How is a protest on Wall Street not news?

I had slacked off reading some of the latest news, so I missed some of the events going on. I particularly missed that a major protest had been going on near Wall Street, and more particularly has received a lack of coverage by the news media. If anyone needs evidence of the perils of corporate-owned mass media that have the power to band together and censor the free flow of information when it is bad for corporate interests as a whole, this is it.

For those new to this whole thing, the following makes for good background reading (note that most of these will display in reverse chronological order, so you might want to page to the end and read up):

  1. The AdBusters site for Occupy Wall Street.
  2. occupywallst.org.
  3. Reader Supported News coverage.

The most important events so far are that Yahoo censored emails about the demonstrations, and that dozens of protesters have been arrested (at least 80 at last count).

This is the problem with trusting large for-profit corporations to give us our news: Disney, Comcast, GE, News Corporation, CBS Corporation, Time Warner, Clear Channel, Google, Yahoo, AOL, Hearst Corporation, Gannett Company, just to name a few. No one corporation of these wants their own media outlets reporting on what could be considered an embarrassment to their own interests. Am I against the idea of for-profit media in principle? No. But something is really broken when a protest like this can go on for a week with barely any coverage in the major media outlets.

Worst of all is the flagrant censorship by Yahoo, a company I had honestly held in high regard and considered above such actions. Shame on you, Yahoo. You have no business scanning your users’ private emails for mentions of Occupy Wall Street. This in addition to being censorship is an invasion of user privacy and a betrayal of trust.

And shame on every so-called “news media outlet” that has chosen to ignore this, who has put their own corporate self-interest above doing what they have been entrusted to do: report the news. Occupy Wall Street is news. To ignore these protests is to ignore news.

I should have jumped on this sooner, and I apologize for not being more timely with this post. But the protests are still ongoing and the cause that the protests are being held for is still relevant, so I figure it is still not too late to spread the word.

Trademark infringement accusations run amok

The Houston Chronicle recently reported on a Houston restaurant being the recipient of legal bullying by none other than McDonald’s. Yes, the “billions and billions served” gargantuan international hamburger joint, whose food in some circles is synonymous with “#$%&”, has accused the one-location Jus’ Mac of trademark infringement.

I’m sorry if my bias is showing. I liked the food at Jus’ Mac from the one time I got to eat there months ago, and I’m a supporter of local businesses when feasible. I’ve never been a fan of McDonald’s, and while the hard boycott hasn’t been there for a while it’s always been “why eat at McDonald’s when I can go to Little Big’s, Tacos A Go-Go, Last Concert Cafe, Chipotle, Taco Cabana, etc?” (Yes, McDonald’s used to own part of Chipotle, but does no longer as of 2006.)

To me, this is clearly an attempt by McDonald’s at intimidation, and at first glance it certainly smells like intimidation for intimidation’s sake. I think McDonald’s’ well-intentioned attempt to protect their trademarks is failing miserably in the execution department. As we learned from the “hot coffee” lawsuit, common sense appears to be lacking in the legal department at McDonald’s. (For those unfamiliar with the hot coffee case: several previous suits were settled for small amounts and McDonald’s did nothing to keep them from happening; McDonald’s tried to settle for a laughably low $800 in response to Stella’s generous initial demand for $20,000. Ultimately, McDonald’s paid out an amount “less than $600,000” but we can assume much higher than the $20,000 Stella originally sought.)

Anyway, if you believe them, McDonald’s seriously thinks that people will mix up macaroni-and-cheese dishes with a Big Mac hamburger or any other of their menu items that have “Mac” in the name. I find this hard to believe; the restaurants are certainly different enough in style. I certainly think it’ll be difficult for McDonald’s to convince a jury there’s potential for confusion. That’s the problem, though: by the time it gets to a jury, McDonald’s has probably already bankrupted Jus’ Mac with legal costs. I know I’m not the only person who sees this as a travesty compared to real justice, yet this kind of war of attrition is exactly what our “justice system” has turned into.

So if you live in or plan to visit Houston, swing by Jus’ Mac at 2617 Yale and check it out. And pass the word to McDonald’s that what they are doing isn’t cool at all.

