An Open Letter to Scott McNealy

Dear Mr. McNealy,

We’ve never met, but I was fascinated to read your tech overlord’s take on the NSA leaks:

In 1999, Scott McNealy, the chief executive of Sun Microsystems, summed up the valley’s attitude toward personal data in what became a defining comment of the dot-com boom. “You have zero privacy,” he said. “Get over it.”

MusÈe Bonnat - PsychÈ et l'Amour endormi - Peter Paul Rubens (ca. 1636)

Mr. McNealy is not retracting that comment, not quite; but like Mr. Metcalfe he is more worried about potential government abuse than he used to be. “Should you be afraid if AT&T has your data? Google?” he asked. “They’re private entities. AT&T can’t hurt me. Jerry Brown and Barack Obama can.” An outspoken critic of the California state government, and Mr. Brown, the governor, Mr. McNealy said his taxes are audited every year.

Really?  Well, probably:  AT&T or Google probably can’t do much to you.  But they can do a lot to the rest of us, not least in the framing of information — about politics, say — based on data gleaned from our internet habits.  They can or not serve given ads to us — including political speech — and so on.  And there is in essence no way, nothing even as seemingly rubber-stamp-ish as the FISA court, available to  any individual harmed by such behavior, even in the unlikely event one would be able to detect it.

The problem, as the article in which you were quoted  describes, is that creating a no-privacy regime on the internet served Silicon Valley capital well.  But it was supposed to be no secrets for me but plenty for thee, and it seems to shock you that you too, might be subject to review.  But hell, Scott — if you’ve done nothing wrong with your finances, you’ve got nothing to fear from an audit, right?

The bathos is rich with this one, in other words — but, amazingly, your argument gets worse as your quote goes on:

But arguing that computer makers have some role in creating a surveillance state, he said, “is like blaming gun manufacturers for violence, or a car manufacturer for drunk driving.”

The problem, Scott, is that gun manufacturers do bear significant responsibility for gun violence, given that the NRA, the leading enabler of unrestricted gun use in this country is essentially the gun maker’s lobbying arm, not to mention their marketing habits.

The auto line is a nice dodge, by the way.  Guns and Google, used as designed and within the law, put people or their privacy at risk.  Cars, used as designed, within the law, pose real risks that are deterred and/or insured against in various ways.  If there are defects in design, then yeah, the auto companies are responsible (Exploding Pintos, anyone?)  Drunk driving is not such a use, and throwing that up there conveniently shifts the argument away from what private industry has done with our privacy to their profit.

But the telling moment for me, Mr. McNealy came with your last quoted remark:

The real problem, he said, is: “The scope creep of the government. I think it’s great they’re looking for the next terrorist. Then I wonder if they’re going to arrest me, or snoop on me.”

Everything the government does is fine…until it may in some way impinge on the perfect life of one Scott McNealy.

I’m not saying that there’s no problem with the expansion of the security state.  I think there is, a big one, and I think it’s been building for a long time (at least 65 years, if not more), and I think it’s gotten much more acute since 9/11.  I do think that Obama has brought the security state much more in line with the forms of law than his predecessor — but I also don’t have much faith in such legal frameworks when they are themselves secret.

But I also think that a bunch of DFHs have been saying for a long time that the internet will not set us free, that, instead, absent real privacy protections it would become too easy to turn it into the most effective tool for state surveillance of its citizens ever imagined (insert “panopticon,” “Big Brother” or “digital Stasi” here, as you please).  You’ve been the poster child, or at least the most pithy slogan-maker for those who told us all to shove such concerns where the sun never shines.

In any event, Scott, wonder no more.  Yup, they are going to snoop on you.  They almost certainly already have.  Just like the rest of us.

Sucks to be in with the plebes, doesn’t it.

Yours,

Tom Levenson

(PS:  I’ll withdraw this snark and bile if and only if you do something meaningful to ensure your own and everyone else’s digital privacy.)

Image: Peter Paul Rubens, Psyche spying on sleeping Cupid, c. 1636.

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189 replies
  1. 1
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    I trust private entities LESS than I do the federal government. MUCH LESS.

    The Ferengi are not to be trusted. EVER.

  2. 2
    Bill Arnold says:

    It’s worth reading an essay that Charles Stross wrote in 2002. It is still pertinent:
    The Panopticon Singularity

  3. 3
    me says:

    Scott McNealy is an asshole, always has been.

  4. 4

    Does Sun make computers anymore?, I remember Sun’s huge Unix boxes from the late 90s, and they were dinosaurs back then.

  5. 5
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    The problem, Scott, is that gun manufacturers do bear significant responsibility for gun violence, given that the NRA, the leading enabler of unrestricted gun use in this country is essentially the gun maker’s lobbying arm, not to mention their marketing habits.

    Also, too, THIS THIS THIS THIS THIS;

    McNealy needs to be schooled with a clue-by-four upside the head. Repeatedly.

  6. 6
    me says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: Sun is owned by Oracle.

  7. 7
    Anoniminous says:

    Typo:

    But it was supposed to be no secrets for me but plenty for the

    “Thee,” I doth believe.

    ETA: Go ahead and delete this comment, if you feel like it.

  8. 8
    Anoniminous says:

    @me:

    Sun is owned by Oracle the Biggest Assholes of the Universe.

    FIFY

  9. 9
    Tom Levenson says:

    @Anoniminous: Fix’t, thanks.

    And why should I delete/deter the most zealous copy editors any writer could desire?

  10. 10
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    It’s Scott McNealy. The best I have ever been able to say about him is that he’s jealous that he’s not Richard Branson. Most of the time he’s a crazy ass that should never have been put in charge of a company. It’s a testament to Sun that they survived him.

  11. 11
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Anoniminous:

    Oh, please. They are big assholes, but are they bigger than the shitstain Christianist rep from Tennessee who wants to eviscerate SNAP but collects millions in farm subsidies? Or Inhofe and Coburn? Or Louie Ghomert? Or Paul Ryan? Or Ron Paul and his vile spawn?

  12. 12
    Anoniminous says:

    @Tom Levenson:

    No, no, no, no, no! In the Grand Tradition of BJ you’re supposed to tell me to “eat a bag of salty dicks.”

  13. 13
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Tom Levenson:

    You’ll never make it in the Village with that attitude, Tom.

  14. 14
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    I’m confident that Congress will soon pass a bill to allay the fears of wealthy people like Scott McNealy. Why should the wealthy be surveilled when they’re obviously responsible, superior people?

  15. 15
    Mark B. says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: It depends on your Asshole Ranking Algorithm (ARA).

  16. 16
    Gin & Tonic says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: You’ve never met an Oracle sales exec, I see.

  17. 17
    srv says:

    @Bill Arnold:

    If the PC becomes a phone, and every computer comes with a built-in secret policeman _and_ can be configured in software, the panopticon’s power becomes enormous: remote interrogation of RFID dust in your vicinity will let the authorities know who you’re associating with, reconfiguration of phones into celldar receivers will let them see what you’re doing, and plain old-fashioned bugging will let them listen in. If they can be bothered.

