Move along, nothing to see here…

MarsEdit 4 is a decidedly not free upgrade from version 3. Is it worth it? That’s a question this relatively nonsense post is intended to ponder. If you’ve subscribed to Random Discourtesies in the past and have now received a notification about this post out-of-the-blue, given that it is over 11 months since I last posted anything here it will no doubt be a bit of a surprise. As the post title suggests, there is going to be nothing of any substance here, so I apologise for bothering you and, as poor compensation, tentatively suggest that I will post something a little more interesting… “soon”.

In the meanwhile, how about a lovely picture of a carousel at Nottingham’s “Winter Wonderland” taken this afternoon?

Carousel in Nottingham MArket Square 

This nonsense continues after the break…

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Amex ruining ApplePay in the UK

Amex and ApplePay

A few days ago, the good folk at American Express kindly sent word of an offer: Spend £3 in Starbucks and get £1 back – up to a maximum of £5. Not the most Earth shattering offer, perhaps, but given how much I spend in SBs each month, it represents free money (well, ignoring the occasional extra muffin to take my purchase over £3, of course). Thank you very much.

If only it was so simple.

I invariably use my Starbucks card on my phone – quick & easy (usually), and I get one in 16 drinks free. This offer therefore forces me to break my habit a little by using Amex. However, that shouldn’t be a problem as their’s was the first card I added to ApplePay the day it launched in the UK. As I tend to double-tap my phone’s home button to launch Wallet rather than the Starbucks app, it is actually one less swipe to use ApplePay. All good.

Except that my experience is that Amex rarely works contactless in the UK. Card or ApplePay. Turns out, it certainly doesn’t in Starbucks.

A quick search of Google and Twitter suggest I am far from alone on this – though to be fair, a lot of the results I saw were from 2015. Even accepting that things may be getting better; American Express’s flawed roll-out of contactless in the UK must have damaged confidence in using what should be a simple way of carrying out a transaction. It is bad enough that the £30 limit virtually cripples ApplePay. Yes, I know that “real” ApplePay merchants aren’t subject to that restriction. However, given that anyone can – and do – display Apple Pay logos, regardless of whether they are formally part of the system, that distinction is moot.

In the case of my recent experience in Starbucks (a “real” ApplePay partner?), the barista apologised and said Amex contactless has never worked for them, so I reverted to my Starbucks card. Yes, I could have used my Amex card in chip & pin mode… but for a £3ish transaction, that seems to be overkill, as well as being a huge metaphorical step backwards.

I honestly look forward to the day when contactless terminals are ubiquitous: Imagine getting served in a pub where they are plentiful and easily accessible at the bar… no messing with change or getting soggy banknotes back from the server whose hands are still wet from the overspill! Beep and they are on the next customer.

Contactless payment using devices rather than cards is obviously still in its infancy and while I have no wish to see Apple dominate the market to the exclusion of all else, I do genuinely hope we reach a stage where we, as consumers, don’t need to worry whether “our” particular system will work at any given venue. At the very least, is it too hard to ask that we be given some sort of clue up front? The official Amex page is woefully unhelpful. Who in the UK knows that the £30 contactless limit doesn’t (shouldn’t) apply to “real” ApplePay merchants?

Thanks to Amex, we are still a long way short of that. Their card hasn’t been the default on my phone for a long time and the way things are going, I may as well remove it all together. While I’m at it, why don’t I go to another card provider … one that works all the time?

 

With a hat tip to Duncan Stevenson and his Contactless Life blog, who has tried to get a grip of this situation, but has clearly been busy in his real life recently.

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266 Days

… I have just updated the WordPress app with the new iOS9 version and noticed above label against my last posting here. Disgraceful! It isn’t as though I haven’t got anything to say these days – I simply seem to have got out of the habit of blogging about it.

I’d like to think this is fair warning to the waiting world, that I am about to change my habits and get back to posting nonsense here (which, frankly, most if not all the previous posts have been!).

