My colleague Andrew Coyne recently renewed his call for political advertising reform — specifically an end to anything even remotely resembling a public subsidy for it, which I could not possibly support more; and a requirement that party leaders voice their own ads, which somewhat offends my free-speech Spidey senses. But as the Conservatives prepare to roll out some Justin Trudeau attack-mailers, at taxpayer expense, featuring an outrageously misleading quotation, I keep coming back to a perplexing question: We wouldn’t stand for the level of dishonesty and deception we routinely see in political advertising if it came from someone selling pickup trucks, hamburgers, underwear or shampoo. So why the hell do we put up with it from people trying to sell us the people who will run the country?
I have heard the justifications for the exemption of political advertising from Advertising Standards Canada standards any number of times, and at no time have they ever made much sense to me.
It’s impossible to evaluate the truthiness of an ad during an election campaign. So? Do it afterwards and report back. Political advertising isn’t just a campaign phenomenon anymore anyway. Not hardly.
Voters understand and discount hyperbole. That doesn’t seem to be what the parties think, or else they wouldn’t constantly rub hyperbole in our faces.
We need unfettered dialogue and debate in politics. Amen, assuming equal right of rebuttal. But then why not afford people selling vastly less important products the same leeway? I’m reminded of an amusing scenario that Allan Gregg recently imagined: Burger King accusing McDonald’s of using beef rife with botulism, and McDonald’s firing back by claiming that Burger King’s product is swimming in E. coli. And just wait until Wendy’s gets in on the act! Why should politicians be afforded this absurd slanderous luxury if burger joints aren’t?
Tories attacking Liberals is par for the course in Canadian politics. The style with which they stage these attacks is, of course, debatable. What is not up for debate should be MPs using their print budgets at the expense of taxpayers for partisan attacks.
According to documents made available by the Liberal party, the Tories plan to spend thousands on taxpayer-supported mailings to inform Canadians of the purported inadequacies of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau. Traditionally, these mail-outs are intended to update constituents on the doings of the House of Commons. Not surprisingly, MPs often use them to lecture riding residents on how well they’re being served and all the good things — or bad things, if you’re an opposition MP — the government is doing.
The Tories, however, appear intent on crossing the ethical divide with mail-outs that are nothing more than an extension of their attack ad campaign against the new Liberal leader. They should not. They can spend as much as they want to discredit Trudeau — whether it will do them any good is another matter — but not on the taxpayer’s dime.
The flyers, which were presented to the Conservative caucus in mid-April and are to be distributed June 1, show pictures of Trudeau with a moustache and jacket over his shoulder against a backdrop of quotes — “He’s in way over his head,” for example — and encircled by what looks like a comet trail of pixie dust sprinkled by Walt Disney’s wand-waving fairy. Another part of the mail-out suggests the Liberal leader is naive on such issues as Quebec separatism, tax credits for families and the economy.
The cost of mailing these attacks for 166 Conservative MPs comes in at about $29,000, but throw in the full price of printing and distribution and, according to the Liberals, it will be more than $220,000. The money will come out of the Tories’ House of Commons budget. In other words, taxpayers will pay.
Government House Leader Peter Van Loan defends the expenditure, saying it is within rules approved by Parliament and the all-party Board of Internal Economy that oversees MPs’ expenditures. He says it’s “entirely appropriate” for the Tories to inform Canadians in this way about Trudeau’s leadership qualities (or lack thereof).
What a specious justification for ripping off taxpayers. Householders were intended to provide MPs with a way to communicate “information” — farm subsidy programs, home renovation credits, etc. — to constituents. Yet they have become a vehicle for partisan propaganda.
Parliament should abolish politicians’ bulk mailing privileges. Between the serial abuse of the privilege by MPs and the fact we live in an era of ubiquitous digital communication, there is no longer a justifiable reason for taxpayers to be getting flyers and other assorted political epistles at their own expense.
Where even 10 years ago it was reasonable to have taxpayers pay the cost of receiving mailed information about the doings of their elected representative and the latest business of the House of Commons, in the digital age it is a redundant waste of money and resources. Let’s be honest: How many Canadians spend any time at all reading the flyers their MPs, provincial representatives and municipal councillors print up and send to them at taxpayer expense? The vast majority of the flyers end up in the recycling bin in mint condition.
