Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

Why the U.S. Has Fallen Behind in Internet Speed and Affordability

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How appropriate: All week I’ve been having to wait on connections, sometimes more than a minute. Claire Cain Miller writes in the NY Times:

America’s slow and expensive Internet is more than just an annoyance for people trying to watch “Happy Gilmore” on Netflix. Largely a consequence of monopoly providers, the sluggish service could have long-term economic consequences for American competitiveness.

Downloading a high-definition movie takes about seven seconds in Seoul, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Zurich, Bucharest and Paris, and people pay as little as $30 a month for that connection. In Los Angeles, New York and Washington, downloading the same movie takes 1.4 minutes for people with the fastest Internet available, and they pay $300 a month for the privilege, according to The Cost of Connectivity, a report published Thursday by the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute.

The report compares Internet access in big American cities with access in Europe and Asia. Some surprising smaller American cities — Chattanooga, Tenn.; Kansas City (in both Kansas and Missouri); Lafayette, La.; and Bristol, Va. — tied for speed with the biggest cities abroad. In each, the high-speed Internet provider is not one of the big cable or phone companies that provide Internet to most of the United States, but a city-run network or start-up service.

The reason the United States lags many countries in both speed and affordability, according to people who study the issue, has nothing to do with technology. Instead, it is an economic policy problem — the lack of competition in the broadband industry. [Which is weird, because businessmen all say that they love competition, that competition is what makes America great, and so on---but they do everything in their power to avoid having to compete. - LG]

“It’s just very simple economics,” said Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School who studies antitrust and communications and was an adviser to the Federal Trade Commission. “The average market has one or two serious Internet providers, and they set their prices at monopoly or duopoly pricing.” . . .

Continue reading.

And the lack of competition is thanks to Congress, the FTC, the FCC, and other regulatory agencies who are not doing their jobs and thereby steadily weakening the US.

Even now the FCC is working its head off to destroy net neutrality. But note what Tom Wheeler of the FCC points out:

“Stop and let that sink in: Three-quarters of American homes have no competitive choice for the essential infrastructure for 21st-century economics and democracy,” Tom Wheeler, chairman of the F.C.C., said in a speech last month.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 October 2014 at 3:35 pm

How one man’s private files ended up on Apple’s iCloud without his consent

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I also just got Yosemite—and after reading the article I went to System Preferences > iCloud, and yes, indeed, Apple was industriously copying my private data to the cloud without permission or notification: Contacts, Calendar, and some other programs. I unchecked those and I hope that my data are staying on my computer.

It seems pretty damn high-handed of Apple to help itself to my data and transfer it to the cloud, particularly without asking and without notifying me.

Craig Timber reports in the Washington Post:

After security researcher Jeffrey Paul upgraded the operating system on his MacBook Pro last week, he discovered that several of his personal files had found a new home – on the cloud. The computer had saved the files, which Paul thought resided only on his own encrypted hard drive, to a remote server Apple controlled.

“This is unacceptable,” thundered Paul, an American based in Berlin, on his personal blog a few days later. “Apple has taken local files on my computer not stored in iCloud and silently and without my permission uploaded them to their servers – across all applications, Apple and otherwise.”

He was not alone in either his frustration or surprise. Johns Hopkins University cryptographer Matthew D. Green tweeted his dismay after realizing that some private notes had found their way to iCloud. Bruce Schneier, another prominent cryptography expert, wrote a blog post calling the automatic saving function “both dangerous and poorly documented” by Apple.

The criticism was all the more notable because its target, Apple, had just enjoyed weeks of applause within the computer security community for releasing a bold new form of smartphone encryption capable of thwarting government searches – even when police got warrants. Yet here was an awkward flip side: Police still can gain access to files stored on cloud services, and Apple seemed determined to migrate more and more data to them.

The once-clear line between devices – such as Macs or iPhones – and proprietary cloud services is all but vanishing, security experts warn. And it isn’t just Apple doing it. Microsoft, Google and others increasingly are relying on cheap, easily accessible storage capacity to roll out new features for customers. Apple’s automatic saving function allows users to switch seamlessly between devices, without fear of losing documents or edits.

That’s great news if your Mac gets stolen and you need to buy a new one. But security experts such as Paul are asking, at what price in privacy?

“For me,” said Green in an interview, “this is really shocking. I’ve been taking a lot of confidential notes in business meetings in TextEdit” – one of the programs that automatically saves some files to iCloud.

