"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Animus Over Amity


NOTE: THIS POST HAS BEEN UPDATED

Back in November I posted information promoting Amity, a smartphone app designed to make traveling simpler for Freemasons all across the world. In the wake of the persistent rumors that Pantagraph Printing was planning on discontinuing publication of its annual  List of Lodges Masonic (which I stress that it has NOT yet done), the Amity app seems like the most logical progression for ease of checking regularity and amity between grand lodge jurisdictions - especially since the vast majority of the world is carrying around a smartphone in their pockets these days. Unlike Pantagraph, the Amity app now has data on almost 37,000 lodges across 285 grand jurisdictions, covering just about every country in the world. Currently, there are Masons using Amity from about 2,500 Lodges, which cover 164 grand lodges and 70+ countries. This represents a herculean effort on the part of the two Masons who have created it.

One of the most vital elements of the Amity app is cooperation of grand lodges and grand secretaries in keeping information up to date, and for verifying that each and every user of the app is a member of their jurisdiction. Grand jurisdictions have cooperated with Pantagraph for decades, which is what made their annual List so invaluable. Despite that Amity is offered free of charge to all Masons and jurisdictions, charges no fees for enrollment of any kind, and its two original founders created it entirely without any outside help (or salaries, while working other full-time jobs), as we all know, no good deed ever goes unpunished.

Sadly, it seems that with so many grand secretaries in the world, someone was bound to object and cause a problem.

This past weekend at the Northeast Conference, MW Carl B. Willi, the Grand Secretary of Rhode Island, made the completely unfounded, unjustified, and false accusation that Amity and its creators are somehow selling or otherwise exploiting private information of Masons, and doing something improper with membership lists. He has apparently withdrawn any support of the Amity app in his state and un-verified their members, and I am being told that he has also sent messages to other jurisdictions now in an effort to convince other grand secretaries to follow his lead. He then followed this with an email sent to Masons in Rhode Island, which was forwarded to me anonymously:




(Click to enlarge)

I have no connection to Copiri software or to the developers, but I am an enthusiastic supporter of the Amity app nevertheless. I had long conversations with Michael Radigan and Jeremy Barnes back in November and asked many questions that addressed these very issues. Further, they were interviewed on several Masonic podcasts, and were quite open and consistent in their explanations about what data they were and were not using, how it was being used by them, and in their emphatic assurances that they were not monetizing the information in any way. I was - and remain - fully satisfied by their privacy assurances and policies. They have also been honest about how they hope to eventually monetize certain VERY LIMITED aspects of the software. 

Consequently, I do not believe Copiri Software or its two partners are doing anything improper with the small amount of information they are in possession of. And most important, they are not, and never have been, in possession of or been granted access to ANY grand lodge’s database of members. They do NOT have access to MORI, GrandView, or any other Masonic database systems, in any way. Amity does not compete with those systems, either. They simply provide each grand secretary with access to a secure web portal, and request a simple yes or no verification as to each of their members' current membership status. This type of verification was always done from the start in order to PROTECT lodges and individual Masons from outsiders and to ENSURE their privacy.

But what concerns me most of all is that GS Willi didn’t even bother to contact Copiri software’s partners (who are both Masons) and even confirm his accusations before smearing their business and reputations by making these allegations publicly and acting upon them.

In answer to this situation Copiri has sent the following message to all now-formerly verified Masons using Amity in Rhode Island:


My Brother, 
It has come to our attention that false rumors are being spread about Amity and how we handle your personal data. Because of the seriousness of these allegations, and the levels at which they have been repeated, we have decided to take the unusual step of sending you this message. Thank you for your understanding as we navigate this unexpected situation.

Please know that the following points are true: 
1. The Amity Team has never, and will never, ask a Grand Lodge (or a Grand Lodge's management system vendor) for their membership data. Similarly, we have never and will never ask to purchase such data. We're clear about this because...
2. We will never provide your personal data to others. Our Privacy Policy has been clear about this since Amity started: our baseline policy is that we do not disclose PII to anyone. We don’t rent it, we don’t sell it, and we don’t give it away.
3. Amity generates revenue by creating a marketplace where Masons can buy things from one another, and by charging transaction fees when that happens (like we do with MSA's Short Talk Bulletin). We've also been clear about this for years, and if you'd like to hear more just check out the podcasts we've appeared on: X-Oriente, Fort Worth Lodge #148, and Whence Came You?.
We will not speculate on the source of these rumors, but we value the trust you've placed in us and we want you to know that your trust is well founded. We are evaluating what other actions to take, and in the interim we welcome the opportunity to respond to any questions that you may have. Just respond to this message, and we'll get back to you as soon as possible.
Sincerely and Fraternally,Jeremy and MichaelThe Amity Team

As for myself, I continue to support Amity’s use, and I strongly take issue with the allegations being made, just as a matter of principle. I hope this is the end of any “controversy” and that MW Willi reconsiders his position and actions. And I CERTAINLY hope that no other jurisdiction follows his lead. This app is a tool that Masons all over the world can benefit from, and the creators have offered it to the fraternity without any possibility of it being a commercial revenue generator. After dedicating hundreds of developmental and administrative hours to its creation, we all owe them our gratitude, not trumped up accusations or imaginary horribles.

