Tag Archives: lawyer

The Traffic Light Scam

image

If true, this is a scam that is going to fuel the conspiracy theories of every driver who feels they were fined unfairly for crossing a red light. Police in Italy have arrested the inventor of a smart traffic light system, and are investigating another 108 people, on suspicion of tampering with the software to speed up the transition from amber to to red, netting the local police and others in on the scam millions of dollars of extra fines.

The question is: Is this kind of thing limited only to Italy?

The Independent writes:

Stefano Arrighetti, 45, an engineering graduate from Genoa who created the “T-Redspeed” system, is under house arrest, and 108 other people are under investigation after it was alleged that his intelligent lights were programmed to turn from amber to red in half the regulation time. The technology, which was adopted all over Italy, employs three cameras designed to assess the three-dimensional placement of vehicles passing a red light and store their number plates on a connected computer system.

Those now under investigation include 63 municipal police commanders, 39 local government officials and the managers of seven private companies.

The fraud, The Independent says, was uncovered by Roberto Franzini, police chief of Lerici, on the Ligurian coast, who – in February 2007 – noticed the abnormal number of fines being issued for jumping red lights. “There were 1,439 for the previous two months,” he said. “It seemed too much: at the most our patrols catch 15 per day.” He went to check the lights and found that they were changing to red after three seconds instead of the five seconds that had been normal.

Unanswered, of course, is why it’s taken two years for the fraud to be stopped and investigated. The inventor’s lawyer has said he is innocent. Mr Arrighetti’s LinkedIn page is here. He is described as the owner of Kria, a Milan-based company which sells the T-Redspeed and other traffic monitoring systems.

image

Image of Arrighetti from Insight24 webcast

The T-Redspeed system is described in the company literature as “the newest and most innovative digital system for vehicle speed and red light violation detection. Based on special video cameras, it doesn’t require additional sensors (inductive loops, radars or lasers). It measures the speed of the vehicles (instantaneous and average) up to 300 km/h.”

Some forum posters have suggested a system used by British authorities, RedSpeed, is the same, but on first glance it doesn’t look like it. That said, reducing the amber phase seems to be a widespread source of extra revenue: The National Motorists Association of America has found six cities that have shortened the amber phase beyond the legal amount, apparently as a way to increase revenue.

Illustration from Kria brochure (PDF)

Thaksin Needs Your Help


For those of you who thought the former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra was living it up in Europe buying soccer teams, you’re wrong. He’s having serious financial problems and needs your help, according to this email I just received in his name:

Good day.

This may appear a bit surprising to you but very sensitive; as a matter of urgency, I am desperately looking for a foreign partner whom I can trust to handle some investment or fund movement under is control for security reasons. I am Mr. Thaksin Shinawatra, Former Thailand Prime Minister, I went on exile for some months over allege assassination of me and my family, and was charge for corruption and purchasing of Government lands. They also confiscate (froze) my 21 bank accounts, wealth and money I deposited with a bank firm in Thailand,

See the web link for more details:
http://www.voanews.com/burmese/2007-06-16-voa4.cfm

I have pleaded to be allowed to live freely, and with dignity, but Mr. Surayud has urge my assassination when returned to my own land for abusing the rule of law, been the current Prime Minister in power I have known objection than to remain on exile. While in exile, I have decided to move the fund I deposited with a security firm here in Europe for a reliable business purpose and also gain access to fully support the less privilege which the government of my country is against. I am calling your attention for partnerships deals towards assisting me invest this fund under your custody for security purpose till the accusation levy against me is cleared off.

All further communication of this transaction would be referred to my lawyer in your next mail to scrutinize the legitimacy of my partner (you), and also assign to you the legal protocol and modalities of this transaction.

Yours Sincerely,
Mr. Thaksin Shinawatra
thakshinw@tiscali.co.uk

Please see what you can do. Of course, there’s an off-chance this could be one of those scams, but I’ve read it carefully and checked the VOA link, and it rings true to me. Really.