Confusion about how devices and cloud services interact apparently was a factor in the theft of intimate photos of  dozens of Hollywood celebrities, such as Jennifer Lawrence, last summer. Their phones were secure, but the photos also were stored in online Apple accounts that, while protected by passwords, were vulnerable to hackers, experts say. It’s not clear the victims had any idea their personal photos were on the cloud, but they were — within the reach of highly skilled Internet creeps.

Paul’s concern is less freelance Internet creeps than the U.S. government, which as he noted in his blog post collects data from U.S. technology companies, including Apple, through the National Security Agency’s PRISM program. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 October 2014 at 2:38 pm

Very good news: Senate Hearing Set on Secret Recordings at N.Y. Fed

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Jake Bernstein reports in ProPublica:

A U.S. Senate subcommittee will hold a hearing Nov. 21 on issues of regulatory capture following stories by ProPublica and This American Life about secret recordings made by an examiner at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who chairs the panel’s Financial Institutions and Consumer Protection subcommittee, announced the hearing today.

Witnesses have not been named. In a statement, Johnson said the ProPublica and This American Life reports “are troubling because they raise new questions about regulators being captured by the financial institutions they regulate.”

The examiner, Carmen Segarra, secretly recorded approximately 46 hours of meetings with colleagues at the New York Fed and executives from Goldman Sachs as she examined Goldman’s policies, particularly those relating to conflicts of interest. She was fired after seven months on the job.

The recordings show regulators reluctance to push Goldman too hard for information and the New York Fed’s struggles to beef up its supervision of some of the nation’s biggest banks.

Segarra was dismissed after resisting pressure from higher-ups to change her conclusion that Goldman’s policies were insufficient.

Since the financial crisis of 2008, the New York Fed has received new responsibility for supervising Wall Street’s biggest and riskiest financial institutions. That is despite an internal confidential report in 2009 that concluded that the New York Fed was too deferential to the institutions it oversaw and had a culture in which examiners feared speaking out.

The New York Fed has said Segarra was fired for performance reasons alone and issued a statement defending its record of bank oversight. [Yeah, right---I do not trust the NY Fed (or the SEC for that matter), and quite clearly the NY Fed fired the examiner simply because the examiner was being honest about Goldman Sach's situation, something the NY Fed apparently feels is a firing offense. I do agree that some need to be fired for this, but it is not the examiner. - LG]

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 October 2014 at 2:17 pm

Advice From Veteran Lobbyist: ‘Win Ugly or Lose Pretty’

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More on bad-faith politics, including flat-out lying, but a veteran lobbyist who endorses tactics that would shame most. Eric Lipton reports in the NY Times:

If the oil and gas industry wants to prevent its opponents from slowing its efforts to drill in more places, it must be prepared to employ tactics like digging up embarrassing tidbits about environmentalists and liberal celebrities, a veteran Washington political consultant told a room full of industry executives in a speech that was secretly recorded.

The blunt advice from the consultant, Richard Berman, the founder and chief executive of the Washington-based Berman & Company consulting firm, came as Mr. Berman solicited up to $3 million from oil and gas industry executives to finance an advertising and public relations campaign called Big Green Radicals.

The company executives, Mr. Berman said in his speech, must be willing to exploit emotions like fear, greed and anger and turn them against the environmental groups. And major corporations secretly financing such a campaign should not worry about offending the general public because “you can either win ugly or lose pretty,” he said.

Think of this as an endless war,” Mr. Berman told the crowd at the June event in Colorado Springs, sponsored by the Western Energy Alliance, a group whose members include Devon Energy, Halliburton and Anadarko Petroleum, which specialize in extracting oil and gas through hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. “And you have to budget for it.”

What Mr. Berman did not know — and what could now complicate his task of marginalizing environmental groups that want to impose limits on fracking — is that one of the energy industry executives recorded his remarks and was offended by them.

“That you have to play dirty to win,” said the executive, who provided a copy of the recording and the meeting agenda to The New York Times under the condition that his identity not be revealed. “It just left a bad taste in my mouth.” . . .

Continue reading.

