Saturday Rants: Recent Pet Peeves

Some recent news stores hit on my pet peeves, AT&T buying T-Mobile, Yahoo saving data for my benefit, Apple tracking (and the reaction), beta hardware and Dropbox privacy.

Frustrated Man tileA few recent news articles that hit some pet peeves of mine:

AT&T is Buying T-Mobile To Help Customers

Despite reducing the number of competitors by one, and that one having a reputation for good customer service and innovative phone and plans (or at least different), AT&T claims the merger is pro-consumer. Ars-Technica has a good article about just how warped AT&T arguments are in their official filing. After a long history of problems with AT&T I’m biased against seeing good in anything they do, but this is ridiculous. Never the less, the merger will be approved after some face-saving government concessions.

Yahoo is Saving Data for 18 Month

Yahoo announce they will begin retaining the information about the searches we do for 18 months (up from the current 90 days). While there may be reasons to argue against the 18 months, what peeved me was their “to benefit the consumer” spin. Guess they liked AT&T’s spin. Their announcement headline said this included…

… to Put Data to Work for Consumers

And the first sentence was…

Today, Yahoo! is making an announcement of our intention to change our log file data retention policy to meet the needs of our consumers for personalization and relevance, while living up to their expectations of trust.

At least be up front and say the primary reason is so they can make more money from the information they collect. If that includes better targeting of ads we might see the benefit of fewer, less annoying ads, but I doubt that’s their goal (at least the fewer part) and they don’t get into any specific about how this is better for us.

Look, I don’t expect all services for free and if I’m going to get ads they might as well be relevant, but don’t try to tell me it’s all for me. After all, the Yahoo email I paid for had more annoying ads than most free email services. Even if they had been well targeted, they would have been annoying. Maybe their email embedded ads are less annoying these days as I dumped them long ago. But despite the words, I don’t see them as pro-consumer.

Apple’s iPhone location tracking (and the reaction to it)

This one’s a bit complicated and the jury is still out. We agree to location reporting in the iPhone terms of service but then we get prompted by each 3rd party app as to whether or not to allow it. This gives the impression of choice. On the other hand they regularly determine location and there are valid reasons to do so. The question is, why keep such a long history? A plausible explanation is that the tracking is to improve GPS performance by being able to start the search in the right location. And it’s being kept for a year do to a bug, oversight or bad decision by a programmer.

There are plenty of more devious explanations and at least one security researcher who says the info is going to Apple to help populate their location database. What I find interesting here is that the reason given is the same reason that got Google in hot water for their wi-fi stiffing. That same researcher does show where Apple says what their doing and provides a “poorly worded” opt-out. As it happens I couldn’t verify it on my iPhone as I already encrypt my backup (so can’t get at the file on my PC) and I always opt-out of everything so I couldn’t easily verify any of this. Although I admit my opt-out is mainly because I ‘m too lazy to read the entire policy  and I basically distrust everyone.

But no matter what the reason it gets down to the same reason I encrypt  my iPhone backup. There’s no reason to save the info for so long, so why do it? It can only cause problems and open a can of worms (which is now open).

The second part of this pet peeve is the reaction to it. We have a Senators writing letters to Apple. OK, I agree Apple should explain, but there’s no reason for a Senator to get involved except to grab headlines. We wouldn’t want them tackling those pesky budget and economic issues instead.

To top it off, this wasn’t even news. It just caught everyone’s attention now because there was an app for it and some pretty pictures to go along.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

And while you may say there’s no real issue unless your trying to hide something – if the data is there someone will want to use it. The Apple iPhone tracking coincided with my reading a story about the Michigan State Police pulling data from cell phones during traffic stops. While denied, it falls into the realm of possibility and do we really think these devices won’t be abused or restricted to lawful use (and lawful doesn’t mean moral or just).

Beta Hardware?

Then I read Harry McCracken’s article about “beta hardware” and at first I agreed because it seems these vendors were making people pay for development products. At least Google had the sense (and money) to give away their Chrome Notebooks. I don’t think Harry is necessarily wrong in the details, but the word “beta” gives vendors too much credit.

The more I thought about it it’s not beta hardware, it’s a bad product. They’re playing catch-up to Apple and justify it by saying features are coming. Reviews says the iPhone didn’t have this (Apps) or that (cut/paste) when it was released as if that justifies the new entries not having this or that.

I can understand choosing a non-Apple product, but don’t try to justify it by saying it will be just as good as todays Apple product at some distant date (Harry doesn’t do this – others do and his article just triggered this response). First off, in order for that to be true it means the software will change (unless the Mfg. takes the hardware back for an upgrade as Motorola will do with the Xoom) and software is harder than hardware and frequently sucks despite delivering a promised checklist feature. Case in point, the Windows Phone 7 update fiasco.

If you want a non-Apple device then buy it because the one you’ll get is best for you and is what you want today, not based on some promise. There are plenty of reasons to chose a non-Apple phone, although fewer options in the tablet arena. If the vendor is promoting a product based on future features then it’s a bad device today. Harry’s wrong, at least in the choice of “beta”, these aren’t beta devices, they’re bad devices that the manufacturer claims will get better.  I guess the promise means the manufacturer knows it’s bad.

Dropbox Privacy Kerfuffle

Dropbox made news recently when they changed their privacy policy to indicate they would turn over files under government order (which requires they break their encryption).

Despite the sky is falling reaction of some, I was actually surprised to learn this wasn’t already in their policy. Even if it wasn’t in writing, I think it was safe to assume that they will comply with the laws of the country they do business in.

While Dropbox makes a big deal about security I’d never trust a service such as this with info I truly wanted to be confidential (such as medical, tax returns & financial records). Even with the best of intentions, mistakes happen – either by them or me. They allow file sharing, I could share my files in error or they could push a code change that shares them in error.

I don’t have the encryption keys, they do, so they could also end up in someone else’s hands despite the best policies and intentions. If I want something kept private I encrypt it myself with my own keys.

Now Dropbox was a little over eager in their security promotion. They used to sat “Dropbox employees are unable to view user files”. Not exactly true since there are at least a couple employees who have the keys so they no longer say that. it doesn’t mean every employee has the keys, but like I said, mistakes happen. Maybe it’s because I took the no employee access statement with skepticism since I knew they had to have the encryptions keys if only to run their service, but I don’t consider this more than misplaced marketing. Such a a statement  could only be true if I created the keys and never transmitted them.

If you really need information secure then trust no one, encrypt yourself, with your own keys (and don’t lose them). I fail to see a real issue with Dropbox since I never expected more, despite a claim that wasn’t 100% true. If I wanted to, I could simply use a Truecrypt vault inside Dropbox

 

It’s been an annoying week reading the tech blogs, but that sums up the news I found most annoying. What news pushed your buttons recently?