April 2005

Homeland Security & Politics28 Apr 2005 04:17 pm

Friends Helping FriendsMany people like the President because he’s such a tough guy. Just not with the right people, apparently. As gas prices skyrocket, and the Saudis make record profits, Bush walks around holding hands with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz. Crude oil prices fell a tick after Bush got a small concession from Abdullah, but that’ll take weeks to show up in the numbers you see in the picture on the bottom.

In the top photo, Abdullah has Bush by the hand — a traditional gesture of trust and friendship among Saudis. But shouldn’t our President have his hand somewhere around the Saudis’ testicular regions? The U.S. is helping to prop up this corrupt and barbaric dictatorship, and we pay them billions in cash and military protection for the privilege.

During the administration of Bush the Elder, there were proposals to increase vehicle fuel efficiency standards over a 10-year period that would have insured America’s energy independence from unstable regimes in terrorist-producing corners of the world. But the administration of Bush the Elder, many of whom were clearly interested in high-paying jobs in the oil business (e.g., Dick Cheney leaving the Defense Department for oil services firm Halliburton), saw to it that energy independence efforts were quashed.

Now, Bush the Younger is touting energy independence, not through efficiency, but through less dependence on fossil fuels (well, except for coal. Oh, and we need to build more refineries. Yeah. And nukular, er, nuclear. Lovely.

Our lack of energy independence is exactly why we find ourselves mired in the Middle East, beholden to despots, and targets of terror. It’s in our vital national security interests to be energy independent, but its not a problem that we can drill or mine our way out of. Energy independence requires a holistic approach, from energy efficiency to real transportation alternatives.

Until the Republican leadership — which controls two of the three branches of government — understands those facts and acts upon them, their negligence gives aid to our enemies and abets our national insecurity.

Malware & News & Culture & Privacy26 Apr 2005 11:36 pm

David Lawrence ShowOn tonight’s David Lawrence Show, we talked Claria, Google, and sundry other things. The full hour in crystal clear MP3 audio, available for download for only 25ยข. (Cheap at twice the price!)

Malware & Privacy & Sillycon Valley Biz25 Apr 2005 10:15 pm

Claria (nee Gator)Leading adware manufacturer Claria (formerly known as Gator) announced today that computer security software maker McAfee has rescinded its January 2005 declaration that Claria’s GAIN adware/spyware was a “malicious threat.”

In yet another triumph of semantics over substance, McAfee appears to have succumbed to Claria’s Jedi Mind Trick, wherein company representatives get their targets to repeat the language of Claria’s privacy policies, hoping they fail to notice the surreptitious installation of software under people’s noses.

The reason why McAfee listed Claria’s GAIN software as malicious is no mystery: almost no one ever asks to have Claria’s software installed on their computer, yet it somehow finds its way on there, without the user’s explicit knowledge or consent, generating unwanted pop-up ads, hogging memory, and generally making the day-to-day lives of its hapless victims more miserable.

Claria insists that the installation of its software is clearly disclosed, and that people are always fully aware when, and why, the software is being installed. Claria’s representatives and PR flacks will dutifully point to page four, sub-section 27(a), of the End User License Agreement — those long screens of gobbledygook that nobody reads when they install software — in which the presence and functions of the GAIN software are generally disclosed.

Never mind, of course, the extensive evidence that thousands (maybe even millions) of consumers haven’t asked for Claria’s software to be installed on their computers. Never mind the evidence of malicious “drive-by” downloading by Claria’s paid “affiliates.” And never mind the fact that, for many hapless users, Claria’s software remains difficult to detect, identify, and remove.

So why did McAfee change its position? It could be that Claria threatened another lawsuit, such as the one it launched to censor PC Pitstop’s criticisms. Indeed, litigation is not new for Claria.