To add insult to injury, MPs in particular have made a sport of abusing their bulk mailing privileges. This week, Conservative Party MPs have been asked by party officials to send their constituents a flyer that is nothing more than an attack ad targeting Liberal leader Justin Trudeau. It is scandalous, but it is only the latest such outrage.
Three years ago, after MPs had begun flooding their opponents’ ridings with partisan flyers, they agreed to a ceasefire: MPs would only mail flyers to their own constituents. This was quickly undone, however, when MPs began using their so-called “franking” privilege – the right to send a letter anywhere in Canada at no cost in an envelope bearing the MP’s name – to carpet bomb targeted opponents’ ridings with yet more partisan attacks, this time on letterhead.
It is an entirely uncomplicated fact that taxpayers should never bear the cost of printing and receiving partisan mailings. Yet MPs continue to spout utter nonsense in their efforts to muddy the crystal-clear waters of common sense. “It’s entirely appropriate for Canadians to be informed about those contrasting aspects of leadership they have available,” Government House Leader Peter Van Loan argued in defence of the bulk-mailing of the Trudeau attack ads, and thereby missed the point. It is within the current rules, perhaps. But playing up the strengths of a party leader at the expense of a rival is not an appropriate use of public money – especially not in a democratic country that purports to make a distinction between the wellbeing of any one political party and the general wellbeing of the taxpayer.
Just when you thought the Harper Conservatives could stoop no lower with their attack ads against Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, they discovered something even more base.
Household mailings, paid for by taxpayers, are supposed to communicate information from MPs to constituents about doings in government. Every MP, of course, puts her or his spin on things because, after all, they’re politicians. But household mailings often contain straightforward information about which government office a constituent should phone, how to apply for government programs, or what this or that piece of legislation means.
But now the Conservatives have decided to use these mailings – as much as 10 per cent of the voters receive them at any one time – as nothing more than a printed negative ad against Mr. Trudeau. It’s one thing for the Conservative Party to use its money to buy television airtime to demean Mr. Trudeau; it’s another to use your money for the same base purposes. But as we see, the Harper attack machine does politics this way, always has and always will, because the Prime Minister – who authorizes all this stuff, after all – obviously thinks it works.
It’s never the big things that trip up governments, it is stuff like this. Voters aren’t stupid, we know this stuff is being paid for by taxpayers and it starts to add up. Bev Oda’s orange juice, these ten percenters, a defence minister taking helicopter rides so he can fish… It’s not a partisan thing. It’s the transition a government that is going from serving to being entitled.
In 2012, newspapers lost $16 in print ads for every $1 earned in digital ads. And it’s getting worse, according to a new report by Pew. In 2011, the ratio was just 10-to-1.
The digital ad revolution, always “just around the corner”, remains tantalizingly out of reach for most newspapers, which explains why some stalwarts like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal have moved to subscription models for their websites to bolster digital ad growth. Just today, the Washington Post announced a paywall.
It’s bad. What’s happened.
Who killed newspapers? The classic response is the classifieds, and it’s true that websites offering direct information about housing, rentals, cars, and other goods and services that once found a unique home in newspapers have gutted the old revenue model. “More than three-quarters of print classified revenue has been lost since 2000,” Pew reports.
But as you can see, the majority of print’s ad decline since 2003 has come from retail ads (the most common slice of most newspapers’ revenue pie) and national ads. Here’s the breakdown of that $25 billion lost over ten years. It’s about $11 billion each from classifieds and retail ads, with the remainder coming from national ad spots.
Great public awareness campaign and website from the Government of Alberta on the dangers of texting and driving. I am amazed that despite the Saskatoon Police Service cracking down on it and the large fines that come along with it, many people I know text and use their phone while driving. It’s not that hard to put your phone on vibrate, put it face down and ignore it when in the car.
It’s been so busy the last week and I have been so incredibly sick that I never posted this last week. Since a bunch of you have asked how our mini-vacation went, here is the summary… just really late.
On Thursday morning we got up early, checked out the highway conditions and headed out to Calgary for the weekend.