One hockey season, hold the bananas

Racism takes many forms. I had honestly hoped that we’d see an end to the rather stupid and juvenile throwing of bananas onto the field as a racist statement against (primarily) athletes of African descent and/or with darker skin. If you haven’t heard much about it, it’s because mainly it happens in soccer games outside the US and Canada.

And until recently, exclusively in such games, but alas, that’s no longer the case. RT.com reported on the incident which occured in London, Ontario, Canada, during a preseason game between the Detroit Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers, where Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds was targeted by a banana or a banana peel thrown on the ice at him. The COO of the Flyers owners made his statement based exclusively on the player safety issue, referring only to “an object [thrown] onto the ice” in a statement. This was followed up by this official statement from NHL Comissioner which makes even more cursory reference to what actually happened, only denouncing it as an “obviously stupid and ignorant action” which “is in no way representative of our fans or the people of London, Ontario.”

I prefer to call it what it is: flagrant racism that has no place in any sport, certainly not profesional hockey in North America. It is most unfortunate that the guilty party was not identified. I hope this person is found, and barred from further attendance of hockey games anywhere in the NHL. The consequences for flagrant hate speech which has the additional effect of endangering players need to be severe, lest this kind of hooliganism become commonplace across the US and Canada.

An in-app purchase snafu: Apple sets sail on the failboat

It’s been a while since I’ve noticed Apple doing something really dumb. But this was almost shoved in my face, so it was difficult to just pass it by without writing a brief commentary on it.

Jacob Gorban recently wrote and published a short piece about Apple’s new in-app purchases feature that left users annoyed, and left him and his company looking like thieves. From his post:

We started to receive support requests from customers that purchased the “unlock” feature [in an app called Cashculator] but the application was still acting as “locked”. All they saw was a message that the transaction failed, with a very descriptive “Unknown Error” message, and nothing more. The really appalling aspect of this was that they were charged for the purchase ($20 to $30 in our case) but the transaction was marked as failed, the reason being “unknown error”.

Needless to say, such behavior doesn’t make the customers happy about using your app, not at all. Some of them originally thought that they failed to purchase. Imagine how surprised they were to receive a receipt from Apple a day or two later for their “purchase” which didn’t work.

Jacob goes on to state that just a few days ago, Apple finally fixed this bug. And the app upgrades that had been purchased, mysteriously finally started working. You’d think that’s the end of the story, right? Wrong.

Apple never really ackowledged that there was an issue with this, didn’t close my bug report, didn’t delete all the 1-star reviews that angry customers left and didn’t compensate the affected developers for their financial loss. Nothing.
[…]
I’m really not happy with the opaque way in which Apple handled this. […] Having this issue for more than a month and keeping it secret, while developers and customers suffer the consequences is plain wrong.

In other words, Apple quietly fixed this, and never even acknowledged there was a problem. This is not the way any decent company operates. This is one reason (of many) why I do not trust Apple and do not buy or use their products. (I once had to edit a blog post on my mom’s iPad for Quinn’s Big City. It took a lot of willpower not to start screaming profanity in the middle of a coffee shop.)

In my opinion, the right way to handle this, was to immediately investigate the incident, issue a press release stating the problem, and Do The Right Thing for the customers (both the developers and the end users). I am reminded of Microsoft’s absolutely abysmal attitude towards security, taking days or weeks to even acknowledge there was an issue, during the turn of the century, an attitude which (thankfully) Microsoft has learned cannot be sustained going forward. I can only hope Apple learns the same lesson with regard to communication with its customers and acknowledgement of known bugs, especially when they relate to payment handling.

Shame on you, Apple. This is not fixed; the damage done to the reputations of developers who trusted you to do the right thing still needs fixing. And that’s not as simple as tweaking a few lines of code and recompiling.

Misguided “Operation Wardrive” set to happen in Austin today

If this one seems a bit rushed, it is. I just now came across a mention of these two articles in an IRC channel I’m in, and noticed that this is was scheduled to start happening today. Spread the word if you are in Austin.

According to both EFF Austin and KVUE, the Austin Police Department is sweeping the city. Not for pot plants, speeders, reckless drivers, or even jaywalkers. They are sweeping the city for open wi-fi access points.

