Category Archives: Privacy

Let’s wait until drones are completely out of control, and it’s too late to do anything

Why not? We did it with jetskis, cell phones, cell phone cameras, and quite a few other technological advancements.

Suppose a game-changing technology comes along. There are a couple of approaches we could take:

  1. Stop and consider the implications, and restrict at least the worst potential abuses. We’ll probably miss a few, but at least we won’t let people get comfortably entrenched in some of the bad behaviors. When the other bad behaviors become issues, we’ll restrict those. Orderly adjustment.
  2. Do absolutely nothing until they are ubiquitous and people are used to misusing them. Then, and only then, come in with draconian rules that are poorly thought out, unenforceable, and cause far more annoyance than if reasonable basic rules had been enacted at the start.

Guess which way we roll as a society?

This is foolishness. It is not an infringement of freedom to say “You cannot drive while using that device.” It is not an infringement of freedom to say “We are going to restrict some areas so you can’t ruin it for everyone with that goddamn noise.” It is not an infringement of freedom to say “You can’t use that to invade people’s privacy.” Unless, of course, your definition of ‘freedom’ includes freedom to put other lives at risk, screw up every decent lake for everyone else, and so on.

Drones are the Next Big Bungle.

We’ll find out when they start to endanger air traffic near airports.

We already found out how easily they can wind up in supposedly secure locations (White House lawn, for example).

We’ll find out as they become the police snooping tools of choice.

We’ll find out as they become neighbors’ snooping tools of choice.

We’ll find out as people start to take out .22s and shoot them down.

We’ll find out as citizens hover them over protests to capture police responses on film.

We’ll find out when some poor helicopter pilot, who was following things called rules, collides with one.

We’ll find out when a few other things happen, thanks to drones, that are sufficiently undesirable I’m not willing to mention them lest I give bad people ideas.

And by the time we step in to lock yet another barn door after another horse has already escaped over the hills, the impact will already be made.

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What we don’t do about phone scammers

Are you a bit amazed that we still deal with phone harassment roughly the same as we did at the advent of caller ID, with no advancements? (We got caller ID in the 1990s, around the time cell phones were still big enough to use as bludgeons.)

If you think about it, our telephone providers in all forms could easily enable us to block calls from any number we wished. Yet they do not; it is treated as almost a constitutional right for any jackass, scammer, charity or freak to bother us at any hour, unless it rises above the considerable threshold for the law to pretend to care. And the only solution our precious government could devise was a new government program called the ‘do not call’ list, which doesn’t work well even on domestic harassers, and has zero impact on foreign harassers. Easiest thing in the world: a law requiring telephone providers to permit a phone number’s owner to block calls from chosen numbers. Wasn’t even up for consideration.

This is a good example of why whether something is legal or illegal is never a factor in my judgment of its morality. It always amazes me when someone confuses the two, as if law were moral. Morality is about behavior; the options we select. Law is about control, and nothing else. Conflate the two, and you let a bunch of people so stupid and/or evil they will not give you a way to block a phone number dictate right and wrong to you.

The Great Facebook Garbage Patch

You might be aware that the Pacific Ocean contains a Sea of Garbage. No exaggeration (and it’s not the only one of its kind). While it’s nature is popularly misunderstood, the reality is disgusting enough: enough discarded plastic is floating in the North Pacific Gyre for the deteriorated particles to be an environmental problem at best, a disaster at worst. It doesn’t quite resemble the ‘many miles of floating used diapers’ vision many people have, but that actually might be less of a problem. One might gather up and dispose of used diapers, for example. Not so simple with deteriorated plastic particles.

I apply a related philosophy to my Facebook page ‘Likes.’

Why? Because one’s Likes feed the data hydra, which enables the following:

  • Serving suitable ads. I don’t like ads, and even though I block Facebook’s, that doesn’t mean I want to help them create a clear picture of my true preferences. And since we are the product, and we are not compensated nor cut into the profits, I see no reason to cooperate.
  • The collation of a dossier on me, which I expect either will be or is being sold to other people. There’s probably a clause deep in some TOS that says that I authorize that, but here’s a novel concept: I do not recognize those. I don’t care whether the law does or not. To me, anything buried in impossibly legalistic fine print designed to discourage me from reading it simply isn’t morally binding, just as I do not recognize as morally binding any form of coerced oath.

