Author Archives: Jeremy

Use Virtual Credit Cards to Control How Companies Use and Store Your Credit Card

A virtual credit card is a short term working credit card that has restrictions such as payout amounts, time of use, or merchants who are allowed to debit it. Using these, if the company you're buying from data-rapes you for your card number, it won't matter because the number they have is worthless after the set period of time or number of transactions etc.

(H/T to Lifehacker.com for the link)

Harry Potter Leaker May Be Found Due to Hidden Data in His Images

Here's a warning to you all: companies hide tracking information in your media and if you don't know about it and do something about it, you may get some pretty nasty results. Now, in this case, it's a good thing because there's no justification for leaking Harry Potter BEFORE it's public release. That just hurts the writer and others involved.

But if this wasn't immoral activity but protected free speech, be warned that you could get nailed in very subtle and sophisticated ways if you don't pay attention to product tracking.

For example: tracking dots in printers.

Sender Controlled E-mail – Self Destructing or Single Read E-mail

Ever send an e-mail and then have second thoughts? What about wanting to make sure that the e-mail you send doesn't get shared beyond your original recipient. Using the same technique that spammers do to bypass filters and verify e-mail accounts, BitString uses images for the content of messages.

Since the reader has to load the image (which is stored on the BitString server) to view the message, if the sender wants to take it back, all they have to do is ask BitString to delete the image. As long as the image is destroyed before the reciever opens the e-mail, they can be assured that it's never been read.

Also, since BitString can track how many accesses are made for the image and what IP is requesting it, you can lock it to one individual either by specifying that after the first read of the image, it will be deleted. That will prevent forwarding of the message to your recipients friends.

That's pretty cool.

Verichip – The Human Tracking RFID People – A Summary

Verichip is the first major company to try to make a market out of implanting people with a hard to remove tracking device. They tout it as a "security" device in that it can be used for proximity detection in sensitive areas and can be used to link to medical information in an emergency where the patient can't speak for themselves (for a yearly fee of course).

Considering that the chips actaully weaken security, are hard to remove, and basically destroy all privacy you might have had, I find it hard to understand why people would consider this.

Anyway, there's a good summary of the Verichip company here.

Opt Out of Comcast Arbitration While You Can

While I usually throw out anything Comcast sends with the bill, this time I noticed an arbitration notice that says that you only have a little bit of time to opt out before you become bound to an arbitration agreement. What does that mean? It means that you're giving up your right to sue them for incompetence (which is a pretty big deal considering how incompetent they can be).

If you continue to use comcast service without opting out, you will automatically be bound by the new arbitration agreement. Fortunately, you can opt out very quickly by going to their website:

https://www.comcast.com/arbitrationoptout/default.ashx

Note that you must type your account number EXACTLY as shown on you bill (spaces and dashes included) or it will error with barely any indication of what went wrong (no error message).

This kind of agreement is completely one sided and circumvents the courts and our rights. Fortunately, Public Citizen is working on a bill to remove mandatory binding arbitration for good.

Update: 7/24/07

Here's an article from the Consumerist about how arbitrators can be influenced by credit card companies to rule against consumers.

Update: 7/26/07

And another showing that the top ten Arbitrators rule against the consumer 98.4% of the time. I wonder how they became the top ten? Hmm…

Update: 8/08/07

And the word is spreading. Public Citizen's blog says it seems to be a very fair provision. I still don't like having it rammed down my throat.

Hunting Down a Virus Writer – Fun For Everyone!

This guy took personal offense to a virus writer who's stupid prank messed up the computer of one of his friends. So he decided to hunt the virus writer down using only information he was able to find on the Internet with Google.

He goes through where he looked, what he found, and what it meant. Important lesson: This is how easy it is to profile you online.

(H/T to Slashdot for the link)

Hotmail Deletes Attachments to Save Bandwidth?

Very interesting:

It has long been suspected that there is a silent policy that makes Hotmail automatically delete the majority of attachments to save on bandwidth and internal disk space. Therefore it really doesn't matter if every client has access to 2GB of storage since they don't deliver the attachments to fill that space up anyway. If that truly is the case, then Microsoft may be liable for several hundred million cases of conspiracy and mail fraud

The real question is whether or not they'll actually get away with it if that's what they're doing.

