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NDA.  Non-disclosure.  Hush documents.

Not many people like them.  In the technology world they are a necessary evil.  Personally I don’t think that way.  I think NDA’s are generally a good thing.  It’s enabling legalese to let two parties participate in information exchange when they don’t want the rest of the world to know about them.  NDA is a general term, of course, and the wording in any non-disclosure agreement is subject to the two parties involved.  Heck it could say “We’re going to show you everything and you agree only to not talk about feature X…everything else is fair game.”  Usually they don’t.

Enter the iPhone SDK.  The frustrating part for iPhone developers wanting to share their knowledge, innovate on the platform, etc.  It was assumed from a lot of developers that upon the release of iPhone 2.0 software that the NDA would be lifted.  Guess what – it isn’t (as of this writing).  What does that mean?  Well, among other things, people who have the SDK are under that NDA and shouldn’t be discussing it with anyone other than Apple.  Guess what…even if your best friend is under the same NDA, technically your agreement is only with Apple, not ‘anyone else under NDA.’

My local Cocoa/iPhone user group in my area recently shut off their email list and posted this message:

“IMPORTANT NOTE: AT THE PRESENT, IN ORDER TO RESPECT THE IPHONE DEVELOPER TERMS AND CONDITIONS, WE HAVE DEFERRED MESSAGE POSTING AND OUR FIRST MEETING UNTIL OPEN DISCUSSION ON IPHONE DEVELOPMENT IS ALLOWED BY THE NDA, AND BLESSED BY APPLE. OUR GOAL IS TO PROMOTE APPLE IPHONE TECHNOLOGY ACCORDING TO PROPER GUIDELINES AND NOT PRESENT EVEN AN APPEARANCE OF IMPROPRIETY. ALL GROUP MEMBERS WILL BE NOTIFIED AS SOON AS WE ARE FREE TO OPENLY COLLABORATE.” source: Phoenix iPhone Developer Group

As frustrating as it is for passionate folks, bravo to this group to at least ensuring their channel they’ve created isn’t a faucet of information that shouldn’t be shared just yet.  There are other groups that I’ve seen hosting iPhone developer discussions and I can’t imagine how they are doing that without talking about thing that violate the agreement they have in place. 

NOTE: If you downloaded the SDK, you agreed to the NDA – sorry if you didn’t read it, but you did.

An NDA is in place to provide valuable information to those who want to agree to it.  By not honoring that you’re stealing information essentially.  Beyond the legal stuff which I don’t pretend to understand in a deep manner, it just isn’t really ethical for you as an individual, business, developer, community, whatever.  I don’t care if it is with a darling company like Apple…no matter what if you agree you should be responsible. 

Another part of the SDK is the terms.  Besides not being able to be discussed, shown, shared, the terms of the iPhone SDK might prohibit any open source project.  Which brings into question the project from Wordpress.  This is an AppStore approved app that now has source available. (which is using the GPL license).  As Nathan Willis of Linux.com points out that two terms of the SDK and AppStore deployment violate explicitly the GPL (nondisclosure and code signing).  Wordpress putting the source out there violates not only the terms of the iPhone SDK but as well isn’t in line with the GPL they have selected.  How is nobody claiming shame on them?  Just because they are open source doesn’t mean they have the right to violate agreements.

Yes, I know Microsoft isn’t open source all the way by ANY means.  I don’t believe I’ve ever made that comment and certainly not here…this isn’t about a ‘well then you should to’ but rather about honoring known agreements and terms/conditions of use.

If people get lost in a frenzy of excitement and decide just to start violating things they agree to, where does that leave organizations wanting to plan and share information?  There isn’t a lot of trust left is there?  I honestly think that Apple will rectify this soon and perhaps it is just an oversight while they are dealing with the MobileMe troubles as of late, but regardless the terms are still there, the confidentiality agreements are still in place and if you agreed to them, you should honor them.  I know that is a bit of a “duh” moment…but seeing stuff like what Wordpress is doing and user groups sprouting information makes me sad that we as professionals have disregard for these types of things.

I had an idea for an iPhone app that I wanted to do to manage the life-sucking-battery-settings and others even wrote they’d pay money for that app.  When I had the idea I immediately contacted an Apple evangelist and began starting a discussion about this.  Turns out that the settings I’d need to get to aren’t available according to this evangelist in email.  I noticed the iPhone dev team has the headers needed, but even completing the app wouldn’t give me any distribution beyond myself because the mere coding against the properties would violate the terms and wouldn’t be approved in AppStore.  I suspect an app like this will surface (perhaps in the Jailbreak world) and if it does on AppStore, I’ll be pissed that I was misinformed and missed out on an opportunity!  Where was I?  Oh yeah, anyway I went to the source (Apple), inquired, and was told it wasn’t possible per the terms.  It sucks, but I’m going to honor those terms…because I agreed to.

And if you did, so should you.  Wordpress…shame on you.

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