Friday, December 28, 2018

Privacy Invasion as a Business Plan

The rise of the internet has resulted in many companies building business plans on invading the privacy of their users and selling the data to those wishing to track those users. For many companies this model of behavior has always been obvious. I never created an account on Facebook because of how strongly focused they have always been on invading privacy and selling that data. The distain for Facebook finally became more than a side note in 2018 (though there has long been some push back against them). Though still most people continue to use Facebook even as the extent of their bad behavior has come to light.

Certainly other companies (Google etc.) also practice gathering and aggregating information about individuals in order to profit. I have used Google from the beginning though I have reduced such use in the last few years (still using them quite a bit). Duck Duck Go has long been my primary search engine though I do also use Google. I added Fastmail years ago, but still use some gmail accounts.

The integration of online tracking and offline tracking (via credit agencies, credit card companies etc.) has greatly increased over the last 5 years with Google planning a central role (along with, of course Facebook and many others).

One of the worst behaviors by internet companies is to collect phone numbers in order to facilitate selling and integration of private information while pretending it is somehow a security issue. Though security experts all say using phone numbers for security adds security risks instead of using much more secure methods such as a security key. Companies that use deceptive security methods to collect phone numbers in order to sell the private information of their users make it very hard to trust what else they are doing.

Twitter has long claimed a security reason to collect phone numbers [update in 2020 - Twitter faces $250 million fine from the US FCC for these practices abusing the private information of users]. Now they have locked one of my Twitter accounts (because I sent a string of 5 reply comments) and refused to allow me to regain access without adding a tracking phone number (I had no phone number before). For this reason I won't be using Twitter any longer.

This experience once again shows the risks of promoting connections via a system that can lock you out when they chose. It is much safer to use systems like (blog, where you own the domain, email... that are within your control). Of course nothing is 100%, email can blocked (people that try to run private email servers find they are challenged by systems setup to distrust such email). But investing time in building communities (say on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter...) is risky. At any time they can change the rules and harm what you have built.

I suggest avoiding investing in Facebook, Twitter, etc.. To some extent it may make sense to invest some time in such communities but I suggest focusing most effort on things that are not built on the model of invading users privacy and selling that data to others.

One of the many things Apple is doing well is positioning themselves to protect user's privacy. With so many other businesses built on invading that privacy it provides Apple both a real opportunity to help and also a marketing advantage. Other organizations and tools are also filling a need to protect people from spying and malware (some of which is getting hard to distinguish from business practices of large privacy invading companies) such as EFF's Privacy Badger, ublock origin and Ghostery.

It is extremely difficult for individuals to protect their private information. It is essentially impossible. When companies built to sell that private information and create business processes to ease their business practices they often create a situation where their actions have resulted in false information created that somehow becomes the individual user's responsibility to fix (so when those privacy selling companies allow a person's data to be mis-used it is then called "identity theft" though it is not, it is companies misusing information and then putting on the individual the burden of fixing the errors). Europe has much better privacy rights than the USA does. But much more and better efforts are needed from governments to protect citizens from having their lives thrown into turmoil by the abuse and misuse of their private information.

Related: Governments Shouldn't Prevent Citizens from Having Secure Software Solutions - Businesses Misusing Required Private Information - Living Through Your Society Becoming a Police State - I Can Spy on You, But You Can't Spy on Me - Freedom Increasingly at Risk

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Stamping Out Curiosity

Thoughts on LinkedIn conversation about curiosity it lean (LinkedIn's extremely poor Ux practices means I can't link to a web page of the discussion).

The strong sense of curiosity is in America but crushed out by bad management.
Allen Scott

And crushed by poor education systems and even just peer pressure. I have written about encouraging curiosity in kids (and adults).

I do agree bad management reinforces the anti-curiosity culture but it goes far beyond bad management - even the anti-fact or anti-critical-thinking aspect so prevalent in media and politics is a system designed to quell thoughtful questioning of existing systems, policies, results, affects... I think the decreasing of curiosity is likely strongly influenced by psychology, aging and coping as an adult (coping becoming the focus instead of curiosity and joy). And then we have several powerful aspects of our culture that discourage cultivating curiosity.

I wrote earlier this year that Critical Thinking is Needed to Counter Propaganda. It seems very obvious to me there has been a decades long concerted effort to decrease critical thinking, discourage curiosity and create a large group of people that will follow what they are told (Fox "News" etcetera). That makes things easy if you control what those people are told, but it also makes those uncritical and incurious followers susceptible to anyone that can create propaganda that appeals to them.

Related: Curious, Joyful, Happy Kids Grow Up: Unfortunately - Sarah, aged 3, Learns About Soap - Experience Teaches Nothing Without Theory

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Surviving Modern Conveniences

Today my car wouldn't start. I guessed the battery died.

I try to use Lyft. Their app says it is a bad connection and so it won't work (using iPhone on Sprint in Charlotte, NC - the 17th largest city in the USA). Sad but ok, whatever, deal with it. Ok try my iPad mini with ATT. Lyft connects and doesn't let me use it requires putting in a phone number before it will do anything so that I can get pin and give it to them. Ok, give them the number. Nothing ever comes from them.

