And have you left Twitter?

This was the question recently posed by a friend at the end of an email.

The quick answer is yes!

I have also deleted my LinkedIn, Google+ and about.me profiles.

The next question I presume would be to ask me why?

To be frank, despite my long and illustrious association with the Internet and the various communication protocols it carries, I’ve never been much of a social networker. I’ve never used Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest – and don’t have any burning desire to!

I have been a member of the LinkedIn community since 2004. I viewed it as a handy tool for making business contacts and perhaps career development, but that view has changed. I found their ‘people you may know‘ recommendations disturbingly accurate. I don’t like an algorithm being able to piece together my social interactions in such fine detail. Next it was the nagging endorsement solicitations, avoiding them was harder than dodging chuggers.

The final nail in the coffin was the weekly ‘profile views’ email showing exactly who had been looking me up. At first it was interesting in a voyeuristic way, but it quickly dawned on me that the owners of the profiles I’d been idly browsing would also receive these notifications. The day I received an email from LinkedIn with a smiling photo of one of my exes, I took affirmative action and deleted my account.

Twitter is a slightly different story. Again I was a fairly early adopter, opening my account in January 2009. As an information broadcast medium I like the Twitter model. I used it primarily for keeping up to date with local events and entertained myself by trolling service companies (Hello @O2 & @SW_Trains !)

What I wasn’t comfortable with however was the realisation that I had become slightly addicted to the constant stream of news and miscellany. Feeding my information junkie habit became an all too frequent distraction.

So I decided to go cold turkey and simply uninstalled the mobile app. After a couple of days the urge to automatically check Twitter (after email and BBC News) gradually subsided.

Let’s see how long I last 🙂

Share your opinions?

It seems that every time I make any kind of purchase from an online retailer I’m soon bombarded with demands requests from various associated websites to provide my feedback / ratings / opinions / reviews.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for user-generated content and I often consult sites like TripAdvisor and Amazon for product reviews. What I object to is being hounded for my feedback.

Take this recent example:

Boots Opinions

As it happens my recent purchase from Boots was not for myself, so I don’t have an opinion. Boots did at least provide an unsubscribe link, but even that reveals the level to which I will be harassed for my feedback:

Manage your subscriptions

How about if I don’t review the product after 4 days then you get the message that I’m not interested and leave me the hell alone?

I thought I’d take a look at the Boots small print anyway.

“By submitting your reviews you agree to us using your opinions.”

That sounds fair enough, but to be thorough we really should take a look at the full Terms & Conditions (like everyone does of course!).

There is the expected legalise around content ownership and intellectual property rights (i.e. I am the author and I voluntarily waive all rights to my content), some sensible clauses about my not submitting false or defamatory comments, but then it takes a darker twist.

You agree to indemnify and hold Boots UK Limited (and its officers, directors, agents, subsidiaries, joint ventures, employees and third-party service providers, including but not limited to Bazaarvoice, Inc.), harmless from all claims, demands, and damages (actual and consequential) of every kind and nature, known and unknown including reasonable attorneys’ fees, arising out of a breach of your representations and warranties set forth above, or your violation of any law or the rights of a third party.

Really? In this highly litigious world we live in I don’t know who I might be offending by what I’ve written about a product. I’m not prepared to bankrupt myself defending Boots against someone who doesn’t like what I’ve said. Should I purchase legal indemnity insurance before posting a review?

For any content that you submit, you grant Boots UK Limited a, perpetual, irrevocable, royalty-free, transferable right and license to use, copy, modify, delete in its entirety, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from and/or sell and/or distribute such content and/or incorporate such content into any form, medium or technology throughout the world without compensation to you.

I accept that if I agree to submit some words then they can use what I’ve written, but what’s this about modifying, adapting and creating derivative works? What if I’ve honestly had a bad experience with a particular product and want to share that with the readers? Does that mean they can change what I’ve written and still attribute it to me? That sounds a bit scary.

