Losing Control of Your Data

There are many reasons why I advice against becoming reliant on third-party services. The most obvious one is privacy. Many service providers harvest personal information from users that can then be used by advertisers and government agencies alike. Another reason is resiliency. A service can disappear overnight. Google is especially notorious for killing of services. If you’re reliant on a service and the provider decides to stop providing it, there’s little you can do. A third reason is that providers can change the rules:

Financial services giant Intuit this week informed 1.4 million small businesses using its QuickBooks Online Payroll and Intuit Online Payroll products that their payroll information will be shared with big-three consumer credit bureau Equifax starting later this year unless customers opt out by the end of this month.

Intiut is giving customers until the end of the month to opt out… for now. Rule changes like this aren’t uncommon with online service providers. Oftentimes, as in this case, when a provider makes a significant change to the rules, it’ll give current users the option to opt out. However, as time goes by it’s common for the option to either be made harder to choose or taken away entirely.

This behavior is the norm rather than the exception for service providers. Google and Facebook are probably two of the most notorious perpetrators, but certainly not the only ones.

If you are a small business that uses Intiut services for your payroll, I suggest developing a migration strategy now. It’s much better to have a plan while you still have the option of opting out than to develop a plan after the option to opt out is taken away.

Prison Cells are Dangerous for Controversial Figures

I continue to be amazed at how supposedly secure facilities are so dangerous to controversial figures:

Anti-virus software entrepreneur John McAfee has been found dead in a Barcelona prison cell hours after a Spanish court agreed to extradite him to the US to face tax evasion charges.

The Catalan Justice Department said prison medics tried to resuscitate him, but were not successful.

It said in a statement that “everything indicates” McAfee took his own life.

I wonder if he too was on suicide watch and the guard tasked with checking on him just happened to be sleeping on the job at the exact same time that the security cameras were malfunctioning.

One-Sided Contracts

Yesterday I once again reiterated the fact that if you don’t own your infrastructure, you’re at the mercy of whoever does. Today I want to discuss why third-party providers can so easily pull the rug out from underneath you.

Businesses all over the world rely on third-party providers for any number of goods and services. They do so without too much concern that those third-parties are going to suddenly kneecap them. How do they accomplish such a feat? The answer is contracts. Large business deals aren’t made by one business clicking the accept button on a provider’s terms of service of end user license agreement. They’re made by lawyers on both sides negotiating terms. If one party only offers a deal where they can do whatever they want and the other party simply has to accept it, the other party will likely walk away. But such one-sided deals are common with online service providers.

If you sign up for an account on Amazon Web Services, Digital Ocean, GoDaddy, or any other hosting provider, you are presented with terms of service that you have to accept in order to use the service. There is no opportunity for you to negotiate. If you bother to read the terms of services, you’ll realize that they tend to put a lot of obligations on you as the paying customer but almost none of them as the provider. The terms of service usually allow the provider to cut you off for any reason without notice. But do you get any guarantees in return? Do they guarantee you uptime, reliability, or anything along those lines? If they do, do they agree to pay a financial penalty if they fail to provide what they guarantee? Do they offer a concise list of specific terms that are the only terms under which they are allowed to terminate the agreement without paying a financial penalty to you? They don’t.

I’ve been fortunate enough to observe contract negotiations between businesses. It’s both an interesting and painstaking process. They can take weeks, months, and even years. During that time both parties will strive to ensure every detail that could impact them is hammered out. Neither party wants to be in a position where the other can screw them.

Every end user license agreement and terms of service you’ve accepted over the years was likely entirely one-sided. The company you’re paying probably reserved all of the power for themselves. It’s likely that they dictated who will arbitrate any disagreement between them and you (if any disagreement is even allowed to you under the terms). This is one reason, perhaps the biggest reason, you can’t rely on a third-party service provider. If you decide to host your site on Amazon Web Services, Digital Ocean, GoDaddy, etc., they can remove your site for any reason without any advanced warning. In return you get to take it and ask for more.

No competent business would knowingly enter a one-sided contract. Take a page from their book. If you’re looking to purchase a good or service and the only offer is a one-sided agreement where the provider gets all of the power, walk away.

When Journalists Go to War

I’m a big fan of those rare moments when a journalist decides to throw away his access to interviewees, fancy dinner parties, hookers, blow, and yacht trips (involving hookers and blow) by going after the people who dole them out. Unfortunately, It’s such a rare event that when it does happen you can never know if you’ll get to see it again in your lifetime so it must be savored.