Tags: , , , ,

The Privacy Myth

If there’s one myth that endures in this age of online participation, blogs, shared photo albums and Web 2.0, it’s that we’ve overcome our concerns about privacy. It sounds on the surface, logical: We must have gotten over this weird paranoia, or else why would we share so much online? Why would we bother about privacy issues when there’s no real evidence that people, companies, governments and the NSA are out to get us? This, for example, from Web 2.0 blog TechCrunch guest contributor Steve Poland:

I’m sure there’s data to back me up on this, but today compared to 10 years ago — people are way more comfortable with the Internet and have less privacy concerns. Or at least the younger generations that have grown up with the Internet aren’t as concerned with privacy — and spew what’s on their mind to the entire world via the web.

I can’t speak for the younger generation, having been kicked out of it some years ago. But if we’re talking more generally about folk who have embraced the Net in the past 10 years, I’d have to say I don’t think it’s that we don’t care about privacy. We just don’t understand it. In that sense nothing has changed. I think what is happening is the same as before: People don’t really understand the privacy issues of what they’re doing, because the technology, and its liberating sensuality, are moving faster than we can assimilate to our culture. This is not new: Technology has always outpaced our intellectual grasp. If you don’t believe me think radio, TV, cars and cellphones. We were lousy at predicting the impact of any of these technologies on our environment. Lousy.

Usually, it’s because we just don’t stop to think about the privacy implications, or we don’t stop to ask deeper questions about the sacrifices we may be making when we buy something, give information to a stranger, register for something, accept something, invite someone in to our digital lives, install software, sign up for a service, or simply accept an email or click on a link. The speed of communication – click here! register here! — makes all this easier. But I don’t really blame the reader. Often it’s us journalists who are to blame for not digging enough.

Take, for example, a new service called reQall from QTech Inc in India. On the surface, it sounds like a great service: phone in a message to yourself and it will appear in your email inbox transcribed with 100% accuracy. Great if you’re on the road, on the john or at a party and don’t want to start jabbing away or scrawling the note on the back of your spouse’s neck.

Rafe Needham of Webware initially enthuses about it on his blog. But then he later finds out that

Update: I’m told that ReQall’s speech-to-text engine isn’t wholly automated. “We use a combination of automated speech recognition technology and human transcription,” a company co-founder told me. Which means there may be someone listening to your notes and to-do items. Yikes!

Yikes indeed. Who would record a message knowing that a stranger is going to be transcribing it, and a company storing it on their servers? To be fair to Rafe he’s not the only one not to initially notice this privacy angle. And at least he bothers to write it up. Dean Takahashi didn’t mention it in his (admittedly) brief Mercury News piece, for example. The company’s press release makes no mention of it either, saying only that

reQall is patent-pending software technology that uses a combination of voice interface and speech-recognition technology to record, log and retrieve your tasks, meetings and voice notes.

(The same press release appears on Forbes’ own website, which I always think looks a bit odd, as if there’s no real difference between a story and a press release. But that’s another rant for another day.) That, frankly, would leave me thinking there was no human interaction either.

But then again, there are clues here and if we (by which I mean us hacks) were doing our job we should probably follow them. Any Google search for reqall and privacy throws up an interesting trail. A CNN report on memory quoted Sunil Vemuri talking about reQall but says issues about privacy and keeping such records free from subpoena have yet to be worked out. When a blogger called Nikhil Pahwa quoted CNN on ContentSutra someone from QTech wrote in:

Please note that there is an inaccuracy in the post. QTech is not “currently working on sorting out issues related to privacy laws, and how to prevent these recordings from being subpoenaed.” Can you correct this?

The text was duly crossed out, so now it reads:

According to the report, they’re currently working on sorting out issues related to privacy laws, and how to prevent these recordings from being subpoenaed are still to be worked out.