It was Oliver’s first long road trip and we packed pretty well. In his backpack he had his VTech tablet and some kid’s volume controlled headphones as well as a cheap set of binoculars. Mark had his PSP and a National Geographic History magazine. The end result is that we stopped in Kindersley (for a 5 Hour Energy Drink for me), Hanna (for windshield washer fluid), Drumheller (to take Oliver for a walk up the giant dinosaur) and the boys were remarkably good.
The trip took up around 6 1/2 hours which is pretty good but like I said, our stops were quick. The stop at Drumheller took the longest and Oliver wasn’t that thilled with the idea of running up the “butt of a dinosaur” and I carried him most of the 100 steps to it’s mouth.
After heading back down, we were off to Calgary and checked into our hotel at around 2:30 p.m. Calgary time.
The hotel was the Best Western Plus Calgary Centre Inn and was quite nice. Our room was massive and the photos on their site don’t do justice to how nice the pool area is. They have a normal pool, a hot tub but also a small pool that is only 2 feet deep for kids. Oliver loved, “his pool” and spent all of his time in it. They also have a free continental breakfast that was varied enough that we didn’t get sick of it. Of course it’s central location meant that it was out of the way of everywhere we wanted to go but not so far out of the way we didn’t go.
All day on Twitter, Mayor Nenshi was warning of the snowfall which we didn’t really notice until we hit Chestermere and the highway was closed because of a rollover. I am not sure what happened as we didn’t find the highways that slippery. There was some black ice but nothing that bad; then again I am used to driving in it.
We were two long blocks away from the 39th Street LRT station and took it downtown where we went for a long walk. We had plans to head up the Calgary Tower but visibility was really poor so we just took in downtown Calgary. The snow was really coming down but all over downtown were snow removal crews sweeping sidewalks and streets even as the snow fell which is quite a bit different than Saskatoon which puts the onus on store owners who may or may not shovel out downtown. It’s almost as Calgary’s downtown is a place of commerce.
That night we headed back, checked out the pool and ordered in from Mother’s Pizza, something that I have done since I was old enough to know what pizza was.
Friday morning the roads in Calgary were reported to be in bad shape but in reality were quite good. Thanks to Saskatoon for lowering my expectations for snow removal. Mark spent the summer and fall saving up for a new iPod Nano and despite being $4 short that I kicked in for him, we went to the Apple Store in Chinook Centre where a clerk named Jazz managed to help him pick out the one he wanted.
While Mark and Jazz finished the deal, Wendy pulled out her Samsung Galaxy and started to text something. She was lucky she wasn’t tossed out. As we were leaving, Wendy had a minor fit as she saw a Lego store and insisted that we had to purchase some Lego for Oliver for Christmas. Long story short, Wendy always wanted Lego as a kid and never had any. She had more fun than any of us in there.
As soon as we hit Highway #1, roads were perfect until we hit the Banff National Park gates and they never got the snow the rest of us got so it was a fun trip up with lots of stories and sight seeing along the way. We went straight to Sulphur Mountain and took the gondola to the top of it. Excited does not describe the reaction of Oliver and Mark who loved every second of the nine minute trip to the summit. Once at the summit I was tempted to hike to the science station but it was blowing and cold up there so we ordered a bite to eat and chilled out at the top.
Once back down we did some shopping and Banff didn’t disappoint. Every single shop had the exact same touristy junk. As I told Wendy, I spent most of my life trying to buy something nice in Banff and failed. Wendy found some earrings and found some Christmas gifts. Mark managed to get some more money out of me and bought some magnetic rocks and a Gondola souvenir. The highlight of the shopping was a large male elk meandering through main street and within inches of the car.
I personally love Banff in the off season and hate it during the peak season. The lack of tourists and crowds are nice, even if the weather is not. What I loved about Banff is that there was absolutely no trace of snow along their main street. Every flake was removed… again, it’s a place of commerce.
Finally we took the boys to Bow Falls where a combination of the cold, wind and humidity almost froze Wendy, Mark and I to death while taking some photos. Oliver just said, “I want to wait in the car”
As we were leaving, we went to Walsh’s Candy Store where I bought Mark and Oliver two massive jawbreakers and challenged them to finish them by the time we got to Calgary. It’s an impossible task (knowing first hand) but neither one of them talked all the way back to Calgary. I love it when a plan comes together.