    Yeah, remember that one blowing my mind back then. Not so much anymore.

    Tom, you should have just addressed this as “Dear Sheeple” or is it Sheeplet?

  18. 18
    wmd says:

    @Belafon (formerly anonevent):

    Sun didn’t survive Scott in the end – his not letting Fast Eddie Zander be CEO and installing Jonathon Schwartz was part of why Sun tanked. (Commoditization of servers via Lintel was another part).

    It’s worth noting that employee #5 at Sun, John Gilmore was one of the founders of the EFF, which is very concerned about privacy. Sun Microsystems foundation matched charitable contributions to EFF for what that’s worth.

  19. 19
    Gin & Tonic says:

    @Anoniminous: Ahem. That’s “salted dicks,” not “salty dicks.”

  20. 20
    Anoniminous says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    My ire with Oracle started many years ago and has recently been pumped up with their contention all Java API are their own, protected, property.

    Perhaps it is a case of so many assholes, so little time?

  21. 21
    Jockey Full of Malbec says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:
    This.

    If this trendy alliance between the radical libertarians, right-wing opportunists, and Useful Fools of the Left has its way… the day will come when we’ll look back wistfully on a Republic that was once strong enough to protect us from the private sector.

  22. 22
    scav says:

    @Gin & Tonic: Beginning to sound like a food thread.

  23. 23
    Mark B. says:

    @wmd: It’s just too bad that Larry Ellison is such a jackass, because Oracle is a decent product. Overpriced and somewhat difficult to administer, but it’s pretty feature rich and technologically advanced.

  24. 24
    nancydarling says:

    Well, I just googled him and checked out his wiki page. He has four sons named Maverick, Dakota, Colt and Scout.

    Nuff said.

    Also, he is a favorite of Fox Business Channel.

  25. 25
    f space that says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: @schrodinger’s cat: A company so lame that when you opened the door to one of their servers it would power down. Saw it happen, LMAO. Scott was a real genius, bought StorageTek when it was on its last legs for billions. Allowing another of the world’s biggest assholes to buy Sun. Its amazing how the 1%’s keep winning, it just proves that its all luck.

  26. 26
    Shinobi (@shinobi42) says:

    You can pretty much assume that any data collected about you is then re sold. So even if the government didn’t “collect” this data by having it delivered, they could instead just BUY it from these private firms who would be thrilled to sell it to them.

    There are whole companies who do nothing but re sell data. Typically it is aggregated for privacy reasons, but as soon as they are sure they can get away with it they will be selling every piece of information the can about you. There was an interesting article in the WSJ last week about the data Verizon is already selling to other companies to help run their businesses.

    Facebook is also interesting to marketers, they are using it to mine for “Tastemakers” people whose opinion is influential to others so they can focus on advertising to those people. (My argument is that this will lead to those influencers losing their influence, but marketers do not like this argument.) This means they are looking at who you are, who your friends are, what you like, when you like it.

    So far in my career I actually have not worked with any data directly from google. (Credit cards, facebook, twitter, your target/walgreens/dominicks membership card, yes.)

    Big Data is a Big Industry now, even though I personally believe that large scale data mining operations have a relatively limited application. Right now every company in the country is hearing about big data and how data mining and mining social media are thing that will make them successful. And the people running this, while they have some smart data scientists, are mostly MBAs who want to make more money.

    I guess I shouldn’t find them more scary, because they don’t have nukes or drones, but I still kind of do. At least the government I elected.

    But again, as long as companies can collect and resell information on their customers there is nothing keeping the government from leveraging that as well.

    Either everything is private from everyone, or nothing is.

  27. 27
    Anoniminous says:

    @Gin & Tonic:

    Correction noted.

    (Moar coffee, hyar!)

  28. 28
    Mark B. says:

    @Anoniminous: Yeah, and they ruined Java, which is really a crime. It used to be a somewhat useful language. Now I wouldn’t touch it.

  29. 29
    Mandalay says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: I trust private entities LESS than I do the federal government. MUCH LESS.

    Maybe so, but the downside is far, far greater with the federal government.

  30. 30
    Punchy says:

    I’d love to see SCOTUS take this up. Fat Tony’s need to support the WOT and Gov’ts ability to fight it would collide violently with his need to dog libs and scuttle anything Obama is doing. Does he RINO himself supporting NSA snooping (pro-O yo!) or RINO himself by siding with emo progs who hate the surveilance (DFH, yo!)?

  31. 31
    catclub says:

    @Mark B.: Assuming the assholes form an orderable set.
    @nancydarling: Scott McNealy has a son named Scout McNealy?
    You would think John McCain would have a son named Maverick.

  32. 32
    Mino says:

    FISA and Justice have set up this Catch 22, wherein neither one can reapond to a FOI or a lawsuit because the other one has jurisdiction. So while these proceedures may be within the law as interpreted by the ones pushing the boundaries, it has been near impossible to even get a case in the Courts that could move, eventually, to the Supremes.

  33. 33
    peach flavored shampoo says:

    Sun is owned by Oracle the Biggest Assholes of the Universe.

    Dish Network owns Sun?

  34. 34
    Corner Stone says:

    Great. So now we’ve turtled our way down to deciding which faction will have ultimate and unending control over our lives?

  35. 35
    BArry says:

    Adding on to Scott’s BS – in the case of autos, not only are their safety standards and the civil court system, but this is a public process. It’s not like there’s a law authorizing a Secret Car Court.

  36. 36
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Anoniminous:

    Yeah, and a judge looked at that and slapped them silly for asserting it.

    The Oracle lawyers were in a panic. “Oh, noes, this damn judge knows what an API is! We’re fucked!”

  37. 37
    catclub says:

    @Shinobi (@shinobi42): “Either everything is private from everyone, or nothing is.” Well,…. maybe. It seems to me that health insurance companies have not gotten all of our information yet. The rules in the US are somewhat restrictive, still, and my understanding is that they are better in Europe (of course, my understanding is that the grass is also greener in Europe, so take that with a grain of salt).

    In red states, the holy of holies of privacy, at the moment, is laws forbidding the publication of concealed carry license holders. Now THAT would be interesting information for insurance companies to have!

  38. 38
    me says:

    My question is why no one here has titled a post “Snowden’s secret”?

  39. 39
    catclub says:

    @Mino: That’s some catch, that Catch 22.

  40. 40
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @catclub:

    The best there is!

  41. 41
    catclub says:

    @me: Of course, if Camille Paglia wrote about it
    it would be Camille’s Sense of Snowden.

  42. 42
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    @Mark B.: How did they ruin it?

  43. 43
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @srv:

    Remember Al Gore’s “Clipper chip”?

  44. 44
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @me:

    “You know nothing, Jon Snowden!”

  45. 45
    pokeyblow says:

    AT&T, Google can’t hurt you.

    I’m sure they said the same thing about IBM, IG Farben, and Siemens back in the 1930s.