From the KVUE article (quoted in EFF Austin’s article):

Leaving your wireless network open invites a number of problems:

  • You may exceed the number of connections permitted by your Internet service provider.
  • Users piggy-backing on your internet connection might use up your bandwidth and slow your connection.
  • Users piggy-backing on your internet connection might engage in illegal activity that will be traced to you.
  • Malicious users may be able to monitor your Internet activity and steal passwords and other sensitive information.
  • Malicious users may be able to access files on your computer, install spyware and other malicious programs, or take control of your computer.

Before even getting into EFF Austin’s side of the story, I’d like to analyze these, which it would appear at first glance were ripped straight out of APD’s press release without any vetting whatsoever (I really hope KVUE is better than that, but this is the state of news in 2011). Most of these aren’t even correct or have errors in fact. In order:

  • “You may exceed the number of connections permitted by your Internet service provider.”: Most wi-fi routers assign a private IP address and don’t really differentiate between one, two, five, ten, twenty, or fifty devices on the network (some may run out of addresses at a certain point but this problem can be remedied). It is rare to have a wi-fi access point connected directly to the outside Internet so for the majority of users this doesn’t apply. If your Internet provider does hard-limit the number of devices you can run on your connection, it’s time to switch. (This may, eventually, become an issue again with IPv6, but even then with most users getting a block of 65,000 addresses, this is doubtful.)
  • “Users piggy-backing on your internet connection might use up your bandwidth and slow your connection.”: Most users using an open wi-fi access point will not download excessive amounts of data. The benefit here of invited guests and friendly neighbors being able to borrow your connection usually outweighs the risks.
  • “Users piggy-backing on your internet connection might engage in illegal activity that will be traced to you.”: This is the same argument used to dissuade people from running Tor exit nodes and I would expect most of the same legal advice given to Tor exit node operators would apply here. In summary, an IP address does not uniquely identify an individual Internet user. It is simply routing information.
  • “Malicious users may be able to monitor your Internet activity and steal passwords and other sensitive information.”: This is about the only one that may be true with any regularity, and even then this would only apply to connections in plaintext, not to encrypted connections.
  • “Malicious users may be able to access files on your computer, install spyware and other malicious programs, or take control of your computer.”: Only if your computer is misconfigured, and in the case of malware, only likely if you’re running Windows or possibly MacOS. This doesn’t happen very often in the wild, if at all.

From EFF Austin’s post on the topic:

The EFF Austin Board of Directors finds nothing wrong with this analysis of the potential risks Internet users undertake when intentionally or unintentionally leaving their wireless access points open for shared use. In fact, we could cite a few more. However, these are much the same risks that Internet users undertake when using ANY shared wireless access point, such as those provided by cafés, public parks, or the Austin Public Library.

Missing from the cited analysis is any recognition of potential benefits to be gained from publicly sharing one’s wireless access point. Lately, the virtues of contributing to any shared commons tends to be overshadowed by fears of bad actors (both real and imagined). For some facts, it’s worth reviewing cryptographer and computer security specialist Bruce Schneier‘s discussion on the virtues and risks of running an open wireless network.

I agree in principle with EFF Austin’s argument, and I think it is unfortunate that APD has chosen to go through with this with the misguided belief they are helping keep their citizens safe. (The rest of the article mentions EFF’s Texas Public Information Act request and their concern about exactly what is being collected and why.)

We have maybe a couple of hours before APD’s officers will start knocking on doors to contact computer network owners sharing their Internet intentionally or unintentionally. So I think it’s a good time to remind everyone, especially those in Austin, that it is a bad idea from both a privacy and a legal standpoint to let the police inside your residence or business unless they have a warrant or you called them and they need access to do their job. For more information review this FAQ entry at flexyourrights.org.

I suggest either not talking to APD or saying as little as possible if they want to discuss the security settings of your wireless network. Frankly, I think there are better uses of taxpayer money, and I encourage Austin residents who agree to communicate this to their elected officials.

UPDATE: Per entersection’s comment below, this was actually canceled/disapproved by APD. I will be making a followup post about this in the near future (probably by tomorrow night at the latest).