For supper that night, we went to Five Guys Hamburgers for the first time. We need one of those in Saskatoon in the worst possible way. We ordered burgers and fries and couldn’t even start the fries as the burgers were so filling.
Saturday morning we met our good friend Dave King at Nellie’s where we had a good talk about politics, urban planning, cycling and photography all over a fantastic breakfast. It was cold out that day so instead of going to the Calgary Zoo, we went back downtown and checked out Mountain Equipment Co-op (twice), the Calgary Tower, Glenbow Museum, and snagged some milkshakes at Peter’s Drive-Thru.
While at Mountain Equipment Co-Op, we did some Christmas shopping and Wendy agonized over which bag to purchase (which she always does). She finally got one of these and seems at peace with the world. Meanwhile I got a sleeve for the MacBook, a left handed sling pack, some gloves, bike lock (as well as one for Mark) and a lantern. Mark also bought a sling pack which means that we kind of match which is awkward. At least his is right handed.
The Calgary Tower is always amazing and we spent a lot of time up there. The glass floor was fun as people were absolutely terrified to walk out on it while kids seemed to not even notice. Both Wendy and I took a bunch of photos with other people’s cameras while they stood out on the glass. We went back downstairs and across the street to the Glenbow Museum where Mark really had a good time. Wendy enjoyed the section on the National Energy Program and on Peter Lougheed. It was weird to see a display honouring Preston Manning and not Joe Clark or Ralph Klein. I know Manning has significance but so does Clark and Klein.
Saturday night against my better wishes, we went to Swiss Chalet. Wendy and the boys had never gone but the meal was what you expect of Swiss Chalet. Personally I am still bitter that St. Hubert is not in Calgary. Sadly everyone in the family like the meal which means that I am going to have to fight not to go back.
Sunday we drove back home after some more running around. The trip was quick as I had two boys chilling out to their iPods and sucking on jawbreakers. The only excitement was when we were back in Saskatoon city limits when we found out again that snow removal baffles our fair city.
Back then all this was much smaller. There were far fewer bloggers. Maybe thousands. Today there are millions. None of them are thinking about what happens when Tumblr or Blogger or WordPress or Facebook disappear. But come on — we almost know for certain that one of them will. Given enough time they will all disappear. Doesn’t it make sense to think, in advance about what will happen then? Technically there are good practices that exist right now, that could ameliorate the problems. Don’t we have a responsibility to implement them?
Which gets me to the beginning. Yesterday I wrote a piece where I said that the web is socialist. I strongly believe if you try to turn a community of bloggers into a property, someday you’ll wake up to the realization that you bought a bag of air. There’s nothing inside the walls that’s worth anything, from a dollar standpoint. What happens then dear blogger? Do you think anyone is going to subsidize the hosting? You will be on your own that day. And you very likely won’t have any recourse, any more than my users had in 2003. I promise you I was well-intentioned, but that didn’t save the sites. Good intentions are no answer. Saying they’re not your users won’t help either. In 2003 they weren’t mine because I was no longer employed by the company. No salary. No upside. Nothing. I quit for a very good reason. So why me? It was basically an accident that the hits were coming to my server. That didn’t matter to the users. Were they right? Hard to say. But it didn’t matter.
When I started at The Lighthouse, I was caught on what was the best way to communicate with the staff. I didn’t want to use memos and while email works, I wanted something that would keep a narrative of where we started from. I set up an intranet with Google Sites and while it was impressive, I didn’t think it would get checked enough and was a bit of a pain to post stuff too. I finally settled on setting up a password protected staff blog using Blogger. It took about 2 minutes to set up and invite the staff to. Another 60 seconds and I had invited Chris and DeeAnn to post to it as well.
The response to reading it was good but there were some technical difficulties. Once those were settled it will be even more productive. The main technical obstacle is staff forgetting their passwords at home and then wanting to read it at work. That was solved by setting up a generic account that can be accessed by anyone at work to read it.