  46. 46
    wmd says:

    @nancydarling:

    His father was an exec at American Motor Company and he named his sons after cars. Hell he named his dog Network…

    Scott made some good decisions as well – buying Cray Superservers from SGI after SGI acquired Cray in the 90s. That gave them the big SMP machines (E10K, SF15K) that made tons of money for Sun from ’98-’03 or so.

  47. 47
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    @me:

    “Snowden’s Sense of Snowjobs”

  48. 48
    artem1s says:

    at this point really shouldn’t we all be trolling the NSA? Load every email signature with basic trigger words; every facebook posting, etc. Free speech is still protected.

    You could also make the case that the NSA has put the country at more risk because of the individuals with the private contractors who have access to the info for date mining. They might have security clearance but if you are going to spy on a company/individual those are the people you are targeting for recruiting. The real argument against PRISM is that the NSA has actually made us much less safe because they have put all this info in a central location where hostile entity can more easily get to it. They have done all the hacking for China. All China has to do is bribe some geek at SugerBush or Blackwater with some pr0n and blow. If whistlebloweres can turn it over to the Guardian what to prevent them from giving it to China? China doesn’t actually have to hack into McCain’s email account anymore. Some kid will do it for them. How is this a good idea?

  49. 49
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @wmd:

    His father was an exec at American Motor Company and he named his sons after cars. Hell he named his dog Network…

    You know who else had a father who was an exec at American Motors…

  50. 50
    peach flavored shampoo says:

    OT, but yikes. A DUI while blowing a 0.00? This doesn’t compute.

    /checks state
    Yup, its AZ.

    /checks color
    Yup, he’s black.

    OK, maybe it does.

  51. 51
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @artem1s:

    All China has to do is bribe some geek at SugerBush or Blackwater with some pr0n and blow.

    OK, I’ll buy the blow part, but the pr0n part? Pr0n is given away on the ‘tubes for free. Perhaps if they toss in a live and horny supermodel into the deal, they’ll make some headway.

  52. 52
    cvstoner says:

    @me: I think you left out an important adjective: he’s a flaming asshole.

  53. 53
    Violet says:

    The acronym PRISM sounds straight out of a James Bond film. I’m expecting some villain in a lair constructed on a private island to pop up at some point. Sharks probably play a role.

  54. 54
    Todd says:

    @catclub:

    It seems to me that health insurance companies have not gotten all of our information yet.

    ROFLMAO

    There have been proprietary insurance databases out there for three decades.

  55. 55
    scav says:

    There is no magic wall between govt v. corporate data, although the wall is more permeable or controllable in one direction. Customers of corporately collected data could very well be any government, especially as the companies are multi-national or above-national or whatever abstract national space they now inhabit. No reason those scarey scarey terrorists couldn’t buy the information on the market, white grey or black, the same as they acquire arms. There are regulations in place, with various strengths in various locales (and varied success). But look at the arms trade and tell me again that corporate management of strategic assets poses absolutely no threat.

    Google and ilk poised as subtle or not so subtle gatekeeper to information, influenced either by govts (china) or corporate buys. Explain the magic difference between those last two.

  56. 56
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @peach flavored shampoo:

    Maricopa County?

    Aaaaah yup!

  57. 57
    RP says:

    What I keep wondering is whether all of this is inevitable. In an age of vast telecom interconnectedness and massive computing power, is access to this data (by the government and the private sector) just a given?

  58. 58
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Violet:

    /cue Dick Cheney

  59. 59
    pamelabrown53 says:

    @Mandalay: One of the huge downsides of companies having access to so much personal data is it’s being used more and more by companies to deny employment. That’s a pretty big ramification.

  60. 60
    RP says:

    IOW, if taxes are the price we pay for living in civilized society, is lack of privacy the price we pay for living in a high tech, interconnected society?

  61. 61
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @RP:

    In some ways, yes. The key is to be judicious with what you put on the ‘net. Like, for example, don’t put pictures of your covered by briefs johnson out there if you’re a politician.

  62. 62
    Todd says:

    @RP:

    IOW, if taxes are the price we pay for living in civilized society, is lack of privacy the price we pay for living in a high tech, interconnected society?

    Yes.

    Curiously, many of the most vociferous squawking lefties on this are also completely enthralled by Anonymous.

  63. 63
    Walker says:

    @Belafon (formerly anonevent):

    Java 6 was the last really stable version. And the new API documentation is an exercise in how to make unreadable web pages (not sure why the old format needed changing).

  64. 64
    Todd says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    In some ways, yes. The key is to be judicious with what you put on the ‘net. Like, for example, don’t put pictures of your covered by briefs johnson out there if you’re a politician.

    That’s just crazy talk.

  65. 65
    wmd says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    Sure. Scott isn’t a Mormon.

    Sun grew from 4 people to over 30,000 with Scott’s leadership and produced good hardware and software. A good bit of software that had been encumbered by AT&T (later SCO and Novell) was made available under an open source license thanks to Sun.

    Scott is a wealthy man, but a lot of his wealth is due to productive activity. He didn’t earn it by raiding companies and then liquidating them.

    The privacy quote pissed me off when I worked for Sun, still does. It’s one of the reasons I made contributions to EFF and got Sun to match them.

  66. 66
    rikyrah says:

    @adept2u
    I am far more interested in why White men with no education and a traitors personality get jobs over Black ones loyal with PH.Ds

  67. 67
    Gin & Tonic says:

    @Todd: And,actually, quite a strong law restricting the use and propagation of that information, which is mostly taken quite seriously by the people with access.

  68. 68
    Corner Stone says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    Perhaps if they toss in a live and horny supermodel into the deal, they’ll make some headway.

    Mr. Friendly Chinese Person, tell me what you’d like to know first.

  69. 69
    Cacti says:

    They’re private entities. AT&T can’t hurt me

    That’s a sensible position…

    If one overlooks the litany of historical examples where private entities have hurt people in their pursuit of profit.

  70. 70
    Mandalay says:

    @pamelabrown53:

    One of the huge downsides of companies having access to so much personal data is it’s being used more and more by companies to deny employment.

    An interesting point….got any links for that?

  71. 71
    Shinobi (@shinobi42) says:

    @catclub: I guess what I’m trying to say is that once you have made data available to a company, it’s out there. It’s like posting a naked photo on one forum and not thinking it’s going to get posted somewhere else.

    Once that data exists, people are going to try to link it back to you and resell it for a profit. That’s why google is always pushing to link your real name to your fake name, and other things like that.

    There are some areas where there is still some privacy, healthcare is a good example, and I think there are some strict privacy laws surrounding financial data as well.

  72. 72
    Shinobi (@shinobi42) says:

    Oh also keep in mind that every device you have that has a GPS device in it, including your car is being used to track information about you. It is not just what you do on a computer. I wouldn’t be surprised of the NSA had access to OnStar records as well.

  73. 73
    Cacti says:

    @Mandalay:

    Pre-employment credit checks are becoming a more common means for shutting out job seekers.

