Wednesday, January 21, 2004

CJ vs. Mass Marketing

CJ's note:  This is pretty apropos ten years later, only these days it's not just the marketers mining our data, it's also the NSA and other similar agencies, and through social media we're handing them our lives on a silver platter.

   The only thing I hate more than Telemarketers, stupid people, and cowardice is Data-mining.  Data-mining is the term given to the act of consumer categorization.  Whenever you visit a web site, you are essentially being tracked.  You are monitored by individuals or organizations via your IP address (given to you by your ISP), and put into specific categories depending on the types of sites you visit, duration of your visit, and frequency of your visits.  Everything you do is catalogued, every purchase you make online is noted, the things you buy, the brands you prefer,  even things you researched but did NOT buy are all catalogued.  Even sites with nothing to sell are monitored!  Supposedly, this is done to monitor "traffic on the net" and for billing the site maintainers, but the fact of the matter is, every visit to every site is logged and categorized.  Companies like Akamai and Doubleclick (et al) make their money by collecting this data and selling it to "interested parties".
 (Incidentally, my site has come up under searches for computers, video games, console copiers, occult, spirituality, television, bargains, porn, books, cuisine, and even sports!  Imagine the profiles regular visitors to my site must have! (Hi Krstjan!))
Why are the companies doing this?
I should think the answer is obvious...


If you've read my "Connected Appliances" article, you've already learned a bit about the logic and technique of data-mining (along with a not-so-farfetched possibility).  It all starts with building your marketable profile, then assessing your interests, needs, and wants, then tailoring any and all advertising to conform to your profile.  Why bombard a single, heterosexual man with tampon ads and coupons?  Why mail a devoutly religious woman some content from a gay-porn site?  Sending ads for a new BMW to a single welfare mom? Sending a lesbian couple pop-up ads for a penis extension or Viagra?

 (Hey! That was unintentionally funny...pop-up ads for Viagra...har!)
It saves them time, money, and research, that's why!  They don't have to rely on guesswork, they don't have to mass-mail adverts, coupons, and flyers to everyone, hoping that someone will "bite" so they might hit their target demographic.  In the case of data-mining, their "target demographic" effectively and inadvertently hits itself.
It's not just the Internet being mined, it's everything.  Every time you use your credit card, you're being mined.  Everytime you use your bank card to withdraw money or pay for a purchase you're being mined.  Every time you pay cash for an item but use a Club or Discount card YOU ARE BEING MINED!
Hell, you may even be mined when you use an ATM at a convenience store.  If you withdraw money from the ATM at 7-Eleven, are you also buying gum, a Slurpee, an issue of Maxim?  Did you buy gas at that Shell station when you withdrew $20 from their ATM?
Did you know you can be tracked by your cell-phone?  Yup.  Each cell-phone has a nice little feature called e911.  Look on your cell-phone bill one of these days.  There's probably a fee for e911 services on there, isn't there... e911 works on the same principle as regular old 911... if you phone 911 from your home phone, but are either disconnected or pass out before you reach an operator, the 911 Emergency operators can trace your call, find out where you are, etc.  e911 works much the same way, but works in concert with GPS to pinpoint your exact whereabouts...
A friend of mine was visiting another Canadian city and had his cell-phone with him.  While he and his companion were walking past a large retail store (I won't mention whom), he suddenly had a text message on his was a fucking ADVERTISEMENT from the damned store!  Tell me THAT was a coincidence!
So, to recap, here's what they know and how they know it:

        - Your surfing habits: Sites visited, category of site, duration of visit, frequency of visits.
        - The products/services you buy, whether in stores or online, how often you buy them, how much you buy.
        - How often you pay for purchases/services by credit card, debit card, or cash.
        - How often you access ATMs, and WHERE you access them.
        - If you own a cell-phone and where you are at any given moment.
        - Where you shop, eat, and hang out.
Pretty scary, eh?
Personally, I find all this appalling.  To me, it's tantamount to Industrial Espionage, and should be treated as a crime.  But, since that'll probably never happen, here is my solution to the whole thing.  I call it:

CJ vs Mass-Marketing!

