Web speaks with forked tongue

Yet another business offering you a service and asking you for your personal details – but no “privacy” statement to say what they are going to do with your information once they have it? It is incredible how many websites ask you to sign on – asking for your e-mail address, name and surname as well as your mobile number – without telling you in no uncertain terms that your information will not be passed on to a third party (read: marketing fungus, …. err sorry, gurus).

Web speaks with forked tongue

There are occasions, though, where site owners (not webmasters, since they are not always the same) do make you aware of what they intend to do with your personal information. However, when you click on the privacy policy link, a page of legal jargon will pop up to “explain” that every reasonable step (?) will be taken to safeguard your privacy. If you are not a lawyer (conversant in double-speak) , which the average web user is not, such convoluted explanations only serve to frustrate and intimidate, not reassure.

Plain Speak

One of the advantages of living in the Republic of South Africa is that as a young democracy we have a lot of lessons to learn. Various industries in South Africa have been living by their “own codes” for a number of years – to the disadvantage of the average consumers.

Civil pressure groups are slowly but surely reigning in the “Wild West” attitude of some economic entities (businesses) by insisting that contracts, and other devilishly clever details, must be written in plainspeak, words and phrases the average customer will understand before he or she signs a contract or agreement. Hopefully, the same reasoning will prevail when it comes to “privacy statements” by the likes of Facebook, to mention but one.

Let’s push towards a “plainspeaking” web.

Open mobile web a click closer

The Internet is abuzz with discussions and comments about Mozilla’s announcement that it intends developing a complete free and open mobile platform to unshackle us from “proprietary software” structures. Having been a user of Linux for a number of years, such intentions never fail to grab my attention (and imagination), causing my stubby fingers to take on a life of their own – furiously pecking at my keyboard.

Although still an “idea” at this point, and judging from how Mozilla Firefox has made surfing the web a more enjoyable (not to mention faster) experience, keeping my eye on this development should not be too taxing. As with most such good intentions, there seems to be more naysayers than trumpeters. A quick search will point you in the direction of some of these opinion, but in the end you need to make up your own mind.

Open it …

An irritation which is very hard to ignore is when Open-source projects such as Android are not really open. Yes, you can get hold of the code, dissect and tinker with it until an “Ah-Hah” moment hits you. Ask any developer, if that moment hits, you’ve got to put your insights into code before they dissipate. The next thing you know, there’s another “killer app” to download for your Android, for instance. However, the “app”  is still tied to Android, owned by Google. The developer has in fact now “worked” for Google – at no cost – to improve the Android through such “add-ons”, winning over more users to an essentially proprietary system.

If the new mobile OS will “free” users from being “locked in” by the threesome Apple, Mac and Windows, together with the giant Google, it deserves a horn-blowing. Imagine being able to use your mobile phone to “talk to” you tablet, your E-reader, digital camera and digital VCR without downloading software and plug-ins which will cost you a fortune (sanity, aside).

In the words of a 10-year-old … that would be AWESOME.

Advertising for free?

“Over one million to enter schooling system,” punts a major newspaper poster. January is the time of the year in South Africa when you receive those wads of advertising pamphlets in your letterbox, wrapped up in your “favourite community” newspaper.  Newspapers normally carry stories this time of the year with pictures of first-timers crying their eyes out about this “scary place” called school – those “ag, shame” (cute, endearing) moments which would melt anyone’s heart.

With the euphoria of the  festive season behind them and a year of schooling ahead for “new” and “old” learners, the wads of advertising material (yes, unsolicited), inform parents of the bargains for books, stationery, lunch boxes, pens, calculators, school bags and so forth.

What caught my eye this year – and it’s probably been there every year – is how practically every item, especially the bigger ones like satchels and backpacks bear the logo or a picture of the lead character of some cartoon show on television. As much as I scrutinise the ads, I failed to find a clean (“plain”) item without any logos on them. Perhaps such bland, boring items are only to be found in-store – for those looking from them, that is.

