Kid’s henna tattoo runs amok

From comes this story of yet another body art mishap, this time on a five-year-old boy who sat for a temporary henna tattoo while on vacation with his parents in Indonesia.

Cannon Cribb got more than he bargained for when after the henna wore off, he was left with a large welt in the shape of the Oriental dragon tattoo. The scar happened because the “henna” contained a chemical called para-phenylenediamine (PPD), normally used in hair or textile dyes. DuPont, one of the makers of PPD, specifically warns against using PPD directly on the skin as quoted below:

DuPont does not recommend and will not knowingly offer or sell p-phenylenediamine (PPD) for uses involving prolonged skin contact. Such uses may involve, but are not limited to, products formulated with henna for tattoo applications or other skin coloration effects. This use of PPD in prolonged skin contact application has the potential to induce allergic skin reactions in sensitive individuals.

If there is a lesson to be learned, it is this, and this applies equally to anyone doing any type of face/body art: never use chemicals directly on the skin which are not intended to be used in that fashion.

I wish Cannon a full and speedy recovery, and sincerely hope someone out there will learn from his misfortune.

Never mind the dog

This bizarre story in the London Daily Mail almost defies description. Usually, when postmen feel threatened by an animal, it is a dog, typically one of the larger breeds of dog such as a mastiff, pit bull, Rottweiler, Doberman, maybe even a Great Dane.

So Kenneth Ridge and his son Bradley were quite shocked when they got a letter from the Royal Mail threatening them with suspension of mail service. On 2009-06-06 a postal worker (for some reason, referred to as both a postman and postwoman in the article, not that gender really matters here) delivering mail to the Bradleys had been attacked by the their six-month-old, seven-pound kitten Illy.

From the article:

A Royal Mail spokesman said it always treats animal attacks on postmen seriously, however minor they might appear.

‘We record about 5,000 animal attacks on our postmen and women each year with the vast majority being dogs,’ he said.

‘The member of staff suffered a very bad cut to her hand while delivering mail through the letterbox of the address.’

Having been around cats as long as I have, I find the story plausible, but still very bizarre. Then again, I’ve never been to the UK, so it’s entirely possible the domestic felines are much fiercer there.

Unite behind Opera? Read the fine print

NPR reports on Opera Unite, the latest attempt by the alternative Web browser maker to implement what at first is touted as a peer-to-peer (P2P) network, primarily among users of its browser. What Unite actually is, however, is a centralized network run by Opera where all user content must go through Opera’s proxy servers, and users are subject to an odious terms of service agreement (TOS). A portion of the TOS agreement reads as follows:

By using the Services, you warrant that you will not upload, transfer or otherwise make available files, images, code, materials, or other information or content (“Content”) that is obscene, vulgar, sexually-oriented, hateful, threatening, or that violates any laws or third-party rights, hereunder, but not limited to, third-party intellectual property rights.

And further down, the rather ominous but predictable:

Opera has the right, in its sole discretion, to remove any content or prevent access to and/or use of any or all of the services, for any reason, including as a result of your violation, or alleged violation, of these Terms of service.

I think Opera really misses the entire idea of a P2P service here. The whole advantages of P2P are not having to depend on a centralized server and not having to deal with yet another set of restrictions on top of any imposed by one’s ISP.

This whole clause of the TOS smacks of censorship. Whose judgment applies to what is considered “obscene” or “vulgar” anyway? Where does Opera get off telling users what they can and can’t share?

Even Flickr lets you share such content willingly as long as you label it appropriately. Of course, there are some things that even Flickr will not allow at all; that’s where Freenet and hidden services such as Tor come into play.

If Opera had just said “Why trust Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube when you can just trust us instead?” it would at least be transparent what their service is about.

[edit 2023-07-03: fix formatting]

Tethering troubles for smartphone users

The latest story comes via Techblog, detailing the UK phone provider O2’s plan to charge iPhone users making “unauthorized” tethering use of the device (i.e. using the iPhone as a fancy, expensive USB cellular data interface). It turns out that AT&T has a similar policy in place, except authorized tethering is not available for purchase yet for AT&T customers.

A commenter on the Techblog post raises a very valid point: iPhone users–in fact, most likely all smartphone users, including non-iPhones and those on providers besides AT&T–already pay a significant amount for data service, and says an extra tethering fee is “double-dipping” on AT&T’s part. I think the serious laptop-based data network users will wind up buying an actual data interface device and that most see tethering as an emergency backup.

The notion that Apple or AT&T would want to restrict the freedom of its users yet again is disheartening, but unfortunately expected; there is nothing really prohibiting AT&T–or any other carrier–from doing what they are doing.

