Sunday, October 25, 2009

Short Stick

Life isn't fair. So if you find you keep getting the short end of the stick, find comfort knowing you are likely the good one.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Over Priced Again

A while back I wrote an article that said market corrections in housing, oil, and other areas of the economy were taking place and we all needed to get used to the new "normal" prices. Here we are, not even a year later with stock prices over 10,000, oil prices on the rise and housing prices starting to inch back up. I think it is happening too fast. The prices of the recent past were over valued and out of control. We shouldn't be hitting those old marks again so soon. To me, this does not indicate an economy that is recovering but rather one that is still broken.

Most personal budgets are very tight and the unemployment rate is still astounding. When people are finally back to work with more money in their pockets, then we should see prices slowly increase. A truly recovered market is one where prices are within the people's purchasing power.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Cross Referenced - Part 3

In Part 1 of this series I described the process of Data Warehousing - where computer systems collect personal data about every detail of our lives. In Part 2 I describe a hypothetical but entirely possible nightmare scenario on what can happen if even a tiny bit of incorrect data gets associated with your computer profile. In this final installment I tackle the question of what can be done about it.

This should be a short article because the real answer is - nothing. There isn't much you can do - the wheels are already in motion and have been for years.

But I try not to write articles without some sort of advice or suggestion. What I'm about to describe is a theory I've been trying but it is certainly something I would NOT recommend. My theory is that if your computer profile is so messed up that it can't logically be correct, then someone - a person hopefully - will have to sit down and try to determine what is real and what is incorrect. Again - this theory is probably WAY off base and I do not recommend it - but this is what I've started doing.

Knowing that almost anything I do is tracked, I started to insert a little bit of harmless misinformation into my data warehoused profile. For example, USA Today won't let me continue to read the article I'm interested in until I complete a very short survey about who I am. So I complete the survey with obviously incorrect information. I'm an 18 year old CEO of a Fortune 500 company making $5.00 an hour. Now can I keep reading? I guarantee that somewhere in the data warehouse world I am indeed an 18 year old CEO of a Fortune 500 company. That information is going to lounge around in my computer profile for years before someone realizes that I should be making more money. I only do this when I am not logged into the site. It is their "cookie" files that will be used to connect this data to me. In my opinion, if that data really does get attached to my profile then it is as dishonest as me providing fictional data.

It is important to note that I never give misinformation on real items or when I am logged into a website. My credit is very important to me and I do not want to mess it up with something that boils down to a pet peeve of mine. But computers work on logic and anything that doesn't appear to be logical will raise a flag for someone to investigate. Maybe if more computer profiles turn up as illogical, it will start to be obvious that this cross referencing of information is dangerous and unreliable. But once more - I don't recommend others do this!

Cross Referenced - Part 2

In part 1 of this series, we learned that powerful data warehousing computers are collecting data about our private lives from the minute we wake up in the morning and check our email, to a numerous security cameras snapping our pictures throughout the day, to where we travel, what we buy and finally what TV shows we are watching. It is all cross referenced with our Facebook, Twitter and other social networking accounts and even our jobs in an effort to provide targeted advertising. All this data collection is big business in the trillions of dollars and for the most part it is harmless and maybe even beneficial to our society - until something goes wrong.

But what could go wrong? You live your life honestly, pay your bills on time and mind your own business. Well let me explain how easily it is for something to go wrong and how extremely difficult or impossible it is to fix.

I don't even know where to begin - the possibilities for personal disaster are so numerous. Lets start with something simple. Why do I, as a single male, get email advertisements for breast enlargement? Shouldn't all this targeted advertising keep that from happening? What likely happened is that I bought yogurt or some other item deemed a woman's product at the grocery store and used that little scan card that cross referenced back to my name and address. Now suddenly I might actually be a woman. OK - big deal, I can delete that email with a snicker - no harm done. Its kind of funny really, if you take one letter out of my name it could even be a common woman's name.

Later that day I'm on the phone crossing the street and a security camera snaps a picture of me which isn't particularly clear. Somewhere in the world an alarm shows up because someone of importance has just been identified by the face recognition software used on that camera. Computers are churning, files are accessed, reports are filed and I am suddenly in big trouble. What just happened? Well it seems Denise had some big financial problems for a while now and is in trouble with the IRS and several other big financial institutions. But what does that have to do with me? My name is Dennis - a man with no credit issues. Not according to the data which shows very clearly that I am a woman - after all I do watch a lot of TV programs on the Lifetime channel. My cell phone number (based on my location) now gets cross referenced with Denise. Computers continue to churn and within seconds all of my information is cross referenced with Denise including my address and (gulp) social security number. A blip shows up on the IRS computer indicating a conflict of 2 social security numbers so a person or computer makes a decision on which is the correct number using other information in the account - but they choose the wrong one. By the time I finish crossing the street and go into the store to make a purchase, my credit card is already flagged and disabled. The credit nightmare begins.