  74. 74
    Redshirt says:

    @artem1s: I don’t think any individuals could make a big enough impact to matter. But if you were automate the trolling process, and create millions and millions of messages per hour, maybe the data filters could be overwhelmed.

    I’m sure someone in anonymous is working on it.

  75. 75
    Mandalay says:

    @Mark B.:

    Yeah, and they ruined Java, which is really a crime. It used to be a somewhat useful language

    It might be more accurate to state that it used to be a fairly simple language with deficiencies and limitations, and now it is a richer more complex language that is harder to master.

    If Java had not moved with the times it would not be very useful now.

  76. 76
    RSA says:

    Eric Schmidt, Google, on privacy:

    If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place. But if you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines, including Google, do retain this information for some time. And it’s important, for example, that we are all subject in the United States to the Patriot Act. It is possible that that information could be made available to the authorities.

    Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook, on privacy:

    People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time.

  77. 77
    sbjules says:

    anyone sursurprised at this “news has not been paying attenention. Bush did it first.

  78. 78
    Todd says:

    @Corner Stone:

    Mr. Friendly Chinese Person, tell me what you’d like to know first.

    Hold out just a little for some deal sweeteners. Damn – if you’re going to whore out, get a bunch of goodies for it.

  79. 79
    Mark B. says:

    @Belafon (formerly anonevent): The licensing stinks, and the windows installer is crap, it adds all sorts of crap that you don’t need or want if you don’t specifically opt out of it. And if a user accidentally forgets and leaves the ‘install Ask toolbar’ checkbox checked, you end up with a crappy piece of adware installed that’s really difficult to get rid of. The only way to actually uninstall the Ask toolbar is either to do some low level system manipulation or download a removal tool from Ask.com. The toolbar managers or add/remove program utilities don’t work.

    They may have fixed this in the couple of months since I encountered this issue, but it really really sucks do deal with.

  80. 80
    Ruckus says:

    @catclub:
    Insurance companies don’t have our data? Did you slip and hit your head?
    Ever been in the individual heath care insurance market? There is a several page form that I’ve had to fill out listing all operations, illnesses, etc. If you leave something out they know. How? because there are several databases to check on this. Every time I’ve been in a healthcare facility I have to sign a release before seeing any health professional that allows them to check and send my records. Where do you think those records go? They go to insurance companies or at least their data farms. And they share this info because they can make money off of it.
    Nothing is secret. Nothing is private. OK what you did last night behind the curtains in your house probably is. For now. There are people trying to hack your computer for info every day. There are people trying to hack data bases every day. Sooner or later they will be successful. Your information is out there and has never been more accessible to more people, companies and governments.

  81. 81
    me says:

    @Mark B.: The security situation is a mess too.

  82. 82
    Mark B. says:

    @Mandalay: It’s not the complexity of the language which bothers me, it’s the fact that Oracle screwed the development community by taking it from an open-source to proprietary model after it had been treated as open sourcish for over a decade.

  83. 83
    Paul in KY says:

    @srv: This could be the beginning of the electronic AI things that are the bad guys/bots in Dan Simmon’s Hyperion book.

  84. 84
    scav says:

    @Mandalay: Mentions Facebook passwords and scanning social media here (chosen near randoml). More here where they’re discussing a proposed law about same in WA.

  85. 85
    EconWatcher says:

    OT, but Tbogg’s understandable fixation with Shakira has started crossing into NSFW

  86. 86
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    @Mandalay:

    Nearly half — 47 percent — of employers use credit checks when making a hiring decision, according to a 2012 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management.

    Do 47% of employers hire people to handle money? If they’re only using the credit reports to somehow evaluate an applicant’s character then I’d say that stinks on ice. If you can’t get a job because you need a job then I’d say that you’re proper fucked.

  87. 87
    Paul in KY says:

    @nancydarling: ‘Scout’ and ‘Dakota’ are both girl’s names in this day & age. Didn’t Scott & Mrs. Scott know that?

  88. 88
    pamelabrown53 says:

    @Mandalay: Thanks for replying, Mandalay.
    I wish I could provide links but unfortunately most is anecdotal. For example, I’ve read many discussions about this on DKos. Nowadays, I don’t spend much time there (too much hair on fire screaming) or else I’d do some research. You’re absolutely correct in asking for links to assist in your evaluation of the assertion.

  89. 89
    Paul in KY says:

    We still have ‘Maverick’, thank Jeebus.

  90. 90
    Mark B. says:

    @me: Yep, Java used to execute in a sandbox, but there have been several exploits recently which make it dangerous to install on a Windows machine, since it can become a vector for virus infection. They are pretty good about fixing the vulnerabilities when they become aware of them, but they’ve had a few recently.

  91. 91
    SatanicPanic says:

    @RP: Beyond a certain limit, privacy seems incompatable with having a functioning society.

  92. 92
    liberal says:

    @Redshirt:
    I thought emacs had some command to insert a randomly chosen word or phrase that the spooks might be interested in.

  93. 93
    Ruckus says:

    @Higgs Boson’s Mate:
    I even had a relative who works in finance, tell me that a job credit check tells an employer all they need to know about someone and that it is a valid way to know if a person will be a good worker. And that all companies should be doing this. Of course a small co that he owns a part of would never have any employees to do the dirty hand work they do so he is full of shit.

  94. 94
    Mandalay says:

    @scav: Thanks. Your first link was pretty chilling.

  95. 95
    Violet says:

    @Mandalay:
    This is from the FTC dot gov page on Employment Background Checks. For some reason FYWP is not letting me link it. But here’s a snippet:

    Your credit report has information about where you live, how you pay your bills, and whether you have filed for bankruptcy. Credit reporting companies and other businesses that provide background information sell your file to employers that, in turn, use it to evaluate your applications for employment. Employers also are allowed to use these reports to consider you for retention, promotion or reassignment.

  96. 96
    liberal says:

    @Cacti:
    The point is that to libertarians, private agents can never harm anyone or ever be evil. Only guvmint can.

  97. 97
    liberal says:

    @peach flavored shampoo:
    I’m pretty sure that, at least for awhile, you could blow a 0.00 in DC and still get busted.

  98. 98
    Mandalay says:

    @Cacti:

    Pre-employment credit checks are becoming a more common means for shutting out job seekers.

    Thanks. On the bright side there the “Equal Employment for All Act” is trying to outlaw such credit checks, but I would be surprised if house Republicans allowed it to go anywhere.

  99. 99
    liberal says:

    @Shinobi (@shinobi42):

    Big Data is a Big Industry now, even though I personally believe that large scale data mining operations have a relatively limited application. Right now every company in the country is hearing about big data and how data mining and mining social media are thing that will make them successful. And the people running this, while they have some smart data scientists, are mostly MBAs who want to make more money.

    I’d be interested in hearing more details. I’m thinking of making a career move, and I’m intrigued by the “big data” stuff, if only because I like statistics and machine learning topics. But in terms of usefulness, due to my innate skepticism of nearly everything I find it hard to believe this stuff is one tenth as useful as the hype, and I’m a little worried about getting into a position where if I don’t make $hit up (or highly exaggerate things) I’ll end up geting my ass canned.

