October 24, 2005

(Satire) Expanding the "Google Print" Concept to Other Media

Greetings. My latest "Reality Reset" column takes a satirical look at a way for people to obtain vast amounts of free music and movies, by expanding the "Google Print for Libraries" concept to these other usually copyrighted media.

The column is titled:

"Free for All: The Google Excuse"


Posted by Lauren at 09:49 AM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
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October 20, 2005

FEMA Katrina E-Mail: "Brown's Dinner Comes First!" (Incredible!)

UPDATE (November 3, 2005): Even more amazing FEMA Katrina e-mails surface!

Greetings. Some FEMA e-mail from the Katrina period has been released. It has to be read to be believed.

Here's a major chunk. However, don't read it right now if you just ate:

- - -

_Bahamonde (Marty Bahamonde, regional FEMA director for New England) to Nicole Andrews, FEMA spokeswoman, Aug. 30, 7:02 a.m.

"What is happening with the US travel this morning. When is he [FEMA Director Brown] coming to New Orleans. The area around the Superdome is filling up with water, now waist deep. The US can land and do a presser but then have to leave, there will be no ground tour, only flyover," referring to planned visit by Brown.

_Bahamonde to FEMA Director Michael Brown, Aug. 31, 11:20 a.m.

"Sir, I know that you know the situation is past critical. Here some things you might not know.

Hotels are kicking people out, thousands gathering in the streets with no food or water. Hundreds still being rescued from homes.

The dying patients at the DMAT tent being medivac. Estimates are many will die within hours. Evacuation in process. Plans developing for dome evacuation but hotel situation adding to problem. We are out of food and running out of water at the dome, plans in works to address the critical need.

_Sharon Worthy, Brown's press secretary, to Cindy Taylor, FEMA deputy director of public affairs, and others, Aug. 31, 2 p.m.

"Also, it is very important that time is allowed for Mr. Brown to eat dinner. Gievn (sic) that Baton Rouge is back to normal, restaurants are getting busy. He needs much more that (sic) 20 or 30 minutes. We now have traffic to encounter to get to and from a location of his choise (sic), followed by wait service from the restaurant staff, eating, etc.

_Bahamonde to Taylor and Michael Widomski, public affairs, Aug. 31, 2:44 p.m.

"OH MY GOD!!!!!!!! No won't go any further, too easy of a target. Just tell her that I just ate an MRE and crapped in the hallway of the Superdome along with 30,000 other close friends so I understand her concern about busy restaurants. Maybe tonight I will have time to move my pebbles on the parking garage floor so they don't stab me in the back while I try to sleep.

_Bahamonde to Taylor, Sept. 3, 1:06 a.m.

"The leadership from top down in our agency is unprepared and out of touch. ... But while I am horrified at some of the cluelessness and self concern that persists, I try to focus on those that have put their lives on hold to help people that they have never met and never will. And while I sometimes think that I can't work in this arena, I can't get out of my head the visions of children and babies I saw sitting there, helpless, looking at me and hoping I could make a difference and so I will and you must to."

- - -

OK, you can vomit now.


Posted by Lauren at 11:29 AM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
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October 13, 2005

"Spontaneous" Teleconference Between Bush and Iraq Troops Actually Coached (Video)

Greetings. A publicity-related teleconference between President Bush and U.S. troops in Iraq this morning was billed as a "spontaneous" exchange. Unfortunately for the White House, an open satellite feed of the pre-teleconference discussions clearly showed the troops being coached by a Dept. of Defense official, who "drilled" them on questions and answers in advance.

Call it "coached" or call it "scripted" -- either way it was anything but spontaneous. Here's a brief video clip (Windows Media), which also includes a related question from the White House press after the event.


Posted by Lauren at 04:28 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
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October 04, 2005

Google, Privacy, and Masochism


Today Google and Sun Microsystems announced a joint venture, and while their grand plan seems somewhat murky at this point, there is speculation that their goal is to move toward "hosted" versions of applications (such as Sun's StarOffice) that would run largely on remote central servers instead of local users' PCs, theoretically allowing access from any Internet location. This would presumably present formidable competition to Microsoft's own software products.

Whether or not this is actually the Google/Sun target, it's worth taking a moment to review where we stand right now regarding Google in some important respects.

Google keeps records of your searches, and can tie them to other activities via cookies. Google scans the e-mail you send and receive through Gmail. Google collects a variety of information on your other browsing activities through various optional toolbars and services.

