Category Archives: Your Rights

Deceptive Voting Practices – CFP 2008

I'm at the Computers Freedom and Privacy conference of 2008 and I'm currently sitting in an interesting panel about something I had no idea about. I assumed that deceptive voting practices meant e-voting, but what they're actually talking about is modern-day Jim Crow laws.

I suppose I should have known better, but I wasn't aware that there were still problems with disinformation encouraging people not to vote. Often the misinformation will come in e-mail or physical mail and will seem very authentic appearing to have come from some state agency or well-known organization. They will try to discourage you from voting by telling you:

  • that due to massive expected turnout, Republicans would vote on election day and Democrats the day after (thus eliminating Democratic votes from the election).
  • that if you have unpaid parking tickets or child support, you'll be arrested when you go to vote
  • that the polling location has changed
  • that any ex-cons can't vote (note that this may be true depending on the state you're in, but be sure to check before deciding not to vote)
  • that the voting registration deadline has long passed so there's no point in even trying now

There's more, but that's a start. If anyone tells you that you can't vote for some reason or that your polling location/date has changed, verify the information before acting on it!

New Games Require Internet Connection or You Can’t Play (PBBBBBLLTT!)

Some new game manufacturers are requiring that the game system you play with have an Internet connection so the game can authenticate itself every few days. Most people are pretty adverse to being treated like criminals just to play a game much like they'd resent a screeching corporate harpy who strikes their hands with a ruler every time they do something that the company deems "unworthy".

Well since the company can't afford to train and assign a corporate harpy to each and every player, they instead put restrictive software that calls home and says, "yup, this guy's still ok". Should the software not be able to call home, like a spy under strict orders to lie low, the game will refuse to operate until given an Internet connection by which to phone home to command.

The funny thing about this is that most of their market will happily and quickly buy their games, but when they put in the screws, those same customers will refuse. However, being avid gamers and fans, when presented with the ability and opportunity to download a cracked copy, they are much more likely to do so since they will still want to play the game.

SO… Adding restrictive software to prevent piracy actually causes piracy. Too bad they don't understand that.

A not-so-suprising reaction from the gaming community:

Penny Arcade Comic

A More Clever Way to Get Customer Satisfaction

Here's a new book on my list: "Unscrewed. The Consumer's Guide to Getting What You Paid For".

The Consumerist has a great interview with the author that describes some of the techniques in the book. Check this one out:

BURLEY: As you know, none of the techniques require anyone to scream or yell or spit at great distances. As a matter of fact, those are disqualifiers. There's an old-school belief, yes, walking into the middle of a showroom and screaming at the top of your voice, "They cheated me!" These days that will get you escorted out by the security guard. A lot of the techniques in the book put a twist on the old techniques of being a squeaky wheel. Such as writing a letter. Writing a letter to the president of the company these days is not going to get you anything. They've got legions of people and the president of the company is never going to see that letter. But I have a letter-writing technique that's called "Spokesperson For The Competition." You don't write a letter to the company that's causing you a problem, you write a letter to the president of the company that is their number one competitor, telling your true story and offering to become their number one spokesperson, and giving them permission to give a copy of your letter to every one of their sales people. Now before you send that letter to the competitor, you send a copy of that letter to the president of the corporation that's causing you a problem. And now they do the math. They say, ok, instead of losing just that one customer, our competitor is going to have evidence of just how poorly we treat our customers. And since we're in a highly competitive business, and we're trying to get those business accounts and fleet accounts or whatever, if every one of their sales people have evidence of how badly we treat our customers, how much business will we lose? You see what's happened there, it's the same technique, you're writing one letter, but you have somehow multiplied the effect, because you're not now one individual against the company that is causing you a problem. Using this technique of writing a letter to the competition, and offering to become a spokesperson for the competition, you've now multiplied your impact, your effect, a thousand fold? Ten-thousand fold? And suddenly, once again, it becomes more cost-effective for the company to take care of you than to ignore you.

That's quite brilliant actually. I should definitely get a copy and see what it's like.

Bittorrent For Legitimate Purposes

Lest one think of torrents and illegal downloads at the same time, it's worth reminding the public that torrents are just a file distribution system and one that has many legitimate uses. For example, one IT department used torrent technology to distribute a set of system patches and upgrades in just four hours. The same patch would have previously taken over 4 days!

Judge Strikes Killing Blow to RIAA?