  100. 100
    Mandalay says:

    @Violet: Thanks. That sucks bigtime. As I just posted, there is a bill with the following noble goal:

    To amend the Fair Credit Reporting Act to prohibit the use of consumer credit checks against prospective and current employees for the purposes of making adverse employment decisions.

    Sadly, I doubt that it will pass.

  101. 101
    liberal says:

    @Mandalay:
    When I first heard about this BS I immediately thought “there oughta be a law…”

  102. 102
    👽 Martin says:

    Yeah, the private credit agencies sure as fuck can destroy my life. So can the banks and my mortgage servicer. So can the private company that processes your employer mandated drug test, or the private company that mandated that drug test. I mean, when I get hauled into court for any of these things, where does all of the evidence against me come from? Private companies.

  103. 103
    Mandalay says:

    @pamelabrown53:

    You’re absolutely correct in asking for links to assist in your evaluation of the assertion.

    Other posters have helped out with links, educated me, and persuaded me that the current situation is awful and getting worse. I was clueless on this issue, but not any more.

  104. 104
    Violet says:

    @liberal:

    I’m a little worried about getting into a position where if I don’t make $hit up (or highly exaggerate things) I’ll end up geting my ass canned.

    Isn’t that most jobs at one point or another? At least making shit up like, “My boss is great!” when talking to his boss.

  105. 105
    👽 Martin says:

    @peach flavored shampoo: First time I’ve seen someone link to Epoch Times. They’re pretty much the standard paper here where I live over the LATimes and the wingnut OC Register.

  106. 106
    Violet says:

    @👽 Martin:

    Yeah, the private credit agencies sure as fuck can destroy my life. So can the banks and my mortgage servicer.

    No kidding. Like the stories about Bank of America foreclosing on people’s houses when those people didn’t even have a mortgage with BoA. Talk about fucking up someone’s life.

  107. 107
    Cassidy says:

    @EconWatcher: That was hypnotic.

  108. 108
    Mandalay says:

    @Higgs Boson’s Mate:

    I’d say that stinks on ice

    Agreed. The more I read the more outrageous this situation appears.

  109. 109
    Todd says:

    @Ruckus:

    I even had a relative who works in finance, tell me that a job credit check tells an employer all they need to know about someone and that it is a valid way to know if a person will be a good worker

    The ratings companies (the same assholes whose formulae granted AAA ratings to shit CDOs) have been selling this lie for years.

    If you go through the credit ratings of various bankrupts, you see other patterns emerge. People pay their houses and cars until money runs dry – what they don’t give a shit about is medical debt or personal loans as their health knocks them down. They stick to priority spending.

    They tend to be VERY hardworking people.

  110. 110
    Todd says:

    @Ruckus:

    I even had a relative who works in finance, tell me that a job credit check tells an employer all they need to know about someone and that it is a valid way to know if a person will be a good worker

    The ratings companies (the same assholes whose formulae granted AAA ratings to shit CDOs) have been selling this lie for years.

    If you go through the credit ratings of various bankrupts, you see other patterns emerge. People pay their houses and cars until money runs dry – what they don’t give a shit about is medical debt or personal loans as their health knocks them down. They stick to priority spending.

    They tend to be VERY hardworking people.

  111. 111
    liberal says:

    @Violet:
    I’m not talking about kissing the boss’ ass. I’m talking about actual substance.

    I currently work in a biomedical research field where the data is really noisy. There are known ways to mitigate false positives. But since the incentives are all geared towards publishing, and since the community isn’t all that hard on methodology that can lead to false positives, it’s very hard to tell your boss, “Look, this is a nice story, but the results are probably null.”

    In the “big data” sphere, which seems mostly driven by marketing, biz intelligence, etc, I would assume that while occasionally one could unearth an interesting “signal” in the data that’s “real” and useful, most of the time you’d just be staring at random crap.

  112. 112
    liberal says:

    @Violet:
    I agree, but I always wonder what damages one could recover. I assume the answer is “not enough for real justice.”

  113. 113
    Violet says:

    @liberal: The pressure to publish can be strong. There are going to be pressures in the private data world, although they’ll probably be to provide some other kind of result.

    At least in science at some point a false conclusion will be discovered through peer review and other people retrying an experiment to see what conclusions they get, etc. May take awhile and other pressures can interfere with that for far too long, but eventually the truth will out.

    In the big data world, by the time the damage is done the MBAs will all be on to their next victim. Someone else will be left to clean up the mess.

  114. 114
    liberal says:

    @Ruckus:

    Of course a small co that he owns a part of would never have any employees to do the dirty hand work they do so he is full of shit.

    LOL.

  115. 115
    Violet says:

    @liberal: The little guy pays the price. The big banks (or big whatever private corporation it is) are too big to fail.

  116. 116
    Bill Arnold says:

    @Violet:

    In the big data world, by the time the damage is done the MBAs will all be on to their next victim. Someone else will be left to clean up the mess.

    In the big data business world, if a correlation/cluster/whatever is a false positive, it will quickly be found to have no generalized (monetizable) value. Profit is a strong filter too.
    The correlation doesn’t need to be strong to be leveraged into lots of money though.

  117. 117
    liberal says:

    @Violet:
    Well, my impression is that in the biomedical sciences, results are routinely not replicated. So while “the truth will out” in the sense that decades down the road people will realize things are a big pile of $hit, that isn’t very satisfying.

    I assume you’ve heard of “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False”? That dude is teh awesome.

  118. 118
    👽 Martin says:

    @liberal: Yeah, that’s my experience as well. Way too many drugs have been approved on the basis of (deliberately?) sloppy science. We don’t usually find out about those until after the damage has been done. Medical equipment seems to be somewhat better.

  119. 119
    liberal says:

    @Violet:
    Yeah, I know. I’m just saying that if they pulled that on me, their fate would be like one of my favorite quotes from “The Shawshank Redemption”: …you’ll wish you’d been f*cked by a train….

    I seem to recall that someone got some judgement from a branch of some well-known bank, they blew off paying up, so he went into the branch with the local sheriff, who was going to take as much stuff as needed to pay the guy off. That settled the matter very quickly.

  120. 120
    liberal says:

    @👽 Martin:
    I was going to say that drugs are worse, because the monetary stakes are higher, but then again the stakes in the non-pharma research world are plenty high per each individual principle investigator.

  121. 121
    Ruckus says:

    @liberal:
    I may be too close to laugh at this asshole but I have un-related him. Sort of like unfriending on FB but with a lot more meaning.

  122. 122
    liberal says:

    @👽 Martin:

    Yeah, the private credit agencies sure as fuck can destroy my life.

    One thing I’ve never understood is why false info in one’s credit profile doesn’t make the reporting agencies vulnerable to a defamation suit. I can’t see how they’re vulnerable, because I never hear about such suits, but I’ve never gotten a straight answer to this question, either.