 (Steps you should follow to ensure your privacy)

- Stay off the Internet altogether.  I mean it.  No email, no surfing, no chatting, NOTHING.  If you're not online, they can't track you as easily.  This even means staying off your PC at work and at publically accessible computers at the mall, library, and cyber-cafe.  (Unless you know how to set up proxies.  Don't ask me how, I don't know.)
- Pay bills in person, with cash.
- Don't use cell-phones.  Use a regular phone and buy an answering machine.  Don't use your name or phone number in the message.  Use a pay phone if you're away from home.
- Pay for your purchases in CASH, and never give your real name/address unless absolutely necessary (some businesses will NOT accept cash for services... that's one strike against us!)
- Don't use those damned "store club" or discount cards.  Stay away from Costco or Sam's Club altogether.
- Withdraw money ONLY from your home branch, and only deposit money or cash cheques via a HUMAN TELLER at your home branch.
OK, so my solutions aren't "real-world" practical.  No, they're more "common sense" oriented, and common sense, as we all know, has no place in the "real world" ;)
Seriously, though, I'm being a bit sarcastic.  The Internet is a great place, and a great way to communicate, shop, and have fun.  It's just annoying to me that the categorization of us consumers has become an Internet fact of life, and there ain't much we can do about it.
Well, there ARE a few things one can do, but that's not my field of expertise.  For a good primer on online privacy and anonymity, check out the Electronic Frontier Foundation.  They specialize in online issues such as privacy, security, freedom of speech, etc.  Check 'em out, and if you like what you see, please consider donating!



Welcome to The Connected Home

CJ's Note 5/26/2014:  This seems especially relevant today, what with the hype regarding the Internet of Things...

The Connected Home, or "Hey, look!  They use Becel!"

    Everyone is concerned about their privacy on the Internet.  I'm no exception.  The more things you do on the 'net, the more pages you visit, the more information the companies have on you.  Regardless of how much "personal information" you have on your computer (or even "how much/little you give out), "they" can always trace you by the unique IP address assigned to you by your ISP, and can track your viewing/browsing and buying habits.
    Think I'm kidding?  Think I'm nurturing conspiracy theories?  Think again.  I'm uncovering a conspiracy PERIOD!
Take a look at the status bar of your browser some time.  Every once in a while, you'll probably notice the same few names pop up, names that are unrelated to the page you're viewing.  Whenever you see "Akamai" and "Doubleclick", you can be sure you're being tracked.  And those are just TWO of the obvious ones.
Why are they doing this?  Simple.  Every page you visit (including mine) is "categorized".  Say, for example, you're thinking about buying a new car.... so, over  a period of a week, you visit several auto dealerships'web sites, gathering info on the various makes/models of new cars.  While you're doing this, the companies are watching you, noting that you're looking at car dealership sites, and cataloguing you.  They then sell this information to various sources, and in a few days, you may notice a lot of unsolicited email (spam) in your mailbox, advertising "New Car Loans" from banks, "No-Upper-Limit" credit cards, and even deals on new/used cars!
This can be applied to everything else on the net.  I am always looking for video games on eBay, and one of the systems I collect is the Sega Saturn.  I was surfing at work one day, when I got a pop-up window from a UK game distributor advertising Saturn games.  The next morning, I had several emails in my inbox advertising "cheap X-Box games", used video games, and even "full-version WAREZ downloads".  See how it works?
The worst offender in the "spam" category would be porn sites.  I hit a few from time-to-time (hey, I'm a normal human, y'know!), and I'm ALWAYS getting porno spam, advertising Paris Hilton videos, Viagra (Hey! I'm only 31!), and the most prominent, penis extensions...  If you find your inbox saturated in Porno Spam, you can be sure someone on your system (if it wasn't you) was looking at porn...
Aside from tracking/database-mining and spam, the next big bastard on the Internet is SPYWARE.  Spyware is simply that, software which passes along information to a specific host.  It is usually installed along with "shareware", "30-day trial" or demo-versions of legitimate software such as Win-Zip, Kazaa, among others.  Most are intrusive but harmless, passing along your viewing habits, information about your computer, even what software programs you're using.  Others are invasive and potentially (if not outright) damaging, and will upload secure information (such as passwords and email info) or even WIPE stuff from your HD.

