Dark Cloud: Big Brother is Watching Your DropBox

I’ve been working with my iPad and iTouch (an iPhone without the 3Gphone). The apps make frequent use of “The Cloud” for data sharing, export, and backup. Very convenient.

The problem is, the Cloud is like Facebook. While Facebook provides the FBI (and other government spook agencies) convenient access to alphabetized lists of your friends and acquaintances, along with phone number, email addresses, scheduling/calendar info, and more, the Cloud provides easy access to all personal data stored there. Easy access not just for you, but for others like criminals, banks, insurance agencies, and most incredibility (not)  – the Federal Government.

If I were the author of one of those free apps that store data in the cloud, I’d be tempted to take generous payments from the government to provide full access to the data. Wouldn’t you? Of course it’s hush-hush, but it’s all on the up-and-up. After all, it’s the Government, isn’t it? Aren’t they the ones who decide what’s right and wrong? What could possibly be wrong about taking money from the Government?

The Buying Out of American Business

The US Government learned a valuable lesson in the Savings and Loan banking crisis of the 1980’s. When it bailed out the banks, it essentially nationalized them, turning them into stoolies for the government, reporting every transaction over $8,000 and even much smaller transactions that, for any reason, might seem “suspicious”. You don’t suppose that’s been used against anyone in a personal vendetta by a government employee or elected official, do you?

Why stop with the banks? After all, most marketing-savvy businesses are avid collectors of information about their customers and even just hapless prospects. Why not just buy it from them and support big business instead of big government? It almost sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it?

“Eyeball Networks” – the ISPs that service Internet consumers – are all picking up on this trend. They’re the ones in the best position to hand off records of all your Internet activities. Comcast charges $800/month to the Feds for each customer the government wants to snoop on. That’s way more money than they make for selling and servicing cable television to consumers, and with TIA (the Total Information Awareness program) is happy to pay with taxpayer dollars.

We learned recently another large ISP is earning millions selling the government the bits of data generated each time a computer looks up a hostname (e.g. www.google.com) on the Internet This includes identifying data such as your IP address.

Why stop there? Feds can simply buy your credit records. And, they can get your cloud data from Apple, Microsoft, DropBox, backup services like Mozy and Carbonite. It’s easy. It’s good for the economies of businesses taking the payoffs. It’s easy for the government.

How are YOU feeling about it? What is your threshold for this kind of abuse?

Protest History Repeats: American Spring 60’s Style

As I write this, I’m watching it play out on live TV, and the same is happening across the country. It’s a marvelous awaking, but following a tried-and true plot:

Peaceful protesters gather at the local capitol building. They refuse to move. The politicians and/or police allow it for a while, but then feel that it makes them look bad. They try to break it up, first trying to bully the crowd through bull horns. It doesn’t work. Next, they make threats. The people refuse to move. Finally, the police move in, make mass arrests, and cart as many people off to jail as they feel comfortable with “processing”.

People see this on TV, and it makes them even more angry. More and more people join the movement. More show up to protest, taking time away from their home, family, business, or job. The government, wanting to stop the movement, cracks down, and there are more arrests, and more live TV coverage, which goes wall-to-wall.

This is history repeating itself. It’s the same formula as the 1960’s anti-Vietnam war protests, and the civil rights protests of that era. The current crop of politicians, ignorant of the role of government, and the role of people in a democracy as they are, have not learned from history, and now they are doomed to repeat it. They’ve foolishly allowed their ego and greed to trap them, and now they will get what they deserve, just like the corrupt and power-mad dictators in the Middle East are.

I wonder what has been going through the minds of these leaders as they’ve watched the Arab Spring unfold, which should have been as clear a warning as they could possibly have received: there was little time for them to repent and reform their bad attitudes and behavior. But now, that brief moment is past, and the cows are coming home, literally.

We are seeing people-power in action. It is an unstoppable force, as surely as a herd of cows or a flock of sheep. Nothing can stop it. Not throngs of police officers in riot gear armed with tear gas and rubber bullets, not helicopters armed with heavy weapons. Not huge prisons the government has secretly built in remote areas to deal with just such an “emergency”. The people, once mobilized, will prevail.