So we’re none the wiser. Are there issues? Are QTech working on those issues? Or are there issues that other people are working on, not QTech? Their website sheds little light. There’s nothing about human transcription on any of the pages I could find, nor in the site search. Their privacy policy (like all privacy policies) doesn’t really reassure us, but neither does it explicitly scare our pants off. A brief jaunt through it (I’m not a lawyer, although I sometimes wish I was, and I think John Travolta in “A Civil Action” makes a good one) raises these yellow flags:

  • QTech can use your location, contact details etc to “send you information related to your account or other QTech Service offerings and other promotional offerings.” I.e. the company knows where you are, your phone number and home address and could spam you.
  • QTech may “include relevant advertising and related links based on Your location, Your call history and other information related to Your use of the Services.” I.e. The company could send you stuff based on what information you’ve given in your messages, and any other information you carelessly handed over during the course of using the service.
  • QTech can use the content of your audio messages (and your contact information) for, among other things, “providing our products and services to other users, including the display of customized content and advertising,  auditing, research and analysis in order to maintain, protect and improve our services … [and] developing new services.” I.e. the company can mine the contents of your messages and other stuff and spam other customers. Somehow this seems more scary than actually spamming you.
  • QTech will hold onto those messages “for as long as it is necessary to perform the Services, carry out marketing activities or comply with applicable legislation.” I.e. don’t think your messages are going to be deleted just because you don’t need them anymore.

Privacy documents are written by lawyers, so they’re about as weaselly as they can be. And QTech’s is no different. But there is some cause for concern here, and we journalists should at least try to explore some of these issues. I looked for any acknowledgement that there’s a human involved in the transcription, and some reassurance that the content of those messages is not going to be mined for advertising purposes, and that it would be possible for customers to insist their messages are deleted. I couldn’t find anything, although to their credit QTech do say they won’t “sell, rent or otherwise share Your Contact Information or Audio Communications with any third parties except in the limited circumstance of when we are compelled to do so by a valid, binding court order or subpoena”. But if QTech are doing their own advertising then does that really make any difference?

I’m seeking comment from QTech on this and will update the post when I hear it. And this isn’t really about QTech; it’s about us — citizens, readers, bloggers, journalists — thinking a little harder about our privacy before we throw it away for a great sounding service. Do you want, for example, your personal memos (“Calling from the pub. God I really need a holiday. I think I’m cracking up”) mined for advertising (“Hi! Can I interest you in Caribbean cruise? I hear you’re cracking up!” “Hi, need psychological counselling? I’m told you do” “Hi! Need Viagra? I hear from that last message you left you probably do”)?

Blogs and Diaries from the War

I’ve been writing in my WSJ.com column recently about the loss of tangible history, where our move to digital artefacts — letters replaced by emails, snapshots by digital pictures, SMS messages by postcards — is depriving of us of things we can touch to reconnect us to the past. A wonderful piece by the NYT’s Seth Mydans in Vietnam touches on the theme, although that’s not his intention when writing about the massive popularity of a recently discovered wartime diary by female doctor Dang Thuy Tram, who was killed in 1970 at the age of 27 in an American assault after serving in a war zone clinic on the Ho Chi Minh trail for more than three years.

It made me realise a couple of things, as I consider the unmeasured, and perhaps immeasurable, impact of digitization on our lives: My columns were fired by a conversation with a friend who had recently discovered the long lost letters of her mother, who had died when my friend was very young. It was a great way to connect to a woman she didn’t really ever know. But I didn’t really consider diaries. Diaries are hot zones. They plug straight into the heart. Here’s Tram’s tale, as Seth interviews the American soldier who saved her diary, Fred Whitehurst, whose visits to Hanoi have drawn wide attention:

Speaking by telephone from North Carolina, Whitehurst, now a lawyer, said he had been a military interrogator whose job also included the sifting of captured documents and the destruction of those that were of no tactical value. He said he had come to feel that his discovery of the diary linked him and Tram in a shared destiny and he now calls her “my sister and my teacher.” “We were out there at the 55-gallon drum and burning documents,” he said, describing that moment, “when over my left shoulder Nguyen Trung Hieu said, ‘Don’t burn this one, Fred, it already has fire in it.'”

In the evenings that followed, Hieu, his translator, read passages to him from the small book with its brown cardboard covers and, Whitehurst said, “Human to human, I fell in love with her.” According to Tram’s account, two earlier volumes were lost in a raid by U.S. troops, which means the published diary begins as abruptly as it ends, in mid-conversation.

Last year, after keeping it for decades at home, Whitehurst donated the diary to the Vietnam Archives at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. Within weeks, Tram’s family was located in Hanoi and last October her mother and sisters were brought to Texas to receive the diary.