Some readers may be familiar with my work as an expert witness against Claria in a collection of nearly a dozen lawsuits that were consolidated into one massive multidistrict case. Claria managed to buy its way out of most of those suits, leaving unresolved the fundamental issues raised in the cases. Unfortunately, much of my work in that case is still covered by a court-imposed protective order, so I can’t write about all the juicy details I learned during that case. Suffice to say, I was not surprised that Claria went to great lengths to make those suits go away quietly.

But Claria has taken a recent turn away from litigation that suggest a new-found preference for pumping sweetness and light, instead of the usual brimstone and bullshit. Beginning with the hiring of my old acquantance Reed Freeman as Chief Privacy Officer in April of 2004, Claria has continued to wage a masterful campaign to rehabilitate its reputation.

That reputation, which had been qualitatively equivalent to the foul-smelling muck in which its former swamp-dwelling namesake preferred to remain submerged, could only have improved. Thus, through the deft usage of political connections, and the liberal use of cold, hard cash, Claria is on its way to being even more highly regarded than MCI (nee Worldcom), Altria (nee Phillip Morris), and even Mary Mallon (you’re on your own for that one… ;-) ).

As a measure of success, Reed Freeman was recently appointed to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s privacy advisory board. Claria also continues to get mileage out of its recent appointment of a self-styled “dream team” of “privacy, security, public policy and consumer protection law experts” to assist its PR white-washing efforts.

Claria’s not the only company buying a squeegee to scrape the crap off its reputation. Others in the same line of business — namely, the business of causing ads to pop-up on people’s computers whether they’re wanted or not — have followed similar courses and are successfully insinuating themselves into the corporate and public policy mainstream. Just recently, spyware maker 180 Solutions joined as Silver Sponsor of the International Association of Privacy Professionals.

Claria has earned a well-deserved negative perception in the minds of those consumers whose Internet experience has been made more problematic by Claria’s troublesome software. But through obfuscation and glad-handing, they will slowly continue to recast the company’s image. And now McAfee’s software will help, through the cunning usage of namby-pamby language that will make it more difficult for McAfee users to understand the problems that Claria’s pop-up ad software can pose.

But all the PR whitewashing cannot change the underlying facts: Claria’s software remains a scourge for too many unsuspecting users. As I continue to say: there are two kinds of people — those who hate adware and spyware, and those who will. It’s only a matter of time.

Homeland Security25 Apr 2005 09:53 pm

Suspicious PenguinsDid you hear the one about the two penguins going through airport security? It’s not a joke… Film at 11.

Seriously, though, I’ve been in the huge security lines at Denver International Airport on more than a few occasions and I can only hope that they picked an “off-hour” to do this little stunt. If they picked a busy time, there could have been a riot.

But it’s still cute. :-)

Politics24 Apr 2005 12:39 am

Fmr. U.S. Senator Alan SimpsonThe best picture of the weekend comes from Former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) who appeared on this weekend’s Real Time with Bill Maher. He was describing his reaction to any news reporter who says they’re just “reporting” when repeating all that awful gossip about U.N. Ambassador nominee John “The Rager” Bolton. Although, to many observers, he was actually demonstrating what sort of gesture the Bolton nomination is itself towards the U.N.

Unfortunately, the era of grace and elegance in the Senate, as demonstrated so ably by Senator Simpson, has waned since his departure. Now, as the Vice President would say, go f*ck yourself. ;-)

News & Culture23 Apr 2005 02:04 pm

Penn & Teller's Bullshit! on ShowtimeJust got my reminder email from Showtime that Season 3 of Penn & Teller’s Bullshit! starts Monday, April 25.

The purpose of the show is to debunk myths and scams, some of which permeate our daily lives. They’ve taken on topics like Alien Abductions, Bottled Water, Feng Shui, The War on Drugs, Creationism, P.E.T.A., Tantric Sex, Hypnosis, Ouija Boards, Aphrodisiacs, and many other interesting topics, and sorted out the facts from… well… the bullshit!