Maybe it sounds a bit far fetched - like a science fiction movie staring Tom Cruise (and I realize this hypothetical story has a few "holes" in it). But folks - sadly this type scenario is entirely possible with this dangerous practice of data warehousing. It takes only one small piece of incorrect information to immediately change who you are in your computer profile. In the hypothetical scenario above I may have received a notice from the IRS and after a bit of explaining and verifying of data they would have fixed their records and all would be well.

Not so fast! Don't forget that this incorrect information was transferred to hundreds or maybe even thousands of other computers and databases. Just like a computer virus, erroneous information gets copied from computer to computer faster than the speed of sound. Fix it on one system and that still leaves thousands with incorrect information. This type of situation would likely haunt both me and Denise for the rest of our lives, interfering with credit or even just setting up a web page for a business. It is a nightmare that has already happened to many good people. In fact in this article I wrote just days ago I explain how this cross referencing of data has virtually disabled my home telephone.

So what can we do about it? Continue on to part 3 in this series.

Cross Referenced - Part 1

Ever wonder why you need to have one of those little scan cards at the grocery store in order to get discounts? Its because your name, address and phone number are associated with those little cards and each time you buy something it is logged, analyzed and cross referenced. That data is used to help the store monitor your buying habits so they can send you coupons and "targeted" ads for things that you might be interested in. Its called Data Warehousing and the example above is the nice part of it. But there is a big dark ugly side to this practice that not only violates your privacy but can also make a lot of trouble for you. I'm going to break this topic down into several articles. This one addresses how and why they get your information.

In recent years, computers have gotten very inexpensive, powerful and capable of recording and analyzing massive amounts of data. The grocery store scan card mentioned above is just one of many ways your information is collected. Have you signed up for a drawing to win a trip or some other contest? Did you purchase anything using a personal check or credit card? Do you have one of those gadgets in your car that automatically collects your toll and deduct it from your account? Did you give to your church or a charity? All of these things can be tracked back to your name and address. But those are the obvious ones.

Did you know that your TV DVR is constantly reporting what shows you watch to the TV networks? They use this information for their rating process and again for targeted advertising. Your cell phone calls are likely tracked and because they use a network of cell towers, they know exactly where you are when you made that call. Those toll plazas on the freeway are not only deducting the toll from your account, they are also silently taking a picture of your car and license plate. There are security cameras in the stores you visit, parking lots, churches, parks, intersections - basically everywhere. And all those cameras are able to use face recognition technology to pick you out of the crowd and identify you with an amazing degree of accuracy.

Your computer is also helping a lot. There are little files called "cookies" on your computer that are silently recording every website you go to, when and how often. If your computer isn't protected properly (and maybe even if it is) it is possible that every keystroke including account numbers and passwords could be recorded. Social networking sites like Facebook, Myspace and Twitter not only collect your data but cross reference it with your relatives, friends and, too often, total strangers. So maybe you are paranoid and don't even use your computer at home thinking you are more safe on the computer at the office. Perhaps, but it is likely that now they also know where you work and all the information associated with your job, your clients, your income bracket your retirement savings, etc.

So that is a lot of information being collected on you each day. All of it is being cross referenced by powerful computers all over the world trying to figure out what type of a person you are. They want to know what you enjoy, what might you buy, what charity might you support, where you might travel, how much insurance you need, what you can afford. The result of all this data collection is the ad that pops up on your computer for exactly the kind of car you were thinking of buying. Or the coupons that arrive in your mailbox for just the things you were going to buy. Or that insurance policy that is expensive - but just within your tight budget. Its all about trying to know who you are by what you do.

So what is the big deal - they know a lot about you - but you are a good person and don't have anything to hide - right? Plus, it seems logical to target advertising money to people who actually might buy your product. And you don't want to be bombarded by advertisements that don't mean anything to you. Yes, it all seems harmless and logical - until something goes terribly wrong.............

Stay tuned for part 2!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

My Phone Has Bad Credit

I receive constant messages from credit collectors on my personal home phone. Oh they are not calling for me, I have somehow always managed to pay my bills on time and have a credit rating in the 800's. So why is my phone ringing all the time? Well, it seems I've had a few past roommates and apparently even neighbors that have some credit problems that somehow are now my problem. All my past roommates have had their own phones and didn't use my number - yet I get calls daily for these people. Why???

Even though I am registered on the "Do Not Call" list it is somehow legal for other people's creditors to call my personal phone and harass me. Worse - its not even people calling most times - but "robocalls" from computer systems over, and over, and over, and over. My home phone line has been rendered useless for me due to this harassment.

Now I ask you, if folks with credit problems don't answer their own phones, what makes collectors think they will answer mine? Has this ever worked??! Am I supposed to call these people or computers back and give them information on people I haven't seen or heard from in years? right.

Now let me be firm - you do NOT! have the right to call my number looking for someone you have cross-referenced to my address. We need a law that says you may only use the contact information listed in that person's account. If they don't answer their phone or email (surprise!) you are out of luck. A better solution than harassing me is to find some other account under that person's name and arrange to have it disabled. Maybe then they will call you back. But please, leave my phone alone!!!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Wow again!

As a Gay American - I am so very proud of President Obama! If you didn't see the speech to the HRC - please read it as soon as you can. It is important, not only for gays, but for all Americans.