As I read on I discover that my hypothetical bad review would not be published anyway. Their terms state “The following is not acceptable on this site: Disparaging reference to a healthcare product, company, institution or medical profession”.

Since Boots is predominantly a healthcare retailer, it is highly likely that any review I care to leave will be about a healthcare product, but I guess they only want positive feedback.

Thank you Boots for the offer, but I’ll pass on sharing my opinions.

Smart bins are watching you

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It’s intriguing how news stories can bubble under the surface for a while and then explode into the public eye, with significant consequences for everyone involved.

Today’s example is the case of the Renew London waste recycling bins, which have been appearing on City of London streets since January 2012. As well as being a regular waste bin they are equipped with a large screen on each side for displaying digital advertising.

Up until recently that’s all we thought they did, until an article in Quartz magazine brought a darker side to the public attention.

Up to a dozen of these smart bins have been secretly scanning for passing mobile devices and storing this data to compile a database of the movement of individuals around the City of London. All of this was done without consent, although the trial details have been published on the Renew London web site.

How do they do this you might be wondering? Every device capable of using Wi-Fi has a permanent hardware (MAC) address which uniquely identifies the device and often even the make and model. If your mobile device has Wi-Fi enabled then your unique MAC address is broadcast periodically when your device scans for access points.

The Renew London smart bins can listen out for these signals and record the MAC addresses that it ‘sees’. According to the published trial data they captured nearly a million devices on just one day in June!

They would probably still been doing this if it wasn’t for the sensationalist claims from the Renew London CEO Kaveh Memari, who went a little too far in explaining just what his technology is capable of.

Memari said he was working on a proposal for a bar that would install five tracking devices: one by the entrance, one on the roof, one near the cash register, and one in each of the bathrooms. That would allow the bar to know each person’s gender (from the bathroom trackers), how long they stay (“dwell time” is the official metric), and what they were there for (a drink outside or a meal inside). And targeted advertising for the pub could follow those people around London on Renew’s omniscient recycling bins.

It would seem that the City of London Corporation was not aware of exactly what Renew London had been up to and the adverse publicity has caused them to swiftly deal with the situation.

THE collection of data from phones and devices carried by people passing sophisticated waste bins in Square Mile streets should stop immediately, says the elected City of London Corporation, which provides local authority services to the global business district around St Paul’s.

A spokesman said (Monday): ‘We have already asked the firm concerned to stop this data collection immediately and we have also taken the issue to the Information Commissioner’s Office. Irrespective of what’s technically possible, anything that happens like this on the streets needs to be done carefully, with the backing of an informed public.’

The bombproof waste and recycling bins, which also carry TV screens with public information, were installed as a way of re-introducing waste bins to City streets.

‘This latest development was precipitate and clearly needs much more thought – in the meantime data collection – even if it is anonymised – needs to stop,’ added the spokesman.

An official statement from Mr Memari has also confirmed a cessation of the ‘trial’:

During our initial trials, which we are no longer conducting, a limited number of pods had been testing and collecting annonymised and aggregated MAC addresses from the street and sending one report every three minutes concerning total footfall data from the sites.  A lot of what had been extrapolated is capabilities that could be developed and none of which are workable right now.  For now, we no longer continue to count devices and are able to distinguish uniques versus repeats. However, the process is very much like a website, you can tell how many hits you have had and how many repeat visitors, but we cannot tell who, or anything personal about any of the visitors on the website.  So we couldn’t tell, for example, whether we had seen devices or not as we never gathered any personal details.

Future developments will, however, not just depend on technology, but also, most importantly, on people being comfortable with interactive technology – much as has happened over the course of the weekend on the internet.

This is a somewhat less ebullient statement than one of Memari’s previous quotes:

“The chances are, if we don’t see you on the first, second, or third day, we’ll eventually capture you,” he said. “We just need you to have it on once.”

What can you do to protect yourself from this gross invasion of privacy? Disable Wi-Fi (and Bluetooth) if you aren’t actively using it when you’re out and about. Doing this will help save your battery too. You can also register your MAC address and opt-out of data collection via the Presence Orb web site.