“It seemed that my own daughter was in front of me,” her mother said in an interview at her home. “For me the information in the diary is not the important thing. What is important is that when I have the diary in my hands I feel I am holding the soul of my daughter.”

She said she was able to read the diary only in small sections because of the power of the account. “She wrote us letters, but we never imagined that she was suffering those dangers,” Tram’s mother said.

Powerful stuff. I’m a sucker for a story like this, and of course the beleaguered Vietnamese Communist Party is milking this: A beautiful woman who is in love with the party as much as her missing boyfriend, sacrificing herself on the Ho Chi Minh trail? Never mind the self-doubt. Compared to today’s soft youth this woman was a rock.

What I find so powerful about this story is the pure chance that led to the diary’s rescue from the fire, and the long journey it took to get home. I love too the idea of the mother holding the diary in her hands, something tangible she can grasp instead of her daughter’s hands. I love the idea, too, that Tram wrote this for herself, to grapple with the demons and self-doubt within her. She had no audience in mind, no Comments page. She might be somewhere above us horribly embarrassed by the attention, of course, but our diary, and our letters, our writings, are our immortality. They are what will outlive us.

Blogs do this too. And they do a lot more: They connect us with the world, so we won’t be lonely, even if we’re in Dili in the middle of a firefight between rogue soldiers. But perhaps we need that loneliness sometimes, that feeling of writing for ourselves: writing as a form of exorcism and self-discovery. We don’t always need to be validated by others. Our existence is validated because we exist. I think I might be getting too existential here. I guess my point is that we shouldn’t kid ourselves that writing a diary and writing a blog are the same thing. By moving our lives online, in the tiny glare of the few folk who read our musings, are we losing the intensity and unselfconscious honesty for when we write only for ourselves?

 

Cellphone Bubbles And The Virtual Tribe

Looking for something else on the Net I stumbled upon this five-year-old piece from Jonathan Rowe in Washington Monthly, Reach Out And Annoy Someone. Some good stuff in there, but I particularly liked some stuff he wrote about Hong Kong, about the ‘lonely bubble’ of the cellphone user in public:

And what does that suggest about where this “communications revolution” is taking us? When I was in Hong Kong a year and a half ago, it was becoming a cell-phone hell. The official statistics said there was one phone for every two people, but it often felt like two for one. They were everywhere; the table scenes in the splendid food courts in the high rise malls were San Francisco to the second or third power. At a table with four people, two or three might be talking on the phone. You’d see a couple on a date, and one was talking on the phone.

In a way I could understand the fixation. Hong Kong is crowded almost beyond belief. It makes parts of Manhattan feel like Kansas, and I suspect that a cell phone offers an escape, a kind of crack in space. It is an entrance to a realm in which you are the center of attention, the star. Access becomes a status symbol in itself. A lawyer friend of mine there described the new ritual at the start of business meetings. Everyone puts their cell phone on the conference table, next to their legal pad, almost like a gun. My power call against yours, gweilo (Chinese for foreigner; literally “ghost”). The smallest ones are the most expensive, and therefore have the most status.

Some things are different now: the coolest cellphones are not small, they’re flat. And in a way not talking on the cellphone is cooler than talking on it. (Everyone now has a phone, so the actual talking-to-show-you-have-a-phone thing is superfluous. Silence is cool again.)

And the ‘cellphone bubble’ is not so much about status as about being part of a ‘virtual tribe’: Wherever you are, you have an ally you can count on to talk to, yanking you out of the fear of being alone, or of having to communicate to those around you, of having to participate.

It’s turned society on its head. No longer do we congregate to define ourselves. We do so via ‘virtual tribes’ that exist in a kind of telephonic continuum, via voice and SMS, as we wander around, largely isolated from the physical world around us.

Phishing Victim Fights Back

It had to happen some time. Phishing victims are fighting back — against their banks. A Miami Businessman is sueing Bank of America according to AccountingWEB.com and other sources:

 Joe Lopez, a Miami businessman who regularly conducts business over the Internet, is suing Bank of America for negligence and failure to provide protection for online banking risks of which he claims the bank was aware. Last April, Mr. Lopez’s computer system was hacked into and $90,348.65 was wired from his account at Bank of America to a bank in Riga, Latvia without his approval.