(H/T to Slashdot for the link)

Bush is at it Again – Issues Order Allowing Asset Freeze With No Trial

Because of the new presidential order allowing for the freeze of assets of anyone that "interferes with Iraq policies", some people are getting nervous and even predicting a police state.

Most importantly, here's a bit of logic I didn't have the political black heart to think of myself:

Roberts said that because of Bush's unpopularity, the Republicans face a total wipeout in 2008, and this may be why "the Democrats have not brought a halt to Bush's follies or the war, because they expect his unpopular policies to provide them with a landslide victory in next year's election."

That would explain a lot. And this one too:

"Americans think their danger is terrorists," said Roberts. "They don't understand the terrorists cannot take away habeas corpus, the Bill of Rights, the Constitution. … The terrorists are not anything like the threat that we face to the Bill of Rights and the Constitution from our own government in the name of fighting terrorism. Americans just aren't able to perceive that."

Wow. This guy really says it straight. Remember kids, your real enemy isn't the faceless terrorist, it's the big eared guy in the big white house.

(H/T to Digg.com for the link)

UK Police Authorized to Tap Traffic Cameras at Will

In the UK, they're allowing the police to use the toll camera network to track vehicles. The cameras are used to enforce a toll and have software that analyzes license plates to match them with the car's owner.

But they will only be able to use the data for national security purposes and not to fight ordinary crime, the Home Office stressed.

Yeah right. Just like the FBI and national security letters.

(H/T to Slashdot for the link)

FBI Uses Virus to Nap Bomb-Threat Teen

This is actually pretty clever. This kid was making bomb threats to his school and was doing a pretty good job at hiding his tracks until the FBI got involved.

By sending a small program to his Myspace page, they somehow managed to infect his home PC with a monitoring program that collected evidence of his crime:

…if the Bureau could get the CIPAV installed on the user's machine, it would be able to collect the machine's IP address, MAC address, list of running programs, operating system, Internet browser used, language used, the registered computer name, the currently logged-in username, and more. All of this information would be relayed over the Internet back to an FBI computer in Virginia.

That sounds just like Windows Vista.

Microsoft to Browse Your Personal Files, Send You Spam

I've blogged about how Microsoft has a wealth of spyware on your computer (Vista) for "piracy" reasons, but this is altogether far more sinister.

Feel free to read the article itself, but this is bad, bad news. What they're going to do is scan the content of your files, e-mail, music, and system status alerts to profile you and target you with ads. Penny Arcade covered this concept in one of their comics titled "Advertising in the Future". That was last October.

(For non-gamers, the comic describes a situation where two guys are playing a game, but see different in-game advertising based on the contents of their Internet browser history).

Bush Beats Down Science – Silenced Surgeon General

This is hardly surprising, but it's nice to see more of this kind of story surface. Bush has been pressuring the surgeon general to not do his job.

Carmona, whose four-year term as surgeon general expired in 2006, told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform last week that he was constantly at odds with Bush administration political minders. They told him not to speak out on stem cell research, emergency contraception or sex education. They delayed release of a report on the dangers of secondhand smoke. They admonished him to mention the president frequently and favorably in public and not to address a group associated with the Special Olympics – a cause championed by the Kennedy family

That's no way to treat a professional whose main job is to help the president, the Congress and the American people make intelligent health decisions. But it's not surprising that in a nation polarized on so many fronts, a president is going to expect any appointee to sing from the administration-approved hymnal.

I can't stand this kind of politics.

How to Cancel Your Cell Contract Without a Fee

I think that many service contracts are bogus and designed to take unaware consumers to the cleaners. Fortunately, clever people have found loopholes that actually work against the companies who are themselves so fond of using legalities to their advantage. Whether true or not, someone also suggests that you can cancel the contract while keeping the service (in the comments).

If you want out of your contract, check out the articles on the Consumerist and see what you find.

Harry Potter Book Leaked Online

This isn't that surprising. Rather than type in every word, someone photographed every page which makes for a hard read, but it can be done.

I'm actually against this practice. I think that leaking TV shows, music, movies, and such before they're released hurts the authors far more than is tolerable. It also creates headaches for the people who want to wait and get the real experience (because more and more people start talking about it thus increasing your odds of having the story spoiled).

The reason I bring this up is that I don't want to give people the impression that I'm a copyright hater (due to my hate for the business practices of the RIAA and MPAA. Let's keep this in perspective shall we? What I'm against is DRM and abusive business practices (like the RIAA lawsuits).