  123. 123
    Ruckus says:

    @liberal:
    I believe that was Bunch of Assholes.

  124. 124
    Violet says:

    @Bill Arnold: @liberal:
    Yeah, ultimately the wrong data conclusions will be discovered. May take awhile, but the truth will out. Depending where you work, the pressure to meet that next quarterly report may not be as strong for the scientists (say, in a research institution) as it is for the business guys. Short term thinking like that can lead to short cuts and distinct pressures. But yeah, both arenas have their own kinds of pressures.

  125. 125
    different-church-lady says:

    Should you be afraid if AT&T has your data? Google?” he asked. “They’re private entities. AT&T can’t hurt me.

    Google and AT&T also can’t protect me from the next terrorist attack. Funny how that works both ways, eh?

  126. 126

    The only push-back we have against corporations is public shaming & public opinion. Once it became clear that corporations like AT&T and Coca Cola were endorsing ALEC’s anti-voting measures and the boycotts began, they dropped out of the organization.

    Public opinion is everything to big multinationals, which is why all of this hoo-hah over corporate money in elections has surfaced. They want to buy as many politicians and corporate-friendly policies as they can. They want low taxes and the ability to pollute our air and water and no organized labor messing with them, and they don’t want us to know about ANY of it. That’s what all of this fauxtrage about the IRS thing was about.

    So let’s remember that. Corporate money infecting our elections is a big fucking deal. And they don’t want to be accountable for any of that.

    TIT FOR TAT, ASSHOLES. If you want to know everything about me so you can shove “buy this buy this BUY THIS you know you want to!” ads at me at every turn, we get to know every single fucking thing about what YOU do.

  127. 127
    MikeJ says:

    @liberal:

    One thing I’ve never understood is why false info in one’s credit profile doesn’t make the reporting agencies vulnerable to a defamation suit.

    Try proving malice.

  128. 128
    Just Some Fuckhead says:

    FWIW, the 4th and 9th amendments aren’t there to stop corporations. :)

  129. 129
    Ruckus says:

    @liberal:
    Laws. Protecting them. Probably not you.

    Also they have practices in place to fix the info.
    Not that it is easy or quick. When I was a teen I applied for credit. Had a job, made OK money for my age(it was a long time ago), lived at home, etc. I was denied. They had only looked at the address. As I have the same name as my dad and the address was the same they said I had too much debt for my income and age. They had used my dads SSN, completely ignoring mine on the application. Took about a month to get that stupidity straightened out.

  130. 130
    liberal says:

    @MikeJ:
    If you contact the credit agency and tell them the info is false, and they don’t take it down, how’s that not malicious?

    Also, is it true that malice is a necessary component of defamation?

  131. 131
    Violet says:

    @liberal: Years ago I knew a guy who pulled his credit report and it had a wrong entry on it where it claimed he’d bought a whole bunch of jewelry from a jewelry store and hadn’t paid the bill. It was thousands of dollars. This was practically impossible because he was something like twelve years old at the time they claimed it happened. It took him FOREVER to get this mistake off his credit report. They simply wouldn’t remove it. I think he went down to the jewelry store and talked to them (he was a young adult at that time) and they agreed it wasn’t him. The whole thing was a ridiculous mess and took something like two years to clear up.

    This was before the days where employers routinely checked credit reports and it didn’t affect his job or anything, but what a mess. Credit ratings agencies should be able to be sued because of the mess they can cause you.

  132. 132
    Ruckus says:

    @Southern Beale:
    We need to turn the corporations are people around on them. They want to be people then they have to live with the same rules and laws as we do.

    All of them.

  133. 133
    liberal says:

    @Ruckus:

    Not that it is easy or quick.

    Yeah, but that’s my point. My impression is that it can take years to get this stuff straightened out sometimes.

  134. 134
    Yatsuno says:

    @Violet: Credit bureaus need much stricter regulation than they have now. I can see this becoming part of the mission creep of the CFPB if the fucking Repubs will just allow it to be funded. But gubmint is bad except military and cops dontchaknow.

  135. 135
    liberal says:

    @Violet:

    It took him FOREVER to get this mistake off his credit report. They simply wouldn’t remove it.

    This type of thing is what I meant above in answer to MikeJ about “malice”.

  136. 136
    scav says:

    quick OT break for reasons of sanity maintenance: Old Opportunity Mars rover makes rock discovery. They say rock, they mean clay, and it’s not about the clay, it’s about the water.

    “If you look at all of the water-related discoveries that have been made by Opportunity, the vast majority of them point to water that was a very low pH – it was acid.

    “We run around talking about water on Mars. In fact, what Opportunity has mostly discovered, or found evidence for, was sulphuric acid.

    “Clay minerals only tend to form at a more neutral pH. This is water you could drink. This is water that was much more favourable for things like pre-biotic chemistry – the kind of chemistry that could lead to the origin of life.”

    and huzzah for geezers!

    Opportunity is now operating well beyond its expected lifetime.

    When it landed at Eagle Crater in January 2004, Nasa hoped to get at least 90 working Martian days (sols) from the machine. Remarkably, it continues to roll beyond 3,300 sols.

    It has an “arthritic” robotic arm, its solar panels are losing efficiency, and it drives backwards to save wear on its locomotion system.

  137. 137
  138. 138
    Ruckus says:

    @scav:
    Old age and treachery will win over youth and enthusiasm every time.

  139. 139
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    The real problem, he said, is: “The scope creep of the government. I think it’s great they’re looking for the next terrorist. Then I wonder if they’re going to arrest me, or snoop on me.”

    I wonder if he complained when the gov ordered boxcars full of hardware and software from his company to implement that scope creep.

  140. 140
    gene108 says:

    @liberal:

    I’m thinking of making a career move, and I’m intrigued by the “big data” stuff, if only because I like statistics and machine learning topics. But in terms of usefulness, due to my innate skepticism of nearly everything I find it hard to believe this stuff is one tenth as useful as the hype

    Big Data is just the next evolution in whatever data analysis processes a company already had in place.

    Companies have always been analyzing data.

    I’m sure in the 1950’s, GM must’ve had reports about the appeal of Cadillac cars versus Ford and Chrysler.

    It’s just that companies have so much data right now, they need a new method of sorting all the stuff out. Why do they have so much data? Because memory is cheap and getting cheaper.

    Good use of data analysis is what keeps companies ahead of the competition. It’s why Netflix continues to survive. It’s what pushed Coin Star to spawn Red Box.

    There’s nothing inherently wrong with Big Data.

    Wikipedia on Big Data

  141. 141
    Eric U. says:

    My concern with data is that even if ATT or Google doesn’t hurt me, some underling will figure out how to hurt me.

    Anyone who made any money at all off of Sun is lucky they did. I was shocked when Oracle bought Sun, I simply didn’t see any value there. They want to hold Java programmers hostage, people will just learn a new language

  142. 142
    Violet says:

    @Yatsuno: Yes, they do. Considering how much impact credit bureaus have on your life, they need to be strictly regulated. Don’t think that’s happening at the moment.

