Global disappointment

The Boston Globe had declined in many ways from what it was in the 1970s and 80s.  Pressure from the Internet is a primary cause and newspapers need to establish strong web presences to remain in the game.  The Boston Globe’s website has always been disappointing.  It does not update often, loads much more slowly than, say, The New York Times or Wall Street Journal sites, features clunky navigation, and lacks expected customer service features.  I’m suspending the weekend Times and Globe through Labor Day.  I suspended my Times delivery by selecting the stop date, start date, weekends only on the website.  A few clicks and it was done.  I couldn’t suspend the Globe as simply.  The website allowed a vacation suspension menu, but suspending every Saturday and Sunday delivery requires entering each set of weekend dates in ten separate transactions.  Silly.  I had to call customer service, wade through the inevitable options menu, and ignore repeated requests for information so my call would be transferred to a human being.  Then I had to repeat my request four times because the rep had difficulty understanding what I meant by “every weekend through Labor Day.”  I’m less than 50% confident that this request will be processed correctly.  Frustrating, because it shouldn’t be this hard.

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You’ll Never Walk Alone

The NSA is not the only one monitoring every move you make, every breath you take. In their desire to anticipate our wants and needs before we know them ourselves, the New York Times reports that major web companies–Yahoo!, Google, AOL (it’s still around? I’ll be damned)–are “gathering clues about the tastes and preferences of a typical user several hundred times a month.” They too are ever-careful not to abuse our privacy and besides, “the data [they collect] is a boon to consumers, because it makes the ads they see more relevant.” You know what would be even more of a boon than more relevant ads? Fewer ads.

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You’ll Never Walk Alone

The NSA is not the only one monitoring every move you make, every breath you take. In their desire to anticipate our wants and needs before we know them ourselves, the New York Times reports that major web companies–Yahoo!, Google, AOL (it’s still around? I’ll be damned)–are “gathering clues about the tastes and preferences of a typical user several hundred times a month.” They too are ever-careful not to abuse our privacy and besides, “the data [they collect] is a boon to consumers, because it makes the ads they see more relevant.” You know what would be even more of a boon than more relevant ads? Fewer ads.

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Facebook Two-Step

As discussed previously (here, here, here, here, and here) when it comes to issues of user information and privacy Facebook has shown an unerring ability to get things right, sort of, only after it gets things really wrong. The latest example surfaced last weekend when the New York Times reported that “[s]ome users have discovered that it is nearly impossible to remove themselves entirely from Facebook, setting off a fresh round of concern over the popular social network’s use of personal data.” When users deactivated their accounts Facebook kept “copies of the information in those accounts indefinitely.” Said former Facebook account holder Nipon Das “”It’s like the Hotel California . . . You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.” On Wednesday came the story that following the inevitable creation of a Facebook user group protesting retention of account content the company “modified its help pages to tell people that if they wanted to remove their accounts entirely, they can direct the company by e-mail to have it done. But . . . representatives of Facebook stopped short of saying the company would introduce a one-step delete account option.”

This is the dark side of Web 2.0/social networking sites. Users may create the content but it is controlled by and treated as the property of the networking sites.

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“A New Life Phase”

A few days ago a friend sent me The Odyssey Years, a New York Times op-ed piece by David Brooks about “the decade of wandering that frequently occurs between adolescence and adulthood. During this decade, 20-somethings go to school and take breaks from school. They live with friends and they live at home. They fall in and out of love. They try one career and then try another.” The Brooks piece resonated with my friend, a former student who graduated in 2006 and now works for an investment bank. He said “there’s just so much pressure to succeed for young people (and it’s such an obscure definition, it no longer involves forming a cohesive family unit and living a pleasant life.)” It spoke to me as a college professor who spends hours talking with students about What Comes Next, and as a parent whose children do not spend hours talking with him and his wife about What Comes Next. I sent the op-ed to my sons, all in their 20s. One said “it fits a little too well.” Another said “good to know I’m not alone.” The third, a law student on the verge of graduation and a career, delivered his message by not responding.

If you are in college, a recent graduate, have friends who are in college or recent graduates, are moving from job to job with no clear plan, know someone who is moving from job to job with no clear plan, or are the parent of anyone in any of these categories–in other words, if you are anyone who is reading this post–read the op-ed piece.

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Apple Apostasy

A month ago the media was filled with stories about the New Jersey teenager who hacked the iPhone to work on cell carriers other than AT&T. Not one of the dozen or so articles I read then addressed the most obvious questions: Won’t this hack invalidate the iPhone’s warranty? Isn’t this hack vulnerable to an Apple counter-hack? Doesn’t it violate the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provisions? Last week, after Apple issued a software update that turned hacked iPhones into $400 paperweights, the media was filled with headlines such as this from the New York Times: Altered iPhones Freeze Up

Duh. Without reading the iPhone’s Terms of Use I know that Apple’s contract specifically prohibits the carrier-switch hack and disclaims liability for user installation of non-approved software on the iPhone. I know because such provisions are boilerplate in retail tech products licenses and contracts and Apple is as PC–programatically correct–as any tech company. Exhibit 1 is iTunes, which is easy and intuitive and countenances almost no user modification of how it chooses to organize your music on your hard drive. Which makes statements like this from an editor of Gizmodo just silly: “[Disabling a phone] instead of just relocking it . . . is going way too far; I’d call it uncharacteristically evil.” Irritating, annoying, consumer-unfriendly, reason not to buy another Apple product, maybe, but since when does naked pursuit of economic self-interest upset techies? Maybe this is a corollary of last week’s a liberal is a conservative who has been arrested: “a consumer advocate is a techie whose hacked iPhone has been bricked.”

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Janus-Faced

Just the headline of Adam Cohen’s op-ed piece in today’s New York Times–Larry Craig’s Great Adventure: Suddenly, He’s a Civil Libertarian–put me in mind of an old joke: “A liberal is a conservative who has been arrested.” Indeed Cohen offers up this punch line as he calls Craig to task for his belated embrace of civil rights after a senate career in which he supported judicial nominees eager to dial them back. What Cohen doesn’t mention is the other part of the joke: “And a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged.”

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