Children have, unfortunately, been ‘televised’ to believe that bags and items with logos and pictures from shows they regularly watch are “cool” and therefore “must-haves”. Parents, on the other hand, being wiser, should however bear in mind that:

  • You are paying for a bag, satchel and lunch boxes with trademark (yes!) logos on them. In fact, you are “paying” (by purchasing) to promote another company’s product.
  • The world of advertising is a multi-billion rand (dollar) industry – they should be paying you to let your son or daughter advertise their company brand on their T-shirts, lunch boxes and backpacks.

Perhaps in an ideal world, parents would have the option of ripping off the logos and branding but that is likely to damage the product. They will also have teary children to deal with, since they do not have “what the other children have”. My bet is that parents will just ignore the fact that their little ones are mobile billboards and bow to “peer pressure” by letting their teens and children wear them.

There are very few items (if any) you can find in this world without some form of branding on them. Personally I take conscious decisions to minimise such advertising and marketing. Since the branding and marketing virus is so pervasive, I make an effort to look for branding associated with a good cause – organisations that can do with a helping hand with regards to marketing and branding. Whenever such a cause is found, such as saving the planet, I’m more than willing to don the t-shirt, wear the satchel and display a sticker on my bicycle.

Pre-loaded software nightmare

Buying a new computer or laptop? Well, be on the lookout … you will get the laptop and much more than what you’ve bargained for….

I recently bought a new netbook from a computer supplier and was irritated by the “pre-loaded” software and “goodies” which have been put on the computer. Such an action assumes that I would like a trial version of this or the other software on my laptop or netbook – installed, courtesy of your friendly hardware manufacturer and/or supplier.

Topping my list of irritations was the Microsoft Office  2007  package which started nagging me about “activation” via the internet. Guess what?  Yep, you’ve got it, Microsoft is not in the habit of giving their moneyspinners away – you have to have your credit card details handy to “activate” it.

Remove it!

When I contacted the supplier, the salesman told me that they receive  the product with everything on it, and they are not “allowed” to remove it before selling it to a client. I was then told that it was up to me to remove what I like (or not).  Fortunately my ICT skills made it fairly easy to properly remove software and saved me the expense of taking it back to the shop to have it removed. Since I’ve been an OpenOffice (http://www.openoffice.org/) user for a while, I just  sneered at the “Are you sure you want to remove this software?” taunt and hit the Add/Remove button.

Another “squatter” on my hard drive was an antivirus “suite” – also a trial version which popped up at the most inconvenient times – urging me to “protect myself” against the threats of worms, viruses and such ilk stalking the internet. Yep, I’ve heard of those but I am also aware that such protection need not cost me an arm and a leg.

These are just two of the likely candidates that you will find “pre-installed” when you unwrap your laptop at home to take it for a spin around the worldwide web. Be careful at this point though. First install a firewall application before you go on the internet. The netbook I recently bought from a reputable (sic) supplier had a “phone home”  utility installed on it. As soon as it detected a live network connection, it tried to phone home – to the supplier’s website. Needless to say, my firewall setting is “never allow” for that application.

My worst fears came true when I installed an anti-virus and spyware package on the new netbook. The first scan listed a number of viruses, trojans, backdoor, etcetera. After a number of frustrating tries – some of these buggers stubbornly refusing to be healed of moved to the virus vault, I nuked (formatted) the hard drive.

Back-up DIY

The worst abuse of this pre-loading practice was one PC manufacturer who neatly partitioned the computer hard drive and loaded all “recovery disk” files – Operating System included – onto the partition. Usually recovery disks (with OS and drivers, etcetera on them) are supplied on DVDs and/or CDs. These disks enable you to boot from them and restore corrupt files and the OS – should you have a serious software  or hardware malfunction.

The manufacturer then also put “nagware” onto the computer,  reminding me every time the PC boots up to “write the recovery files and folders” to backup disks. The manufacturer, it appears, has in the interest of cutting costs and providing a “better quality of service” made it easier for the buyer to exercise “more control” over his or her computer buying experience. Needless to say, it also saved them quite a bit of money not having to pay for the disks and the manpower to load all these files properly onto a DVD and supply it with the new PC.