Google’s senseless squabble over $761

I recently found this Huffington Post story on Aaron Greenspan’s long-running small-claims lawsuit against Google. The story details Google’s appeal of the $761 judgment and is actually a follow-up to an earlier story about the original lawsuit.

Aaron runs a small company called Think Computer. At the time of the lawsuit Think Computer owned three domain names with Web sites showing Google AdSense ad banners. One of these domain names was for a product still in development. Everything went just swimmingly until the late morning of 2008-12-09, when Aaron received this ominous message upon logging into his company’s AdSense account:

Your AdSense account for this login is currently disabled. We recommend checking your email inboxes for any messages we may have sent you regarding your account status. […]

The only reason Aaron ever got for the disabling of Think Computer’s AdSense account was that Think Computer’s participation in AdSense “posed a significant risk to our AdWords advertisers.”

Aaron sued Google and was awarded the $721 owed to his company, plus $40 in court costs, in a hearing on 2009-03-02. The judge had some choice sarcastic words for Google’s paralegal, Stephanie Milani (this being small claims court, Google was barred from sending a full-fledged attorney to represent them):

I don’t think I have the power here in Palo Alto small claims court to make you reinstate his account, but I think you owe this young man $721. I think there might be money in Google’s treasury for that.

Given that that amount represented the going price for 2.2 shares of the company’s stock at the time of the hearing (trading closed at US$327.16 per share), I think the judge made a more than reasonable conclusion.

Later that week Aaron gets a request from Ms. Milani on behalf of Google for the taxpayer ID number for Think Computer, with the explanation that the accounting department needed it to write the check. All seems well and good. Except, Aaron never gets the check, but instead a form stating “[his] case had been ‘APPEALED’ to the superior court.'”

Yes. A $761 judgment against a company with a $132.72 billion market capitalization. Appealed. I mean, this is not McDonald’s getting sued for millions over one too many cups of hot coffee. For Google, this type of amount is quite literally equivalent to pocket change; the percentage is so small I’m not going to even bother doing the calculation.

Fast forward to 2009-05-22, the appeal hearing. Only now does Google reveal the exact reasons Think Computing’s AdSense account was disabled to Aaron: use of the forbidden phrase “pick a link” (which Aaron implies is mentioned nowhere in Google’s AdSense terms of service) and a technical non-compliance with the AdSense terms of service, in that one of the three domains was not actually an active Web site.

Aaron points out that the AdSense for Domains program was closed to the public for years, yet was opened up to the public only two days after Think Computer’s AdSense account was disabled. All Google really had to do was let Think Computer sign up for AdSense for Domains from the beginning.

Aaron hints that the appeal only came after he wrote the original article for the Huffington Post. If so, shame on you, Google, for an absolutely disgraceful handling of negative press. A better move would have been to either quietly pay the judgment. Even issuing a press release denying any wrongdoing but also stating the company is willing to abide by the judge’s ruling.

Even more damning is the line of questioning Google’s attorney engaged in at the appeal hearing (a bit long, but worth reading):

“What are these links on the site?” Google’s lawyer asked, referring to a printout of the web site in question that was part of my stack of paper.

“They’re links to essays I’ve written,” I responded.

“Do you charge for these essays?” the lawyer asked.

“No,” I said. Google’s lawyer tried again.

“Does your company charge for anything?”

“Yes, it charges for its products and services,” I said.

“But it doesn’t charge for these essays,” he half-asked.

“No, the company didn’t write the essays. I did, and sometimes I write essays for the Huffington Post, but I’m not compensated.”

“Do you sell essays to college students?” the lawyer asked.

“What?” I asked him, confused.

“You sell pre-written essays for college students, right? Like term papers?”

“No!” I said, finally realizing where he was going. “I don’t know where you would have even gotten that idea.” Little did he know that he had hit a sore spot, since I had recently written a book about education at America’s “top schools” and the many problems therein, cheating among them.

Though at that point I should have asked him how often he beat his wife, I was too shocked to think of it. Google has more access to information about people than virtually any company on the planet, yet despite its vast resources, it found it more prudent to fabricate disparaging innuendo about me before a judge. The sole purpose was to damage my credibility.

This type of covert badgering of the opposing party in a lawsuit is absolutely disgraceful on Google’s part. I’d like to know how this qualifies as “not evil” from a company which has a motto of “Don’t be evil.” Aaron has a suggestion for a replacement motto, which contains a profanity but can be paraphrased as “don’t be jerks.”

Google would actually gain some of my respect back if they issued a press release publicly stating “don’t be evil” is no longer the corporate motto in light of events over the past few years. While it would sadden me that the new, publicly-traded Google can’t hope not to be evil anymore, the candor and honesty of a large corporation would be a huge change from the mountains of PR double-speak and blah-blah-blah that usually fill the press releases of companies that have been Caught Screwing Up.

(All dollar amounts are US dollars.)