The lobbyist is pretty clearly a sociopath. And it’s heartening that at least one executive saw the lobbyist’s approach for what it is. The complete speech is provided here, and note this introduction:

Speech by Richard Berman to Western Energy Alliance
Here is a complete transcript of a speech that Richard Berman, the founder and chief executive of Berman and Company, gave in June 2014 in Colorado Springs to a group of energy executives. He urged them to contribute several million dollars to a nonprofit organization he runs, with a promise that he would hide the origin of the money. The nonprofit would then create a campaign to attack environmental groups raising questions about fracking. The speech offers a rare glimpse into how Mr. Berman operates. This transcript was provided to The Times, which also has a copy of the actual recording. The transcript was shared with Mr. Berman, by The Times, before its publication.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 October 2014 at 12:51 pm

Posted in Business, Politics

Verizon and AT&T ID’s being used to track users

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Really, Congress should take action—yeah, I know.  In ProPublica Julia Angwin and Jeff Larsen describe what’s happening:

Twitter’s mobile advertising arm enables its clients to use a hidden, undeletable tracking number created by Verizon to track user behavior on smartphones and tablets.

Wired and Forbes reported earlier this week that the two largest cellphone carriers in the United States, Verizon and AT&T, are adding the tracking number to their subscribers’ Internet activity, even when users opt out.

The data can be used by any site – even those with no relationship to the telecoms — to build a dossier about a person’s behavior on mobile devices – including which apps they use, what sites they visit and for how long.

MoPub, acquired by Twitter in 2013, bills itself as the “world’s largest mobile ad exchange.” It uses Verizon’s tag to track and target cellphone users for ads, according toinstructions for software developers posted on its website.

Twitter declined to comment.

AT&T said that its actions are part of a test. Verizon says it doesn’t sell information about the demographics of people who have opted out.

This controversial type of tracking, known in industry jargon as header enrichment, is the latest step in the mobile industry’s quest to track users on their devices. Google has proposed a new standard for Internet services that, among other things, would prevent header enrichment.

People using apps on tablets and smartphones present a challenge for companies that want to track behavior so they can target ads. Unlike on desktop computers, where users tend to connect to sites using a single Web browser that can be easily tracked by “cookies,” users on smartphones and tablets use many different apps that do not share information with each other.

For a while, ad trackers solved this problem by using a number that was build into each smartphone by Apple and Google. But under pressure from privacy critics, both companies took steps to secure these Device IDs, and began allowing their users to delete them, in the same way they could delete cookies in their desktop Web browser.

So the search for a better way to track mobile users continued. In 2010, two European telecom engineers proposed an Internet standard for telecom companies to track their users with a new kind of unique identifier. The proposal was eventually adopted as astandard by an industry group called the Open Mobile Alliance.

Telecoms began racing to find ways to use the new identifier. . .

Continue reading.

A sidebar in the article:

Does Your Phone Company Track You?

CHECK FOR TRACKING CODE Click from your smartphone or tablet (with Wi-Fi turned off) to see if your telecom provider is adding a tracking number. We don’t save any information.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 October 2014 at 7:40 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Technology

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The Latest Threat to Global Food Security: Salt

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Salt build-up from irrigation has destroyed other societies. Brian Merchant writes in Motherboard:

Eating too much salt in your diet can beget a litany of adverse health effects—blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, cancer. That’s well documented. It’s not as well known that consuming too much salt can have similarly dire effects on the environment, and, by extension, our food supply. Salt degradation has caused tens of billions of dollars worth of damage, mars an area of cropland the size of Manhattan every week, and has hit nearly one-fifth of the world’s farmland so far.

“Salts have damaging effects whether they are in excess amounts in the human body or in agricultural lands,” Manzoor Qadir, the lead author of an eye-opening new study on the subject, published by the United Nations’ Institute for Water, Environment and Health, told me in an email conversation.

“If salt degradation goes on unchecked, more and more land will be highly degraded leading to wasteland,” he said. “Restoring such lands will not be economically feasible at all.”

When farmers irrigate crops with water—even “good quality” freshwater—salt comes along for the ride. Without proper drainage systems, the salt can then accumulate in soil whenever water evaporates and leaves it behind, or plants suck out the ‘pure water’ and leave salt concentrated in the root zone. Once enough salt accumulates, it can cause a host of problems to the crops—not entirely unlike how a salt-heavy diet adversely impacts people.

“In terms of effects on crops, salt-induced land degradation results in reduction in plant growth rate, reduced yield, and in severe cases, total crop failure,” Qadir told me. This happens especially quickly in arid regions, which suggests the process may be accelerated by climate change.