Then again…

The Loop

When I got to my Macbook Pro this AM, I saw the “Security Update Installed. A new security update was installed on your Mac” message. I understand why Apple did this but, given how much crappy software Apple has released, I’m not happy about the company “reaching into” my computer and installing software without my permission or knowledge.

via iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple opinion and news | The Loop.

I have immeasurable respect for Jim Dalrymple and all he has to say, but frankly, this is simply bonkers. The NTP vulnerability is clearly a big deal. Regardless of any perception of “crappy software” – which from anywhere else I’d take exception to, but from The Loop I have to regard as, er, considered – if Apple perceive a threat as credible, then I’m sorry, just shut the flip up and take the medicine.

Thank you Apple. I appreciate your timely intervention.

Data Belongs To The Individual

The Vice President of the European Commission, Viviane Reding, believes this mantra and it is irrevocably enshrined in European law. Following the ruling by the European Court of Justice yesterday (13MAY2014), it is a concept which has gone mainstream.  The ECJ have decided that “[a]n internet search engine operator is responsible for the processing that it carries out of personal data which appear on web pages published by third parties”.

Unsurprisingly, that has prompted intense, and sometimes quite passionate, debate on the subject. This essay is, just for the sake of it, my two penn’arth on the subject.

Mario Costeja González

The case had been referred to Europe’s highest legal authority following an appeal by Google against a decision made by the Spanish Data Protection Agency (an organisation known as the AEPD). A Spaniard by the name of Mario Costeja González had found that when he Googled his name the results included links to an advertisement in a local newspaper. This advertisement showed that his house had been put up for sale to recover debts he owed to the social security agency. Given that was six years ago and his debts had long been settled, he wanted this information deleted under Europe’s Right to be Forgotten law. This EC Directive No.46 of 1995, is a part of the panoply of European Data Protection measures and requires “irrelevant or outdated” information to be deleted on request. 

Screen Shot 2014 05 14 at 15 42 17

The newspaper refused to delete the page and Google refused to remove the links. The AEPD decided that the newspaper had lawfully published the advertisement and so were justified in refusing to delete it. Google’s case was that by merely linking to it rather than hosting it, they had no control of, or responsibility for, the data. This didn’t wash with the Spanish authorities and they were ordered to “take the necessary measures to withdraw the data from their index and to render access to the data impossible in the future”.

In considering Google’s appeal, the first question the ECJ had to consider was whether Google’s link to the newspaper constituted personal data and they clearly thought it did. They further decided that Google ‘collects’, ’retrieves’, ‘records’, ’organises’, ‘stores’ and ‘discloses’ the data it trawls from web sites. Throughout Europe, these actions are all regulated when the data concerned is Personally Identifiable Information. Anyone with any knowledge of the UK’s Data Protection Act will know that a Data Controller must ensure that the personal data they hold “shall be adequate, relevant and not excessive in relation to the purpose or purposes for which they are processed” and “…shall be accurate and, where necessary, kept up to date”.

That the information about Sr. González was old is beyond doubt, but was it irrelevant or  outdated? That he once owed money and his house was put up for sale is as true today as it was six years ago. That statement of fact was, it seems, something the newspaper could rely on as the “relevancy” criteria was evidently true when they “processed” the personal information of Sr. González. However, the ECJ seem to have taken the view that Google’s “processing” is an ongoing thing and therefore now fails the relevancy test.

Where EC/46/95 is enacted in domestic legislation, as it evidently is in Spain, this all means is that the Data Controller is obliged to delete the data when the Data Subject asks. Incidentally, the UK’s Department for Justice still refuses to sign-up to this Directive, suggesting it raises unrealistic demands on companies and unrealistic expectations in the minds of individuals.

The Big Picture

Clearly Mme Reding has strongly held beliefs and honourable intentions. Similarly, the judgement of the ECJ doubtless follows thoughtful consideration of the interests at stake. However, when the dust settles, will what we are left with be of benefit to society as a whole?

