Archive for January, 2012

Google and Privacy

Google unveiled its new privacy policy a week ago, and it has raised quite the commotion on the intertubes. Some people say that Google has gone too far. Members of Congress have sent letters to Google demanding answers. Some wonder if the FTC will get involved. Me? I’m worried in general about privacy, and I had doubts about Google before, but to be honest, Google’s new privacy policy does not bother me all that much.


First of all, nowhere else is the old adage more true than with Google: if you don’t know what the company is trying to sell you, then they are trying to sell you. Gmail, Google Docs, Google Search, and every other service provided by Google is free. They make money by collecting information about you to tailor advertising, which they sell to others. This should come as a surprise to nobody: why else would Google offer such versatile and useful products for free?

I was honestly surprised that before now, Google was not agglomerating information from all of the different services that Google offers. So for them to do so now is not terribly concerning to me: I think that more targeted YouTube searches, for example, would be useful. If I worry about my searches, I can use Chrome’s incognito mode, or maybe DuckDuckGo. I can get rid of my Google account, shutting off my Gmail, Google+, and everything else. Would it be a pain? Of course. But as a non-paying customer, what do I expect?

Two issues about Google’s collection of information have the potential to bother me. The first is whether they sell that information to third parties, and they say that they don’t. Should that change without an opt-out, that would be a different ball game. The second, and probably more important, is how well they are actually securing the data they collect. To date, Google has not had any major data breaches that I am aware of. They seem to do a pretty good job securing their data. Again, if that changes in the future, that would be concerning, but at the same time, let’s be honest: plenty of companies have a far worse record when it comes to securing personally identifiable information. Zappos lost my data, and I’m not severing ties with them.

I can understand why people would be concerned about what Google is doing. However, let’s keep things in perspective. Google’s unified privacy policy has probably spurred more debate on the subject than anything else in recent memory, which has probably done more for the cause of privacy awareness than anything even the most ardent supporters could hope for. In addition, Google isn’t doing anything too terribly out-of-bounds with the data they are already collecting. Privacy is a very important issue, certainly. However, not every privacy policy is a terrible one.

Amendments A-plenty

I get the feeling that Republicans in the Minnesota Legislature know that their majority will not last very long. Why else would they put forward amendment after amendment to the state constitution, trying to ensconce their beliefs into permanence while at the same time avoiding the veto pen of Governor Dayton? Their creativity when it comes to these amendments leaves much to be desired, since they are mainly the same old issues that they yearn for year after year, but even though they are the same old retreads, the cost to the state should these amendments pass would be very real.

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Class Bubbles

Charles Murray, one of the authors of the infamous book The Bell Curve, has come out with a new book, this one about classism and “White America”. Given his history, it’s no surprise that people are lining up to trash the thing, and with good reason: his quiz for how thick your “upper-class bubble” is essentially a test of membership to one particular group of people in this country: whites who are mainly rural, conservative, and Evangelical Christian. As this subset of America is itself makes up a minority of the country, I really don’t understand what point he is trying to prove, other than some people aren’t members of that group.

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Windows 7 UTC Time Issue

I’ve had a problem with my computer lately with the clock being consistently slow, even though it is set to sync to an internet time server every day. Whenever I would manually sync it to an internet time server, the time would be correct for an hour or so, then suddenly lose time. Before, it was about 5 minutes, but lately, it was 17 minutes. This would cause all sorts of problems, especially when I was working on a file when the time jumped back: suddenly, the latest version of a file had a timestamp 10 minutes earlier than a previous version. Not good! But after extensive testing, I’ve determined the bug.

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Get A Job

A few days ago, the New York Times had a story about who really makes up the 1%. It’s a wide variety of people, making a wide variety of incomes depending on where exactly they live (unsurprisingly, the top 1% in Connecticut looks a bit different than the top 1% in Alabama). Of course, not all of them, nor even a majority, are the kinds of investment bankers and hedge fund managers that many people are upset at for ruining the economy. The NYT story about the top 1% is about the top 1% by income; the top 1% by wealth is a different group, arguably more removed from the middle class than the top 1% in income earners. That certainly makes sense: a surgeon that is in the top 1% in income may only be one generation removed from a middle-class upbringing, while a top 1% wealth-accumulator has probably only known luxury.

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Zappos Data Breach recently had a data breach. As data breaches go, it was not nearly as bad as it could has been: no full credit card numbers leaked, nor any plaintext passwords. What makes it special, then? It’s somewhat special to me, since it is, to my knowledge, the first time that I have been part of a data breach: I have a account, and I received the email about the breach. Notice I said “to my knowledge”; plenty of data leaks don’t get reported. I haven’t been a part of a major one, though, at least according to, where you can check to see if your email address or username has been leaked.

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The misappropriation of morality

It’s been pretty fun to watch the GOP presidential race and all of the non-Mitt-on-Mitt violence going on, as you may imagine. However, never did I expect to hear people like Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry attack Mitt Romney using language that sounds like it would be more at home coming out of the Occupy Wall Street protesters: “vulture capitalist”, “crony capitalism”, and everything else. It’s evident that those barbs are creating some sting, since Romney is firing back that anybody who attacks him for Bain Capital is attacking capitalism itself. I find that particularly odd, especially from a party that essentially takes the opposite approach when liberals attack, for example, guns. Here’s a hint to Romney: you’re not doing it right.

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Regulating Banks

Now that the CFPB has somebody in charge despite Republican efforts to the contrary, it can actually start getting into the business of what it was created to do: protect consumers by regulating financial products. And it just so happens that some news I read today provides a handy example for thinking about what exactly needs to be regulated.

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Obama Reaps the McConnell-wind

President Obama made a recess appointment today to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which caused Republicans to absolutely flip out (A Fox News blog screamed that he “mocks the Constitution”, which I have to say gave me quite the chuckle). Is Obama a dictator? Is he wielding absolute powers? Does Fox News distort the truth? Will Rick Santorum beat Obama in 2012? All signs point to “no”

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The reality of debt

It may be the night of the Iowa caucuses, but I don’t feel like commenting on the hilarity therein: if you want to read about how Michele Bachmann thinks one of the most important issues facing the U.S. is light bulbs, how Rick Santorum wants to allow states to outlaw birth control, or how Herman Cain thinks he is qualified to be Secretary of Defense because he was on a Navy boat once, there’s plenty of places to do that. Instead, let’s talk about debt!

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