The UN report brings some fairly astonishing findings—his team estimates that 2,000 hectares of farmland (nearly 8 square miles) of farmland is ruined daily by salt degradation. So far, nearly 20 percent of the world’s farmland has been degraded, an area approximately the size of France. . .

Continue reading.

This particular threat has been known for years if not decades, but again no action is taken: very like global warming in that it’s an enormous problem that is quite foreseeable and whose cause is known, but we find ourselves paralyzed into inaction, encouraged in that by those making money from the status quo.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2014 at 6:02 pm

Another way business takes over the government

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It burrows inside, like the trichinosis parasite into muscle. Read this op-ed in the NY Times by Clarence Ditlow and Ralph Nader:

WHEN regulators sleep and auto companies place profits over safety, safety defects pile up. A record number of vehicles — more than 50 million — have been recalled this year, a result of congressional hearings and Justice Department prosecutions, which exposed a mass of deadly defects that the auto industry had concealed.

From the Ford Explorer rollovers in the 1990s and Toyotas’ issue with unintended acceleration in the 2000s to the recent fatal consequences of defective General Motors ignition switches and Takata airbags, the auto companies hid defects to avoid recalls and save money. These and other major defects were first exposed by safety advocates who petitioned the government and by reporters in the tradition of Bob Irvin of The Detroit News, who wrote over 35 articles on Chevrolet engine mounts until General Motors agreed to recall 6.7 million vehicles in 1971.

These campaigners did the job the regulator should have done. Congress gave the Department of Transportation authority to regulate the auto industry through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — including subpoena authority to find defects. But it used this authority so infrequently after the ’70s that its acting administrator, David J. Friedman, told Congress this year that he didn’t even know it had the power. The N.H.T.S.A. also failed to require companies to disclose death-claim records in civil lawsuits over the Toyota accelerations, G.M. ignition switches and Takata airbags.

In order to prevent the risk of death or serious injury, Congress empowered the agency to oblige auto companies to use alternate suppliers and independent repair shops to manufacture parts and make repairs to expedite a recall fix. Yet the N.H.T.S.A. has never used this authority — even though it took General Motors from February to October to get enough parts to dealers to repair all the recalled ignition switches.

Only after a lengthy delay was the agency prodded, in 2009, into opening an investigation into whether the first two Honda recalls of Takata airbags were adequate. Although the agency asked tough questions, it quickly closed the investigation after Takata hired a former senior N.H.T.S.A. official to represent the company. The agency’s attitude, in short, was: Don’t bother us with the facts.

More facts did come out when BMW, Honda, Nissan and Toyota recalled millions of Takata airbags from 2010 to 2013. Still, the N.H.T.S.A. opened no investigations and ordered no recalls on the airbags. Honda also failed to disclose death and injury claims on Takata airbags, as required by law. Even now — after reports of a third death in the United States associated with the airbags — the N.H.T.S.A. refuses to order a national recall, as Senators Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Edward Markey of Massachusetts have urged.

What explains this neglect? Over time, the N.H.T.S.A. has been captured by the industry it regulates. Through the ’70s, it aggressively litigated cases to force recalls, and it caught most defects early in the life of a vehicle. Beginning in the ’80s, however, numerous officials — including Diane K. Steed, Jerry Ralph Curry, Sue Bailey and David L. Strickland, who all served as head of the agency, and Erika Z. Jones, Jacqueline S. Glassman and Paul Jackson Rice, who all served as chief counsel to the agency — have gone on to become consultants, lawyers or expert witnesses for auto companies.

What’s more, the agency is heavily populated by former industry employees. Ms. Glassman, for example, had been a lawyer for Chrysler before working at the agency (and is now at a law firm that represents auto companies). The agency’s last non-acting administrator, Mr. Strickland, went to work in January of 2014 for a firm representing Chrysler — the same month the agency approved an inadequate recall of Chrysler Jeeps with fuel tanks liable to explode as a result of rear impacts.

Although Congress has given the N.H.T.S.A. regulatory tools that the agency failed to use, Congress has not given it the two things it needs most: sufficient funding, and the power to bring criminal penalties against auto companies. . .

Continue reading.

Or, Koch brothers fashion, like this in Texas. Worth the click—unbelievable, except unfortunately not.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2014 at 2:44 pm

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