Glenn Greenwald is having one of those moments. Greenwald possesses a rare trait when it comes to journalists: integrity. When he started reporting on the Edward Snowden leaks, he left The Guardian for a new site he helped found called The Intercept. He did this in part because he wanted to have a freer hand to write the stories that journalists are dissuaded from writing. However, as with most “news” sites, The Intercept has developed a severe political bias. Greenwald attempted to release a story about the recent Hunter Biden controversy (the one the mainstream news organizations are trying to pretend doesn’t exist). His editors apparently demanded that he remove everything from the story that was critical of Joe Biden so he resigned and posted the final draft of the story he submitted to The Intercept. He has also promised to release copies of the communications between himself and The Intercept after the organization released its claims against Greenwald

This is a ballsy move by Greenwald. He threw away a steady paying job rather than be censored. He also jeopardized his access to interviewees, press events, and other niceties that journalists often rely on in order to obtain content for stories. He will also likely be blacklisted by other major media organizations, which will make finding another regular paying job difficult.

However, all of those things are also restraints used to keep journalists in line. Now that he’s tossed them aside, he’s free to report on whatever he wants no matter who his stories embarrass. He’s one of the few truly free journalists and few things are as entertaining as a truly free journalist. They often become hubs for the dirt mainstream journalists are unwilling to report. I suspect Greenwald will be reporting a lot of stories that have been waiting in the shadows for a truly free journalist. Or he’ll end up committing suicide by shooting myself in the back of the head… twice… with a pump-action shotgun. Either way, I think this is the beginning of a terribly entertaining ride.

It’s All Gone to Hell

Last night’s riots left their mark and have continued through today. I’ve been watching several livestreams and it’s obvious that local law enforcers have completely lost control of the situation. It turns out that the mechanism used by the State to oppress the masses is easily overwhelmed (surprising nobody). Governor Walz has called in the National Guard to reinforce the law enforcers, but what may go down as the single dumbest statement uttered by a Minnesotan has likely nullified whatever chance may have existed to get this riot under control:

#Breaking: During presser in Minneapolis, Hennepin County Atty Michael Freeman says #GeorgeFloyd video “graphic, horrific & terrible.” His job to prove “violation of criminal statute.”

Then drops bombshell:

“But there is other evidence that does not support a criminal charge.”

Even if Freeman has no intention of charging and arresting the officer(s) involved, there was no reason to add that last bombshell. That added a tremendous amount of fuel to an already burning firestorm.

Keeping track of all of the places in the Twin Cities experiencing looting or riots has become futile. The situation is changing too rapidly. As of this writing I know riots or looting have occurred in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Maplewood, and Woodbury. I’ve also heard mention of civil unrest in Cottage Grove and Burnsville. Stillwater’s law enforcers have apparently thrown up barricades, but those will do absolutely nothing if a determined group of rioters make it that far east. The sun hasn’t even set yet. If the last two nights are any indicator, what we’re seeing right now is the free sample. The main course will be served after sundown.

I’m not going to bother trying to deconstruct everything that is happening. Instead I’m going to provide some advice to help those of you living in the metro area increase your odds of surviving this shitshow.

  1. Don’t go to Target right now. Most of them in the metro have been closed already and for some reason Target has lived up to its name and become a primary target of the looters. Maybe this is a lesson on being more careful when choosing a company name.
  2. It’s easy to underestimate how fast riots move. Today was a good lesson in this fact as riots spread into St. Paul and some of its neighboring suburbs in a matter of hours. Just because a riot isn’t occurring near you doesn’t mean it won’t reach you soon. Treat the riots like a storm, follow their movements closely.
  3. There is no reasoning with a mob. If riots are coming to your neighborhood, run.
  4. If you don’t have a bug out bag ready to go, pack your shit now. By the time you realize you need to flee, you won’t have time to pack your shit.
  5. As a general rule hotels are cheaper the further away from the metro you are. Consider your flight a vacation for which you’re trying to get the best deal. Run as far as you can.
  6. Emergency services are going to be tied up. They will likely not respond if you call them. You’re on your own.
  7. If you work in the Twin Cities and your place of employment isn’t already a smoldering crater, call in sick. Fortunately, the COVID-19 scare makes this easier than ever.
  8. Go strapped or get clapped. You should have a gun loaded and ready to go. At a minimum you should have a handgun that you can carry on your person. Ideally you should have a long gun at home loaded and ready go to.
  9. Camping is great this time of year and the campgrounds in Wisconsin should be open for business.
  10. Last but not least, if you have a thin blue line sign or sticker on your home or vehicle, you might want to remove it sooner rather than later.

There’s nothing anybody can do to stop these riots anymore. They have to burn themselves out. The only thing you can do is take care of you and yours so concentrate on that.