We are still in the early stages of this movement. However, it is easy to predict that the movement will continue to swell. As long as the protests are met with violence and punitive resistance by the government, the protesters will only be emboldened because their point is simply being underscored unwittingly by the government.

The poor, ignorant fools in power don’t see how closely they resemble the pigs in Orwell’s Animal Farm. The outcome for them will likely be just as foreshadowed in that book. If you haven’t read it, and want to get the picture of what’s happening, be sure to read it now. Or, if you’re not a reader, watch the animated film.

It is truly an irony that Martin Luther King has only recently been memorialized so close to the temples and monuments to the founding forefathers in Washington DC. Mr. King, more than Facebook and Twitter, is the true enabler of this global movement. He, and those who stand on his shoulders, made it crystal clear that people power is the most awesome force on this planet, and that no amount of violence and repression can prevail against it.

Now, many years after Mr. King’s assassination, his ideas have fully come to fruition on a global scale. It is impressive to see it unfold. Are we seeing what all the predictions concerning 2012 were about in this? Could it be that the cataclysm of 2012 is about mankind confronting itself?

Meanwhile, back on the television set nearby, the police have been loading protestors onto paddy wagons, processing them, and hauling them off to already crowded jails. It’s a muted form of violence, to be sure. But the unrepentant behavior of the corrupted government reminds me of the (paraphrased) words attributed to Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, and P.T. Barnum alike: “You can fool all of the people some of the time, you can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time”. The people, collectively, if not individually, are not fooled by government.

See also:

Wikipaedia article about George Orwell’s Animal Farm

Entire 1954 Animated Film (“sanitized version”; overthrow by second revolution)

Entire 1999 Live Action Film (regime collapses on itself)

Google vs. Customer Service

This article is about the inhumanity of Google to man. Google is, after all, a bunch of rocket scientists trying to interface with mere human beings. We saw this problem in the space program with the loss of Challenger and its crew due to inhuman organization. Today, Google is larger than even the space program, and has the capacity to wreak great havoc while trying to “do no evil”. Like the three wise monkeys, Google sees no evil, hears no evil, and tries hard to speak no evil. Despite this, we have seen Google do evil. Rather than rant further on the subject, I’d like to provide an example of how the problem can cost the average netepreneur big money. We’ll also see how Google is meeting the enemy and it is… Google (not Apple) — as the Google Gobble is performed on Motorola Mobility. Will Google recognize this as it tries to “Google Everything”? Like many giant corporations beset with difficult-to-manage growth, Google may have forgotten that its core business is to “be Google”; not just another behemoth set upon us, run amok, devouring everything in sight.


Three Wise Monkeys – Image via WikiPedia

But where is Shizaru?

An Example in Business

If you’re one of the millions of people with, or managing, a web presence, you probably deal with Google AdSense. You may also deal with AdBrite or nearly a dozen other Internet advertising networks. Both are easy-to-use ad networks that let you embed ads on your website and “reap the rewards” (one thousandth of a penny at a time). Many Internet projects and websites would not be possible without them. As a matter of full disclosure, The Latchford Factor derives most of its revenues from Google AdSense.

You sign up for Google AdSense. And AdBrite. Both are the same in the beginning. You create an online account on their website, and, after all the signup details (including providing name, rank, and serial number to satisfy the government’s need to enumerate you) start placing ads.

With AdBrite, as soon as you hit $50 in revenue, they’ll cut you a check at the start of the month and mail it to you. You get it about 12 days later. Simple, with no other choices for payment. It works. Mostly. As long as you get the proverbial check in the mail.

With AdSense, it’s just as automated, but not quite so simple. More like rocket science, PhD style. You’ll get paid after you hit $50 in revenue, all right, but first… they’ll send you a PIN number in the mail. It’s in a perforated mail form that is easily lost by the Post Office. You have to receive the mailer, and enter the PIN inside to validate your address before you can get paid… even if you’ve already verified a bank account for direct deposit. If the form is lost in the mail (which happens a lot), you have to wait a month or so before another can be sent. Then you can get paid* (terms and restrictions apply). You get the options of direct deposit, fed-X for an exhorbitant fee, etc. Cool. So far. Except…

What separates these two services is what happens when something goes wrong. And something always does go wrong. Sooner or later. Google, apparently, hasn’t learned about Murphy’s Law, and believes that they can automate a task such that every possible error condition can be anticipated and handled. Except, they don’t even come close.

