democracy, politics, privacy, technology, tips

Verizon and the Sale of the Customer

According to Verizon’s latest update to their privacy policy, they will now “share” (i.e. sell) lots of information that may make customers uncomfortable. Verizon’s changes to their privacy policy, one must assume the term privacy is being used ironically, includes sharing:

Mobile Usage Information:

  • Addresses of websites you visit when using our wireless service. These data strings (or URLs) may include search terms you have used
  • Location of your device (“Location Information”)
  • App and device feature usage

Consumer Information:

  • Information about your use of Verizon products and services (such as data and calling features, device type, and amount of use)
  • Demographic and interest categories provided to us by other companies, such as gender, age range, sports fan, frequent diner, or pet owner (“Demographics”)

Verizon is trying to make users feel better about this by quietly offering a opt out and promising that no personally identifiable information is being sent. It should be noted that this doesn’t mean your personal information isn’t being held back, it just means your name, account number, and the like aren’t being sent.

This is the loop-hole that corporations have carved out for themselves in order to commodify customers. Sell everything about the customer, except for their names. It is a good way to make money. Companies like Verizon are charging people to use the service and then having those customers create a product that it can sell. In return for the service the customer provides Verizon the customer gets nothing. Even as this erosion and commodification of privacy becomes common practice these days, there is not much customers can do.

Corporations like Verizon have the upper-hand and can simply place the onus on the customer and the free-market. If you don’t like how they collect data, don’t give them your business. Never mind that the next company will do the same. Never mind that services like internet and cellphones are essential to modern society.

Giving those who oppose regulations the benefit of the doubt, lets say they often miss this important fact— that corporations have only their best interest at heart, and that many (though obviously not all) of their services are not optional. A democratic society should protect its citizen from the corporations which have become micro-oligarchs.

games, iphone, ipod touch

Touch KO Another Example of Sloppy Programming

Back in 2004 my brother brought home Fight Night. It quickly became a game where me and my brothers put our egos on the line (and consequently made angry accusations of cheap fight styles and cheating). To put it simply, it was fun.

When I saw that a new boxing game with decent graphics had hit the app store I was interested. I bought it and, for a few moments, I thought Touch KO would be fun. But that thought was quickly disrupted.

First the game was too easy. I’ll admit it gets (a little tiny bit) more difficult as the game wears on, but that also becomes a weakness. Why? Well, read on.

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iphone, japan

Brad Pitt Japanese Cell Phone Ad

Brad Pitt has been doing a whole bunch of Softbank ads here in Japan. Softbank is a cellphone company. To be more precise they are the cellphone company that refused to give me a 2 year contract and (nearly) free iPhone just because I wasn’t going to be in Japan for two more years! How dare they see through my evil scheme!!

The question I have is which is cuter for the ladies. Brad Pitt:

Or the Softbank dog (soon to release his own DVD):


Safely Erase Your iPhone Before You Sell It

A while back I posted about a guy discovering that through forensics you could get tons of data off a used iPhone. There was a method to wipe iPhone data, but it require jailbreaking the iPhone and then doing a much of command line stuff. I doubt the average consumer did it.

So now the same man has delivered a much simpler system. Jonathan Zdziarsk has created an app for the iTunes store that securely erases your data from the iPhone. It is called, of course, iErase.

Zdziarsk describes just how easy it is to use:

Q. I am selling my iPhone / iPod. What should I do?
A. Before running iErase, you should reset all of the information on the iPhone. The most thorough way to do this is with a full restore, or a quick way is to “Reset all Settings” on the phone. The restore process only performs a quick format, however, and doesn’t wipe everything, and the “Reset all Settings” process only deletes your personalized files, and doesn’t even format the device. In both cases, you’ll want to follow up your restore by running iErase. Once your personal data is removed – keychain passwords, configuration files, email, etc., iErase will then wipe over all of that to ensure it is beyond recovery.



Are iTunes App Store Prices Too Low?

I just read an article asking a question I’ve been wondering about myself. It asks if iTunes App store prices are too low. App Developer Craig Hockenberry is worried that customers are being trained to want it all for $0.99 or less. To a degree this is a legitimate problem, but only to a very small degree. People want things are cheap as they can get them, this is always true. If you sell something for $100 people will say it should be $90 you can sell the same thing for $90 and people will say it should be $70. That is life.

What I don’t like seeing is developers whining:

We have a lot of great ideas for iPhone applications. Unfortunately, we’re not working on the cooler (and more complex) ideas. Instead, we’re working on 99¢ titles that have a limited lifespan and broad appeal. Market conditions make ringtone apps most appealing.

Before commencing any new iPhone development, we look at the numbers and evaluate the risk of recouping our investment on a new project. Both developers and designers cost somewhere between $150-200 per hour. For a three man month project, let’s say that’s about $80K in development costs. To break even, we have to sell over 115K units. Not impossible with a good concept and few of weeks of prominent placement in iTunes.

But what happens when we start talking about bigger projects: something that takes 6 or even 9 man months? That’s either $150K or $225K in development costs with a break even at 215K or 322K units. Unless you have a white hot title, selling 10-15K units a day for a few weeks isn’t going to happen. There’s too much risk.

Don’t make excuses. Produce apps that are worth more than $0.99 and people will buy them. Not as many people, of course, but that is just simple supply and demand. At $1 people who may not have any need for an application will buy it anyway, just to check it out or “just in case I need it one day.” But at $4 dollars you’ll lose nearly all of those folks.