Minneapolis Police Department Added Another to Its Body Count and People Became Upset

Yesterday morning saw another unarmed black man added to the Minneapolis Police Department’s (MPD) body count. In a surprisingly short period of time it was announced that four officers were fired from the department over the situation. However, that failed to assuage the masses who are all too familiar with the cycle of law enforcers being fired only to be reinstated after their union argues that the firing was unwarranted. During the evening the inevitable happened. Protesters made their feelings clear to the law enforcers.

The protest, which I followed courtesy of the live streamers at Unicorn Riot, was larger than previous protests against MPD’s brutality. Eventually the protesters made their way to the Third Precinct in Minneapolis and went to town. The protesters surrounded the Third Precinct, tagged it with graffiti, smashed many of its windows, and messed up a couple of law enforcer vehicles. The evening festivities culminated with MPD reinforcements arrived and clashing with protesters for quite some time.

Not surprisingly online viewers were arguing about whether or not the protesters’ were villains or heroes. I think that argument missed the most important point. The morality of the protesters’ actions depends on your personal views, but what happened last night was inevitable.

MPD has a sordid history with unarmed black men dying in its custody. The decision makers in the MPD, City of Minneapolis, Hennepin County, State of Minnesota, and federal government have blocked any justice for the families of those killed by MPD. The officers involved seldom receive any meaningful punishment and are almost never charged with a crime. When they are charged, they are almost always found not guilty because the law give law enforcers, unlike the rest of us, tremendous leeway in the use of deadly force.

If you take away all forms of recourse that we like to consider civil, wronged individuals will eventually resort to violence. What happened in Minneapolis yesterday evening was the direct result of government personnel continuously protecting MPD officers from punishment for their wrongdoing. The fact that such a situation hadn’t happened earlier is rather miraculous. Likewise, the fact that the situation wasn’t far worse is also miraculous.

The truth is MPD was damn lucky. The protesters massively outnumbered the officers in the Third Precinct. They could have easily overrun the building and killed every officer inside. They didn’t, but if the status quo with MPD continues, the next incident will likely be worse and eventually a spark will light the powder keg that is the city and a lot of people will die. I hope that last night’s conflict puts enough fear into the decision makers to convince them that the status quo is no longer viable. Unfortunately, I doubt it did. It may take citywide rioting before the decision makers are finally scared enough to stop shielding MPD’s officers from justice.

Fascism Is More Dangerous than COVID-19

St. George Carlin once said, “Rights aren’t rights if someone can take them away. They’re privileges. That’s all we’ve ever had in this country, is a bill of temporary privileges. And if you read the news even badly, you know that every year the list gets shorter and shorter.” While our temporary privileges are in a constant state of erosion, they seem to erode the fastest during emergency situations. During this COVID-19 outbreak we’ve seen our rights erode even faster than they did immediately after the 9/11 attacks. Now you can’t even leave your home without permission:

Citations for violating Gov. Tiim Walz’ orders to stay at home and halt business operations have started trickling in across the state, including a few in the metro area.

As of Monday, eight people were charged with violating the emergency orders. The orders require bars and restaurants to halt dine-in services as well as having residents largely stay at home. Violating the order is a misdemeanor with a fine of up to $1,000 or 90 days in jail.

I’m not going to discuss the danger of COVID-19 because it’s irrelevant. Instead I’m going to argue that no matter how dangerous COVID-19 is, fascism is more dangerous.

What we’ve seen in the last few weeks is most major governments in the world descend further into fascist ideology. This descent has been happening with alarming speed here in the United States. Not only is a majority of the population under a stay at home order imprisoned in their homes, but the national borders are closed, some state borders are being closed, passports aren’t being issued or renewed, the federal government is telling private companies what to produce, and the Federal Reserve is considering buying stakes in private companies. And this is just the United States. Other countries are following suit. For example, France is nationalizing businesses and Spain is nationalizing private hospitals. Disregard the claims of the nationalizations being temporary. In the government thesaurus temporary is a synonym for permanent.

So we now need permission to leave our homes, the borders are closed, nobody can get papers to travel outside of the country, and private businesses are being controlled by the state. This is a recipe for bad times to come, because these are all planks in the ideology of fascism. Anybody who had read even a base level of history of the consequences of fascism should be aware that the death toll was higher than even the most bleak COVID-19 projections. Moreover, people living under fascist regimes were in a constant state of anxiety because they could disappear at any moment for the transgression of angering a random government goon… or a neighbor.

The world is moving in a dangerous direction and COVID-19 is the emergency being exploited to justify it. If people continue to accept their governments grabbing for more and more power, they will soon wake up to a world far more dangerous and frightening than one where nobody took any precautions against COVID-19. Unfortunately, I know most of the world will ignore this warning because the majority of people are more scared of the threat they see than the threat they don’t see.

