Oct 282015

While the practice is not widely acknowledged, recent reports shed some light on the immense scope of telephone company use of information about you. Especially with mobile devices, usage data paints a sharp and clear picture of you, and this in turn is readily monetized.

How very generous of you to share your shopping, location and personal network information with these data wholesalers for free, since they use these data to take even more value from you later.

 Posted by at 7:57 am on October 28, 2015
Sep 252015

Spoiler alert: the answer is “poorly”.

Government regulations continue to expand and options available to consumers corresponding diminish, as called out in the linked article. Bureaucrats make choices about what is ‘best’ for consumers but these often fly in the face of choices that rational consumers would make in their own interests; officials’ track record is one of promoting decisions which are best for them … not consumers.

 Posted by at 9:36 am on September 25, 2015
Jun 292015

When a Company Is Put Up for Sale, in Many Cases, Your Personal Data Is, Too” says the headline at the linked article (and never mind their singular/plural mixup…)

Data agreements are usually entered into implicitly and in the best of times, but really, contracts should govern expectations for what are the worst of times. A company’s dissolution, and thus the liquidation of its assets, means your data might go on the auction block too. And those who get your data might not be so caring about it as the earlier owner.

 Posted by at 5:50 pm on June 29, 2015
Jun 052015

We often hear about the importance of computers in education, but this message often falls flat to many of us who have tried to divine the recipe for whatever is the secret sauce which makes computer-involved instruction work. It often doesn’t. Thanks now to this author for giving voice to the matter who calls out in detail how technology in challenged schools can only amplify the problems. The loudest calls for increasing tech in education unsurprisingly come from the very companies which stand to benefit most from the policies; the linked article calls out why this is not necessarily the best way forward.

 Posted by at 10:40 am on June 5, 2015
May 212015

… many of them state of Maryland employees who had to divulge personal data as a condition of getting affordable health insurance.

The banner news is that CareFirst, a large health insurer, suffered a data spill in June affecting over a million participants. The company claims that no SSNs were lost, nor insurance claims, but some who monitor these things are careful to note how the statement was parsed; the company did not speak to the administrative records of their participants, which now contain an immense amount of highly personal information.

In question is the integrity of data which are associated with wellness programs which are now increasingly mandated by employers – not least of which is the state Maryland. This year employees (many of them at University of Maryland on our campus) have been required to participate in these wellness programs, which entail disclosing personal medical information to people who are not your doctor, who later will determine what remedial ‘wellness’ activities you must engage in order to only pay normal health insurance rates. Those who do not disclose will pay penalty rates, which soon will skyrocket to thousands of dollars. It is a coercive and punitive system, which also indirectly transfers more costs to the participants in the long run. (Only the state will save – not the employees.)

Which brings us back to CareFirst. This insurer is one of the banner programs offered to us as employees, and it is known to be the most invasive in its questioning. “Are you happy at work?” “Do you like your boss?” “Do you feel you satisfy your partner?” “Do you keep guns in the home?” “Do you take recreational drugs?” “How much alcohol do you drink in a week?”

These questions sure seem pretty invasive. And their answers, from potentially thousands of Maryland employees who disclosed them under threat of state cost penalties, are now out on the internet and ready to be disclosed to the world.

 Posted by at 10:37 am on May 21, 2015
May 182015

Quoting the linked article,

John Deere is trying to convince the Copyright Office that farmers don’t really own the tractors they buy from them. They argue that the computer code that runs the systems is not for sale, and that purchasers of the hardware are simply receiving “an implied license for the life of the vehicle to operate the vehicle.”

This is a variation on the already long-running debate over whether automobile manufacturers have a lock on the firmware which drives their engines. Hobbyists know they can get far higher performance out of their rods by tweaking parameters and tailoring the control system to more specific needs. Of course, manufacturers are tuning their firmware for ’emissions control’ needs and other regulations. The upshot is that big corporations are rapidly making it illegal for people to manipulate goods that they own – err, or if you buy the corporate-speak, “license”.

 Posted by at 8:01 am on May 18, 2015