I would hope that a developer would understand that they can’t sell the same quantity at higher prices. How many people own the free application Firefox? Everyone needs a browser and it is free. It gets downloaded like like it is porn, as of July 2nd Firefox 3 was downloaded 28,340,281 times. How many units of Adobe’s $1,800 Design Premium do you think have sold? Is ten percent of Firefox’s downloads (2,234,028) too optimistic? I think so. How many people need a full design suite? How many need it badly enough that paying almost $2000 is necessary? If the price was $20 I bet you a Zune that Design Premium would be sitting (unused) on way more computers.

But this is old news. What’s the real problem? The answer is simple. Most of the apps in the iTunes store are crap. People are hesitant to pay $10 or more for an application that has only screen shots and a few shoddy reviews after seeing so much garbage. Applications are not mature on the iPhone / iPod Touch yet. Worse is that developers don’t seem to have many worries about releasing (and often charging for) applications that are still in beta stages. Worse still is that many of these stay in beta stage.

I finally purchased my first game for my iPod Touch. At $8 I Love Katamari seemed like a steal. However after downloading it I discovered the game has bugs that make it unplayable and now I see that it is the developers who were stealing, not me. On the other hand, even though it has its flaws I feel that the $20 I spent on the Japanese dictionary called (you guessed it) Japanese was worth it. Though even that application is not to the standard that I would ask of a desktop app. I bought it because it was the best option and has the potential to be worth the price I paid.

My challenge to developers like Craig Hockenberry, put up or shut up. Don’t give us excuses why you are putting out crap. Don’t blame users and talk about us like we are pets that need to be trained. Put out something that is compelling enough to buy.


Japanese Dictionary for iPhone and iPod Touch

Well I finally took the plunge and bought an iPod Touch. Why? Because I needed a Japanese dictionary and the iPod Touch seemed to me to have the best array of options. Not only do I get an iPod with all it’s potential, but I also get a 電子辞書 (electronic dictionary). A much better deal than those dictionaries designed with native Japanese speakers in mind.

I bought Japanese by codefromtokyo and so far I am very pleased. It uses the same free dictionaries that many Japanese English dictionaries use, so that isn’t its selling point. The selling point is the implementation. First of all it has several handy lists. These lists range from proverbs, to expressions, to counters, to JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) vocabulary. Those are nice. But the really nice part is when you get into the dictionary itself. Neatly displayed are the On and Kun readings, the radical, a stroke animation (though not for every Kanji), a translation and compounds using the Kanji (where applicable). You can add any word to your vocab list.

I have only two criticisms. The first one is more a small annoyance. If you leave Japanese it won’t remember where you were when you come back. Not ideal, but not terrible. The second is that you can’t really do anything with the vocabulary lists. However, on the developer’s there is a email address and a note asking for suggestions. I sent one saying that flash cards make from the vocabulary list would be useful and within 24 hours (much less actually) I got a response that it was already in the works.

Japanese is worth buying. The developer is active and responsive and the application is well done. Go buy it.

crappy photo/screenshots:


Wipe That iPhone Before You Sell It

I mentioned before that the data on your iPhone can be recovered. That is still true. There is no proven method to securely wipe the iPhone as of this writing.

However, the same man who wrote the scary forensic tool for the iPhone is letting people in on how he prepares items for resale:

* Perform a full restore, but be sure to set the device up as a “new phone”, rather than restore from a backup (of course). This destroys the live file system only, but isn’t really necessary. I do this to be extra safe that no writes to the device occur after wiping (and if they do, will not include any of my personal data).
* Jailbreak the device using something like iLiberty+ and obtain shell access via ssh.
* Find a copy of ‘umount’ for the iPhone. This can be found on the RAM disk, or in other places. Don’t ask me for it. Now force both mount points into read-only mode:

# umount -f /private/var
# mount -o ro /private/var
# mount -o ro /

NOTE: The GUI will be non-responsive when /private/var is mounted read-only, so be sure not to try and use it.

* Wipe both partitions clean by copying /dev/zero over them. Ideally, /dev/random would be better, but it will heat up the CPU considerably and take a much longer period of time. Unless you are trying to hide information from the CIA or some other organization with the resources to perform low-level NAND recovery, a single /dev/zero wipe will suffice:

# cat /dev/zero > /dev/rdisk0s2; cat /dev/zero > /dev/rdisk0s1

* After complete, force the device into recovery mode (Home + Power until “Connect to iTunes”) and then perform another full restore.
* If you are paranoid about a low-level NAND recovery, use /dev/random and repeat these steps about seven times – or simply take a sledge hammer to the device.

To find out more you should visit his website. Remember, it is your identity, and you only get one for free so keep it safe.


Read This Before You Sell Your Old iPhone for the 3G iPhone

Jonathan Zdziarski has revealed that the iPhone can’t delete personal data, in fact, it keeps tons of important stuff that could lead to identity theft, among other things. Right now his forensic tools are available only to Law Enforcement officials, but he plans to release it to the public. This means that anyone willing to do bad things can get your personal info off the iPhone. Think you can totally wipe your iPhone? Unlikely, even Apple and AT&T don’t clean the iPhone properly.iPhone recovered personal information

A verified detective from the Oregon State Police notified me this afterrnoon that an out-of-the-box refurbished iPhone he purchased contained recoverable personal data including email, personal photos, and even financial information which he was able to recover using my forensic toolkit.

The image to the left is one piece of that personal info that was recovered, posted only because it doesn’t reveal extremely sensitive info. Looks scary to me.

Right now there just isn’t a way to safely delete your personal data from the iPhone. Remember this as you try to unload your old iPhone in the wake of the new 3G iPhone that will probably be coming soon.