Google wants to make copies of copyrighted books without paying for them. Arguments about how they might make "snippets" of such materials available in Google Print aside, the internal R&D value alone of that collection to Google would presumably be immense, and all without sending a dime to the copyright holders.

When CNET ran a story using Google to research data on Google's chief exec, Google reacted like an enraged and petulant child.

Now, with the new Sun Micro deal, if hosted versions of word processing and related applications are developed and deployed by the joint Google and Sun team, Google could quite possibly be tied into your document editing and other Office-like activities if you use such services.

Google refuses to hire a privacy officer (after all, they're the "Trust us -- First do no evil" company, and they're smarter than everyone else about... well... everything, right?)

Google refuses to detail their data retention policies or the extent to which they make that growing corpus of data available to outside entities.

Of course, it's Sun's Scott McNealy who has famously said: "You have no privacy, get over it" and who suggested that consumer privacy is a "red herring" issue.

Let's face it, the writing isn't only on the wall, it's dripping off and collecting in putrid pools on the floor.

"Trust us" is not enough.

Why does Google so strenuously resist at least consulting with the privacy community? What have they got to lose if everything they're doing is on the up and up? (I'm certainly willing to assume that this is currently the case.) Why do they take such a masochistic approach when it might be possible with a relatively few changes to let in the fresh air?

Here's my free advice to Google. Pick up the phone and start talking to folks who quite possibly might have more experience dealing with these issues than you do, and might even be able to help you. I for one would be much happier if I could support Google's efforts rather than having to be concerned every time they announce a new project.

Hell, my number is listed below. I'd be glad to chat. But I won't be holding my breath waiting for their call.

Lauren Weinstein
Tel: +1 (818) 225-2800
Co-Founder, PFIR
- People For Internet Responsibility - http://www.pfir.org
Co-Founder, EEPI
- Electronic Entertainment
  Policy Initiative - http://www.eepi.org
Moderator, PRIVACY Forum - https://www.vortex.com
Member, ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy
Lauren's Blog: https://lauren.vortex.com

Posted by Lauren at 04:09 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

October 02, 2005

Why Telephone "Caller ID" is Actually Now Even Worse Than We Expected

Greetings. Recently, a former critic of telephone company "Caller ID Services" (more properly "Calling Number ID" - CNID) has publicly stated that he has changed his mind and now feels that our concerns (I'm a CNID critic of long standing myself) have turned out to be unjustified.

With all due respect, I must strongly disagree.

First, there's a logical flaw in the argument that simply because one doesn't perceive or experience the sorts of problems cited, that they don't exist -- or that they wouldn't exist even with less or no blocking of CNID. These are both incorrect. In fact, CNID has now become even more dangerous than we ever imagined.

Taking the latter point first, we have no way to know how many problems have been and continue to be avoided by the use of CNID blocking. Most people sensitive to these concerns have been using blocking all along, so by definition to the extent that they're not making non-blockable 800/900-type ANI calls they are relatively protected. Business collection of CNID info may have been somewhat suppressed by the heavy usage of blocking, but if there were less blocking there would almost certainly be more collection since it would become a more valuable resource.

And yet, most of the horror stories still do take place. You may not hear about them, but in my role as PRIVACY Forum moderator I frequently get reports that are utterly nightmarish. Spousal abuse facilitated by CNID, massive abuse by businesses that do collect the CNID data, and then use it as an excuse to claim exemptions from the "do not call" lists, and all manner of other problems, some of them life threatening, and particularly bad in regions that don't offer per-line blocking, where one can easily forget to dial the block code on an individual call.

But our crystal ball was foggy, in that we never predicted the new CNID scourge that has actually been putting even more lives at risk -- CNID Spoofing. This is becoming very widespread and is being used by crooks, scam artists, stalkers, collection agencies, pranksters, and so on -- and is a total mess. The telcos in general so far can't/won't do anything about this -- it may not be fixable in a practical sense -- and this spoofing is rapidly being commercialized, using PRI telephone trunks and VoIP interfaces. Both CNID number and name info can be easily spoofed in most cases via these systems. It's an enormous problem and getting rapidly worse, and is poised to blow up in a big way in the public sphere, and really give CNID yet another new and very serious black eye.

In a comment to a PRIVACY Forum message in 1993, I suggested that, "As a practical matter, 'spoofing' of caller ID (CNID) systems should not be a significant problem in modern, properly implemented systems."

The last three words in that quote are key. We did not anticipate that untrusted parties would gain routine access to such sensitive aspects of the telephone network in a manner that would allow such abuse.


Posted by Lauren at 04:03 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein