tis better to have and not need, than need and not have.

So if I understand you, it sounds like you want to keep tabs because you don't trust them. So you want to be all prepared to take an action that will cause them to lose trust in you if they found out? So you can be aware that some are plotting to undermine your authority? What can you do with that? You can't act on it without admitting how you learned about it, and if you let them know, then your whole forum will know.

So then you've got a forum with an admin and members who don't trust each other, in a toxic, suspicious environment. Most members will leave. What's the point?

Is this the best example you've got to justify betraying your peeps' trust?

Neostar, life is too short.

(Unless you've got a conspiracy forum, then maybe that's the appropriate attitude and I'm totally wrong.)
 

motokochan

Habitué
Joined
Feb 18, 2007
Messages
1,128
Sounds like "it's not here, and you won't ever find it here, so look elsewhere."

Sorry, I intended "elsewhere" to mean other than the official mod site. I suppose I could have been a bit more clear.


And as far as my own examples, the few experiences I've had that I wished I had the functionality to read Pms didn't involve mutiny per se as much as it involved staff and other members working together to undermine my authority as administrator. Stuff that I would like to be privvy to and keep tabs on even if it isn't necessarily reported.

Maybe I'm being idealistic, but if you don't trust these people, why give them power in the first place? Your justification sounds like paranoia for power's sake.

So then you've got a forum with an admin and members who don't trust each other, in a toxic, suspicious environment. Most members will leave. What's the point?

Power, usually. It doesn't have to be a conscious grab, it could be subconscious. The need to know for sure about people possibly undermining one's authority usually stems from someone who isn't sure of their authority and hungry for the power to make secure it. At least, that's how I've seen it.
 

Docpixel

Habitué
Joined
Feb 17, 2008
Messages
1,414
Well, Motokochan, I won't quote your whole post, but I sure agree with it. All of it.

And so far, no one's come up with a valid reason for peeking at PMs that I can see.
 

motokochan

Habitué
Joined
Feb 18, 2007
Messages
1,128
And so far, no one's come up with a valid reason for peeking at PMs that I can see.

I can think of (and pointed out) a few reasons to need to do this, but I can't think of anything that would justify the need for a constantly-available way to do so.
 

Neostar

Participant
Joined
Jun 22, 2008
Messages
79
Docpixel and Motoko, you both have valid points that I can understand. And You're both very correct. The examples I have stated were actual events that happened, with me being a Sub-Admin in specific letter of the forum hierarchy, but full admin in practice. I have since left the forum in question, which within a few months crashed and burned without me being around to run it (is it wrong to feel a small bit of satisfaction?) and have started a new forum using a large percentage of the same member base. I also completely re-did the forum leadership. So now it's myself as Owner, my wife as Admin, and a close family friend as G Mod, with another family friend as an Editor. Does this situation warrant me to have distrust in my staff? No. But I learned my lesson from previous times. The system is not in place on my ToS so that I may read my member's and staff's PMs just when the mood strikes me, it's there so that I may compound upon evidence I have already acquired.

Members have a reasonable expectation of privacy in my forum, and that I will not violate without due cause.
 

fathom18

Neophyte
Joined
Mar 19, 2008
Messages
5
Thread is still going >< I don't use SMF anymore, but funny how this thread still going. Seems like this is a good topic. Just a difference of opinions, and btw I kept all my forum members, and we moved to a VB forum. Thanks again for all your opinions, of which I never read lol.
 

Docpixel

Habitué
Joined
Feb 17, 2008
Messages
1,414
I agree, it's a good meaty thread, and raised interesting questions to think about and explore.

Neostar, thanks for your reasoned followup, and for explaining your point of view. I still don't agree with it, but I hope your TOS is clear and lets members know that the possibility exists. If so, I think you'll be on okay moral ground.
 

annakey

Charter? What Charter?
Joined
Apr 19, 2007
Messages
1,569
I hope your TOS is clear and lets members know that the possibility exists.

That's the key. If you're snooping then members need to be told. They can then decide whether, and how, to use a compromised PM system. It's those who snoop in secret, while pretending the PM system is secure, who deserve to have lots of trouble.
 

Ama

Aspirant
Joined
Aug 21, 2008
Messages
32
Are you really bored enough to sit and read your Member's PMs? I mean seriously...
 

Neostar

Participant
Joined
Jun 22, 2008
Messages
79
Are you really bored enough to sit and read your Member's PMs? I mean seriously...

I don't consider it a thing to do to stem boredom. Which is why I have yet to dive into the database and look through the PMs there. :coffee:
 
Top