DELIVERING UP YOUR DATA

March 29, 2020

The DeliveryDemon, like most people, has long been aware that the reason we get ‘free’ online stuff is because the providers are after our data. Few if any providers are clear about what data they gather and how they use it. If they provide that information at all, it’s hidden in Ts and Cs the length of a small, or not so small, novel. And of course, in those Ts and Cs they reserve for themselves the right to make unilateral changes to those Ts and Cs whenever they want.

 

They might sell it on, they might use it themselves. Sometimes they seem to give you some choice, but is it real? There are sites, quite a few, which offer a ‘Reject All’ option. Seems good, the DeliveryDemon still doesn’t feel comfortable. Clicking that button – does it really do what she expects? She can but hope! But some sites are a lot more obstructive when it comes to letting users have control of their data. And once your data gets out of your control, there’s no way to get it back.

 

The DeliveryDemon stopped using Huff Post some time ago, after seeing how they reacted to data protection legislation intended to give data subjects more control. They’re not the only one to take this approach, but they are a classic bad example. So what did they do, and are they still doing it?

 

They did, obviously, provide a mindless ‘Accept’ button. But if the user chose the alternative options button, what happened? A couple of layers down there was a list of third parties that Huff Post wanted to provide data to. And some of those third parties existed to provide that data to yet more third parties. How long was that list? Something like a hundred entries.

 

The options were set to the default of giving away data to each of those third parties. It was not possible with a single click to reset those defaults, that had to be done individually. And that was only a part of the story. Not all third parties had the toggle option. To opt out, it was necessary to go to the site for each of those third parties and SEARCH for how to opt out. Of course such lists are not set in stone, new entries can be added. Is the user, who would normally be using a lot more sites than just Huff Post, to track each site frequently, looking for changes in a long list? And to follow through to all those third parties who can’t be toggled off? Sleazy to put it mildly.

 

The DeliveryDemon has just gone back to see what Huff Post is doing now. No upfront information about permissions now, it was necessary to keep scrolling just to find where the options are. Guess what. Using the site implies acceptance of the Ts and Cs, though to find them requires site usage. The terms aka user agreement have the usual bias of absolving Huff Post of responsibility by shifting it to the user.

 

But the user agreement is only a small part of the story, there’s more hidden in a privacy policy. There are 15 topics in that privacy policy. And 20 products. And 11 ‘controls’ which look very like company names. And a dash board which looks very like the 11 controls. Plus a section on advertising which goes back to the controls, or maybe the dashboard.

 

Eventually some of those sections lead to multiple individual advertisers and the like, all with their own policies and opt out arrangements. The DeliveryDemon CBA to count through them all.

 

The HuffPost user agreement claims to be under the laws of England and Wales. The DeliveryDemon wonders how those laws apply to those many partners whose individual Ts and Cs claim to operate under completely different legal frameworks.

 

Of course HuffPost is not alone in using these underhand tactics to get at user data. Users are being groomed right, left, and centre, to participate in the normalisation of this sort of behaviour by a highly unethical use of nudge techniques. And the more they are normalised, the more readily they will be adopted by newcomers to the field.

 

What may be less obvious is the impact CORVID-19 is having. Yes, a viral pandemic can affect the technology we use, and not in the way of the common or garden computer bug.

 

It’s happening through the massive increase in the use of conferencing facilities at all levels. A lot of people are working from home. Pubs, gyms, and other gathering places have been closed down, depriving people of their normal social contact. The internet provides ways of offsetting that absence of face to face contact. There are well established conferencing apps, some designed for professional use, some embedded in better known social media. Niche apps are suddenly becoming highly popular. They are our work meetings, our social gathering places.

 

What are these apps doing with our data? Rigorous analysis would take so long it would never stay up to date so the DeliveryDemon is picking on one example – the Zoom conferencing app. You can’t sign up without accepting cookies. Even the Required Cookies refer to tracking your orders – with no indication of this being a shopping site. Functional and Advertising options are opted in by default – recognised bad behaviour in data privacy terms. And the Basic Settings option doesn’t actually allow you to change that, it’s necessary to choose an Advanced option to get at it.

 

Try to see Zoom’s privacy policy? It’s greyed out till you go through the cookies rigmarole. And it contains the statement ‘Whether you have a Zoom account or not we may collect personal data from or about you when you use or otherwise interact with our product’. That includes names, user names, physical address, phone number, job title, employer, Facebook information, your device, network and internet connection details. It also demands the right to grab data other users hold about you – and you may not even know what that data is.

 

Zoom is an egregious example, but it’s not the only one. The DeliveryDemon wonders just how many people know how much of their data has been grabbed, and what use it is being put to. Actually, she knows the answer. No-one knows how much of their data has been grabbed and how far it has been distributed. As soon as an app provider starts grabbing one person’s data from that person’s contacts, all control has been lost. It’s been happening for a long time, and the conferencing needs driven by CORVID-19 isolation are an absolute gift to organisations whose Ts and Cs are in breach of the letter and the spirit of common data protection legislation structures.


England’s Rotten Planning System

March 29, 2017

The DeliveryDemon wanted a brand new shiny kitchen, matched units fitting neatly together, with nice level worksurfaces. Someone suggested looking  at Howdens Joinery offerings.

It was going to take some time so it seemed like a good idea to get some planners in to sort things out. Maybe someone from East Northants Council’s Planning Department. After all, they should have some understanding of how structures are put together.

