eXtensions - Wednesday 20 May 2020
Wednesday Diversion: Mac Screen Problem; Contact Tracing Realities; Who Reads Terms & Conditions?
By Graham K. Rogers
The next day I was in iStudio, Siam Paragon where there were MacBook Air computers all lined up in a row. I asked an assistant if they had these in stock: "What colour do you want". I guess the lesson there is that if the stock is not there, you can't make a sale.
That had been done at the Bangkok Bank in Siam Paragon for a couple of weeks, although they now seem to have abandoned that; and I was also asked to provide my phone number and name when I had a haircut recently. That was quite a sensible approach from a small operation and I saw no reason to decline. I had been using the shop for years anyway and it was just done in the middle of a chat.
In practice the tracking software was not so bad, but a bit of an effort at times. I tried first at The Mall, Bang Khae and, after scanning the QR code (prominently displayed outside), although the web app it accessed was only in Thai, there were plenty of staff available to help. The next day in Siam was a little less easy as the QR code did not appear to work at Siam Center, although a staff helper was ready with QR stickers (they thought of that).
When it worked at Paragon, I realised the previous problem may have been because I had missed the small top of screen display announcement. After that it was just getting into the swing of scanning before going in to a store (overkill when already inside a mall) and coming out. Because there was no English it made me a little slower, but the staff were all ready to help and well-prepared.
For those with legitimate visas, the documentation required is phenomenal and the subsequent checks (90 days reporting, notification within 24 hours of change of address) are more data recording exercises than investigative. Those who are here illegally don't bother and may be the ones responsible for other illegal activities, while those who are just here to work (teach in my case) are put through the wringer every time.
The Thai app I looked at - vague as the information was initially - may not be connected with contact tracing but initial reports (including the Post editorial) implied that it followed the intentions of the contact-tracing apps that the UK authorities tried to put out. The QR system may use a similar approach but it is web-based and does not use an app. However, just a telephone number (particularly here) allows the authorities access to significant amounts of data.
Similarly, the app that is being developed in France has a data of everything approach and they refuse to look at the Apple-Google solution. A similar approach had been tried in The Netherlands but after problems with its operation and considerable negative press, they switched the approach to comply with the Apple-Google limitations on just what data can be used.
It is worth noting the comments by Bennett Cyphers and Gennie Gebhardt in an EFF article on the differences between data collection methods of the various contact-tracing solutions. The article notes that despite stated intentions regarding data collection, governments do not have a good record with this overall [my italics]. I guess it is just too tempting to go and have the occasional little dip into the data pot to see what comes up.
When Apple changed settings on some iPhones a couple of years back to help with performance from chemically aged batteries, the way this slowed down devices was upsetting. Many claimed that this was Apple's way of pushing users to update. This was denied but the lawyers were activated anyway. This week there has been a settlement of sorts, with Apple agreeing to pay $310M-$500M. Affected iPhone users in the class could receive $25 each if the settlement is approved (Seeking Alpha).
In those notes there is a comment that Apple admits to changing the software but says it did nothing legally wrong. There may, however, be a moral aspect: although the case could be fought for years in the courts, Apple loses more through its public face. Like Distillers Company found years ago when fighting against responsibility for the birth defects caused by its thalidomide, legality means little in the face of widespread public condemnation. Those images of limbless babies would haunt the company forever. In a smaller way, $500m is not going to break the bank at Cupertino and those $25 checks will put a smile on the faces of some.
I initially brought this up years ago in relation to Adobe Photoshop which most used at that time, but none paid for. I called them out on their hypocrisy, particularly as most wore expensive clothes and watches, and some drove expensive cars. None however was willing to pay for software, yet would expect people to pay for their work. As far as ethics and morals are concerned this hit home.
When I pushed this further I found, unsurprisingly, that none had read the T&C or end user license agreements (EULA). I have, particularly with regard to Facebook and Twitter, and this week, in preparation for the next class, LINE. Condition number 3, for example, allows LINE to change whatever they want and users of course have all accepted that. In practice this would perhaps be related to an unforeseen change in the way the service is being used, and in the same way as other like systems, such changes would be publicized before they came into effect; but the T&C do not actually require that.
Among the other little gems I found was provision of services. Of course, force majeure, war and other unusual conditions would preclude continuation of services: in my these are understood. However, in a catch-all at the end of Condition 6, there is "When LINE reasonably determines it to be necessary, other than those set forth in items (1) through (4)" (force majeure, et al).
The sorts of things I have seen in the agreements we click Yes to (otherwise the service, application or device cannot be activated), include permission to send our data to law enforcement agencies, allowing sharing of our content with 3rd parties, and accepting instant change whether we agree or not.
Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)
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