There is a much wider point to the ECJ judgement than just considering one result in isolation, and I suspect that is one more reason why they have ruled as they have.

The Court points out in this context that processing of personal data carried out by such an operator enables any internet user, when he makes a search on the basis of an individual’s name, to obtain, through the list of results, a structured overview of the information relating to that individual on the internet. The Court observes, furthermore, that this information potentially concerns a vast number of aspects of his private life and that, without the search engine, the information could not have been interconnected or could have been only with great difficulty. Internet users may thereby establish a more or less detailed profile of the person searched against.

In other words, one search result is bad enough, but taken as a whole, a collection of results could allow wholesale snooping into a person’s life.

The Backlash

An individual’s privacy can normally be safeguarded without cries of censorship. Yet here, Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, is quoted by the BBC as describing it as “one of the most wide-sweeping internet censorship rulings that I’ve ever seen”. The ruling clearly put the concepts of privacy and censorship in direct conflict. 

The global fall-out of their ruling wouldn’t have been in the forefront of the judges’ minds, but given it is the internet we are talking about, global it most certainly is. Compare and contrast these two commentaries on the case, one from the BBC the other from the LA Times.

In the UK, the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act allows convictions to be “spent” after a certain period of time. For instance, for anyone sentenced to less than six months in prison, their conviction has become spent after seven years. Spent convictions typically do not need to be disclosed to employers, but it’s easy to see how a Google search result could void any possible benefit from the act.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-27396981

 

Though the idea of such a right has generally been well-received in Europe, many in the U.S. have criticized it as a disguised form of censorship that could, for example, allow convicts to delete references to past crimes or politicians to airbrush their records.

http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-google-eu-20140513-story.html?track=rss

To be fair, the BBC correspondent tempers their stance by suggesting that “It’ll be harder, for example, to have a story from the 1990s about an arrest for assault removed if you’re a politician than if you’re a plumber”. Indeed, even Mme. Redding asserts that “It is clear that the right to be forgotten cannot amount to a right of the total erasure of history”.

Therein lies the problem with the “Right to be Forgotten”.

The Data Protection Act is a tried-and-tested concept and most businesses are now adept in dealing with its principles. However, when it comes to the Right to be Forgotten, there are very obviously shades of grey and, as the politician-and-plumber comparison hints at, the graduations are near-infinite. Instead of simply considering what is factually accurate against what is demonstrably incorrect (admittedly itself an area with potential for murkiness), the Data Protection Principles have far vaguer concepts like Relevancy. Muddying the water still further, the Right to be Forgotten principle is that deletion at the request of an individual should occur “unless there is a good reason to retain data”.

The question has to be who decides what is a “good reason” as it is surely a concept which cannot be tied-down in words, even less so than “relevant”. The individual concerned can’t be an objective voice and nor can the host site. Presumably, if they were, they’d have already edited or removed the offending page. The ECJ’s ruling is that the role of adjudicator falls to each and every search engine linking to the page in question (almost by definition, any given page will be linked-to not just by Google, but all search engines). Whilst Google et al’s objectivity toward the complainant and the linked site is unlikely to be questioned (unless the site is an advertiser?), there would seem to be little incentive fully consider each side of the argument. In many cases it will inevitably be left to the Data Protection Registrar – or the courts – to decide. All of which is great news for lawyers.

There are other issues I don’t have time or inclination to get into here, such as the market in ‘dark net’ search engines which are bound to spring up – if, indeed, they don’t already exist.

Is This Really a Problem?

Back to the BBC…

Victims of domestic abuse often face a situation where a violent ex-partner is trying to track them down. The victims are often named in media reports about their partners’ crimes. Details about unhappy relationships and harrowing tales of violence can be permanently associated with their names, even as they want to move on to a new life of independence and freedom.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-27396981

This seems to miss the point that the exact same information would be very helpful for the perpetrator’s new partner. Or are we saying that in order to keep the perpetrator’s name visible, only the victim’s name should be excised from the search engine database? Except that the full link will regenerate when the search engine “web crawlers” find the page again – unless some sort of cross-checking takes place against a vast database of complainants. Fair enough, but how does that work with a celebrity or someone whose name is regularly in the news… 

My point is that this whole ruling seems to spectacularly under-estimate the scale of what it implies. To simply shrug ones shoulders and say that it is Google’s problem is, well, fairly typical arrogance on the part of the European Commission.

