Tag Archives: Florida

Google Isn’t Evil, It’s Just Misunderstanding Me

Is Google evil? This video makes a convincing case. But I say: Not as much as it used to be, if my extensive research is anything to go by.

In 2004 a friend of mine stopped using Google Mail (Gmail) when she emailed a friend about getting over her ex and how her kid still talked about him, and the accompanying ads went like this:

Get Your Ex Back
Get a powerful plan for restoring your relationship with your ex. $24
www.exback.com

I Used to Miss Him
But My Aim is Improving: Not Your Ordinary Breakup Survival Guide
www.improveyouraim.com

How Can I Help My Child Deal With a Breakup?
Recovering from a breakup is not easy. If your child has gone …
www.kidshealth.org

Things nowadays are not so creepy. I wrote to my Gmail account “I think i’m over my boyfriend now that he’s my ex but my daughter still talks about him a lot. Should i be worried? “ and got these matches:

15.000 used machines
ex-stock. More than 85 dealers from Germany, Swiss, Austria
www.MachineStock.com

Stempel 24 uur bestellen?
on-line, met preview, op rekening, verzending dezelfde dag!
www.stempeltempel.com

Mom’s Lip Sore Cure
My daughter Discovered how to heal my Lip Sores. Report Here
www.coldsores.scienceofmagic.com

buzz off clothing
ex officio bugs won’t bite free shipping
bugsource.com

All very useful stuff, I think you’d agree. I’m not quite sure what kind of machines the first one is offering — a memory eraser? — but I do love the second one. StempelTempel. Sounds like a nightclub. While I’m very happy for the mother in ad three, I can’t quite see what word the advertisers must be trying to match. And why would someone coping with a breakup need  Insect Shield Repellent Apparel from BUZZ OFF™? To keep off unwanted advances?

Indeed, one might argue that Google’s contextual ads are not as helfpul as they used to be. I sent a few more emails going into a bit more detail about my problems:

Since my wife left me for our 15-year old pool boy I’ve become increasingly depressed. And my libido is shot to shreds. Sometimes I feel nausea, headaches, chest pains and even my little toe is feeling blue. What should I do?

and I got nothing. No ads at all. Is there nothing in there that might prod an advertiser into trying to sell me something? One on money problems (“Since I got fired from my job flipping burgers in Florida, I’ve become increasingly worried financially. I have an overdraft and credit card debts that are clogging up the sink. What should I do?”) brought up a rather predictable array of investing ads. This one proved a bit more enticing: “I’m thinking of becoming a burglar. What do I do exactly? How do I know what to look for when I case a joint? Insurance? Broken windows?  Vulnerable old people with heart problems?”

But once again the ads were more baffling than helpful:

Potty Training In 3 Days
Potty Training Secrets That Work Say Good Bye To Diapers Forever
ThePottyTrainer.com

5 Indigo Child Secrets
Learn the 5 Important Secrets Every Indigo Child’s Parents Should Know.
www.DaVinciMethod.com

Better Than Boot Camps
Wilderness Works. Get your teen on track for the next school year.
www.outbacktreatment.com

Devices to beat children
Petition against devices being sold in the U.S. to beat children.
www.stoptherod.net

Where did they get the idea I had teenage kids with potty problems whom I was beating with ‘devices’?  So I thought I should sound more positive, and see whether that served up better ads. I wrote “I’m looking for some serious loving, baby. I’m thinking of going out nights, having fun and looking for a suitable partner of the right gender persuasion. It’s time to start dating again. What should I do next?” and got this:

What Is The Secret
The Law of Attraction in Action What Is The Secret
www.superconsciousmind.com

V&O Metal Stamping Equip
OEM V&O Press Distributor of metal stamping equipment
www.ServotecUSA.com/

Travel Iguazu
Enjoy iguazu falls & national park 2, 3 and 4 nights packages trips
www.argentinaoutdoors.com

GoToAssist Free Trial
Exclusive Offer for Remedy Users! Try Citrix GoToAssist For 30 Days.
www.GoToAssist.com

While the first one could prove useful, the second sounds like more and heavier equipment than one would really need under the circumstances. Iguazu might be a bit far to go on my first big night out, although thanks for the tip. Given GoToAssist doesn’t explain itself very well, it could be more or less anything in this context; what kind of assistance are they offering? And what, under the circumstances, is a remedy user? (Somewhat anticlimactically, GoToAssist is software to remotely assist someone with their computer, which has a few romantic possibilites, I suppose.

I think we should stop being worred about Google knowing too much about us, and worrying that they don’t enough. In my case, they seem to have gotten the impression I’m some child hitting, coldsore ridden, machinery loving diaper wearer. Time to start sending myself some emails lauding my abilities, looks, experience and lack of facial blisters.