Most of you probably know all this, because it's nothing new.  It's been going on for years.
Which brings me to the point of this little rant...
I was sitting in a cafĂ© earlier this week (OK, yesterday) and overheard a trio of middle-aged men going on and on and on about "connected appliances".  Connected appliances are just that, kitchen appliances that are connected to the internet, whether wired or wireless.  Some are connected simply for diagnostic/warranty reasons, and if anything goes wrong (or can potentially go wrong), the appliance sends a message to the manufacturer, which, if the appliance is still under warranty, will notify the owner or perhaps even dispatch a service-person to fix the problem.  Sounds like a housewife's dream, right?
Others, like the appliances in this link , can also be used to access the internet, take pictures, monitor rooms, etc.
So who's monitoring the appliances?  And what ELSE are they monitoring?
Think about it... sooner or later, some manufacturer will come up with  a system that monitors the levels of foodstuffs in your fridge.  When something runs low, the fridge will notify you to "pick up a loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butta*" on your way home from work.  Or, it may place an order to the appropriate (IE cheapest) grocery store FOR YOU to be delivered at a prearranged time.  The fridge receives daily updates from the grocery stores you frequent (and a few you don't), and will pick and choose the best deals for you, based on the brands you buy and frequency of consumption.
Sounds like a great time-saver, doesn't it?  Of course, before placing any orders, the fridge will have to access your bank account(s) and/or credit cards to ensure you've got the available funds...
So, now, you've got a fridge that knows everything about you.  How much money you have/make, the brands of foodstuffs you buy, and even the frequency of consumption.  And if the fridge knows this, so do the manufacturers, grocery stores, and even the producers of the groceries you buy (or DON'T buy).  Now, imagine your email inbox, filled with ads for cookies, milk, diapers, canned spaghetti, pet food, and the like.

"We'll give you $50 USD, Conceited Jerk, for switching to our butter for 30 days"

And that's just the HONEST companies.  Who's to say the dishonest ones won't be connecting to your fridge?  All things connected to the 'net have an IP address, so as easily as you can be tracked, you can be HACKED.
Operator: "Hey, Chief!  The Jerk family buys Becel Light Margarine and NOT our butter!"

Company Chief: "WHAT?!  Those bastards!  Access his fridge, disable 'owner order verification', and make it order two tubs of our stuff.  Increase surveillance and keep me informed!"

Operator:"Yes, SIR!"
Or maybe it's NOT the companies hacking your appliances!  Imagine, a pair of teenagers sitting in their car, outside your house, with their wireless-enabled laptops, who have just hacked into your connected kitchen...
Kid One: "Hey, ol' man Jerk has popcorn in the microwave... let's just turn the heat up a bit and BURN IT!"

Kid Two: "Yeah, and look at the fridge's camera... the dinner table is set for eight people!  DINNER PARTY! Check the oven!"

Kid One: "Hey! Mrs. Jerk has a roast in the oven...  Let's see...12 pound roast...on for five hours...let's turn the temp down a bit so it's still frozen inside after five hours..."

Kid Two: "Yeah!  That'll fuck 'em up GOOD!"

Kid One: "They've got six people over, and they're all in the living room watching 'Ten Commandments'.  Let's lock the channel on the porno network and lock the power in the 'ON' position"

Kid Two: "That'll teach them for not wanting their sidewalk shovelled!"
...or maybe their intentions weren't prank-oriented.  Maybe they were checking your appliance's cameras to see if you were home, and also to see what you have in your home that's worth stealing...
Frankly, I'll stay "behind the times".

* this quote comes courtesy of a Sesame Street short that aired in the late 70's.  A little Black kid (sorry if that ain't PC)  was asked to go to the corner store for "A loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter".  All the time spent walking to the store, the kid could be heard repeating "a loaf o' bread, a containa o' milk, an' a stick o' butta" and was heard to exclaim "I rememba! I rememba!" upon successfully asking the shopkeeper for said items.  Thanks to my old friend Jason Komoski who reminded me of the quote way back in the ninth grade.  He repeated it over and over and over again, until it burned its way into my subconscious.  It has been stuck in my head for the last sixteen years.  Thanks a lot, asshole! ;)