We are only six posts into it and I am not sure what the end result will be but the hope is that it will be a resource that will bring staff up to speed quicker and give them a better feel for the ethos, feel, and personality of The Lighthouse quicker than ever before.
With it being so easy to set up and publish to, I am surprised that more employers aren’t using internal blogs more. I have loved the idea ever since I heard of the idea of Blogger in Google shortly after Google acquired Google.
"Google Inc., which implemented an internal Web log system behind its firewall about 18 months ago, has seen tremendous benefits from it and may in the future consider providing tools and expertise for this purpose to interested clients, a Google executive said.
Google deployed an internal blog for its employees shortly after acquiring the blogging service Blogger in early 2003, and since then Google staffers have found many useful and creative ways for the internal blog, said Jason Goldman, Blogger product manager at Google.
"Since then, we have seen a lot of different uses of blogs within the firewall: people keeping track of meeting notes, people sharing diagnostics information, people sharing snippets of code, as well as more personal uses, like letting co-workers know what they’re thinking about and what they’re up to," Goldman said. "It really helps grow the intranet and the internal base of documents."
Google executives have talked in the past about the company’s internal Blogger implementation, called Blogger in Google (BIG), and a Google employee even posted a screenshot of a BIG page last year".
It’s not a new idea but it has the potential for The Lighthouse to have a big return on almost no investment.
My friend and colleague Marcel has started a new blog which should be good as he is one of the most versatile people I know. He is one of the four people that are calling my office home right now and is often the cameraman on the videos that we shoot around The Lighthouse. Since I noted that he has one, I suppose it’s as good of time as any to mention that my other office mate, DeeAnn has one as well.
Life on the net can be hard. It’s human nature to want to be liked, and to feel bad when someone says something negative to you. And if it’s one thing we all know about the internet, it’s that at any moment, someone, somewhere, is saying something negative.
An easy solution would be to withdraw, to not participate at all. But the world is getting more digital, not less. Eventually we won’t have a choice: if we want any kind of social life, we’ll have to participate in the social web.
Another solution would be to develop a thicker skin. And while I’ve certainly done that over the years, I never want to become so callous that I just don’t care about anything. I want to be able to be myself in the world.
So the solution I’ve come to is this: I care a lot about a very small group of people. I maintain a hierarchy of who I need to be okay with. It starts with my wife Heather, my parents and my sister, and includes my clients and a very short list of friends. You know who’s not on that list? Anonymous internet commenters. For them and everyone else not on the list, I just try to remember a saying I heard once: “Your opinion of me is none of my business.”
If you’re reading this, chances are, you’re not on that list, and I’m sorry if that hurts your feelings. But the truth is, I’m probably not on your list, either. It’s okay if our hearts are not yet big enough to include everyone they deserve.
He manages it this way
If you use Twitter, you pay attention to your mentions – the tweets that include @yourusername – because that’s how you have conversations. And therein lies the problem, because anyone can tweet at you that way. Some of those people are batshit crazy like the Haight Street Guy, while others are just merely rude like the Conference Talker Guy.
The difference is, on Haight Street, you have to walk briskly away and hope you’re not followed. And at the conference, you have to de-escalate the conversation politely, in front of a crowd. But on Twitter, there is a magic button, and in one click, poof, the crazy is gone.
It’s a wonderful thing. A thing so lovely I often find myself wishing it existed in real life.So why is blocking such a taboo?
I think the Block function on sites like Twitter and Flickr is unfortunately named. There’s something about the word – Block! – that comes across as a personal insult. And that’s too bad, because it’s basically the only tool we have to effectively manage our social experience in those communities.
I propose that blocking people on sites like Twitter or Flickr should not be interpreted as an insult. I propose that it’s simply taking yourself out of someone else’s attention stream.
If I block you on Twitter, my tweets no longer show up in your timeline. If I block you on Flickr, my photos no longer show up on your contacts page. In these settings, this is the only way for me to remove myself from your attention.
