Author Archives: Jeremy

Beware Google Browser’s License Agreement

As I suspected, a product from a company like Google shouldn't be trusted without scrutiny. They've developed a new open-source Internet browser to compete with Firefox and Internet Explorer, but if you read carefully, you might notice this:

You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. This license is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services.

11.2 You agree that this license includes a right for Google to make such Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals with whom Google has relationships for the provision of syndicated services, and to use such Content in connection with the provision of those services.

So anything you submit through the Google browser can be stored and used for either promotion purposes or for selling to 3rd parties. In other words, Google browser is nothing more than the most sophisticated data-rape device yet created (or spyware in other words).

Google may have the best search engine around, but their privacy policies are and have always been complete crap.

2008 Sept, 04 Update

Well that was fast. Google has updated it's EULA to remove any reference to them holding rights to what you own. It looks like they just cut-and-pasted their EULA from Google docs (which still has that problem). Now it reads like this:

11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights that you already hold in Content that you submit, post or display on or through the Services.

Surprisingly forward thinking.

One-sided Agreements Don’t Always Survive in Court

I really hate the kinds of things companies pull in their contracts and terms of service. Even more I hate when people say, "you signed it so quit complaining!" What they don't seem to understand is that even if the information is there, that doesn't mean that people can understand it or its implications.

Thus was the case in a Washington supreme court ruling that mightily smacked and slapped around the one-sided AT&T service agreement.

The court had the option of determining that some portions of the contract were legally valid and could be enforced. Instead, the ruling determined that unconscionable conditions pervaded the agreement, rendering it invalid in its entirety

Ha ha ha! Suck it AT&T!

Seriously though, it's nice to know that at last someone is standing up to these companies with their completely bogus one-sided agreements.

How to Fly If You’re On the “No Fly List”

Bruce Schneier explains how easy it is to get past security and fly on a plane even if you're on the supposed "no fly list"

Buy a ticket in some innocent person's name. At home, before your flight, check in online and print out your boarding pass. Then, save that web page as a PDF and use Adobe Acrobat to change the name on the boarding pass to your own. Print it again. At the airport, use the fake boarding pass and your valid ID to get through security. At the gate, use the real boarding pass in the fake name to board your flight.

His article on why the no-fly-list and photo ID checks are useless against terrorists here.

Stupid Virginia Slapped By Judge

Virginia apparently is a state made up of moronic legislators. When Betty Ostergren, otherwise known as the "Virginia Watchdog" and on of my personal heroes, started posting social security numbers and other private data about state senators, she turned a few heads.

She got the information from the state's own public records websites where the senators were quick to pull some strings to get their information off the sites, but Betty refused to pull it off hers until they fixed the system that left all the other less-connected people vulnerable.

Their response was to draft a law for her specifically (what an honor!) that would make it illegal to disseminate any public records that contained Social Security numbers. Facing tens of thousands of dollars in fines, she was fortunately rescued by the Virginia ACLU who filed a lawsuit on her behalf.

And the good news is that the right decision was reached and the state of Virginia was told to eat crow.

The saddest and sickest part of the whole situation is that they violently attacked the person who publicized what they were doing wrong while they made no effort to fix the wrong she exposed. Reminds me of certain other disgusting people

(H/T to Slashdot for the link)

Save on Textbooks

Funny that I was just talking about this with someone yesterday, but today there's an article on Lifehacker about saving money on textbooks. I have used their first suggestion, Bigwords.com many times myself though I've often found even better deals by simply looking for a previous edition book. For example, if your class is using the 5th edition, look for the 4th for big savings.

Anyway, if you or someone you know is looking for textbooks, perhaps you should give it a try.

Citibank Guilty of Theft Against its Customers

California, a historically consumer-friendly state, has recently won a settlement against Citibank for over 14 million dollars in theft from its customers. They apparently used a computer program to "sweep" up positive balances due to double paid bills or merchandise returns from customers' accounts into the Citibank's general fund.

So… What's in your wallet?

Advertisement Disguised as Traffic Ticket

Companies that are desperate to force you to look at their ads have been disguising them as traffic tickets which you'll surely not ignore. Even if the ad were fantastic, I think I'd throw it away as a matter of principle.

Note, this post begins a new category on my page dedicated to the low and dirty cheats among the market. It will serve as evidence for my continuing position that the market needs heavy and strict regulation to play fair.

Best Western Loses Full Details of All Customers From 2008 in Data Breach

Details of how to access the information – which included home addresses, place of employment and credit card details – were sold through an underground network operated by the Russian mafia.

And, again, if these companies would stop holding our credit card numbers far past the date that we used them, we wouldn't be having this problem. I hope Best Western gets slapped with a big lawsuit for this. Maybe then these companies will learn.

Update

Best Western is contradicting the story saying that it's exaggerated. More importantly this:

Most importantly, whereas the reporter asserted the recent compromise of data for past guests from as far back as 2007, Best Western purges all online reservations promptly upon guest departure.

If this is true, then Best Western deserves praise for getting it right, not this bad publicity. I'll wait to make my determination to see what happens next.

Dunkin Donuts to Use Face Scanners to Target You For Ads

The Wall Street Journal says that Dunkin' Donuts is experimenting with video screens that use facial recognition technology to figure out your age and gender. The screens then display ads targeted specifically to you.

The last thing we need is computers trying to figure out who and what we are so they can target ads to us.

Ads Scare Parents Into Tagging Kids With Tracking Devices

Privacy nuts like me have been warning people for years that tracking and tagging of all people will start with the kids. It's easy to teach people to accept personal tracking devices by giving it to them when they're young. But how do you do that? Even easier! Use parents' practically fanatical protective instinct to protect their kids against a largely imaginary threat.

Companies that use scare tactics, especially when inflaming peoples fears of extreme and rare issues, are complete and utter scum.

States Throw Out Worthless Diebold Voting Machines

It's actually very encouraging that the same states that were originally duped into buying these machines despite the vast mountain of evidence of their general worthlessness have become smart enough to remove them in time for the upcoming election.

And about this:

"I have a huge inventory of machines that I am not able to use," she complained. "They are just sitting in our warehouse basically useless." Stacked to floor to ceiling are 4,000 machines purchased at $3,500 each. Total cost of that system: $16 million.

How exactly does Diebold get away with selling defective merchandise to the government without being forced to issue a refund?

(H/T to Slashdot for the link)

Update

Today Ars Technica also covers the story and adds some interesting details. For example, it turns out that in one case a voting machine company offered to buy back their machines from the state for $1 each (their original price was $5000 each). At least the state was smart enough to decline).

CAPTCHAs Used to Restore Old Text

Not long ago, we learned that CAPTCHAs were being broken by people using pornography to motivate live humans to enter code after code. While very annoying, it was a very clever way of defeating the CAPTCHAs and made spammers day.

Now we see another brilliant use of CAPTCHAs in the restoration of old text too obscured for machines to read.

A team of computer scientists has taken a common Internet tool for screening out spam and adapted it to help convert text from old books and manuscripts into electronic files. The effort might not put professional transcribers out of business, but it could cut the cost of creating digital libraries

After a year of operation, reCAPTCHA has helped resolve about 440 million words for client users that are digitizing newspaper and document archives; von Ahn says his team just completed the entire 1908 archive from The New York Times, for example.

This is a very clever use of what would normally be wasted time similar to the idea of distributed computing as in the SETI@home project.

(H/T to Slashdot for the link)