Author Archives: Jeremy

Accountability Office Report Shows FCC is Not Doing its Job

Sometimes it seems that the Government Accountability Office is the only one trying to do it's job. In their report on the Federal Communications Commission, they state that the agency favors lobbyists over citizens in that lobbyists are kept up to date on FCC actions while citizen groups were not.

Granted, they need to do more stuff like this on their own instead of waiting to be asked, but at least they aren't towing the same line that all the other corrupt and inept agencies are.

(H/T to Slashdot for the link)

Confessions of a College Credit Card Pusher (Wanna Free Shirt?)

If you've been on college campuses these days, you'll often see the booths where you get a free shirt or coffee mug for signing up for a credit card. Well, it's pretty obvious that college kids have no idea how to handle credit and the credit card companies know it.

Rhoades took the job and signed up roughly 30 students for cards. He regrets any trouble he caused other students from his actions.

Still, his actions may have been most damaging to himself. He ended up with $13,000 worth of debt that he is now struggling to repay.

We don't get any training how to deal with and manage credit, but we get plenty of training on how to get and abuse it. So sad…

(H/T to The Consumerist for the link)

Congress Finally Taking AT&T (etc.) to Task?

Now that Congress has officially started to investigate the role of major telcom companies in illegal spying, the question is, "will anything finally come of it?"

At this stage, they've only sent letters asking about their involvement and whether they knowingly broke the law under the promise of protection from litigation from the executive branch. If they actually answer truthfully, things should get interesting.

Summary of iPhone Woes

The iPhone was greatly anticipated as revolution in wireless phones (in some circles, it's been called the "Jesus phone"). As soon as it was released, hackers and tweakers got to work on unlocking it so it could work on other carriers or just be used as a PDA/MP3 player without phone service at all. Soon after that was completed, people were writing custom applications and modifications left and right.

The problem is that AT&T was losing potential customers and Apple was under pressure to make people stop enjoying their iPhones. That said, Apple issued an update to the iPhones that they warned would destroy any phone that had been unlocked or modified. Besides the wicked backlash in press and blogging against Apple for this move (which seems more deliberate than accidental), the new update breaks many legitimate applications that were designed to work with the iPhone as well.

Worst of all, Nokia has just launched their newest product and an ad campaign with the dual slogans, "Phones should be open to anything" and "The best devices have no limits". In the end, if the new Nokia phone doesn't match up to the features of the iPhone, it won't matter, but there's already an in-depth review from an editor at Popular science.

Here's a partial summary of the battle:

  • Nokia has higher data speeds and can be used as a wireless modem for a computer without the clumsy hacks necessary for the iPhone.
  • Nokia's are "unlocked" by default. This means they can be used with any GSM cellphone service in the world. No hacks or cracks necessary,.
  • Battery life – Inconclusive
  • Web browsing – iPhone. No surprise there; the whole phone is a screen.
  • 3rd party applications – Nokia wins because Apple is either actively or incompetently blocking 3rd party apps

And many more, but I won't spoil the details, just the results. The Nokia clearly wins in most categories (price and size being detractors). Anyway, iPhone better shape up if they don't want to be left behind.

You Can Get Viruses From Video Files, But You Shouldn’t

Even if a hacker put some code into a music file (for example), the music file player should just try to send the code to the speakers along with the rest of the data, not actually perform any commands (like taking over your computer). For this to be possible, the makers of the player software practically have to write custom code to look for and execute hacker code.

In other words, for a virus to be embedded in a video, music, or text file, there has to be deliberately placed code in the player that watches for commands and acts on them.

It's stupid to think you could ever get a virus from a text document, a music file or video file, but, thanks to sloppy programming practices like this, it happens. Remember not to get distracted by the spin doctors and "damage control" people. If there's a virus in video, music, or text, it's the fault of the player/reader, not becasue of clever hacking.

(H/T to Slashdot for the link)

Who is Ron Paul – Are You Sick of His Name Yet?

I see noise about "Ron Paul" everywhere. Streets, media, online. It's enough to get on your nerves. But as with all things popular, eventually, you want to see what the fuss is about.

I checked out his website today and if half of the things there are true, he might be our best presidential candidate in a long, long time.

For one, he doesn't hide behind political speech. Is he against abortion? Yes, yes he is. It's not hard to find out his stance on almost anything. And, I for one, can definitely agree with this:

The biggest threat to your privacy is the government. We must drastically limit the ability of government to collect and store data regarding citizens’ personal matters.

Damn straight. Maybe if Ron Paul was elected, we wouldn't end up with stupidity like the Presidential ID Theft Task Force that spent over six months analyzing ID theft only to produce an 80 page document that ignored the actual solutions.

It would be nice to actually have a candidate that I believed would do a good job rather than just trying to pick what I hoped was the lessor of two evils only to end up with someone who nearly single-handedly destroyed America during his terms.

Sprint/Nextel Extended Customer Contracts Without Warning

Sprint used any minor changes to service plans to extend customer contracts by up to two years.

“When you receive complaints across the board, from firefighters to lawyers, from retirees to construction workers, all of whom feel they were unfairly manipulated by their cell phone company, you have a problem, ? Attorney General Lori Swanson said. She was joined at a State Capitol news conference by a number of Minnesota consumers who described their problems with the company.

In other words, these aren't people who are not paying attention to the legal agreements and they're most likely not lying to get out of their agreements. In fact, the article says that Sprint has had over 30 thousand complaints against them in the last 3 years registered with the Better Business Bureau.

I knew ATT/Cingular was bad, but I didn't know about Sprint. That doesn't leave many carriers to choose from.

Update

Verizon is no better. So much for them.

UK Police Can Demand that You Decrypt Information or Jail You

In the UK, ever the pinnacle of freedom and privacy, you can now be forced to decrypt any data that they believe has bearing on a criminal or terror investigation. Here's the really fun part (emphasis mine):

Individuals who are believed to have the cryptographic keys necessary for such decryption will face up to 5 years in prison for failing to comply with police or military orders to hand over either the cryptographic keys, or the data in a decrypted form.

That's just peachy. So what happens if you don't know anything about it, but they think you're the guy?

AT&T to Cancel Service of Anyone Who Criticizes Them

The new Terms of Service agreement from AT&T is really something. If you get caught bad-mouthing AT&T, you could find yourself with no service.

Translation: "conduct" that AT&T "believes" "tends to damage" its name, or the name of its partners, can get you booted off the service. Note the use of "tends to damage": the language of the contract does not require any proof of any actual damage.

First the spying issue, then the privacy issue, now this. I sure as hell won't be using any AT&T products or services any time soon and I recommend that you don't either.

Chicago to Become Camera City

Even though cameras have been shown to be a great big boondoggle in the UK, Chicago apparently plans to repeat history.

Virtual Shield will capture, monitor, and "fully index" video from the Windy City's surveillance cameras. The software used to run the system will be able to recognize specific license plates, vehicle descriptions, and even patterns of behavior. If someone drops a briefcase on the El platform and it stays unattended for more than a minute, the system could alert the OEMC, which could then dispatch police officers to the scene.

Lovely.

Amazon Launches Online Music Store with No DRM

I'm not thrilled about Amazon since they are one of the worst privacy offenders on the web, but they are now offering music downloads without any DRM.

Though shopping with Amazon is like dancing with a hungry wolf, for now they may be one of the best places to get music content. Certainly if you had a choice between iTunes and Amazon for the same music, Amazon would be the better choice.

Opinon: Microsoft Should Abandon Vista

Vista has been a rough release for Windows. I would say that it's probably the first time since Windows 95 that a new system wasn't better than the previous (other than ME, but that didn't last long). Some people think Microsoft's mistakes with Vista are such that they should just abandon it and move on.

Much talk has been given to Service Pack 1 and how this update should address many of the issues users have with Vista, but I simply don't agree. Will SP1 eliminate the ridiculous Microsoft licensing schemes? Will SP1 drop the price on the higher-end versions? Will SP1 eliminate the need for users to buy a new computer just to use the faulty OS?

Second Credit Reporting Company to Offer Credit Freeze Protection!

Perhaps Equifax is seeing the same gate closing on them that Transunion did. They are the second of the three credit reporting companies to offer credit freeze protection.

The credit and financial industries have aggressively lobbied against credit freeze laws, claiming they would reduce the availability of credit and discourage shoppers from making big-ticket purchases due to the time spent unlocking a credit account.

And that's bad how? If people have to spend $10 or so to unlock credit and have to spend more time to do it, maybe they won't be so quick to get into credit card debt. Anyway, with so many states having already passed freeze laws, I guess the credit reporting companies are trying to preempt the states that haven't by offering it first.

Either way, it's good news for everyone. Hopefully, the states will still pass regulation requiring fast and easy access to unlocking credit and a lower fee as well, but it's a dang good start. Now let's see if Experian follows the other two.

Federal Agent Abuses Monitoring Systems to Track Girlfriend

Still trust the government to not abuse their surveillance power? Read this story about a federal agent who used the Department of Homeland Security's database to stalk his ex-girlfriend and her family. When we paraniod types tell you that massive government systems can be turned against us easily, remember that though we may be loud, obnoxious, and a little nuts at times, that doesn't mean we're wrong.

(H/T to Privacy.org for the link)

Man Cleared of Charges in Circuit City Case

If you've been following the case of Micheal Righi, a man who refused to show his receipt at Circuit City and was soon arrested (because he wouldn't show a police officer his ID), you know that our "security society" is pushing people to take away our rights and pushing others to accept it.

Fortunately, Micheal didn't back down, even when presented with a deal where they would drop all charges in exchange for giving up more of his rights.

I was presented with an offer to have my charges dropped in exchange for signing a document which asked the following of me:

I would not file a Section 1983 civil suit against the Brooklyn police department for infringing on my civil rights.
I would not make any disparaging remarks about the police department, with financial repercussions for doing so.
I would not discuss the details of this agreement.
These conditions were completely unacceptable to me.

Unfortunately, Michael and his family could not afford the time, effort, and money involved with a legal battle with the state. He accepted a deal where he gave up his right to sue them in exchange for immediate dismissal of the charges.

Thankfully, he is not under a gag order and can tell us how this turned out, but it's a shame and a crime that the court system is such that only those with enough money get justice.

Speaking of, people have been complaining to Michael about asking for donations such that he's decided to give away all the money donated even though it's $2000 short of what he's paid in legal fees so far. He says he can afford up to $10,000 to protect his rights and wants to remove all doubts about his intentions.

Let me say it again: it's a shame and a crime that the court system is such that only those with enough money get justice

Harvard Student Bookstore Desperate. Kicks Out Student Writing Prices

The saddest part of this story is that Harvard's bookstore is so desperate to prevent students from shopping online that they kicked out a student who was writing down the prices to compare them online later. They claimed that the pricing is copyrighted, which, of course, it's not.

Face it: if you charge more for a book in your store than I can get it online, there's a really good chance I'll get it there. If these stores are so desperate for the business, they should have a terminal in their store and referral programs set up with all the major online retailers. That's about the only way it would work for them.