    @liberal: They will argue it isn’t malicious. It “takes time to investigate a claim”, etc. Proving malice is not going to be easy. Now if the credit bureaus were young black men, that would be different.

  143. 143
    kdaug says:

    @Anoniminous:

    No, no, no, no, no! In the Grand Tradition of BJ you’re supposed to tell me to “eat a bag of salty dicks.”

    Salted dicks, Anon, not salty. The reference is to the method of preparation and preservation, not flavor.

  144. 144
    Ash Can says:

    Via the comments at LGF, not entirely off topic…

    Um…whoops?

    So Glenn Greenwald himself says that he was working with Snowden around the time, or shortly before, Snowden was hired by Booz Allen. Interesting.

    Also (again via the LGF comments), Hong Kong to Snowden: “Leave or be extradited.” How’s that bastion of free thought and freedom of the press working out for ya, pal?

  145. 145
    Mandalay says:

    @liberal:

    One thing I’ve never understood is why false info in one’s credit profile doesn’t make the reporting agencies vulnerable to a defamation suit.

    You cannot sue them simply because they have false information about you. But you can only sue them if you follow proscribed steps to have them correct the data and they fail to do so.

    So the law is strongly biased in favor of the agencies, but not entirely.

  146. 146
    Yatsuno says:

    @gene108:

    It’s what pushed Coin Star to spawn PURCHASE Red Box.

    FTFY. I was working for Coinstar when the purchase was made. If you didn’t own either stock before the purchase I feel for you.

  147. 147
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    @Ash Can:

    Also (again via the LGF comments), Hong Kong to Snowden: “Leave or be extradited.” How’s that bastion of free thought and freedom of the press working out for ya, pal?

    Gee, ya’ mean that basing your politics and your actions on third-rate novels might not work out?

  148. 148
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @Yatsuno: You mean you want Big Government snooping through your bank accounts and credit reports? :P

  149. 149
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @Higgs Boson’s Mate: Does that suggest that Snowden was a Greenwald fan from within the world of surveillance, who then infiltrated a defense contractor at his behest? That would be some serious balls by both of them.

  150. 150
    Yatsuno says:

    @FlipYrWhig: I shouldn’t answer this since I’m biased and work for Big Gubmint. :P

  151. 151
    Redshirt says:

    I’m still astounded by the fact that checking your credit rating lowers your credit rating. WTF?

  152. 152
    the Conster says:

    @Ash Can:

    What a fucked up mess he’s in. If Snowden trusted Glenn Greenwald’s motives about well, anything, then he belongs in jail for stupidity.

  153. 153
    Violet says:

    @Ash Can: According to the WaPo, an Edward Snowdon has checked out of a Hong Kong hotel:

    A receptionist at the Mira Hotel, in a neighborhood just across the harbor from the main island, said a guest named Edward Snowden had been staying there, but checked out Monday.

  154. 154
    Redshirt says:

    @Yatsuno: Stop spying on me!

  155. 155
    Yatsuno says:

    @Violet: Curiouser and curiouser, said Alice.

    Oh and OT lesson for the day: be very careful when you text a parent in their native language that you just kinda know. :P

    @Redshirt: Don’t be thilly. We only spy on wingnuts now.

  156. 156
    gene108 says:

    @Yatsuno:

    Got mixed up a bit with Red Box, it was the data analysis that led Red Box to focus on DVD rentals, rather than the other stuff they were trying to vend.

    EDIT: Also, please feel sorry for me as I didn’t own either stock at the time of the acquisition by Coinstar.

  157. 157
    Suffern ACE says:

    In the end, y’all scare me more than the NSA guys. I know I should be scared of them. But if they want to find me, they can find me. That said, I’d rather my mother or my employer or my neighbors not know everything. I think that’s why those fighting the NSA will get a big Meh! Now if you could come up with a scandal where the NSA leaked information on some kid’s web viewing habits to his mother, you might get major traction.

  158. 158
    Jeremy says:

    People really need to get real with this privacy thing. We really never had full privacy and with greater use of technology privacy is going out the window. Companies use background checks, credit checks, social networking checks.

    Heck many in the Civil Rights movement in the 60’s were wiretapped along with other groups in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.

  159. 159
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    @FlipYrWhig:

    I was thinking about the Snowden’s appearing to be a Libertarian. Seems like whenever Libertarianism collides with the real world Libertarianism winds up with its airbags deployed and a collapsed suspension.

  160. 160
    Corner Stone says:

    @Suffern ACE:
    “Get real with this privacy thing!!”
    /Balloon Juice commentariot

  161. 161
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    @Jeremy: Tembi Locke, who played Grace Monroe on Eureka, had parents who were activists. Before she was ten, she knew how to take apart a phone to disable the wiretap.

  162. 162
    scav says:

    OT that rhymes, plus kittah (and goldfish with attitude and aplomb): Animal invisibility cloak makes cat and fish vanish

    I’ve spent more time on the science pages recently getting a respite from the all-encompassing, now reaching the watching a White Bronco stage. The WWII Dornier seems to made it off the seabed and Matthaeus Schwarz is a joy: Fashion: The accountant who created the first book of fashion and he seems to have used real-world examples when writing his manuals of accounting (so there’s the data-breach tie-in).

  163. 163
    Ridnik Chrome says:

    @catclub: FTW

  164. 164
    Ash Can says:

    @Violet: Probably because HK told him that no, they could not be BFFs. It’ll be interesting to see where he turns up next, and with whom.

    I think that what gasses me the most about this huge steaming heap is that it totally obfuscates the fact that yes, we do need to take a good long hard look at the bullshit laws that were passed after 9/11, and we needed to have this whole discussion TWELVE FUCKING YEARS AGO. Instead, it’s all OMGOBAMAIZSPYINGONMEEEE, all the time. My ass got tired after about the first five minutes of it.

  165. 165
    alien radio says:

    By definition the panopitcon goes both ways. And I think the great and powerful have no idea exactly what that means for them.

  166. 166
    Paul in KY says:

    @Redshirt: Means you might have done something they don’t know about yet that you know could adversely affect your rating, so that’s the only reason (they think) you would ever check it.

    I think it is Catch 23.

  167. 167
    Corner Stone says:

    @alien radio:

    By definition the panopitcon goes both ways

    I believe by definition the panopticon only goes one way. It sees everything but nothing is allowed to see in. That way you never knew who was in there, or anyone at all, and what may or may not be watched.
    I think you may mean the panopticon is omnipresent, and spares no one.

  168. 168
    Corner Stone says:

    @Paul in KY: It’s more likely they want to punish you for attempting to fact check their process.
    “Trying to watch the watchers, eh guvner? Take that! -30 points”

  169. 169
    Paul in KY says:

    @Corner Stone: I was attempting to attach some logic to it. Your reason is probably the correct one.

  170. 170
    Todd says:

    @FlipYrWhig:

    Does that suggest that Snowden was a Greenwald fan from within the world of surveillance, who then infiltrated a defense contractor at his behest? That would be some serious balls by both of them.

