Business blunders V

Your social media presence is the face of your business. Make damned sure the person in charge of it knows what they’re doing. Even more important, the people following you on Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms, are your tribe. They spread the word about you and are worth more than any advertising or marketing plan you can buy. Treat them as partners, and never forget why they follow you.

While not strictly a business, OpenMedia.ca is an advocacy group that relies on their followers to further their goals. They also treat their followers poorly. Let me give you two examples.

Privacy

They claim one of their principle goals is protecting privacy. Their About Us page states,

Protect privacy and defend everyone’s ability to control how their data and devices are used.

Unfortunately, their behaviour indicates otherwise. They sometimes send e-mail messages to their followers soliciting participation in petitions about various issues. You simply click the button they provide, enter your e-mail address, and you’re onboard. But much like businesses who harvest your information to their advantage, you need to read the small print. If you do so, you’ll often see that OpenMedia provides your e-mail address to their ‘partners’ in these petitions.

The first time it happened, I found out because I received a message on the topic from a web site that I had never visited. I wrote this site and asked where they got my address. They never answered. After thinking about it, I wrote OpenMedia and asked if they gave this site my address. After they failed to answer for about two weeks, I wrote again. This time they answered and explained that the small print said they’d be doing this.

Frankly, I expect businesses to pull crap like that. I do not expect an organization that promises to fight for my privacy to do the very thing they say they’re fighting against, and I told them so. They apologized and said they’d take my comments under advisement. Just as you’d expect, the next time they asked for participation in a petition, the small print was there. I didn’t sign, and I unsubscribed from the mailing list.

Social Media

I did remain subscribed to their Twitter feed, however. Until today. Over the past day or so, they’ve posted 31 (and counting) nearly identical tweets. Here’s a sample of 17 consecutive tweets:

This is asinine, and nothing but clutter. Further, it’s embarrassing. If you have to write to three-dozen celebrities to tell them your message is going viral, it’s not going viral.

I sent them a message through their web site last night before I went to sleep suggesting that their nearly two dozen identical tweets seemed excessive. This morning I saw more and publicly replied to the then newest tweet:

Since then, 20 minutes ago, another six of these tweets have appeared from OpenMedia.

Enough is enough. I stopped following OpenMedia.

Convincing people to follow you is difficult. Pissing off the followers you have to the point they leave is a special kind of stupid.

Don’t be stupid.


Logo courtesy of OpenMedia.ca

Flip-flopping politicians

The first and main concern is the privacy issue… since the information is to be shared by different levels of government and different governmental bodies. There is a risk that privacy can be compromised. The more information is transferred and shared, the greater the risk of security of the information.

The government assures us that it will ensure the privacy rights of Canadians are respected. However, we all know that no system is foolproof, especially a brand new one.

Stephen Harper,
Reform Party MP,
October 22, 1996

 

Nearly twenty years ago, that was Stephen Harper, then a Reform Party MP warning against the privacy implications of an electronic voter registry and the fear that information sharing within government raised significant privacy concerns. Today, there is a very different Stephen Harper, who as Prime Minister is fast-tracking a bill that eviscerates privacy protections within the public sector and is even blocking the Privacy Commissioner of Canada from appearing as a witness at the committee studying the bill.

Michael Geist
Why The Anti-Terrorism Bill is Really an Anti-Privacy Bill: Bill C-51′s Evisceration of Privacy Protection,”
March 12, 2015

Accessing the government via the Internet

If you know me, you know I like the Internet. I recall saying that I’d rather have my water cut off than lose access to the Internet. It’s just so convenient. The Internet, I mean.

With tax time coming, my mother’s been gathering all her paperwork. There’s some information regarding her property taxes that she couldn’t find so I went online and asked how I might get this information. The City of Niagara Falls web site offers the usual web forms that allow you to send questions to various city departments.

As I arrived at the form, I noticed that the city web site redirected me to a different top-level domain. I had left niagarafalls.ca and found myself at cityofniagarafalls.wufoo.com. This concerned me. The privacy policy states,

The City of Niagara Falls takes every precaution to protect your personal information on the internet. This privacy statement applies to interactions with the City of Niagara Falls web server. It does not apply to any other web site.

This is certainly fair. They can’t control how other sites use any information, but when the city redirects me to a different site without telling me, for the purpose of my writing to them, washing their hands of responsibility is recklessly irresponsible. I consider myself fairly Internet-savvy but how many others who wrote to the city noted the redirection to Wufoo? How many understand the privacy implications? Goodness, how many realize that they shouldn’t send any personal information via an unencrypted web site?

Further on in the privacy policy, they touch upon this without going nearly far enough.

Communications through this web site to the City are not deemed private and may be routed throughout the corporation.

It’s true that most internet communications should be treated as less than private, but Wufoo is a web form service located in Ireland. Telling me that what I write “may be routed through the corporation” gives me no indication that my information will leave the city, much less the country.

Canada has privacy laws, and I expect the city to safeguard my personal information pursuant to those laws. Sending me to a foreign site to communicate with them tosses those laws out the window, and they somehow fail to think it is important to mention any of this on the comment page itself.

The city’s IT staff should know that most people who will use the site may not have an understanding of all the issues involved in sending their information using the web. At an absolute minimum, the comments pages should be hosted locally. I feel strongly that those same pages should be SSL encrypted as well. Anything else is the equivalent, in this case, of sending your question to city hall on a postcard, via Europe and the United States.

Twitter, saying it doesn’t make it okay

Dear Twitter,

I read with interest about the most recent change to your terms and conditions, specifically on your What is app graph on Twitter? page:

To help build a more personal Twitter experience for you, we are collecting and occasionally updating the list of apps installed on your mobile device so we can deliver tailored content that you might be interested in.