I don’t know what Derek defines as his breaking point. Over the years I have left a couple of comments on both his and Heather’s Flickr and Twitter streams that have been sometimes ignored and sometimes replied to but I haven’t been blocked. I tend to do the same thing although I fall more on the ignore side of the things which doesn’t mean I don’t care but it often means I have nothing to say back. It’s how Twitter works. I hadn’t thought of it that much until someone that I know unknowingly posted something fairly offensive on my Twitter stream and I was going to reply when I realized that I didn’t care what this person thought of my views so I hit “block”. I used to do it quite a bit on my blog but a combination of blocking those that just want to argue and not posting very much eliminated the need.
I get a lot of criticism and feedback at work. I work with the hard to house and many have significant anger issues along with a variety of social disorders. When they don’t get their way, they generally comment on my weight, my intelligence, my faith, being bald, and being ugly. It happens day in and day out but at the end of the day I can go home and relax. To log in and get it day in and day out when all I want to do is a little reading and writing is absurd. By blocking you, I remove my offensive views from your attention and we are both happier. My piece of the internet is free from inane comments, your net is free of my views that bother you so much. There is such a thing as win/win and it’s found by clicking block.
Powazek talks of the need to stay reconciled with some people but I find that those people don’t take stupid potshots online. The other thing is that there is a difference between being close to someone and having to interact with them online. Facebook and myself don’t get along that well. It doesn’t mean that I don’t like people who choose to interact there, it just means that I choose not to interact with them there. Same with online. On Twitter I choose who I follow but I can also choose who I want to follow me and I am realizing more and more, I don’t want all people interacting with me there. I realize that some people that are normal in person are jerks online. If you don’t like it, I think I just said, I don’t really care.
As SaskTel winds down CDMA coverage in Saskatchewan, I need to upgrade Mark’s cell phone (a LG Rumor 2) that he loves. He is on a cheap pre-paid plan with Virgin that I don’t want to upgrade or add data so I will keep with a feature phone, probably a LG Rumor Plus or a Samsung Gravity 3. It’s talk, text, and email which is really all Mark needs right now.
I have been thinking about what I need ever since RIM’s network when down last summer. This is how I am thinking. I had a Blackberry Curve 8530 and like a lot of smartphone users, I have everything flowing through that phone.
- Two email accounts
- Blackberry Messenger
- Flickr (which never worked on the phone)
- Dropbox so I could send and receive files
- The Score Mobile App (I have a problem okay)
- MySask411 which replaced my phone book
I got a fair amount of work done and even wrote a couple of columns with it. It worked really well for me until that outage. When Blackberry went down, so did my phone. I couldn’t get calls, I couldn’t even connect to a Wifi network. My phone was essentially a brick that I carried around and hoped would return. While it wasn’t the reason I switched a Samsung Galaxy Ace over Christmas (the cost of the new Curve’s were high on Koodo and didn’t seem to offer a lot more capability as well as my general lack of faith in the Blackberry platform) I essentially swapped out RIM for being totally dependent on Google and this week I had an uncomfortable realization about how totally dependent I am on Google.
I was one of the first bunch of Gmail users way back in 2004, back in the days where invites were limited to five per person and where actually being sold for money. I got one, used my five invites on Wendy and some friends. Gmail was so new and fresh it had that new email smell to it. It served me well until this year when I got a notice that my email had been accessed by someone using an IP address from Serbia. It was really unsettling because as I had a decent password and changed it periodically. Having not travelled to Serbia recently (or ever) the idea that I had been hacked was a horrible one.
As for my ID, you have your drivers license, your passport, your Saskatchewan Health Card, your Social Insurance Number but my email is just as big of a part of my ID as anything. I have used it to sign up for Flickr, YouTube, Twitter, PayPal, even my bank and credit card uses it to communicate with me. While I am careful, having everything exposed was not that pleasant and it resulted in new credit cards being issues, new passwords, and really all new everything.
Shortly after that I had a huge problem with email. Emails were missing and there was about a 1500 email hole from about a year before that I discovered. I wasn’t the only one that has had this happen to me. The Gmail help forums are full of users that have lost thousands of emails and no one really knows why.