In many of the commentaries I have read on this subject, the example of “the drunken photograph posted to social media ruining a teenager’s future career” gets trotted out. This is surely a completely different issue. More often than not, the poster will retain direct control of such postings.  I recognise that — because of search engines or possibly a mean spirited ex-partner — images may propagate around the web making it virtually impossible to track down all copies. Surely in such circumstances, however, the search engines are a useful tool in finding and approaching sites hosting copies with a ‘take down’ request?

If the original page is altered or deleted, then search results will reflect this. Sure, there are caches kept and the WayBack Machine will likely as not have a record of the offending page, but the reality is such search techniques are not in the toolbox of everyday web users.

Targeting the search engines in pursuit of this Right to be Forgotten is rather like taking down road signs as an attempt to reduce urban congestion. Those who already know the way won’t notice and those who want to get there will find the place anyway – and if they don’t, their friends and colleagues will send them directions.

And Finally…

As a final thought, going back to the intricacies of Mario Costeja González’s tangled web. He complained that the local newspaper still made his shameful past available for all to see and that Google facilitated that. Because it is Google, I suggest that the most common reaction (mine included) has been something like, “well, that’s what they do, where’s the problem?”. 

However, imagine if the company that was collecting, storing and – on request to anyone who asked – distributing, a comprehensive and indexed dossier of your personal history which would otherwise be almost undetectable, wasn’t Google. Imagine it was a credit reference agency, or a debt collecting company, or a private detective… Would that be alright?

What the ECJ have said is that there is no difference.

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One Little Green Light

Timing is everything.

The Blinking Green Light of Frustration

The Blinking Green Light of Frustration

After many more years than I care to count spent with Demon, I swapped broadband to BT about eight months ago. The reason for the swap was plain and simple – a binge purchase of a box set on iTunes meant I exceeded my ‘Fair Usage’ download quota, so my connection was throttled for the rest of the month. That hurt. I’m not so naive as to believe BT’s Totally Unlimited package is without its Fair Usage policy, but I’m fairly confident the bar is higher than Demon’s.

All of which is by-the-by for this particular exercise in venting, save to say that until Thursday of this week I’ve been perfectly happy with BT’s internet offering.

Then an odd thing happened. My broadband connect went down. Actually it must have gone down while I’d been out as I came home to find no connection. I performed the usual finely tuned and deeply researched suite of diagnostic processes (turned everything off and back on again!) and still nothing. I delved into the settings of the router, changing nothing, simply (blindly) looking for something that didn’t look right, watching the ADSL connection status go from Handshaking, to Training to – eventually and not always – “Show Time”. Even then, despite the status page assuring me all was well and the router was ready to connect – it stubbornly refused to do so.

Then, suddenly, it connected.

For a good ten minutes it remained connected – enough for my Twitter timeline to update and a few spam emails to find their way into my inbox.

Then, just as suddenly, it was gone.

Handshaking – Training – Show Time – nothing – Handshaking…

Then it came back.

It was gone again not much later.

Clearly a hardware issue, I thought. Luckily, in the elephant’s graveyard that is my back bedroom, I was able to resurrect another ADSL modem. This time it happened to be a BT branded one (whereas the one which had served me well was a cast-off Netgear router which, if everyone had their own, was Kay’s from when she had a Post Office broadband account). I hooked it up, tinkered with the IP address and user name to mimic those I had by now learned by heart from the old one. Then, nothing.

