Friday, December 16, 2011

Death, taxes and UPS

There's nothing more constant that death and taxes (well, that they are unavoidable at least).

I've felt the same way that UPS (the shipping company, that is, not the thing plugged into my power outlet) was kinda this black box, never really changing, despite being at least mildly shoddy.  We've all got stories about packages that didn't arrive the day planned, or my personal favorite, the "Fragile" sticker with a boot print on it.

But recently it seems they've got clever. They have increased their service level, for a fee. And the services are useful ones, such as being able to call them to redirect a package to another address (perhaps your office or a neighbour who will be home). Check it out.

If I have a gripe with this it is that it seems a little bogus to charge for some of these services. The least defensible is probably them redirecting your package to a UPS store for you to collect .. that service is saving them money, for exactly the same reason that super-mailboxes (multiple customers with a single drop-off point) are more efficient than delivery mail door to door.

Clever positioning to make it seem as if this is a valuable service that you want to pay for.

Though it could backfire ... it could be viewed as a protection racket - you know, where you pay the Piranha Brothers to make sure something bad doesn't happen. Picking up your package at the UPS office reduces the service they deliver, and gives them fewer opportunities to make another figurative boot print.  I might very well pay for that.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Failed at "Getting it done right"

Rob Bonta uses SafeUnsubscribe® which reliably removes one's email address from mailing lists.  Pity it doesn't work.

Back in July, I started getting political spam from the campaign of Rob Bonta, who seems to be mayor of another city in my general region. I don't live in that city, and don't know anything about him. He seems to be running for a state seat, and possibly could become my representative, but I am ineligible to participate in politics in this country so I frankly don't pay much attention to his or other campaigns or that level of political boundary.

Except when they are spamming me, in email or robot phone calls. Then I notice.

On July 23 2011, in response to an unsolicited campaign email from Bonta, I used the unsubscribe link to request my email address not be included in any future mailings. I continued to receive emails on Sept 5 and Sept 22.  The most recent email attempted to justify itself: "You're receiving this email because of your relationship with Alameda Vice Mayor Rob Bonta." I neither live, work, vote, nor even visit Alameda. My only relationship with him is that his campaign has started sending me emails, and has so far failed to respect my request to stop.

Beyond the immediate annoyance, the bait-and-switch of the ignored unsubscribe is frustrating. If you are going to publish an unsubscribe link, at least respect it. Sadly, political spam seems to be exempt from the California anti-spam laws.

My annoyance aside, this has also been an amusing example of Bonta's apparent (in)ability to "get it done right".  That seems, after all, to be his tagline. The unsubscribe link said:

"Getting it done right. Alameda Vice Mayor Rob Bonta uses SafeUnsubscribe® which reliably removes your email address from our lists."

I have since sent a note to the complaints address listed. I haven't heard back, but also haven't (yet) received any further emails.  Here's hoping. Kudos to the folks at SafeUnsubscribe for publishing this additional communications channel so they can hear about their clients who may be behaving unreasonably.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Google and Third Party Cookies

A few web pages I've tried to visit are refusing to load these days. One such is Google's account settings page. The others also seem to touch Google account-related services, eg viewing someone else's public calendar. When I hit such pages, Google courteously offers to help me correct my browser config by enabling 3rd party cookies.

How ... helpful.

Here's the thing: I disable third party cookies quite deliberately, and want them disabled.

Third party cookies are, to me, an invasion of privacy.  With a third party cookie, some schmuck who buys an ad placement in a site I visit can set a cookie in my browser tagged with the advertisers domain.  Then when they buy another ad presented in another site I visit, they can set another cookie. Since both cookies are 'owned' by the advertiser, they can then track my browsing history, at least to the extent of the subset of my browsing where their ads are presented.

I don't want third parties, especially any schmuck who can buy a few ads, to know my browsing history. For an example why, check out the ACLU Pizza Dramatization.

So now I'm kinda stuck if I want to tweak any of my Google account settings. I can't just clear my last hour of browsing history, because my work style means I currently have about 10 browser windows and 40 or 50 tabs open right now, some half of which I've touched in the past 20 minutes. I suppose I could keep a secondary browser on my machine just for pages such as these, set that browser with a relaxed security profile, and clear its cookies after each use.  Seems a pain.

And I can't figure why Google would want third party cookies on their account settings page anyway. I suppose they may have some number of internal domains, but it seems to me as if they are not being careful of their cross-domain cookies.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The expurgated version

Congratulations, you're enjoying the new expurgated version of my blog.

My previous blog service provider is leaving the business, so I needed to find a new provider and migrate my old posts.

By the way, my thanks to Alan and Ceri at Blog-City, which has been a great home for the last 8 years.

It didn't take long in my evaluation of new blogging services to discover two glaring issues with migration:
  • Permalinks aren't permalinks.  More precisely, the new providers I was looking at wouldn't let me duplicate the old permalinks as-is because they seem to insist on a specific format.  So it seems that if anyone has saved a link to one of my posts, that link will now break. I'm guessing that will include Google Search, so what, I lose my accumulated pagerank because my service provider closes their doors?
  • There was no easy way to migrate my posts.  All the services provide some kind of export, and re-import back into their service.  Some also support migration from certain other large players - for example, it seems as if one can switch between Blogger and Wordpress in either direction.  However, no-one seems willing to import the lingua franca of blog content, RSS. Probably some deliberate decision to discourage blog theft or something.
Which is where the expurgated version of my new blog comes from.  I spent a bunch of time over the past few days migrating old posts by hand, and fixing broken 'permalinks' between some of my posts.  I won't be migrating everything ... there were a bunch that aren't very interesting any more, like those advertising a Spikesource event. Hmmm. I guess I was pouring free beer, that makes it interesting. :)

Anyway, enjoy the ramblings of a marketing oddity and legal (well, frequently) alien. Mark II.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Google, Bing and copyright

There has been a bit of controversy over the apparent copying of Google search results by Microsoft's Bing search engine.

For me, the interesting question about this issue is: who owns the search result after it has been displayed to the user? The San Jose Mercury News said :
Microsoft countered that it was only using data voluntarily supplied by its customers to improve Bing's search quality.
That's fine, if the customers own the results and so have the right to voluntarily supply the data. If not, then I suppose these customers are at fault for copyright violation, and Microsoft for building in a nondiscriminating feature that causes its customers to violate copyright law.

I visited the Google search page, and a Google result page, and neither showed any link to determine how the results were licensed.So I'm not sure how the Google result is licensed to users.

To me, this is reminiscent of the music piracy cases a few years ago, and similar cases since about other copyright content. The web site can claim that it doesn't make any decision to infringe, only the site user can choose what to upload. Nonetheless, folks like Napster were held liable for building a product for which there was a reasonable expectation of it being used for piracy.

Similarly, Microsoft can claim all they want that this controversy is based in a misunderstanding of how their opt-in program works ... but if the customers have no legal right to browser-displayed content, this is a pretty reckless feature for Microsoft to argue. I know for many (paid) sites, there is a clearly worded copyright license - is Microsoft indexing from those sites as well?

That said, I suspect Microsoft has more and better lawyers than Napster did.

I wonder if the Bing search page has a link for copyright owners to complain of violations, as required under the DMCA?

I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV. My employer neither knows of nor avows this post.