Ok try Uber on iPhone. Uber asked for permission to spy all the time (not just when you are using Uber. Decline that intrusion. Now it can't find my current location. So I type it in. It finds it. Uber says it isn't available where I am and only offers their "luxury" options.

Now I could go directly to work but I have a mover scheduled to unload my large moving items at my new house this afternoon. And my dead car is blocking the garage (and there is a fairly steep hill up to the house) so backing the truck to the garage seems like a much better option so I want to move my car out of the way before they arrive (it is parked front in so jump starting it would be very hard I figure).

I select the closest Walmart (that I went to the night before 3 miles away or so). Driver shows up in the most beat up car I have ever been picked up with by Uber or Lyft (including traveling around SE Asia (where actually they were always very new and clean). This is Uber's luxury option remember. They then drive me to some other Walmart at least twice as far away.

I get a trickle charger (to charge my car battery) at Walmart and am back on my way. I use my iPhone to request Lyft and they show up. The signal strength is actually good. Now I am late to my 3rd day onsite at a new long term client. So I ask the driver to wait and let me take 5 minutes to setup the trickle charger and then he can take me to work. He asks me to add the new leg to the Lyft app. I tell him it might not work since my Sprint signal is so bad usually and I try and it fails. He says he will wait but you can tell he isn't thrilled with it. I guess that Lyft has a bad process to deal with situations like mine (or maybe he just wasn't certain how it would work).

I try calling someone at work using my iPad mini (while the ATT signal is bad, Sprint is much worse) and it connects but constantly breaks up.

But he says he will wait. I hurry up and set things up and am going out the door in maybe 3 minutes and I see him driving away. I try Lyft again and it fails again (on both phones just like earlier).

Then I try Uber and decide to give them my address again and they come pick me up. I type in the wrong address (a leading 4 instead of a leading 1, sigh). It doesn't seem we are going the right way, I figure that out and ask what address we are going to... I am amazing able to update the address in the Uber app (the connection barely works). The driver and car were nice for this trip.

Now I am late to work but am able to put in a partial days work then have to leave to meet the mover. My workplace is one of these huge building with big delays for visitors checking in... I have no idea how you can get Uber or a taxi or anything or any idea who you can ask (those I did ask have no idea either). So I decide to walk out (the equivalent of a few blocks to a sensible public street. I actually have 4 bars on 3G on Sprint (the iPhone) which is the best I have seen yet in Charlotte. I try to use the iPhone Lyft app. Won't connect due to bad connectivity. Seems much more likely it is some caching bug but whatever it doesn't work. And of course the other Lyft app (on the other device) won't let me use it (due to it not sending my pin number). So I open up Uber on my iPhone (which as with other other times today Lyft said it couldn't work due to bad connectivity the Uber app on the same phone worked fine. But now the wonderful Uber app (that I didn't allow to continuously spy) has decided that the only place I can be picked up is my house that I entered the first time. They won't let me change it.

So I have now use 3 of the 4 ride hailing options I have at hand. So I try my 4th and final option, the Uber app with full spying privileges and thankfully it works. And the can is new and clean and the driver is professional.

I get home go look at my car. The charger is off. I think wow that is pretty good I didn't think it would be finished. Put everything away and try to start the car and nothing. I put everything back the way it is and it all lights up like it is fine and charging and in about 15 seconds turns off. It must not like something, I try it a couple more times and finally reach a state where it won't turn off.

Of course when the mover arrives I the car won't start. Actually we tried to back it up the driveway some but it was too steep and couldn't make it anyway.

The modern convinces really did help in many ways (I am still hoping the trickle charger will help, though as I write this it is still questionable). The battery is about 10 months old. But while it is great to have cell phones and apps to help us when we are stuck it is very annoying to have such bad connectivity in the 19th largest city in the USA and such lame usability failure in the Uber and Lyft apps. And it is frustrating to have to deal with your own lameness that likely caused the battery to die (I left the lights on in the car - the garage had lights on so I didn't register the car lights were no going off...) and putting in the wrong address...

And this is one of what seem like several such episodes each day for the last few weeks. I agreed to move states within about 10 days to a full time job on site with a client. I didn't really have a desire to do so but I have worked for the company as an offsite consultant for years and understood the situation they were in where I really was the best option and it was fairly important. So far it has been a struggle. I hope soon I will have passed through this spate of frustrations. If I had this one episode happen some week it wouldn't bug me much. But day after day of multiple such things is wearing me down.

And since I have no decent internet connection I can't even Netflix and chill :-(

Friday, May 25, 2018

More Bad Ux by Google and the Value of RSS Feeds to Avoid Bad UX Practices

These are my slighted edited comments on the Vlogbrothers video by Hank Green on the very bad User Experience of YouTube Subscriptions that Google made even worse recently (I take it that is what happened, I avoid that by using RSS feeds to access the content I want to view).