It’s interesting to note that since this story broke the Renew London bin screens have been conspicuously devoid of any advertising. Evidently advertisers don’t want to be associated with this trial either.

Renew London waste bin


Dumb binUpdate: 12-Feb-2015

London’s ‘smart’ bins have been unceremoniously decommissioned, as you’ll see in this photo.

The RenewLondon.com domain name was sold in June 2014 and it now resolves to an accounting blog.

The former Renew London business seems to have disappeared without a trace, disproving the theory that where there’s muck there’s brass!

The Mac App Store’s Dirty Little Secret

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Apple’s Mac App Store is promoted as a simple solution for installing and managing third party apps on your Mac. On the face of it this would indeed appear to be true, but The Mac App Store is hiding a dirty little secret!

Apple makes some grand claims on their web site:

Thousands of apps. One simple way to get them.

With the Mac App Store built into OS X Lion, getting the apps you want has never been easier. No more boxes, no more discs, no more time-consuming installation. Click once to download and install any app on your Mac.

Keep your apps up to date.

Since developers are constantly improving their apps, the Mac App Store keeps track of your apps and tells you when an update is available. Update one app at a time or all of them at once, and you’ll always have the latest version of every app you own.

That sounds wonderful – but it’s a lie!

Some developers aren’t happy with providing free app updates to existing customers, so they publish updates as a discrete new app. This means that existing customers aren’t able to receive the update without purchasing the app all over again. Even worse the developer sometimes removes the legacy app from the App Store entirely, so it’s not available if you want to re-install it.

Buy, download and even re-download.

You can install apps on every Mac authorised for your personal use, and even download them again. This is especially convenient when you buy a new Mac and want to load it with apps you already own.

Again, not true!

If a developer decides to withdraw an application that you previously purchased from the App Store then it’s gone and there is no mechanism to download it again.

Not Available

I discovered this anomaly after I tried to install an app that I ‘owned’ onto a new Mac. After a bit of head scratching it was apparent that the developer had published a new version of the app just a few months after my purchase. Since I couldn’t re-download my purchased app I took it up with Apple Customer Support..

This is their email response:

I certainly understand how recent difficulties might have been frustrating for you. If I were in your situation, I would definitely feel the same way.

We do want that your experience with iTunes to be pleasant, however, I regret to inform you that your request has been denied. In accordance with the iTunes Store Terms of Sale that you agreed to when you created your iTunes Store account, all sales on the iTunes Store are final. This policy matches Apple’s refund policies and provides protection for copyrighted materials.

Please review the iTunes Store Terms of Sale for more information:
http://www.apple.com/legal/itunes/ww

As mentioned earlier, the iTunes Store is not responsible for the loss of purchases and encourages customers to back up their hard disks regularly. If an item needs to be replaced, you can restore your purchases from the backup and avoid the need to purchase replacement copies of titles from your collection.

Additionally, please make back up copies of your new purchases on a regular basis.

Apple’s recommendation then is that you keep a backup of your purchases! This contradicts The Mac App Store’s advertised capability of facilitating the re-download of apps you already own.

To conclude their email Apple went on to firmly slam the door in my face:

Again, I apologize for any inconvenience you have experienced. Any additional emails from you regarding this issue will not receive a response from iTunes Store Customer Support. Thank you for understanding.

That was not the response I was expecting from Apple’s renowned customer service.

What value are Apple adding to justify taking 30% of the sale price? Not much in my opinion. They aren’t future-proofing your purchases and in my experience their customer support isn’t great either. If you’re given the choice, my advice is to purchase apps direct from the developer instead.

Dot BigBang

Dot BigBang

If you haven’t already heard about new generic Top-Level Domains (or gTLD) then you might be excused for thinking it’s of no interest to you.