With AdBrite, you can pick up the phone, and during business hours, they’ll answer your call fairly promptly. They’ll do their best to help you, but usually just wind up opening up a support ticket that you could have opened yourself online. Regardless, your issue is addressed in a documented and timely manner. The way you’d expect to be treated by a business partner you’re sharing hundreds, thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars a month with.

With Google, you can pick up the phone, but it won’t help. There is no number to call. You can’t send an email either. There is no email address you can write to. You can’t even open up a support ticket. They don’t have those either. They do have “customer forums”. If you spend enough time searching (Googling), you’ll probably find that there are dozens, hundreds, or many thousands of people with the same problem. Wow, how cool is that? But then… nothing happens. You just sit there, reading complaint after complaint about the same thing. Your problem does not get solved. Well, maybe it does, but it gets solved in “Google Time”, which in my experience can take two years or more.

After my own experiences with Google, which cost thousands in lost revenue for my employer, the employer took the position that to the extent profitable, it would give its business in preference to any other ad network that would communicate with its partners. The problem is, Google generally does give the best revenue. What’s a mother to do? Stand in line?


Everyone is agog (not aGoog) at Apple’s iStores. The opposite of iSores, these temples of whiteness and monuments to computerphobia compensated for by industrial design are more than pretty facia. Customers pay (handsomely) for, and get Customer Service. It’s sort-of hands-on Customer Service. I’d frankly feel better if they wore white gloves, but that’s another post… The point is there’s nothing to separate you from the dispenser of Customer Service. No counter. No intimidating cash register or credit verifier. Just a sometimes friendly geek with a card swiper hooked to his iPhone so he can take your iCash in an instant.

But Google doesn’t like people. They like to keep the human interaction at a distance, buffered by the web browser and HTML with CSS.

And so it was that when I turned on my car radio, I felt like there was an echo in there. Ira Flatow was on NPR’s Science Friday (SciFri) and chatting it up with Glenn Fleishman of The Economist about Google vs. Apple in the context of the Google-ization of Motorola Mobility, the cell phone manufacturing arm of Motorola. You can listen in, or read the transcript.

At nine minutes and twenty-two seconds into the segment, Glenn Fleishman says:

“Google doesn’t like people very much has always been my impression. They want to keep people arms-length away and let the algorithms, the automatic things, the user support forums handle everything.”

I felt vindicated. And less alone. Even though I knew I was a member of a fairly large crowd. It’s just that Google Gloss tends to cover us over. Caveat Googlor of the Google Gobble.

Doubt Googlemegalomania?


Do you doubt Google is trying to monopolize present reality? You shouldn’t! “Google Offers” is just another step down the path… after Groupon refused to become Google-ized.

If you had any doubt… perhaps the acquisition of “Moto Mobile” clarified the picture. Google wasn’t content to have Android be the most widespread mobile operating system… they needed to build the phones that run it too. No? Not enough proof?

Then how about the thing that popped up on my screen today:

You can tell I don’t get out much. I totally missed the article in the NY Times on “Google Offers”. I read the New York Times whenever I get a chance (that’s only occasionally). Nor did I see any of the quadzillions of other mentions. I just noticed it today because I’m on vacation and got a few free moments to surf. You  must understand, I have a life.

Instead of the well-known phrase “me-too”, we now need “Goog-too”, a symptom of Goog-tooism. Sigh. It seems to happen to nearly every organization that gets, well, huge. They become paranoid of anything that comes within their self-determined “kill zone”. In Google’s case, everything (hence, “Google Everything“).

Groupon has become quite the target. Nearly every media organization known to man or other sentient species strewn throughout the Galaxy has jumped on this band-wagon (or “trade vessel” in the inter-stellar case). Groupon clones have sprouted everywhere sprouting is possible. I found a new venture this morning exploiting a crack in the grouting around the toilet where I’m staying. Another was launched by the pet hamster of an 11 year old boy in Anaheim, CA last week (Hamster-Dealz). The hamster held a press conference and got plenty of start-up seed capital. So why not Goog-too? There’s an obvious answer to that, but it’s not one a large, increasingly megalomaniacal and paranoid corporation would ever consider.

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