Tuesday, January 20, 2004

2003: a Look Back at a Lousy Year

2003 was nowhere NEAR as hectic or groundbreaking as 2002, but it had it's share of events.  While maybe not lousy per se, it wasn't exactly one of the better years of my life.  Events during January essentially set the tone for the rest of the year:
Dena and I split up three weeks before our one-year anniversary and my 30th birthday, ending my association with her, her friends, and Spirit Haven (Too bad, I really learned a few things about spirituality, albeit in a watered-down "Pagan-lite" fashion).
Took up drinking again, although not heavily.
Bought my first Macintosh laptop, a Powerbook 160 with Japanese language kit.
Bought my first two Powermacs, a 6100/60 (from eBay) and a 7200/120.  Love is PPC.
My cousin Lyle is hired on at my workplace, two weeks later an old coworker of his is hired.
Overtime becomes a regular thing at work AGAIN, although this year I worked longer hours (17 hours one day! Year end total: 255 Hrs)
Began to withdraw from any social interaction
One of the more, well, non-productive guys is fired from work.  Too bad, he was a good guy, but I guess it wasn't for him.
Lost touch with some of my friends, most of whom are gone for good
Got to see my brother's band play one of their first shows. Very cool!
Finances become, well, abyssmal.  Cut several things out of my routine, including going out and having fun
In an effort to stay home more, I subscribed to digital cable TV and high speed internet
Began cooking and eating more meals at home
On my vacation in August, I started drinking coffee.  I am now up to 5 cups a day (twitch twitch)
Bought another Powermac 6100/60AV at a garage sale, and a Powerbook 5300 on eBay, bringing my total number of Macs to eight!

Got the Sparc Station 10 running properly.  I am now somewhat proficient at Unix and Linux
Overtime finally ends
Gave up drinking pop, except when Karl and I get together
Lost my best buddy in the world, my 13 year-old Maine Coon kitty named Cane, when he got a kidney infection and had to be put down.  (I miss you and love you, my best buddy!).  
The resulting depression causes me to withdraw further from social life
I inherit my parents' old minivan when they purchase a new one.  I have wheels again! (it died a few times but we got her going again)
Karl and I got involved with the Dreamcast scene
eBay is now a way of life for me
After realizing I spend too much time watching TV, and also realizing my creative output was at zero, I got rid of my digital cable TV.  (Oddly enough, I don't miss it!)
Cleaned myself up a bit and am now back in the social world.  It's good to be back!
Realized I actually LIKE my job!
Bought a Macintosh SE, the "oldest" Mac in my collection.  I may be able to do something USEFUL with it!

The "Rec Area" of the basement is born, after buying a 25-inch colour console TV for $24.99! Soon to follow were end tables and speakers...
Had a great Christmas, and the resulting "loot" received has given rise to "The Kitchen Project", slated to begin Mid-2004.
Had a decent New Years' Eve, too, thanks in part to the "Rec Area".
Realized that Windows has its place, even on MY computer... although it doesn't get a lot of use...
So there we have it!  While it started out pretty lousy, and REMAINED pretty lousy until Autumn, 2003 ended quite well, setting the ground work for the next year!  2004 is already shaping up to be "MY YEAR", so look out, CJ is on the move!

CJ's note:  I don't recall 2004 being "my year" either.  Nothing stands out in my mind as being particularily memorable.


Monday, January 12, 2004

eBay and the Den of Thieves, part II:

CJ's note:  this piece was an update originally appended to the end of the original article.  For archival purposes I've split them into two updates.

UPDATE 1/12/2004:

    Well, I figured I'd be safe buying DVDs in lieu of VCDs.  I figured WRONG!
I bid and won another anime movie (Jigoku Sensei Nube) and was ecstatic when it arrived.  You see, several years ago, I used to buy prerecorded VHS tapes from a guy in the US.  He had a friend in Japan who would tape anime shows off the TV, and send them to him to watch.  Well, he had a racket going for a while, selling copies of these tapes.  They were fun to watch, as ALL the commercials were intact, as well as the station identification stuff, weather reports, etc.  I mean, even without the anime, the tapes woulda been fun to watch, especially for a dyed-in-the-wool Japanophile like me!  After buying these tapes, I ended up getting several complete series on tape (untranslated, of course), and one of my favourites was Jigoku Sensei Nube (Hell Teacher Nube).  So I jumped at the chance to own a "legitimate" copy of Nube first cinematic excursion!
Man, was I ever pissed!
For one thing, the DVD wasn't an original, it was a mass-produced HK bootleg (Not that that bothers me).  But what REALLY pissed me off was the fact that, inside the clearly marked Jigoku Sensei Nube DVD case was NOT the Nube DVD, but in fact a DRAGONBALL DVD.
While I don't mind Dragonball, I am NOT the show's biggest fan.
I complained quite loudly, and suffice it to say, the seller is no longer on eBay.
And I will NEVER buy another movie (DVD or otherwise) from questionable sources again!