The units needed to sit on top of a plinth, so 600 millimetres seemed about the right height. Roxhill Joinery said ‘Of course 600 millimetre units is what we will provide’. The DeliveryDemon designed out what was needed, and Howdens Joinery said ‘Of course, that’s what we will create’. The DeliveryDemon briefed the planners from East Northants Planning Department and they took her hard earned money to check that Howdens Joinery actually did what they were supposed to do.

Having done everything necessary, the DeliveryDemon headed off to spend days working long hours to pay for this kitchen (and of course to shell out what the taxman demanded).

Come the day the kitchen was supposed to be ready, the DeliveryDemon  went to look.

At first she could see nothing for the glare. The promised soft downlighting had been replaced with what seemed like searchlights. She asked for an explanation, and the reply was drowned out by a cacophony of beeping reverse alarms and revving HGVs, from vehicles which had ignored gates and warning signs to demolish the garden wall.

Finally she managed to see the promised kitchen. But it wasn’t the promised kitchen. Those 600 millimetre units were not 600 millimetres high. Some were 350 millimetres high, some only 250 millimetres. And some took up only a half or a quarter of their allotted width. The work surfaces had been hacked up and balanced randomly on the mismatched units. Not to put too fine a point on it, the kitchen was a mess.

The DeliveryDemon demanded an explanation from those planners.

‘Howdens Joinery told us 600 was the same as 300 and of course we believed them’ they said.

‘Howdens Joinery told us 600 was the same as 250 and of course we believed them’ they said.

‘Howdens Joinery told us part width was the same as full width and of course we believed them’ they said.

‘All your neighbours offered us tape measures but we decided to ignore them’ they said.

‘We don’t care that your family will have to live with this’ they said.

‘We CBA to give you even vaguely credible responses’ they said.

This is a fable of our times. It exactly mirrors the surreal process we have just been through in East Northants. It started with predatory developer Roxhill, in collusion with Howdens Joinery, ignoring all the suitable industrial sites available because Roxhill thought they could overthrow  the taxpayer funded neighbourhood plans in order to rake in profits at the expense of real people.

Their multitude of planning documents were thrown together to allow planners to tick boxes. And those planners duly ticked their boxes without ever considering the omissions, inconsistencies, and inaccuracies before them. People who actually used their brains pointed out that those documents were entirely unreliable. But the planners had ticked a box saying 600 new jobs and they weren’t going to get off their backsides to perform the most basic level of challenge which due diligence demands.

‘Loadsa jobs’ said East Northants Planning Department.

‘That 600 justifies destroying people’s lives’ said East Northants Planning Department.

The 600 jobs figure was challenged on the basis of inconsistencies too blatant to be ignored.

‘Well maybe it’s only 300’ said Howdens Joinery.

‘Well maybe it’s only 250’ said Howdens Joinery.

‘Well, a lot of those jobs are only seasonal’ said Howdens Joinery.

‘We only have embarrassing answers  to your questions so we refuse to answer them’ said East Northants Planning Department.

‘The answer is always loadsa jobs’ said East Northants Planning Department.

‘We’re not going to consider that a lot of those jobs will be done by robots’ said East Northants Planning Department.

Six doughty councillors toiled tirelessly to put the facts in front of their colleagues. Deaf ears were relentlessly turned. Six eloquent voices could not prevail against that obdurate deafness. Why? I have my views and no doubt you have yours.

And this has made it very clear that our planning system is not fit for purpose. Real people’s hard earned and over-taxed money pays for that planning system. Yet it allows faceless corporates like Howdens Joinery and Roxhill to ignore democratic decisions and ruin lives, all to make themselves a fast buck.

The DeliveryDemon is holds a strong view that this country is overdue for a heavy dose of democracy.

And the DeliveryDemon would advise anyone considering a new kitchen to look for a supplier whose numbers can be relied on.


Delivering An Open Letter to BT

June 23, 2016

An open letter because BT continues with its custom of blatant dishonesty and obstruction of customer complaints. This letter was sent to Gavin Paterson, BT’s CEO, following a correspondence string which invariably received responses whose honesty was noticeable by its absence.

It appears that your staff are unable to check customer history correctly. Your complaints system should have comprehensive details of my previous complaints which state very clearly that, having been an extremely dissatisfied customer of BT, I was formally requiring that you did not pester me with junk sales communication via any channel.

It is unsatisfactory that your staff are pretending that the problem lies with another company. This is WRONG. I had enough unpleasant dealings with BT to be very sure of the name of the company causing the problem.

Your staff claim that the problem would not have existed were the number registered with TPS. Your staff should be capable of checking this before making such a stupid recommendation. They should also have the basic understanding that TPS registration is done directly, not through the service supplier. The number has in fact been registered with TPS for years, apart from a brief period when BT abused its position by instructing TPS to remove the number from its Do Not Call list. If your staff think that the TPS list is an effective way of preventing unwanted calls, then your processes should ensure that a check is made against TPS records BEFORE attempting to nuisance call people.

It is also clear from the reply below that your processes are unacceptably inadequate in dealing with the issue of nuisance calls. When BT is told that its nuisance calls are unwanted it has no excuse for failing to record that, whether or not the requirement comes from a BT customer. In this instance, your staff are wrong in claiming that there is no account to mark. There is the historic account, whose management left me disgusted with BT’s dishonesty. And, as I said in earlier correspondence, you are holding sufficient information to have my name associated with the number. Were you making the least attempt to comply with the Data Protection Act, this alone should have prevented your nuisance call.

It is very clear that BT is hiding behind company size and ignorant staff to try and block serious complaints. While this is not surprising given BT’s history, it is completely unacceptable.