In June, the team at Project Mushroom learned that Eric Holthaus had kept our newsletter mailing list and signed everyone up to his Currently weather newsletter without consent. We want to be clear: this is an unacceptable misuse of your personal information, and a breach of trust. We wanted to provide you with an explanation of how this occurred, and the actions that we have taken in response. We also wanted to provide you with an explanation of the outage of the spore.social server that occurred earlier this week, and our plans to improve stability in the future. We'll be hosting an "Ask Me Anything" (AMA) question-and-answer session this Sunday, August 6 at 6 p.m. EST, which you can join at this link: https://meet.google.com/eyy-jaor-itf.
Outage of spore.social server
Between Tuesday, August 1 and Thursday, August 3, the spore.social server was down. This was caused by a routine update that needed to happen during a time when we did not have the people in place to make the update.
Project Mushroom recently separated from its former parent company, Currently, and during this process we experienced significant delays in obtaining access to all the technical assets used by Project Mushroom. There was also a lack of adequate knowledge transfer on the processes needed to maintain these assets. The work effort required to maintain the technology was not compatible with moving from a paid workforce to a community-led organization.
We are exploring alternative approaches to hosting Project Mushroom's Mastodon instances that will be easier for a team of volunteers to maintain, and we're ensuring that processes are documented and shared among multiple community members.
Status of Relationship between Currently and Project Mushroom
In late 2022, Project Mushroom was founded as an initiative under its parent company, Currently Weather Service. Initially it was planned as an alternative space for organizers to come together. Holthaus, as declared founder and CEO of Project Mushroom, had full access to data related to the Project Mushroom newsletter, including subscriber e-mails.
In April, 2023, Holthaus decided he did not want to continue with Project Mushroom and laid off the project's paid staff. This initiated a process of separating Project Mushroom from its former parent company, and re-envisioning it as a community-led organization. Holthaus was to hand over the entirety of Project Mushroom to the team - Meg, Francis, Sam, and Craig - and we took great lengths to ensure privacy and that no one's personal information was moved when the Project changed hands.
Project Mushroom is now fully independent of Currently Weather Service, and is now fully-led by the community. The Project Mushroom newsletter is not the same as the Currently newsletter. Our community members are in the process of organizing to bring back the Project Mushroom newsletter in the near future.
We believe that the Project Mushroom subscriber e-mails that Holthaus had access to, as founder of our former parent company, were inappropriately retained after Project Mushroom became independent, and are now being used for purposes other than those for which they were provided.
Actions We Have Taken
Project Mushroom's community members take this incident very seriously. While we have no way to reclaim the misappropriated e-mail list, we have taken the following actions to limit future harm to our newsletter subscribers, as well as to send a strong message that misconduct around data privacy is unacceptable:
- We have revoked Holthaus' access to the Project Mushroom newsletter and its associated data after the handover of Project Mushroom to the community was complete.
- We have banned Holthaus' accounts on the spore.social and projectmushroom.social Mastodon servers.
- We have prevented accounts that Holthaus created on other servers from accessing the spore.social Mastodon server.
- We have guaranteed that all subscription fees for the Project Mushroom newsletter go to Project Mushroom, not Currently. These are being used to pay for ongoing server costs, and if funds permit, paid moderators.
- We have severed all ties with Holthaus.
Project Mushroom's community members are continuing to maintain our two Mastodon servers, spore.social and projectmushroom.social. We also have plans to re-start the Project Mushroom newsletter to bring you updates on some of the trending topics on our Mastodon servers, and to return to our core mission. We are still here and we hope you will continue helping us build an online community dedicated to climate and social justice.