Since then there is someone that I will email periodically at The StarPhoenix that occasionally doesn’t acknowledge the email. I am the same way so I never thought of it until Friday when I got a call from my editor to see why I never filed my column except I did on Wednesday. I resent the column and it appeared. It’s the second time it happened but I have long had these sneaking suspicions that it was a problem with the @thestarphoenix.com domain. I checked the Gmail help forum and it tells me that I need to check with the domain name that wasn’t getting my email as they are of course faultless. Of course the email was never received.
This isn’t the first time this happened. A friend used to work at USA Today. An email I sent him took a full year one time to show up. I was working somewhere else and using their email (which was served up on Dreamhost) was the only server they ever had a problem with and then only sometimes. It has happened to me before from SaskTel where an email just hung out for month before being delivered. It happens but how do you know it happens. I never got a bounce message in any of those situations so I assumed (incorrectly) that it had gone through. Maybe we need to downgrade to Eudora 3 and start sending read receipts again.
So on Friday, my email was down, my cell phone was acting erratic (I think the problem was Koodo) and I realize that when things go down, they really go down. What can you do about it?
Leaving Gmail is really hard because I think we underestimate how much spam and email that we get and I really don’t want that to make it to my phone. I know SaskTel has web access but so many friends of mine have had their email account become totally full after a couple of days that it is pointless if you are a heavy email user. I can set up a 500mb account for myself on Dreamhost but I get thousands of spam a day and Gmail handles it better than anyone else. I am in the process of putting coop AT jordoncooper.com to rest which will cut back on some of the spam but it’s a big problem when you are have old email accounts. There are a lot of things that still use it, including some that I am sure I don’t remember but will need someday.
As Wired Magazine published yesterday, Gmail has a pretty big security hole in it.
But since Gmail added OAuth support in March 2010, an increasing number of startups are asking for a perpetual, silent window into your inbox.
I’m concerned OAuth, while hugely convenient for both developers and users, may be paving the way for an inevitable privacy meltdown.
For most of the last decade, alpha geeks railed against “the password anti-pattern,” the common practice for web apps to prompt for your password to a third-party, usually to scrape your e-mail address book to find friends on a social network. It was insecure and dangerous, effectively training users how to be phished.
The solution was OAuth, an open standard that lets you grant permission for one service to connect to another without ever exposing your username or password. Instead of passwords getting passed around, services are issued a token they can use to connect on your behalf.
If you’ve ever granted permission for a service to use your Twitter, Facebook, or Google account, you’ve used OAuth.
This was a radical improvement. It’s easier for users, taking a couple of clicks to authorize accounts, and passwords are never sent insecurely or stored by services who shouldn’t have them. And developers never have to worry about storing or transmitting private passwords.
But this convenience creates a new risk. It’s training people not to care.
It’s so simple and pervasive that even savvy users have no issue letting dozens of new services access their various accounts.
I’m as guilty as anyone, with 49 apps connected to my Google account, 80 to Twitter, and over 120 connected to Facebook. Others are more extreme. Samuel Cole, a developer at Kickstarter, authorized 148 apps to use his Twitter account. NYC entrepreneur Anil Dash counted 88 apps using his Google account, with nine granted access to Gmail.
This is where it gets nerve wracking.
You may trust Google to keep your email safe, but do you trust a three-month-old Y Combinator-funded startup created by three college kids? Or a side project from an engineer working in his 20 percent time? How about a disgruntled or curious employee of one of these third-party services?
Any of these services becomes the weakest link to access the e-mail for thousands of users. If one’s hacked or the list of tokens leaked, everyone who ever used that service risks exposing his complete Gmail archive.
The scariest thing? If the third-party service doesn’t discover the hack or chooses not to invalidate its tokens, you may never know you’re exposed.
The reliability isn’t just a Gmail issue but most of us switched to Gmail because it was run by Google and we never thought that we would have these issues.
The other issue with Google is that even though they post an Apps Dashboard to let you know how things are going, this is a multi-billion dollar company with no way to contact them unless you are a large customer. I have had Gmail down and nothing shows up on the Dashboard so it has to be a big outage to report it. That’s fine if you are affected with others but if you are not part of a giant collective of frustrated Gmail users losing control on Twitter, what recourse do you have. Google tells you to that they look at help forums but there are thousands of unresolved issues, some that go on for a long time. This isn’t unique to Google, a friend had a nightmare in getting locked out of his Twitter account because of a Twitter database error. It look a couple of months to resolve and that was even after it’s CEO got involved. At least you can contact Dick Costello, who do you contact anymore at Google?