Current top-level domain names (TLD) are restricted to the known extensions such as .com, .net and .org. Some additional extensions like .biz and .info were later introduced, but these have not gained widespread adoption for reasons I’ll go into a little later.

For the uninitiated, ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) is the authority responsible for managing global Internet domain names. They have been under pressure to expand (or in my view deregulate) the domain name registry market and as a result are accepting applications for what they call ‘new’ generic Top-Level Domains (gTLD).

A new gTLD can be pretty much anything. For example, you might want to start up your own Internet registry for farmers, offering domain names with the .farm extension. To achieve this you pay a hefty $185,000 evaluation fee to ICANN, submit your application and eventually you might end up as the official owner of the .farm registry. ICANN estimates that they may issue up to 1,000 of these new gTLD extensions in a year.

The general concept is that since the amount of meaningful names in the popular .com namespace is finite, introducing new gTLDs will expand the pool of available names. The theory being that someone like Apple Farm Co then has a chance of registering a name like apple.farm for their business.

In practice however all that happens is that the owner of the existing .com variant uses their trademark ownership rights to secure ‘their’ name via a sunrise registration period and so most of the names are taken before the registry even opens its doors for public registrations.

The introduction of .biz and .info is a perfect example of this. The .com owner doesn’t want or need a new gTLD variant of their name, but they are compelled to purchase it as a defensive registration. The end result is more spend for no commercial benefit and no appreciable increase in the available name space.

So how will these new gTLDs improve the situation? I’m stumped. Ever since ICANN announced the new gTLD program, I have been trying to think of a compelling use case for them.

Faced with the myriad of confusing and unfamiliar new gTLDs and concerned at the risks of online fraud, end-users will seek refuge in the provenance of .com. All this will do is reinforce the value of the traditional domain name extensions.

.com remains the undisputed domain heavyweight and I don’t see that situation changing any time soon. The only obvious winners in the gTLD game will be ICANN, registrars and consultants out to persuade you to register even more domain names you don’t need.

Twitter journalism

I’ve ranted previously about shoddy BBC journalism, more recently I’ve seen more examples of what I term Twitter journalism. The worst protagonist for cultivating this drivel is Daily Mail Online, but that’s their raison d’ĂȘtre and absurd sensationalism is what you expect when you visit their site.

It’s sad to see the scourge of Twitter journalism now creeping insidiously into BBC News. There’s no better example than this article on BBC News: HD signal ‘lost’ during Wimbledon

That looks interesting I thought, surely as lead broadcaster the BBC would be the most dependable news organisation to go to for the low-down.

How wrong could I be! Never have I seen such a moronic and baseless article, totally devoid of facts or informative content.

It starts well enough:

Viewers watching Andy Murray and David Ferrer’s Wimbledon quarter final clash missed vital seconds of the match as BBC One HD went off the air.

So what was the cause?

“It was down on Sky [and] Freeview,” said one viewer on Twitter. “Sky had a very basic fault message on a black background. Freeview was just black.”

You’ve just told us that. We don’t need it reiterating by a random faceless quote.

But the match was still available on the BBC’s standard definition channel. Dozens of people complained about the loss of picture on social media sites.

Yes yes, I understand that people were rightly upset about the break in transmission. So what actually happened?

“Who’s stolen BBC HD?” asked Neil Sculley on Twitter.

“When will the HD return?” added Richard M. “It’s been about 20 mins and no announcement.”

No factual news content here, just a few questions scraped up from Twitter. I’m still none the wiser.

Some viewers reported that when the picture did return, it was a standard definition picture, not HD.

But, by 18:00, normal service appeared to have been restored.

“Appeared”? In case you hadn’t noticed, you work for the BBC. Wasn’t there someone in the internal directory you could ask?

“Panic over, HD resumed on BBC,” said Jamie Grace.

“Murray is now even uglier and angrier than normal.”

So the official confirmation of service being resumed was another comment on Twitter?

It’s no wonder the author of this ‘article’ hasn’t dared put their name to it.

Shame on you BBC.