A judge just ruled against the RIAA's theory of "making available". What this means is that the RIAA can't pursue a lawsuit solely on the fact that someone has a song available for download, but that someone actually downloaded it from them.

This one ruling could derail future (and past?) RIAA lawsuits and make filesharing a whole lot safer for the masses. Interestingly enough, the judge also helpfully offered the defendant a bunch of other possible defences that they could have used which the judge (presumably) would have ruled in their favor with.

How to Hack a Diebold Voting Machine – Picture

I found this picture on Digg.com that has an easy 5 step process to hacking the voting machines to do your bidding. Remember when you go to vote soon, to thank your state's voting commission if they are using these well known, hackable, substandard, and completely worthless machines. Better yet sue them for incompetence or corruption (or both).

Western Digital Puts Restrictions On Types of Files You Can Copy

From the, we're so stupid, we don't need competition to put us out of business, department comes a story of a new Western Digital Hard drive that has drm built in. It's an external hard drive which is advertised as making it easy to store and share your files, as long as those files aren't music or movies.

Don't buy these. If you did buy them, return them.

How to Record A Phone Call And Save Your Butt

I've been on the wrong end of legal action due to someone else's incompetence. Because I lived in a "one-party" state, I was able to legally record a call to an office WITHOUT TELLING THEM and use it in a phone hearing as evidence. Because of this, I was able to prove that I had been given the wrong instructions and it wasn't my fault, but theirs.

So there.

If you'd like this kind of satisfaction, you either have to tell them that you're recording the conversation (which will likely get you hung up on), or live in a state where it's legal to record any conversation that you're a part of (one-party state).

Here's the list on Consumerist.com

If you live in a two-party state, about the best you can do is record it and use it to refresh your memory or put together a convincing case of what was said. But you won't be able to use it as evidence and you might actually be breaking the law by recording it so beware.

Oh, and just because they say "This call may be monitored… blah blah blah" doesn't automatically give you permission to record it (though it should).

Comcast Actively Blocks High-Bandwidth Traffic

I already reported on Comcast blocking Peer-2-Peer filesharing traffic, but apparently they've extended the blocks to enterprise software (in this case, Lotus Notes).

When Lotus Notes users attempt to send e-mail with larger attachments over Comcast's network, Notes will drop its connection. Instead of a successfully sent e-mail, they're greeted with the error message, "Remote system no longer responding." Kanarski did some digging and has managed to verify that Comcast's reset packets are the culprit.

It should be noted that everything that has been reported as being blocked by Comcast are things that cause high traffic on Comcast's networks. Even though people pay for their high speed Internet, Comcast will be damned if they actually let you use it. I mean, I've never been dropped from Comcast service for using their Internet "too much" like some people, but I definitely can't get decent service to save my life.

For example, if I start one download at about 100kB/s, the rest of my Internet connection limps along like a two legged cat! So much for my 6 megabit connection speed.

Something is seriously wrong with Comcast and I hope some regulator comes down on them hard soon.

AT&T and Apple Intentionally Broke Unlocked Phones?

Not surprisingly, a class-action lawsuit has begun against Apple and AT&T becuase of their firmware update that some claim was intentionally designed to break any iPhone that someone had unlocked.

The real problem here is that people really like the iPhone. As soon as it came out, busy hackers got to work unlocking it so it could be used with another cell provider's service and have 3rd party programs installed on it. Apple and AT&T didn't like that and soon issued a new update to the phone which caused many of the ones that had been "hacked" to break. There are some who think it was done intentionally.

While I can certainly imagine it, you would think that they would have anticipated the legal and customer backlash. You would think… but companies have made these kinds of mistakes before.

Public Citizen Still Protecting Online Speech – Go Guys Go!

One of my heroes is Paul Levy who spoke at the 2006 Computers, Freedom, and Privacy Conference in DC. He works at public citizen and is one of their main guns when it comes to protecting people online. You see, companies have this bad habit of bullying people out of their domain names or first amendment rights. Public Citizen offers free legal services in defense of innocent people in the face of bad corporations everywhere.

Their latest: a situation where a company sent a cease and desist letter with an interesting twist. They claimed that the cease and desist letter was copyrighted and that posting it online would result in a lawsuit. This, of course, was to try and prevent someone from making the letter public in an effort to get public opinion on their side.

Well, Public Citizen has a copy of the letter and has posted it on their site along with their excellent response explaining why sending a letter like that is a waste of time.

Update 2007.10.12

They've already given in 🙂

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.