Google has been really bad at UX (user experience) for a long time. I use RSS feeds to manage the content I want to enjoy and it works great (for blogs and You Tube and podcasts). Thankfully Google hasn't broken this yet (though given their track record in the last 10 years it would not surprise me if they do at some point).

Of course it will be easy for creators to generate their own RSS feed for their videos if Google does break it. I created several feeds on my personal site for (selected blog posts by John Hunter and a time travel feed for my blog posts*).

By the way Hank, it would be great if you would create RSS feeds that let me do things like subscribe to specific courses in crash course. Frankly, I have long thought it is pretty lame that this doesn't exist. This link to Crash Course literature videos for example should have an RSS feed of all the videos. Given Google's lame Ux it isn't so amazing that it is missing an RSS feed. But it is super easy to create a RSS feed from some [whatever your corporate overload name is - nerdfighters or ?] that let people easily have feeds that have good Ux and give them the granularity to pick what they want to add to an RSS reader.

As you mentioned in your video, while many users may have failed to take advantage of RSS readers, many power users have. So cater to them. Also encourage others to use this extremely useful tool which does many great things including shielding your from the extremely bad Ux practices of many of the huge internet giants.

* the Curious Cat time travel feed adds a new post each day using posts from my blogging history (which stretches back 14 years now).

Related: Curious Cat Travel YouTube channel - Filter Out Links to Lame Websites on Reddit - Getting Around Bad Web Page Layouts - Poor Web Site User Experience (Ux) for Investing Data

Friday, February 16, 2018

Critical Thinking is Needed to Counter Propaganda

As everyone expected the continuing investigation by the US Justice Department has further detailed the attempts by Russians to spread propaganda and influence the USA election. I find it amazing that the Trump Administration and many Republican representatives have continually attempted to discredit the attempts to investigate the actions taken by Russians to interfere in the USA election.

As with any attempts to manipulate people through propaganda, misinformation and distraction the solution is critical thinking and transparency.

The attempts by talking heads to turn the focus to the paper and pencil used (or the which particular websites were) to spread the misinformation and propaganda should be a transparent attempt to misdirect our next steps. What is needed is for this investigation to continue and expand. And I really don't understand how political leaders can be cooperating with attempts to block investigations into the attempts to subvert democracy by foreign actors.

Acting as though Facebook or Twitter are the focus is about as useful as saying text and spoken language are responsible. Sure there is some amount of looking at the lack of transparency of any speech (and who is hiding behind the lack of transparency). And to some extent that specific risk (people pretending to be something other than what they are) is an issue on various webs sites. But the issue isn't the website it is the lack of transparency and that lack of transparency is what needs to be addressed (whether it is on Twitter or using front interest groups to hide the identity of those special interests, or using advocacy groups to run ads on TV without disclosing clearly who is funding those organizations, etc.).

Photo of the White House in Washington, DC

There is a great deal of history of Russian money being used to finance Donald Trump's businesses. Donald Trump's refusal to provide transparency about that should have been enough to keep people from voting for him to be President but it was not. Given that history and the evidence that has been known to our political representatives for more than a year it is unconscionable that many of them have not demanded investigation into these very deep ties and the deep ties to others in the administration (such as Jared Kushner).

That Russians used propaganda and misinformation to attempt to get voters to vote for Trump is important. But the main thing that should have prevented those attempts is sensible critical thinking. The best defense against propaganda is critical thinking and transparency. If the population is trained and accepts being lead to conclusions with obvious propaganda it doesn't matter if you shut off one path for propaganda, others will emerge.

What you need to do is create an expectation of reasoned debate. Sadly the USA has done a very poor job of this. We have allowed politicians get away with obviously false claims. We have promoted not critical thinking but the unthinking following of propaganda.

Until we greatly increase the respect for critical thought and debate we are in trouble. It doesn't matter much what form those seeking to use propaganda use to manipulate people what matters is how susceptible a large number of people are to propaganda.

All talking heads that are interested in democracy and patriotism should be calling on the exploration and the making visible the ties between those with large financial ties to Russia and the attempts to block and weaken efforts to investigate the meddling in our election. My guess is we will instead see the continued attempts oto hindering investigations into making visible what should be made transparent.

On an somewhat related and important matter, for at least 10 years the extremely poor computer security of the voting process has been noted by computer experts and ignored by our governments (federal, state and local). It doesn't appear that direct hacking of votes took place in the last election. The continued failure to adopt secure voting methods is a disgrace. And it seems we may well continue to neglect this matter until an election is impacted with direct evidence of large scale abuse. This is obviously an extremely poor way to manage a process that is critical to a functioning democracy.

Related: Preaching False Ideas to Men Known to be Idiots - The USA Should be Ashamed of Who We have Elected - The People We Elect Recently Are Dramatically Falling Us - When You See the Problem as Capitalism Instead of Corruption You Seek to Solve the Wrong Problem - Money Is Corrupting Our Political Process