If I cannot prevent the dossier from compilation, I can ruin it by drowning it in trash. Thus, the Great Facebook Garbage Patch, containing at least a hundred spurious Likes for every valid Like. I Like flower shops in Indonesia, restaurants in Warsaw, bands in Chile. I Like a bizarre variety of movies. I Like numerous celebrities I’ve never heard of. I did this by feeding a random word to the search function, then Liking the first couple dozen pages that turned up. Over and over, once a week or so.

Does it bother me what people might think, surfing through my Likes and wondering what a strange creature I must be? No. I wouldn’t be sure what to make of anyone who based a judgment on that, if I was the type to care much about public opinion to begin with. Would it be great if they could be authentic, leading me to points of actual common interest? Sure, but it’s not worth knowing that I’m fleshing out the dossier in accurate manner.

What to mass Like today? Well, the Seagulls play the Broncos in a couple of hours. I think it’s time to bulk Like ‘seagull.’

Fun with collection agencies

This is a new one for me, because I’ve never had anyone need to sick the collection dogs on me in all my life. Either I’m not paying and someone can go to hell because I don’t rightly owe the money, or (99.9%) I’m paying promptly in full–or if I slip up, accepting responsibility and apologizing. (Well, why not, if it was my screwup?) So I do not know much about how it feels to have bill collectors call.

I do know that most of the people they’re after have probably defaulted on multiple debts. Sometimes it’s not their fault; our medical system is like a random fiscal meteorite shower, where a little bad luck can wreck your finances for life. But those who are said to owe, probably do owe, and I am sure that in a majority of cases they would just prefer not to pay that which they fairly owe. If the collecting were done by the party to whom the money was originally owed, I’d have more sympathy for the collecting side, but it’s their duty to get their facts right. Including the correct phone number.

As it is, a couple times a week, I get a robocall from a bill collection agency. Now, the first time, I could see that perhaps it was the former owner of the phone number. However, I don’t recognize the right to robocall anyone on such matters. Want to have a conversation? Call, introduce yourself by full name and organization, and tell me your business in a forthright manner. All civil. Mistaken identity? Glad to clarify. If they robocall me, they get nothing. Robocall me several times, and no matter what they do thereafter, they get nothing. I’m now collecting my own bill from them, and I feel free to determine that new debt is accrued each time they disturb me for any reason. I no longer wish to make nice. After all, I don’t have a problem. I don’t owe any past due bills. I don’t need to take ownership of their problem.

Got one today; saw the caller ID and got my game face on. These days, most companies have someone who speaks Spanish.

“Bonjour ?”

“Hello, may I speak to Mary Dublois?” (pronouncing it dew-BLOYZ)?

“Quoi ?”

“Do you speak English?

“Je ne comprends pas.” (I don’t understand.)

“What language is that?”

“Qui est a l’appareil ?” (Who’s calling?)

“Is that Spanish?”

“Je ne vous comprends pas.” (I don’t understand you.)

“We’ll have someone call back who speaks Spanish.”

“Merde alors.” (Break a leg–my sarcastic way of saying ‘knock yourself out.’ Though the literal meaning, ‘shit, then’ would also work.)

When they call back, I will answer. But not in Spanish or French:

“?שלום. מי שמטלפן” (Hello. Who’s calling?)

They really should not robocall me. And if the excuse were that this was the most practical model for their business, my response is that this is the most practical model for my own business, and that their problem is not my problem, and that I decline to own or accommodate their problems, especially in view of the lack of consideration they show for mine.

I wish more people would stop letting institutions make the rules. That is part of what we have come to as a society. Companies made rules, acted on them to our detriment, and we accepted ‘that’s just our policy’ as a valid excuse. Me, I think I have as much right to make policy for myself as they do for themselves.

And mine is rigorously enforced.

Blogging tip of the day

I’ve been getting a couple hundred spam comments a day. WP catches 99% of them, if not more, but I still have to dump the trash.

If you are getting tired of shoveling out your spam comments, take a moment to look through them and see what post or page the spammer replied to. Then change the URL (WP calls it the ‘permalink’), even by just a character. Bingo. Their old spammable post or page no longer exists.

The only drag is that this will also break any legit links that other sites have made to your page. At this point, it was worth it.

Why credit card fraudsters get to keep trying until they score

I have just experienced one of the bizarrest, stupidest situations I could imagine.