Ralph Patino, Mr. Lopez’s lawyer, claims Bank of America had knowledge of a virus called coreflood, a Trojan horse virus known for infiltrating and compromising security systems and enabling unauthorized access to infected computers, and therefore the bank had a responsibility to inform its customers of the virus.

Coreflood, according to The Register, is primarily designed to conduct Denial of Service (DoS) attacks, but the theory is that the backdoor access it enabled criminals to extract banking passwords and account details entered into Lopez’s PC. This remains unproven.

This makes the case a bit more complicated than if Lopez was hoodwinked by a phishing email designed to look like something from Bank Of America. Still, the the AccountingWeb piece quotes Avivah Litan, vice president and research director for research firm Gartner Inc. and an online fraud expert, as saying

banking cybercrime cases such as this one may result in banks adopting stricter security measures in the future. “Banks can’t reasonably expect consumers to protect themselves from cybercriminals,” said Ms. Litan. She believes that consumers need banks to offer greater security if they want online banking to increase. Gartner Inc. predicts that within two years, “50 percent of today’s stronger methods for customer authentication will no longer be strong enough to be a safeguard against phishing and malware.”

In other words, banks have got to find a better way to keep their customers secure, and arguing that cases like Lopez’ are nothing to do with them may not impress customers already increasingly nervous about doing business and banking online.

Is A Joke Not A Joke If The Internet Has Already Heard It?

I’m staying at the Amara Hotel in Singapore which has lifts/elevators built by Swiss-based Schindler, and, of course every time I get in I chuckle to myself about the fact that I’m in Schindler’s Lift. But surely, I thought this morning, I’m not the only person to think of this, and to find it tirelessly amusing? So I checked.

Turns out a lot of people have thought the same thing. Google has 237 matches for ‘Schindler’s Lift”, including here, this one (which mentions that the company itself is aware of the pun, although it’s not clear whether they still find it amusing), this one (another one where a picture is available), this one, another one (Australian this time, clearly the joke has no physical border), another one, another one, one more, one more, another one (this time from a lawyer), another one (from a nerd newsgroup; clearly the joke is not confined to bookworms), another moblog one, another one, this one from a trip to Japan, this one, from a French hotel that apparently had gone to the trouble to institutionalise the joke with a plaque, another very recent moblog one, this one from Benidorm (where quite a few such jokes seem to have originated), this from Belgium, another one (not from Belgium), one from Safeways, this one, which narrates a tale that Kurt Cobain was supposed to have cracked the same joke at some point, this one (which illustrates the genre quite well: “We apparently needed an elevator to get into it. We got in, pressed 3, and the doors shut. The brand name read “Schindler”. “Schindler’s lift,” I suggested, and we collapsed laughing against the wall for a while, possibly delirious with hunger by now, before finally realising when the doors opened that the lift hadn’t even moved”), there’s even a website dedicated to expats in Prague called Schindler’s Lift, and on and on they go…. (trust me).

It’s like tracking a disease. I suppose I should be doing them chronologically. What I can say is that the joke is always the same. Sweet, really. All those folk chuckling, like me, at their own joke as they ride up and down, snapping away with their cameraphones as the lift operator rolls his eyes and thinks to himself, This would never happen if Spielberg had stuck with Schindler’s Ark, the title of Thomas Keneally’s book.

More importantly, this has worrying implications for the future of humour. If we realise that our bad jokes have been told at least 237 times before, almost word for word, across the world (excluding, possibly, those parts of the world that call lifts ‘elevators’ and where people might consider the joke in any case tasteless), does it make them any less funny? Should we stop cracking jokes until we’ve checked them first on the Net? And should all the folks who thought up the (now, after all this Googling, very tired) Schindler’s List joke acknowledge their brains work in slightly different (not better, just different) ways, and form a club or something?

Me? I promise not to crack another Schindler’s Lift joke ever again, and to be really careful before cracking other ‘jokes’ unless I can verify it hasn’t already become an Internet dud. And if there’s a club I want to be treasurer.

A Happy Ending To The Saga Of Katie.com?

The whole Katie.com imbroglio seems to have ended happily, or at least, is close to doing so.