Some of the shows are pretty eye-opening, such as the one that suggested a lot of recycling programs are not only generating as much pollution as they claim to be avoiding, but their main benefit may be to further pad the already stuffed pockets of corporations who cynically ride the “Earth-friendly” wave when pitching over-priced recycling services to elected officials who want to look like they are being environmentally sensitive.

Anyway, Bullshit! is itself a good enough reason to subscribe to Showtime, but if you need more, then don’t forget that Showtime is the home of Queer as Folk, Dead Like Me, and Huff. So if you don’t subscribe already, you’re already missing some amazing programming.

Privacy & Sillycon Valley Biz21 Apr 2005 06:10 pm

Google My Search HistoryAn AP article on today’s SFGate.com heralds what will probably be Google’s next new privacy controversy: My Search History.

Yes, friends! Just when you thought you’d cleared your browser cache and disabled your browser’s history, Google helpfully offers up something for your wife’s divorce attorney to subpoena!

According to Forrester analyst (and apparent “Holy Grail of Search” enthusiast) Charlene Li, analysts are just the sort of people who might find it useful. The underlying idea is that by tracking what you’ve searched for previously, Google can tailor the results based on previous searches.

But then, of course, if you forget to log out, the results of your next search for “boring+work+research+topic” may be flavored with “Anna+Kournikova+upskirt”, “Jessica+Alba+accidental+breast+exposure”, and “painful+itching+rash+testicles”. Yes, the service apparently lets you go back and delete any queries that you might not have wanted tracked. But it’s always the trails of data that you forget about that are the ones that come back to bite you.

In the end, though, Google’s offering is neither unique or ground-breaking. Many other services have provided this kind of customized searching for a while. And as even Charlene Li points out, not that many “average users” will use the service.

Maybe I’m one of the “privacy fearing loonies” noted by a commenter on John Battelle’s blog entry about My Search History — although its the lack of privacy I really fear. But my greater concern comes from implications of the not-terribly-clueful quotes from Google’s VP of Engineering, Alan Eustace:

With “My Search,” however, information stored internally with Google is no different than the search data gathered through its Google.com search engine, Eustace said. “This product itself does not have a significant impact on the information that is available to legitimate law enforcement agencies doing their job.”

These comments are the sort that make PR people fear putting engineering-types in front of reporters. Is he really saying that Google already captures and stores search data tied to unique users? Unfortunately, Google’s privacy policy is pretty vague on the issue. It discusses how cookies are used to understand how unspecified “people” interact with Google’s services, and elsewhere it discusses aggregated information except under those circumstances in which you’ve specifically signed up for a Google service.

Eustace may have misspoken… but really he didn’t. According to the “My Search History (Beta) – Privacy FAQ,” you may feel free to edit the logs, but Google is still keeping copies of the unedited searches. So there you have it: a comprehensive log of your searches tied to your identity, available to law enforcement bearing warrants and litigious people bearing civil subpoenas. Signing up for the service simply provides them an easier way to wrap the data into a tidy duces tecum package!

So, in other words, you are already using My Search History, and you didn’t even know it!

Once again, Google has steped in a big pile of privacy crap without a plan.

Politics20 Apr 2005 11:01 pm

I second the motion that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is a whack job. Why the opprobrium thrown at DeLay now? Well, try this on for size: (more…)

Privacy19 Apr 2005 04:31 pm

Another day, another data theft. Oh, did I say this before? Yeah, well, get used to it! News had leaked out a few weeks ago about a possible theft of a few thousand credit card numbers from shoe retailer DSW Shoe Warehouse. And of course the reality turns out to be worse. (more…)

Sillycon Valley Biz19 Apr 2005 04:30 pm

The thought-leaders, and the wing-nuts are starting to weigh in on the Adobe-Macromedia merger.

Today’s “Whistling Past the Graveyard” Award goes to Tim Bray, Director of Web Technologies at Sun, whose apparent focus on Java renders him incapable of understanding the value proposition of Flash. No wonder Java continues to stagnate! (more…)

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