A few rants & raves at no-one or anything in particular, then I happened to notice Twitter had refreshed and I was on line. A breakthrough. Not for long though; the same pattern repeating itself with this lump as the first, but it was enough to tell me it wasn’t a hardware issue.

Having swapped everything back (I  prefer the Netgear lump – it’s decently compact), I rang Kay to commiserate and generally whine about my lot. It was then that I noticed the loud buzz on the landline. Kay confirmed she could hear it at her end, and a later call to my mobile confirmed it indeed originated at my end. Kay made the eminently sensible suggest that I could use my iPhone’s Personal Hotspot feature to tide me over for as long as I needed. Except that my carrier, Three, in common with most mobile services, seem to regard my village, and my part of it in particular, as not worth pointing an antenna toward. I get one bar of service and a 3G signal – but only if I position myself at a window. If I hang out of an upstairs window at the back of the house, I get two whole bars.

At least that was enough to get onto BT’s website and – veerrryy sllloooowwwwwllllyyy – go through their online diagnostic tools. That assured me there were no faults on my line nor any issues with their service which would be causing my problems. There was a link to a series of self-help pages which, when distilled to their core themes, can be summed up as “turn everything off and back on again”. There was another link which kindly offered to connect me with BT’s technicians, but as I had the temerity not to use their Home Hub (I have a perfectly good Apple Airport set up for my WiFi, why would I want BT’s kit), I would have to pay for their “help”. No thanks.

Somehow, I found another line test link, this time solely related to voice call issues, but as I legitimately have a noisy line, that’s what I went with. Success (of sorts) in that this tool reported that it had indeed found a fault and — wonder of wonders — it was in the BT exchange. The OpenReach engineers would be dispatched to deal with the problem without delay, the report told me – adding that this would be within Three Working Days. Given that this was Thursday evening before Easter, Three Working Days equates to the end of business on the following Thursday. 

The subsequent weekend (it is Sunday lunchtime as I type this – in a Stabucks, so as to get a consistent net connection!) has followed a pattern of unpredictable connectivity. Friday morning I awoke to nothing, but when I came in on Friday evening it was back up, and remained so all evening. Thankfully it remained up long enough to watch the last two episodes of Season Two of the fantastic House of Cards (I knew I was taking a risk, but imagine the temper tantrum if the connection fell down ten minutes from the end!). Saturday morning I awoke to discover (based on the Twitter timeline) that it had gone down pretty much straight after I’d gone to bed.

I spent Saturday at home, trying to get something written, thankfully most of the material I needed being either in paper form or on my laptop, but it was immensely frustrating trying to do any fact-checking. The evening followed a similar pattern of mostly-up-but-occasional-short-drops, so I rediscovered my DVD collection. This morning it has mostly been down.

What I hope that my unnecessarily verbose commentary has conveyed is the indescribable sense of uncertainty all this has engendered. All weekend I have found myself instantly swivelling around to stare daggers at the little green light which signifies a connection every time a web page so much as stuttered as it loaded. All too frequently I was rewarded by the sight of its notable absence. My life has become subservient to a green light!! (ok, gratuitous melodrama, I know!).

Roll on the end of Three Working Days.

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Windows Depression

I went upstairs and started up my Windows PC this lunchtime. Then the afternoon evaporated, as did my spirit.

I have a job to do on someone’s PC and wanted to copy a file from WindowsXP. That, pretty much, is the reason I keep my WinXP box going – oh, and it saves me a journey to the tip as I’m told you can’t just chuck these things in the bin nowadays. As is typical when I start this machine, it launched into interminable disk thrashing and an endless run of updates. Obviously I don’t hold that against it, it is doing me a favour after all, and it can’t update when it is unplugged.

One of the updates today was Java. As it updated, I was presented with a dialog which told me “Windows: Disc not found. Insert Disc” followed by around 20 question marks. Mmm, I think the software designer behind that one has some personal issues?