Katie Jones, the British owner of the website katie.com since 1996, has had a miserable four years since the publication of a book of the same name, about the true ordeal of a teenager sexually molested by a man she met in an Internet chatroom. After receiving hundreds of emails from people believing they are writing to the author of the book, Jones says recently she has come under pressure to donate the domain to a website being set up to help victims of similar abuse. Jones has declined, despite what she says was an “unpleasant phone call” from a lawyer, Parry Aftab, acting on behalf of the author, Katie Tarbox.

After several news reports and a steady campaign by Jones to publicise Aftab’s alleged efforts to obtain the name, the books publishers are backing off, saying they were never part of the move. A press release (PDF only) issued yesterday by Plume, an imprint of PenguinPuttnam,  says: “In an effort to avoid an association between the book originally titled Katie.com and the website Katie.com, Plume and the author decide to make this title change.”

The release also says: “In addition, it was erroneously reported recently that Plume had asked its attorney to attempt to buy the web site Katie.com from domain owner Katie Jones. This is absolutely not true.” Plume makes clear it’s not part of that attempt: “We are not working in association with author Katie Tarbox or any other individual in an attempt to assume ownership of the domain name address www.katie.com.”

This is a belated but welcome move by the publishers, who must have calculated the negative publicity was outweighing the good. After all, what’s the point of publishing a book about online abuse if you just engage in another form of it against someone whose only mistake was to register a darn good domain name years ago?

There is a loose end yet to be tied, of course. The lawyer and author will also have to back off , abandoning any plans for a website ”where children who have been victimized by Internet sexual predators can go for help and support” around the name katie.com. Aftab, a prominent cybercime and Internet privacy lawyer, may also have some damage control to do. She has declined to comment on previous developments in the case, accusing Jones of having “an agenda”, but as things stand the public perception is that it has been the other way around.

What Katie.com Did Next

Can someone be turfed off their domain by someone bigger?

The experience of Katie Jones, recent mother and owner of an online chat site in the UK, has been well documented elsewhere. (Katie.com is the name of a book about the ordeal of a teenager sexually molested by a man she met in an Internet chatroom. Katie Jones is nothing to do with the book, but has been the owner of the address katie.com since 1996.) Jones’ latest report on her website suggests that she is being unfairly pressured by the publishers of the book that carries her website’s name to donate the website to them. (It is not entirely clear in the posting as to whether the lawyer who contacted her was working on behalf of the author or the publisher, or both.) Anyway, if true, this does seem to take things too far.

I’m no lawyer, but one can’t help wondered how things would look were the roles reversed. If a big player owned the website address, would there not be large amounts of money changing hands by now? Or at least, would not the publishers have changed the name of the book, and not been trying to browbeat her into handing over the domain name?

For Jones herself, I can well imagine the discomfort caused by receiving hundreds of emails, either from individuals detailing their traumas in the mistaken belief they are talking to a fellow victim, or from folks abusing her. It’s nothing compared to what the Katie of the book endured, but that is not the point. It’s easy enough to say, ‘why don’t you just change your email address and drop the domain name?’ but why should she? Why should an individual be hounded from her sentimental slice of online real estate if she doesn’t want to?

I sought a comment from the lawyer linked to in Ms Jones’ latest posting, Parry Aftab, who is described in her online bio as ‘is one of the leading experts, worldwide, on cybercrime, Internet privacy and cyber-abuse issues’ as well as ‘being called “The Angel of the Internet” for her extensive work in Internet safety and cybercrime and abuse prevention around the world’.

Aftab had posted a message to her blog on Thursday saying she was working with Katie Tarbox, the author of the original book, and an organisation called WiredSafety to “help create a place where children who have been victimized by Internet sexual predators can go for help and support”. The program will be called Katie’s Place. A logo of the new, as yet unlaunched site, is prominently displayed at the top of the WiredSafety homepage. Aftab is executive director of WiredSafety, ‘the world’s largest Internet safety, help & education organization’.

Aftab declined to respond in detail to Jones’ account of the telephone conversation or the case, writing: “Katie Jones’ statements are either false or misleading. She obviously has an agenda. And I frankly don’t have the time or energy to be part of it.”