    And would make Greenwald an indictable co-conspirator.

  171. 171
    liberal says:

    @gene108:

    Companies have always been analyzing data.

    Yes, some older guy wrote on some message board something akin to “what a bunch of crap; we’ve were doing these things decades ago.”

  172. 172
    liberal says:

    @Mandalay:
    My impression—could be wrong—is that there are two aspects to the law: the Fair Credit Act, and common law.

    As some commenter above noted, the credit bureaus really need stronger regulation.

  173. 173
    liberal says:

    @gene108:

    It’s just that companies have so much data right now, they need a new method of sorting all the stuff out. Why do they have so much data? Because memory is cheap and getting cheaper.

    Yes, but the hype implies that there’s a lot of signal in the data. My intuition says that, apart from the obvious low-hanging fruit, there’s not all that much signal in most cases.

  174. 174
    liberal says:

    @Violet:

    They will argue it isn’t malicious. It “takes time to investigate a claim”, etc. Proving malice is not going to be easy.

    Well, of course, “it takes time to investigate a claim” doesn’t wash for other defendents, so why should it do so for a credit agency?

    Also, re malice, I’m not sure about that. I would assume that if I print something damaging about someone, and they come to me with evidence it’s not true, and then I don’t fix it in a few days, that person would have a cause of action against me. Though IANAL. (Also, as above, it’s not clear to me that one has to always prove malice in all defamation cases.)

  175. 175
    Keith G says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:
    Not everything fits into a Star Trek frame-

    I trust private entities LESS than I do the federal government. MUCH LESS.
    _
    The Ferengi are not to be trusted. EVER.

    I do not think it makes sense to frame this into a blanket assertion. I have seen that when a federal bureaucrat or agent decides one needs to be “taught a lesson”, life can go through the looking glass with amazing alacrity. For-profit middle manages can be your friend when they decide it’s not profitable to hear your voice any more.

  176. 176
    mai naem says:

    Scott McNeally is a Republican christo wingnut from way back. I may be wrong but I think he was a Ranger for Dubbya – anyhow, he was a big Silicon Valley fundraiser for Dubbya.
    I saw a blurb on my twitter feed that Iceland is not going to offer to take in Snowden. Have not looked into it.

  177. 177
    Cacti says:

    @FlipYrWhig:

    Does that suggest that Snowden was a Greenwald fan from within the world of surveillance, who then infiltrated a defense contractor at his behest? That would be some serious balls by both of them.

    While I can’t stand Greenwald, I’m hesitant to believe this angle. GG is a lawyer, and knows full well that such a plan would make him liable for criminal solicitation or conspiracy to violate the Espionage Act.

  178. 178
    Keith G says:

    @Paul in KY:Re Credit Report Checks: Actually the stated reason is that there is an assumption that one is about to accumulate more risk – that one is preparing to acquire more debt. Thus at the very least that person is risk-adjacent, statistically speaking. Caveat: So said a friend in that industry.

    This is why the accumulation of data by our benevolent government is so risky. Eventually, bright young (mostly) men will find intriguing new algorithms that categorize behavior stats in very useful ways. Image stats that indicate behaviors statistically meaningful in large numbers of sex offenders. Nobody likes sex offenders. Why not run the algorithms and see what pops, so to speak?

  179. 179
    gene108 says:

    @liberal:

    Yes, but the hype implies that there’s a lot of signal in the data. My intuition says that, apart from the obvious low-hanging fruit, there’s not all that much signal in most cases.

    I don’t know. I don’t think anybody knows. The push for Big Data has more to do with companies exhausting other methods of gaining competitive advantages in the marketplace, so they are going to drill down hard on the data to try and move ahead of competitors.

    In the 1980’s, you had computerization that could help you save money. In the 1990’s, improvements in telecommunications could help you save money. In the 2000’s, refinement in how to develop an internet based business model could help you improve your business.

    There just isn’t that big new technology/infrastructure wave just waiting to get adopted that would move a business ahead of competitors or make it more profitable than in earlier years.

  180. 180
    liberal says:

    @gene108:

    I don’t know. I don’t think anybody knows.

    I think usually, when you mine data, the likelihood of finding something interesting and useful declines with the complexity of the model required.

    For example, in ANOVA with multiple factors, in my experience it’s much harder to find significant high-order interaction effects, and relatively easy to find first-order main effects. There’s actually no mathematical reason this should be; one could easily create synthetic examples where the opposite is true. But in the real world, it seems to strongly be the case.

    The push for Big Data has more to do with companies exhausting other methods of gaining competitive advantages in the marketplace, so they are going to drill down hard on the data to try and move ahead of competitors.

    That’s just a statement of what the companies find necessary or are able to do. Doesn’t mean they’ll be successful.

    Same thing with any new area of investigation. “Personalized medicine” sounds like it’s a hot topic these days. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be a very productive field of inquiry anytime soon.

  181. 181
    liberal says:

    @Keith G:

    Actually the stated reason is that there is an assumption that one is about to accumulate more risk – that one is preparing to acquire more debt.

    That actually does make sense. But there’s going to be huge numbers of false positives.

  182. 182
    Darkrose says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: I liked Sun servers. They were robust, unlike the piece of shit Windows NT boxes I had to work with.

  183. 183
    liberal says:

    @Darkrose:
    When I used them a long time ago, they seemed pretty reliable. Moreover, I’m not the world’s greatest UNIX expert, but my impression is that Sun did a lot of work in the UNIX ecosystem that was useful (e.g. NFS, I think).

  184. 184
    Shinobi (@shinobi42) says:

    @liberal: Feel free to send me an e-mail. Shinobi42@gmail.com

  185. 185
    Ryan C says:

    @pokeyblow: you don’t even have to go Godwin. Data leaks happen all the time, which results in identity theft. People’s lives are ruined all the time by this rampant, unchecked data collection.

    Privacy is becoming a classic case of the tragedy of the commons.

  186. 186
    Ryan C says:

    @liberal: And with these big complicated models on tiny datasets, the issue of false positives is huge. Nobody wants to talk about that, because they’d rather hype all the exciting things they find. But if we’re talking about data mining where false positives result in death (eg personalized medicine or intelligence) we can’t act like irresponsible, excited children.

  187. 187
    Bill Arnold says:

    @liberal:

    One thing I’ve never understood is why false info in one’s credit profile doesn’t make the reporting agencies vulnerable to a defamation suit.

    A lawyer would need to answer this question properly. I can’t imagine the three major credit report companies continuing to exist without some sort of shield law protection against defamation suites, so that’s where to start to look.

  188. 188
    polyorchnid octopunch says:

    @liberal: I work with Suns all the time. They’re great machines. I have systems that have uptimes measured in years. On the programming side, sparcs with solaris have really really great memory and process management; you have to work really hard to get a serious zombie process going.

    Our linux boxen tend not to fare quite so well.

  189. 189
    Paul in KY says:

    @Keith G: Thank you for the info.

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