A little later, my Firewall warned me with an endless stream of dialogues that “FIU” was acting suspiciously by trying to access pretty much every critical file on the machine. Irritating at best, malicious at worst. It could be I’d been duped into downloading a trojan, but if I had, it was incredibly clever as it was a pop-up from the Java icon in the Notification tray. In any event, my Anti Virus app had decided it was going to take over the machine and do a scan as it hadn’t had a run out in a while, so the disk thrashing was like a sawmill in full production. Nothing found though.

The aforementioned Firewall had also been nagging me for an update, but to be fair, it had been easily put off thus far. After the saga with the Java installation, though, I thought I’d better let it have its way this time. Its installer duly launched and presented a dialogue asking my permission to allow it to take over my browser’s home screen with its own page, as well as replacing my default browser search with its variant. The dialog explained that this was their way of paying for the software development and imploring me, the user, to support them by agreeing. Fair enough, except it turned out that by not agreeing, the software wouldn’t install. OK, so no choice at all then, so why bother “asking”?

Having given my “informed consent” to their Ts & Cs, the installation commenced.It got to 46% fairly swiftly, then stopped there for — I kid you not — a full 15 minutes (apparently installing Microsoft .NET distributable. Classy). Resisting the urge to simply turn the damn thing off or at least crash out of the installation, I stuck with it. 47% to completion, eventually, took a few seconds. Not exactly a linear progression!

My Java scare, caused me to investigate what this FIU thing was. I had to use -financial -investigation modifiers to remove the obvious (to me!) connotations of that acronym in the search results, but I did find a few links to the warning I’d received. The top one took me to a forum run by the firewall software vendor. The person who’d asked a perfectly reasonable question (I would say that, it was exactly the question I wanted answering) had been given the bum’s rush by the forum regulars as he’d had the temerity not to say precisely what version, release and build of the software he was using … which had nothing at all to do with the question, but Forum Rules Is Forum Rules. I never really did get to the bottom of it.

A few other links and a couple of wild goose chases later (mainly researching the job I’d turned the damn thing on for in the first place) I found myself investigating a piece of software called Super Anti Spyware. I wanted to know if it was legit, so scanned the dozens and dozens of links which extolled this suite’s apparent virtues (several on sites I’d actually heard of!). Then this one caught my eye:

Superantispyware is the name of a Misleading Application (rogue software) designed to display false information, such as claiming your system is infected with 

This is the entry in the ‘glossary’ of the Symantec (a.k.a Norton Antivirus) web site. Bitter, are we chaps?

 

I mention all this as I found the entire experience frustrating and in no small way, depressing. Is this truly what the PC users of the world have to put up with; suspicious behaviour, amateur hour dialogs, bloatware, spyware, ransomware, scareware… developers openly disparaging one another…  This isn’t an anti-Windows rant, it really isn’t. I recognise WindowsXP is now an old OS and my machine is long past its cutting edge days. None of what I’ve moaned about here was the fault of the OS. It is the world which has grown around it. My shock comes from having been shielded  from this world for so long.

Boy, am I grateful.

er, I Wonder What This Does

There isn’t really any point to this post. I’m making it simply because I realise I haven’t said much here for a long time. I’d hate Random Discourtesies to fall into the category of ‘disused’ that we are told the majority of Blogs quickly become.

So, stand by for a waffle of as yet undetermined length…

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What a ****!

“Its nice to see Apple get a little mojo back,” Colin Gillis, senior technology analyst at BGC Partners, told the BBC.Mr Gillis was cheered by higher than expected sales of the iPhone, although he found Mr Cook’s management lacking.”Theres a gaping hole in the product refresh that has happened in 2013,” noted Mr Gills, which he said was “an unprofessional thing to do by management“.

[my emphasis]

Again: What a complete an utter **** this man is.

via BBC News – Apple profits beat estimates sending shares up 4%.

Social commentary

One sentence which encapsulates why Britain will forever run a huge trade deficit. BBC news reporting on the local response to the Bangladesh sweat shop building collapse….

Garment industry workers across the country were given the weekend off, in the hope that the anger would fade.

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