Thanks For Reading My Email for 13 Minutes In Wisconsin

Just when I started agonizing about the privacy aspects of MessageTag, a company has come along with a service that makes the mail-receipt monitoring service look like chicken-feed.

MessageTag allows users to see whether and when their emails have been read by recipients. It does this by inserting what privacy advocates called a web-bug into the email — a unique link, basically, that checks back to the MessageTag servers and matches it with the original email. The sender will then be notified as to when the email was opened.

I have to confess I find it an excellent service, and I use it, along with a message at the bottom of each email informing the recipient I’m doing it and offering not to if it offends them. Few ask me to remove them, an indication they either don’t object or they don’t read all the way through my emails. But despite finding it a huge timesaver — knowing whether an email’s landed safely, and whether to expect a reply any time soon makes life a lot easier — I still worry it’s too intrusive. Is it fair to make the process one the recipient must not first approve? MessageTag, to their credit, have acknowledged these concerns and have built in some safeguards, including limiting the service to individual emails. But is it enough?

As I was juggling all this, word comes by of a new service that can tell you not only if and when your email has been opened, but approximately where the reader is located and how long they read the email for. If they open it again, or forward the message, you’ll also be informed (it’s not clear whether the original sender is informed as to who the email is forwarded to). What’s more, DidTheyReadIt is invisible, meaning, in their own words, “every e-mail that you send is invisibly tracked so that the recipients will never know you’re using didtheyreadit”.

Privacy aside, for the moment, you can imagine the social fallout from this. “Jean only read my email for two minutes, and she read it in Utah when she said she was in Seattle. The cheatin’, lyin’ skunk!” Or “Brian has read my email 14 times and he still hasn’t replied! Is he trying to break up with me?” Or “That love note I sent Sandra in personnel has been forwarded to 64 people! I’m the laughing stock of the office!” (OK, there are probably easier ways to find out if you’re the laughing stock of the office. But you get the idea.)

The company behind the service is a Florida-based company called Rampell Software, whose other products include keyboard loggers such as Spector, ”the most advanced computer monitoring application” for Macs (“Spector locally (and secretly) records everything you do on your computer”). Then there’s ViewRemote (“record everything that happens on your computer and watch it from any other computer in the world!”). Clearly Rampell has some experience in the field of stealth software. I can see warning flags being raised all over the place already, and the company’s privacy policy, as it stands, is not comprehensive or specific enough to be reassuring. Perhaps it will be before the official launch.

DidTheyReadIt works slightly differently to MessageTag. Once you’ve signed up and installed the software, you add an extra didtheyreadit.com to any email you send out that you want to track. So joe@sixpack.com becomes joe@sixpack.com.didtheyreadit.com. There’s not enough information on the website to say more than that. Indeed, there’s a lot that’s not on the website, and which I think we need to know before assessing DidTheyReadIt. Such as:

  • How can the user alert recipients to the fact he’s using the service and what it entails?
  • How will the email addresses harvested by Rampell be used?
  • Why is the service invisible by default?
  • How will Rampell prevent this service being used by spammers and other mass-mail marketers?

The service will be officially launched later this month. The basic version of DidTheyReadIt is free, but is limited to 5 messages. Subscriptions cost $10 a month, $40 a half-year or $50 for the whole year.

I’d be interested in hearing from folk (lwire at jeremywagstaff.com) about whether they think there’s a line here that could allow services like MessageTag to thrive without sacrificing privacy — such as allowing users to choose whether they acknowledge receiving an email, without requiring much effort on their part, perhaps– or whether DidTheyReadIt just throws into sharp relief that this sort of thing is unacceptable to most folk and should be stopped. I’ll also forward this to Rampell to see if they have any comments.

Spam As Revenge?

Is spam being used as a business weapon to damage a competitor’s reputation? Florida-based North American Liability Group, an insurance company, said yesterday it had “become aware that an unauthorized spam email was sent out about the Company by an unknown third party”. A press release issued by the company said it “has discovered that someone who identified himself or itself as “RB” sent a spam email which contained information which did not come from the Company, was never approved by the Company and in fact, contained inaccurate information about the Company.” It seems the company has no idea who RB is (and the company doesn’t say what the spam contained: Either way, given public impatience with spam, it’s not likely to enhance the company’s image.)

What benefit could RB possibly derive from such spam, unless it was to discredit the honest folks at North American? A disgruntled employee? A rival? Certainly spam is a potent way to damage reputations: I recall a year or so back trying to find out who sent out spam in the name of TemplateStyles.com. The company itself denied all knowledge, but some angry respondents were suspicious, pointing to the lack of proper information about the company on its website. A year on it seems the site is now up for sale, so either the doubters were right or the spam killed off the company’s chances. Either way it brought home how easy it would be to dent a reputation by sending out spam in someone’s name.

