What happens when Elmo goes off his meds, er, batteries?

This absolutely must be seen to be believed. And I know it’s not exactly the freshest item I’ve posted here, but I just now came across it.

You know how some electronic devices tend to not work properly after replacing the batteries? Well, this is one example of a failure mode unexpected by anyone, let alone Melissa Bowman, the parent of a toddler who’s probably the biggest Elmo fan in the greater Tampa Bay area, or anyone in Fisher-Price’s PR department.

A WFLA news cilp posted to YouTube refers to a rather shocking and horrifying surprise Melissa got after replacing the batteries in an Elmo Knows Your Name doll. According to her, the Elmo toy decided to exhibit a homocidal streak and say “kill James” instead of “hello James” or whatever innocent greeting it’s supposed to give.

Others are insisting that’s not what the doll is saying. I’ve listened to the clip over and over again through a decent pair of headphones (I don’t have an adapter for the studio headphones I bought back in 1999 and I’m not sure what condition they are in), and it sounds rather unmistakable to me.

The most horrifying part, however, is summarized by this quote from Melissa about the conversation with a Fisher-Price customer relations representative: “Considering the fact that my son was repeating it has really upset me, and there is nothing that they are going–they didn’t even sound concerned about it, really, when I spoke to them.”

Later reports state that Fisher-Price finally did the right thing and gave the family a coupon for a replacement. But really, what could the representative that Melissa first talked to have been thinking, to not even show concern over this kind of a malfunction?

Let this be a lesson: If you program computers or tinker with electonics, especially if you are making something a kid’s toy like the Elmo Knows Your Name doll, test, test, and test again, especially for what happens after a battery replacement or similar power interruption.

And if you’re the one the customers talk to when it hits the fan, don’t forget to show concern. The parents that buy toys like this for their kids are the reason you have a job.

Absolutely shocking iPhone privacy holes

Following on the heels of the Writing for the City Brights blog, Yobie Benjamin pens a very damning attack against the iPhone from a privacy advocate standpoint. His article is an easy read even for those relatively unfamiliar with concepts such as cookies.

The single most horrifying thing I have yet to read about Apple or the iPhone, however, is summed up by this quote from the article:

I know what these tracking tools can enable iPhone developers and it’s pretty powerful and devious. If you’re privacy advocate, it’s bad. It’s really very bad.

Why is it bad?

For the most part, if you like your privacy – there is no opt-out feature unless you have a jailbroken/unlocked (more later on this) iPhone.

Combine this with the fact that jailbreaking is something Apple really doesn’t want you to do (from their point of view, the iPhone still technically belongs to them in a way because of the OS on it, another reason to condemn the use of the misleading and loaded term “intellectual property”), and all of a sudden, Apple doesn’t look a whole lot better than many other large corporations when it comes to concern for the privacy of their customers.

Yobie goes on to give a specific example using TwitterFon in which the iPhone’s UDID (serial number) is sent no less than three times to three different places. And unless one is willing to roll the dice and jailbreak one’s iPhone, there is no way to opt-out of this.

There is no “privacy” menu on a standard iPhone; this is something added by those who made the jailbreaking programs. The single most responsible thing Apple can do to regain some of my respect–and the respect of just about anyone with any significant concerns about their privacy–is add this option to the stock iPhone OS.

I’d like to think Apple hasn’t grown too big to give a damn. Especially in light of the fact Apple charges a premium for their hardware and software, I think Apple should be held to a higher standard than most similar companies. Not surprisingly, I think they have fallen far short of it.