Because they are Masons who are versed in the practices of the fraternity, the Copiri partners went out of their way to design the app in such a sway to protect its users and grand jurisdictions by going the extra mile and requiring member verification. Perhaps what is really going on is that the Rhode Island GS office finds this requirement to be unduly time consuming (it's not), or simply an annoyance, even though it is to their own advantage and for their own good.

Pantagraph has been rumored to be going away for years now, and no national body like MSA or the COGMMNA wants to step up to the plate and fill that void. (That said, Pantagraph is now calling for updated information for their 2019 edition so they still appear to be continuing next year - rumors of its death have continued to be premature.) These two brethren did this on their own and pulled off a major accomplishment with their app. Right now, Amity is the ONLY reputable source of current Prince Hall jurisdictions and lodges - and comprehensive recognition status - in more than a handful of states, which is problematic when sojourning Masons seek to travel. While every Mason should arrange their travels in advance through their own Grand Secretary's office, we all know that isn't how things work in the practical world. And very few individual Masons carry around a Pantagraph List in their apron cases.

Moreover, the future of the fraternity's administration gets more digital every day, not less. Every grand jurisdiction should be actively and gratefully promoting Amity and updating their information regularly. Instead, I fear that everyone will dither until Pantagraph eventually stops publishing their directory, and then a flurry of half-baked substitutes will hurriedly pop up while everyone argues that it doesn't do things 'the right way.' The result will be chaos, less traveling, and more confusion over regularity and recognition, without any cooperation. That's not good for the fraternity if we can’t even manage to administer our lists of recognition. 

Not good, but sadly all too typical.

To read more about Amity, visit their website HERE. It is available as a free download for both Apple IOS and Android. If you use it and find it helpful, please consider dropping a note to your Grand Secretary and encourage his ongoing support. And if your grand jurisdiction is not currently supported, urge yours to do so.

Frankly if I had my way, Amity would become an international standard that COGMMNA and PHCOGM and international groups fully adopt, so these questions and issues can be addressed far more easily and quickly. It would also vastly improve the ability of the Commission on Information for Recognition to do its work. Perhaps the work the Amity guys are doing on their own needs to be adopted and placed under the protective wing of the MSA, at least on this side of the hemisphere. MSA could at least encourage cooperation and compliance with updating info far, far better two brethren trying to do this on their own.

In the end, I honestly don't care who comes up with a solution. Amity was first and did it well, so good for them. And they aren't even making a dime off the thing. Why are folks obsessive about finding fault with it now, instead of helping them improve it? No, let's just hound them out of bothering at all.

How Masonic.






UPDATE 8/4/2018:

Amity has sent the following official message and enclosures to Grand Secretaries this week in response to this situation:
Brothers Grand Secretary,

Please find attached Amity's official statement on the allegations made at last weekend's Northeast Masonic Conference, which you are welcome to share as you see fit. We have spoken with many of you over the course of this week, and appreciate the counsel that you have provided over the course of this unexpected situation.

We are committed to supporting the membership of your Grand Lodge, and to working with you to do so in the best manner possible. Your trust in Amity is our priority -- please reach out to Michael or to me if you have any questions or concerns, whether about the attachments specifically or about Amity in general. We look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely and Fraternally,
Jeremy Barnes and Michael Radigan
The Amity Team


CLICK IMAGES BELOW TO ENLARGE








6 comments:

  1. Those many of us who travel are aware of the frustration in not being able to connect with a local lodge. At Christmas on St. Croix I spent hours chasing a lodge, which turned out to even have a temple, but never connected. We simply have to embrace these electronic efforts more than we have.

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  2. Thank you Brother Hodapp. I have no connection with Amity but have had the app for quite some time. I believe I was one of the earliest adopters. I also have worked in IT security for years. I (and many others who bothered to investigate) believe the allegations made by the Grand Secretary of Rhode Island are demonstrably false. I hope the other Grand lodge Secretaries take the time to investigate the issue for themselves. For more info go to Reddit, and this weeks The Masonic Round table podcast, The xoriente podcast on the issue, The whence came you podcast or just contact Amity. It is easy to find out the truth if we care about that anymore.

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  3. That was my picture that I posted on my lodges Facebook page, and cross posted to the ri Freemasons Facebook page. Then it just kinda took off to reddit...

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi! Do you know if they make any plugins to help with SEO?
    I'm trying to get my blog to rank for some targeted keywords but I'm not seeing very good
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    ReplyDelete
  5. The key to obtaining/retaining Masonic credibility is to partner up with MSA. I see that there is interaction there, but they need to convince the MSA to act as their advocate. Convince the MSA and you will convince the rest. That my opinion and fraternal counsel.

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  6. I have to say that I am unhappy with Amity. I would be very happy with it if they stopped at the Grand Lodge/Lodge level, such as Pantograph does. Once they try to enumerate individual Masons, they've gone too far. I didn't give my GL permission to release my Masonic info to a third party, nor would I want anybody to have and datamine it. If I use Amity to find a Lodge, and if the Lodge uses Amity to verify MY LODGE, that's great, but once I find them, my dues card and a good trial should do the trick.

    Nobody needs to verify my Masonic membership other than by looking at my dues card, and trying me.

    ReplyDelete

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Kindly sign your comment posts. Anonymous postings on Masonic topics have the same status as cowans and eavesdroppers, as far as I am concerned, and may be deleted if I don't recognize you or if I'm in a grumpy mood.