Tumblr Gave Danah Boyd’s Username to a Marketing Company

Tumblr just messed with the wrong 43,913 Twitter follower-ed blogger. Microsoft researcher Danah Boyd just posted an open letter to Tumblr, which abruptly moved her blog to a new address and gave her old handle, zephoria.tumblr.com, to a social media consulting company.

“Tumblr did not notify me. And while their ToS says that they will, it also says that Tumblr ‘reserves the right to remove any Subscriber Content from the Site, suspend or terminate Subscriber’s right to use the Services at any time,'” she wrote. It appears Ms. Boyd’s most recent post was in January.

“Hi Danah. We never reassign domains w/o notifying users first. Our support team reached out two weeks ago and didn’t hear back,” CEO David Karp said on Twitter. “Please let me know if there’s absolutely anything I can do to help. I’m sorry for the trouble.”

“What I want is my acct name back. I’d be happy to help you improve your notifying processes,” Ms. Boyd wrote back.

This isn’t the first time Tumblr has sparked ire for shuffling around blog names. A user posting at pitchfork.tumblr.com was booted by Pitchfork Media in February, 2010. Tumblr told the user it had notified him 72 hours before the switch, but Pitchfork publicly said the account was handed over within “10 minutes,” contradicting Tumblr’s official account.

Tumblr’s official account is already a bit mixed up. According to Ms. Boyd, Tumblr’s customer service reps told her they’d emailed her 72 hours in advance of the switch “but screenshot they sent me said they emailed me on Passover,” she said, which was over a week ago, while Mr. Karp said the notification was sent two weeks ago.

Betabeat contacted Tumblr, which said it would have a statement for us soon (UPDATE: Tumblr statement below. Also President John Maloney tweeted: “We’re in touch w/ Danah and I’m sure she’ll be updating… We have arguably the best community support team on the web.”) We’ll see if Mr. Karp can turn this one around, as Ms. Boyd is one unhappy (unpaid) customer.

“I’m also pissed at Tumblr,” she wrote. “Why is it acceptable for them to just delete my content without notifying me? For them to break the web by killing off links to my posts? For them to not leave room to negotiate?”

Zephoria, described as “business marketing consulting services using the Internet,” registered a trademark in New York in 2002. Twitter and other web services will take down usernames that conflict with an official trademark.

“The whole point of trademark is to not allow people to confuse customers. I’m not doing anything to confuse customers,” Ms. Boyd wrote. “I also can’t help but wonder how many other people get screwed because individuals are never given the same social status as corporations in this digital environment. Le sigh.”

UPDATE: “Tumblr does not reassign domains without notification. We reached out to Danah via her registered email and gave her a chance to object but received no reply. And yes, we’ve already reached out to her regarding this.” Betabeat also reached out to Ms. Boyd via email and Twitter (we’ll take her number, if you’ve got it!) but did not immediately get a response.

UPDATE 2: Ms. Boyd sent us an email: “Short version is that things are still in progress and I’m waiting to hear back from them.” She said liked Betabeat’s story on Tumblr earlier this week. “Very much ‘with great attention comes great responsibility.’ <GRIN>”

It looks like all her content transferred to the new URL, zephoria1.tumblr.com, Ms. Boyd said. “And it looks like the followers transferred (which is actually how I used the site the most). It also looks like [Zephoria] is calling up other social media services to try to take over my account. I’m still investigating all of this but not at all surprised. Apparently, they’re a SEO company. And apparently my social media usage affects their SEO. Le sigh.”

UPDATE 3: “My email shows no record of having received that email but that’s not entirely surprising given how often form mail often ends up in spamland,” Ms. Boyd said. “They told me that they normally give bloggers 72 hours to respond and then they turn over accounts. So they contacted me on April 19 and moved my account on April 22. I learned about this today.

“I responded to them about the problems with their approach and offered to help. I also asked for my account to be reinstated; I argued that reputation online is not just about trademark and that it shouldn’t be acceptable to use trademark as a justification to make people’s material online disappear. I’m waiting to hear back.

“I also learned in the process that the company is a search engine optimization company which explains why they’re going after my representation on social media sites, given the priority that Google places on such sites.

“I also read Twitter’s policy on Trademark which is starkly different in its approach, highlighting that trademark is only relevant when the person online is trying to confuse the public: http://support.twitter.com/articles/18367.”

NOTE TO TUMBLR: Betabeat has a trademark too, and we wouldn’t mind if you kicked this derp off, who hasn’t updated in a year.

UPDATE: Tumblr restored Ms. Boyd’s account.

Tumblr Gave Danah Boyd’s Username to a Marketing Company