Yesterday, we got a phone call about our Bank of America Visa card. It was from their Fraud Department. Like anyone with more brain cells than his shoe size, I hung up and called the number on the card. Yep, the real deal: someone at a branch of a specified bank (let’s call it Union Bank) had tried to jack a four-figure cash advance from our card, something we’d only do in the gravest emergency. Props to the fraud trigger system. Fair is fair: they agreed to Fedex new cards to Deb and I, in separate states no less. At this point in the story, naturally, I’m delighted with their handling.

After I let Deb know, she suggested I find out where the transaction originated, and what would be done to prosecute it. I hadn’t thought about that, but she was dead right. Where it originated might give us a clue as to where/how the information was stolen. And if it had happened at a Union Bank branch, well, that was investigative gold. Banks video everything, from ATM stuff to standing in line trying not to get caught scratching one’s privates. If I knew where this bank branch was, I could contact the relevant law enforcement, assist them with any evidence I could provide, and maybe we’d snag the crooks doing this. Great idea, dear; I will do it.

I had no idea what I was in for.

I called the BOA Fraud Department again. The first time, I got someone with such a heavy accent it was problematic to communicate. I asked politely to speak to someone easier to understand and was sent to Silenceland; they hate that, but I’m not going to piddle around trying to decipher an extremely heavy accent. I called back, got someone a little more conversant in American English, and was put through to the next level. After they validated that I was the real me, it went something like this:

“Hi. Yesterday there was a fraudulent cash advance attempt on my account. You closed it and are sending me new cards, which I appreciate. The attempt came from a Union Bank. Could you tell me which branch, so I can notify the police?”

“We don’t have that information, sir. Since the transaction was refused, we did not save it.”

“What? Did you provide it to the police, so they can actually catch the goon?”

“No, sir. Since no fraud occurred, we did not.”

“How am I supposed to notify the correct police department if you throw away the evidence of the origin of the crime?”

“There wasn’t a crime, sir, only an attempt which was defeated.”

“Attempted crimes are also a crime. How will you ever stop the sources of crime if you don’t report them to the police?”

“That isn’t the same, sir.”

“Oh, yes, it is the same. If you swung a baseball bat at me, that’d be attempted assault, and the police would consider it an offense. One is not allowed to attempt felonies.”

“It’s our policy, sir. When the transaction is refused, we do not preserve the information. Only our law enforcement department could get it, and you have to be a police officer to contact them.”

“I assume I am not allowed to talk to your law enforcement department?”

“Correct.”

“So let me get this straight. The information is available to your law enforcement department. I can’t talk to them. And since I have no idea whose police have jurisdiction, and your company won’t tell me even though it could, it is impossible for me to initiate an investigation. And you do not see the Catch-22 in this, evidently.”

“That’s our policy, sir.”

“Your bank is the best thing that ever happened to thieves. No wonder so few of them are ever caught. You simply don’t care. Okay, I have all the information I need. Thank you for your hel–”

“Sir, we do care, we just don’t reta–”

“Ma’am, I am trying to get off the phone while I can still be polite. I realize you personally didn’t set this ridiculous policy. Far and away the wisest thing you can do right now is to let me end this call.”

“Knock yourself out, sir, have a nice day.”

===

I don’t fault her for repeating back a stupid policy, nor for being a bit of a wiseass at the end–I was getting pretty frustrated, although it’s not like I was abusive or anything. My issue, as should be clear, is with Bank of America’s Fraud Perpetuation department (as I now choose to call them). Here we are with a recorded environment as the evident point of origin of the felony attempt. The amount was the sort of amount that looks like it was chosen on purpose, to slip below a certain threshold of detection and notification. There’s a chance this was done by a professional criminal who gets information from garbage cans or is an insider at a business.

And you cannot get Bank of America to help the police chase them down, nor will Bank of America give you the information you need in order to do it yourself, unless you are a police officer. And, obviously, since BoA will not tell you the location of the crime attempt, you cannot know which police to notify. How many branches does Union Bank have? Hundreds, probably, in many states. Good luck.

Thus, credit card crooks keep on crookin’, thanks to the benign neglect of Bank of America’s Fraud Perpetuation department. And they evidently know it. Evidently there’s little risk at all. This system practically invites fraud.

I’m so glad we are firing these people as our checking bank. The only reason we keep this card is for the Alaska Air miles, for Deb to take trips now and then to visit family. And I’m not sure it wouldn’t be better just to buy the plane tickets ourselves.

Outing predatory law enforcement in Washington

(Washington, the state. Obviously. Is there another place named Washington that comes to mind when one says the word? If so, I’m not aware of it. I refuse to say ‘Washington state.’ Let other Washingtons, if any exist, add qualifiers.)