Go Be Homeless Somewhere Else

Remember Minneapolis’s Hooverville? As usual the overlords of the city wanted to sweep their homeless problem under the rug but were hampered by the fact that the media was giving heavy coverage to the camp. So instead of the usual tactic of sending the police in under the auspice of “public health” to breakup the camp, Minneapolis’s overlords had to go through the work of setting up a homeless shelter. Now that the media coverage has subsided, the homeless individuals who were brought to the shelter are being kicked to the curb:

On Monday, officials in Minneapolis capped a yearlong effort to clear the state’s biggest homeless encampment by closing the temporary emergency shelter on Cedar Avenue, where they had forced residents of the camp to move roughly five months ago.

Won’t this result in another Hooverville popping up? Of course it will and the city official know that:

Officials are aware of plans for another tent settlement this year and are working on a plan for responding to it.

I’m betting the plan involves nipping the Hooverville in the bud before it gets national coverage. Nobody involved in the Minneapolis government wants a repeat of last year’s embarrassment (which wasn’t the existence of the Hooverville but the media coverage that prevented the government from sending in law enforcers to confiscate the tents and crack some homeless skulls in the hopes of convincing them to go be homeless somewhere else).

A First

For the first time in the history of the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) an officer has been found guilty of murder while operating in an official capacity:

Mohamed Noor became the first former Minnesota police officer found guilty of an on-duty murder Tuesday as a Hennepin County jury convicted him for the fatal shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond in 2017.

Jurors reached their verdict after about 10 hours of sequestered deliberations in a case that was closely watched nationwide and in Damond’s native Australia. They convicted Noor of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter but acquitted him of the most serious count — second-degree murder.

I’ve been following this case through Lou Raguse’s Twitter account since he was one of the handful of journalists granted access to the trial. The main thing I took away from the trial was the extent to which MPD went to cover up the murder. From body cameras not being turned on at critical moments to Noor’s squad car being washed and returned to service the very next day it was pretty obvious that MPD went as far as it could to cover the up the evidence of this murder. However, the case was so blatant that those efforts ended up being in vain.

There is currently a pending civil case brought by the family of Justine Damond against the City of Minneapolis. The evidence revealed during Noor’s trial will likely provide a lot of legal ammunition for Justine’s family’s case. I hope the City of Minneapolis gets soaked for the entire $50 million being sought. It’s obvious that MPD and the government tasked with overseeing it are horribly corrupt and they deserve some swift and severe punishment.

Destructive Rights Management

Digital Rights Management (DRM), and oxymoronic term since something ceases to be a right the second it’s managed, has been the bane of digital content consumers’ existence since it was first developed. Why does the single player game I bought need a constant Internet connection? DRM. Why is this audio CD trying to install a rootkit on my system? DRM. Why can’t I watch this movie I purchased from the iTunes Store on my Kodi box? DRM.

However, the greatest danger of DRM lies in the fact that any content protected by DRM can be taken away from you. This is a lesson that people who purchased e-books via Microsoft’s service (I’ll be honest, I didn’t even know Microsoft had an e-book service) are learning right now:

There’s bad news for users of Microsoft’s eBook store: the company is closing it down, and, with it, any books bought through the service will no longer be readable.

To soften the blow, the company has promised to refund any customers who bought books through the store (a clue that there may not have been that many of them, hence the closure. Microsoft did not offer further comment).

But just think about that for a moment. Isn’t it strange? If you’re a Microsoft customer, you paid for those books. They’re yours.

But they’re not yours. Why? DRM.

The upside for consumers is that Microsoft isn’t closing its e-book service because it’s is filing for bankruptcy, which means it’s is in a position to offer refunds (more on that in a moment). This situation makes it an oddity though. Oftentimes when a service shuts down it’s doing so because it has run out of money. If this were a small e-book distribution service, not only would its customers lose all access to the books that they purchased, but they would also receive no refund.

But let’s talk about Microsoft’s refund for a moment. If you go to the announcement page, you’ll see that there are some strings attached:

How do I get my refund?

Refund processing for eligible customers start rolling out automatically in early July 2019 to your original payment method. If your original payment method is no longer valid and on file with us, you will receive a credit back to your Microsoft account for use online in Microsoft Store.

If your original payment method is still valid (i.e. if your credit card hasn’t expired or been stolen) you will get a credit back. That’s actually pretty good but if the original payment method is no longer valid, you get Microsoft Fun Bucks, which you can use to buy more DRM encumbered content that may go away at any moment. That’s not as sweet of a deal.

The service will shutdown in July so if you’re in the middle of reading a book, you better finish it up before it’s taken away from you.