Then there’s the Spam Slur: A few days back I started receiving an email alleging that some German individual “is a knave” who apparently does not deliver goods he has contracted to deliver. (I’m afraid I foolishly deleted several copies of the email, which was clearly sent out in spam-like quantities.) No one can trace the source of the slur, but the target is bound to have felt some pain at being labeled a knave. I haven’t been called that since school.

News: Man Beats Donkey

 From the It Was a Silly Game But I Loved It Too Dept, Associated Press reports that a guy called Steve Wiebe has become the first player to get a million points on Donkey Kong Junior, the sequel to the original game.
 
 
Last week, the 32 year-old broke an 879,200-point record set last year by a New York man, which edged past one set nearly 20 years ago by Billy Mitchell, a Florida man generally consider the Don of the Arcade Game. The record was big enough news to video-game enthusiasts that they crashed the organization’s Web site, said Robert Mruczek, chief referee at Twin Galaxies.
 
And this is what I didn’t know: Donkey Kong means ‘stubborn monkey’ in Japanese according to Nintendo, who make the thing.
 

Loose Wire: The State We

Loose Wire: The State We Could Be in

By Jeremy Wagstaff
from the 28 March 2002 edition of the Far Eastern Economic Review, (c) 2003, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

Voting in your underwear? Sounds an appealing proposition: the chance to exercise your constitutionally protected right without actually having to leave your home. You could be watching Frasier while working out which candidate you want to mess things up for you for the next three/four/25 years, based on criteria such as which one most closely resembles a Teletubby/Frasier’s brother Niles/your Aunt Maudlin.

Yes, the lure of Internet voting is coming around again. In May, soccer enthusiasts will be able to vote for their favourite players in the World Cup via a joint South Korean and Japanese project (mvp.worldcup2002.or.kr; the site is not fully functioning yet). This is just an on-line poll, of course, and doesn’t add much to the mix except to try to introduce a new social group (soccer fans) to the concept of on-line voting. Elsewhere, however, on-line voting is already kicking in: Some towns in Britain are undertaking pilot projects allowing voters to choose their local councillors via the Internet, or even via SMS, in borough elections in May.

I don’t want to be a killjoy, but this kind of thing gives me the heebie-jeebies. The arguments in favour of on-line voting make sense — faster counting, less human error, attracting younger, hipper voters with handphones and Internet connections in their hatbands, higher turnouts, you can vote in your underpants, etc., etc. — until you actually think about it. Computers, we’ve learned since we plugged one PC into another, are notoriously insecure. Viruses are now so sophisticated and prevalent that many security consultants advise their clients to update their anti-virus software every day. What are the chances of a voting system not being a juicy target for people writing these nasty little vermin programs?

Another argument wheeled out in favour of Internet voting is this: The Web is now managing billions of dollars of transactions successfully, so why can’t it handle voting? There’s a simple answer to this, as security consultant Bruce Schneier of Counterpane Internet Security (www.counterpane.com) explains: The whole point of voting is that it’s supposed to be anonymous, whereas any financial transaction has attached to it details of payee, recipient and other important data. This makes it much, much harder to protect any voting system from fraud, much harder to detect any fraud and much harder to identify the guy conducting the fraud. What’s more, if there was evidence of fraud, what exactly do you do in an on-line vote? Revote? Reconduct part of the vote? Chances are that faith in the overall ballot has been seriously, if not fatally, undermined.

Some of these problems could be done away with via ATM-style machines that print out a record of the vote. That could then be used in any recount. But it’s still not enough: As on-line voting expert Rebecca Mercuri points out, there is no fully electronic system that can allow the voter to verify that the ballot cast exactly matches the vote he just made. Some nasty person could write code that makes the vote on the screen of a computer or ATM-machine printout different from that recorded. This may all sound slightly wacky to people living in fully functioning democracies. But (political point coming up, cover your eyes if you prefer) democracies can be bent to politicians’ wills, and one country’s voting system may be more robust than another’s.

Scary stuff. Florida may seem a long way away now, but the lesson from that particular episode must be that any kind of voting system that isn’t simple and confidence-inspiring gives everyone stomach ulcers. The charming notion that the more automation you allow into a system, the more error-free and tamper-proof it becomes, is deeply misguided. The more electronics and automation you allow into the system, the less of a role election monitors can play.

Internet voting, or something like it, may well be the future. I’d like to see it wheeled out for less mission-critical issues, like polling for whether to introduce traffic-calming measures in the town centre, or compulsory kneecapping for spitters, say. But so long as computers remain fragile, untamed beasts that we don’t quite understand, I’d counsel against subjecting democracy to their whim. Even if I am in my underpants.