This is my farewell gift to the people of the beautiful, diverse state in which I spent thirty-nine years. I plan to update it as I learn more, so if you have experiences to share, please comment.

While it’s no secret that plenty of American small towns depend for a percentage of their revenue on police issuing ridiculous traffic tickets to tourists, Washington seems to be one of the worst in this regard. The Speed Trap Exchange is a great idea, but poorly maintained and organized. Really too bad.

My definition of a ridiculous traffic ticket is one issued for a paltry (<3 mph) violation of a stupidly low speed limit, or for deceptive signage that tends to assure that otherwise safe and careful drivers stand a fair chance to speed by innocent error. Being stopped for 10 mph over the limit on the freeway is not predatory or ridiculous: accept your ticket and pay your fine. Same for failing to heed a school zone, unless they have conveniently concealed the sign.

Town/city (County):

Bingen/White Salmon (Klickitat): quaint sailboarding heaven with a long reputation for persnickety and predatory ticketing.

Black Diamond (King): a fast-growing former rurality with great views of Mt. Rainier–and police who live to issue tickets for going 2 mph over the limit.

Brier (Snohomish): a tiny suburb of Lynnwood/Edmonds with about three police officers and no noteworthy crime. Favorite sport: radaring people on the way down a steep hill for a few mph over the limit.

Cle Elum (Kittitas): a freeway commercial loop town in a gorgeous setting–until you get ticketed for going 1 mph over the limit.

Clyde Hill (King): a wealthy western suburb of Bellevue near the SR 520 bridge with a very long reputation for eagerness to ticket. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that your Camry was likelier to be ticketed than your Mercedes, but I’m thinking it.

Colfax (Whitman): a wheat town at a major crossroads leading to WSU. An otherwise inoffensive place with a plodding speed limit for which you can expect a ticket for even 1-2 mph over the limit. Infamous as Washington’s worst predatory speed trap town. The very worst, most obvious, most blatant, most unapologetic. If you speed through Colfax, either you hail from afar and know no better, or you don’t mind tickets. It is so notorious that TV commentators joke about it on the air during Coug football games.

Naselle (Pacific): part of the whole Pacific County ticket-crazy zone. They won’t bother to ticket the massive RV slowing everyone down in violation of the law, but if you’re doing 58 in a 55, expect to be stopped–State Patrol and county deputies both have this place on lockdown.

Oak Harbor (Island): the primary town of Whidbey Island, but a combination of frequent speed limit changes and reputed different treatment for local addresses vs. tourists make all of Whidbey a ticket minefield. Side note: I once got to be part of completely legal high-speed chases against the Oak Harbor Police in one of the greatest ROTC field training exercises ever (one you couldn’t even consider doing today). They were really annoyed when we won the engagement and the E&E. Helps to be advised by Special Forces, nearly all with Vietnam combat patches.

Raymond (Pacific): Nirvana played their first gig here, and probably got a ticket for playing 2 mph over the limit. One of those towns where it looks like you’re out of town and on the highway again, but until you see a new speed limit sign, you aren’t. Police have nothing better to do than cite Seattleites headed toward Long Beach.

South Bend (Pacific): another joyous center of Pacific County’s predatory enforcement. Watch for signs like a hawk. If you have Oregon tags, or worse, California, you’re even more screwed.

West Richland (Benton): a sprawling suburb of Tri-Cities, and home to its most predatory law enforcement. Speed limits make little sense, unless the purpose is to enable officers to ticket you because, feeling bad about the locals stacked up behind you who are outraged at your respect for their city’s law, you foolishly yielded to their tailgating and decided to speed. Just pull off and let them by, especially if there are five or more–that law will be enforced for the first time on the very day you violate it.

Thank you, Washington, for thirty-nine years. When I first came, you treated me so abominably I believed I would hate you for all my days, and leave you the instant life drew me away, swearing never to return in peace.

Luckily, it got better. Your natives included my best man, some of the finest friends I’ve ever known, people who gave me opportunities and lessons, neighbors most people would ford a river of steaming sewage to have. In the end, on balance, the good far outweighed the horrors, no matter how early and harmful those were.

On balance, in years between the second Nixon and second Obama administrations, you wrought me more weal than woe. I will miss your emerald flag, your silhouette state highway signs, and your delicate curves. I was never a Washingtonian, but I hope what I gave back to you over two generations showed you my full gratitude.

I’ll visit.