Of course ‘tailored content’ means ads, and ‘App graph’ is a cute name for ‘we’re downloading a list of all the apps installed on your mobile device.’

Although you do allow users to disable this egregious data collection, and you also claim that you inform users before you start collecting their data, I would suggest that this information is none of your damned business. Your allowing users to turn off this data collection doesn’t somehow make it okay. Frankly, my reaction is more along the lines of, “what the hell are you thinking?!”

If I install your app, you’re certainly entitled to monitor my usage of the app as well as any other damned thing you please within the app you make available to me. You are not entitled to step outside the boundary of the app, and I’m amazed that you somehow think it’s perfectly acceptable that you do.

Hell no, Twitter. I’ve removed your apps from my mobile devices. That means I can only use Twitter from a browser, which is far more cumbersome. As a consequence, I’ll be using Twitter far less often. While this is unfortunate for you, your actions have consequences, and this is one of them.

Twitter is popular, but it seems you need a reminder that we don’t need Twitter, but Twitter is nothing without us. Treat users with respect unless you want to lose them. And Twitter? Helping yourself to a list of all the apps on my device is not respectful in any conceivable way.


The Twitter logo is a trademark of Twitter.

The SCoC, and then more

The week before last, on June 13, the Supreme Court of Canada handed down a ruling that took me completely by surprise.

The case involved Matthew David Spencer. Police saw him downloading child pornography, though they didn’t know it was him. All they knew was the IP address from which the files were downloaded. They traced the address and went to the ISP to whom it belonged and did what they’ve done so many times in recent years. They simply asked the ISP for the name and the street address of the person who was using the IP address when they saw the child pornography being downloaded. No harm, right? The police simply asked, to save time. If the ISP refused, they’d go through channels to get a warrant. If the ISP co-operated, they’d save the time and trouble of getting a warrant.

The ISP did co-operate without a warrant, and as a consequence, police arrested Spencer and the court convicted him. The ISP’s simply handing over his name and address didn’t sit well with him so Spencer appealed his judgement. The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal affirmed his conviction stating that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy for basic subscriber information. Spencer took it to the Supreme Court of Canada and they ruled unanimously in his favour, which has enormous implications for all of us. I have no doubt that Spencer is disappointed because the Court let his conviction stand, stating that the police acted in good faith, and justice would not be served if they reversed the decision.

According to Michael Geist’s post, “Supreme Court Delivers Huge Victory for Internet Privacy & Blows Away Gov’t Plans for Reform,” the Court stated,

in the totality of the circumstances of this case, there is a reasonable expectation of privacy in the subscriber information. The disclosure of this information will often amount to the identification of a user with intimate or sensitive activities being carried out online, usually on the understanding that these activities would be anonymous. A request by a police officer that an ISP voluntarily disclose such information amounts to a search.

The point being that a police search without a warrant is a definite no-no, and one does have a reasonable expectation of anonymity going about their business on the Internet. Because that expectation is entirely short-circuited by an ISP connecting an IP address with a user on request, police require a warrant. This flies in the face of what law enforcement and the Conservative government have been telling us. They’ve stated that subscriber information is not in any way private, and therefore should be available on request, if the ISP co-operates.

The timing of this Supreme Court decision is fortuitous. Not only has the Conservative government been telling us that police should have easy access to this information, but they have two bills they seem desperate to see made laws: Bill C-13, which is intended to crack down on cyberbullying, and Bill S-4, to be known as the digital privacy act. In particular, bill C-13 would make it legal for companies to release customer information to police or government representatives simply for the asking, and protect those companies from any legal reprisal. Clearly, the Supreme Court decision states this is unconstitutional.

So given that their two bills are in a shambles, what does the Government plan to do? They seem to plan to ignore the Supreme Court’s decision. Minister of Justice, Peter MacKay, said,

The Supreme Court’s decision actually confirms what the government has said all along, that Bill C-13’s proposals regarding voluntary disclosures do not provide legal authority for access to information without a warrant.

Yet bill c-13 states,

487.0195 (1) For greater certainty, no preservation demand, preservation order or production order is necessary for a peace officer or public officer to ask a person to voluntarily preserve data that the person is not prohibited by law from preserving or to voluntarily provide a document to the officer that the person is not prohibited by law from disclosing.

(2) A person who preserves data or provides a document in those circumstances does not incur any criminal or civil liability for doing so.

It is true that ‘the person’ in question here is under no legal obligation to provide the information, but this is certainly splitting hairs. Telecom companies currently do provide this information on a vast scale. Legislating that they are able to do so without liability will only encourage them to do so more freely. And further, the current law states that this information may be requested by a

peace officer or public officer enforcing or administering this or any other Act of Parliament

In other words, police may request this type of information for the benefit of a police investigation of violation of the Criminal Code or any other federal law. Bill C-13 removes this stipulation entirely.

The government is wasting their time and your money by pushing ahead with legislation that will, if passed, be struck down the first time it is challenged on constitutional grounds. Why? I really don’t know. Certainly Prime Minister Harper is accustomed to getting his way, and he doesn’t react well when he is denied. Make no mistake, in this case, he will be denied.

The Supreme Court is not the only dissenting voice. Earlier this week, Forum Research released the results of a poll detailing how Canadians feel about Bill C-13. According to Techvibes,

The poll shows that 73% of Canadians oppose C-13, with just 15% approving a ratio of nearly 5 to 1.

and,

opposition spans every age group and is strongest among 18-34 year olds (78%) and 55-64 year olds (74%).

Harper will find no support among his own, either. Openmedia.ca reports,

Notably, the poll reveals that just 24% of Conservative voters support the bill, with 62% opposing it.

It’s time for the Conservatives to put these two bills to bed. They’re past being stubborn about it, having clearly shown that whatever agenda they’re working on has nothing to do with protecting Canadians.