I download and backup periodically my contacts for a couple of reasons, I need to keep them sync’d across my two accounts (one for work, the other one is personal). They are also sync’d on my iPod Touch, iPad, and Android phone. Of course I just read on Kottke this week that stealing your address book among iPhone developers is quite common.
It’s not really a secret, per se, but there’s a quiet understanding among many iOS app developers that it is acceptable to send a user’s entire address book, without their permission, to remote servers and then store it for future reference. It’s common practice, and many companies likely have your address book stored in their database. Obviously, there are lots of awesome things apps can do with this data to vastly improve user experience. But it is also a breach of trust and an invasion of privacy.
I did a quick survey of 15 developers of popular iOS apps, and 13 of them told me they have a contacts database with millons of records. One company’s database has Mark Zuckerberg’s cell phone number, Larry Ellison’s home phone number and Bill Gates’ cell phone number. This data is not meant to be public, and people have an expectation of privacy with respect to their contacts.
So while I am giving all of my contact information to Google intentionally, I (and so are most of you) am un-intentionally giving up your contact information to developers (sorry about that) which is one of the reasons why there is so much spam in this world. Thanks Apple. So even if Google is protecting our private information, as soon as we sync it with our iPhone or iPad, it is compromised.
This brings up my next issue, which phone vendor can we trust? Apple allows people to download your most private of personal information, Google controls and ties it all together in an Android phone, with Blackberry you just have a crappy phone experience and does anyone expect Windows 7 Phone to be any better. RIM has better security but isn’t able to deliver on their phones.
I was talking to a businessman who has been tied to his phone since AGT came out with the Aurora (such old technology, Google doesn’t even know about it) and he said to me the other day that he was willing to ditch his smart phone and go back to a flip phone (or a feature phone so he could text his kids). His company email server was down and he couldn’t do “anything” and was frustrated in the same way we all get frustrated. He said with a regular cell phone, when it went down, all it did was affect his phone calls. Now when his smartphone isn’t working, it affects everything. He was actually in the process of heading to Midtown Mall and purchase a cheap phone so as he put it, at “least I can call someone”. In some ways as I looked at a Nokia C1 by Fido today I wondered if this may be what I really want, an update to the Nokia 1100 which is still the world’s most popular phone.
Koodo’s cellular service is okay here in Saskatoon. They use Telus’ network and do a not bad job of staying active. I find that when SaskTel is having problems, so is Telus/Koodo which makes me feel somewhat better but not a lot. In other words when I get no service at my house, neither does anyone else using SaskTel, Telus, or Virgin. When Koodo’s network is acting up, I can tell by looking at my phone when something is wrong. My Foursquare check-in options revolve around Carlton University’s campus, my network says Telus or even SaskTel instead of Koodo, and my calls drop more than they should. Wireless is defined by it’s Ready, Shoot, Aim background and we shouldn’t be surprised with it’s technical difficulties considering the rate that technology is changing but more and more I keep wondering if a step back may be order and evaluate if I want all of my personal information being in a platform that is so easily exploited.
Even if you can trust them now, can you trust them in the future. Google’s recent privacy changes spooked millions and may have launched a competitor in Duck, Duck, Go. These aren’t new concerns as I remember AKMA struggling with how much he should trust Flickr years ago.
I could come off the cloud but that is a lot easier said than done. I could use Thunderbird for email and contacts and Lightning as a calendar. I could use Dreamhost’s IMAP server, keep my email off my phone, and ditch my iPad, or at least not sync up information with it. It can be done but it is a very different 1998 era web that I don’t think I want to go back to either.
When you think of the information you have in your Gmail account, address book, calendar, and other apps (think of Mint and your bank app on your phone), why aren’t we either demanding more security or at least taking steps to protect ourselves. I know RIM’s the most secure but their phones are terrible right now. I wonder if the next thing in wireless will not just be the cool apps but the cool apps that protect your data because right now my data isn’t feeling all that safe.