David Snell

Windows XP SP3 indicates Microsoft will continue to focus on security.

Some three and half years from the general release of Windows XP Service Pack 2, and with the support of corporate IT managers waning, Microsoft is preparing to release an update to its seven year-old desktop operating system. However, Microsoft has said that Service Pack 3 will once again focus on security, and so those expecting to see features from Windows Vista will be sorely disappointed. Windows XP Service Pack 3 (SP3) includes all previously released updates for the operating system, and is designed to improve overall system performance and stability.

For IT departments, Windows XP SP3 signals a new baseline for standard operating environments (SOE), and so organizations are being encouraged to assess the suitability of this major update by downloading the code from Microsoft’s Technet website. Although not visible to the end user, SP3 does include some functionality updates. These are, however, consigned to updates such as Microsoft Management Console (MMC 3.0), Microsoft’s XML parser (MSXML6), and the Microsoft Windows Installer. In terms of useful networking and security updates, SP3 includes support for Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA2) and Network Access Protection (NAP) – one feature that has found its way from Windows Vista. However, interestingly, SP3 does not impose Internet Explorer 7 upon organizations and their users. Instead, SP3 will patch whichever version of Internet Explorer it finds on the target system, for example IE6 or IE7.Although Windows Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1) has already been released to manufacturing, Butler Group has seen little interest in Microsoft’s latest Windows desktop operating system, and so predicts that, for the most part, Windows Vista SP1 will remain something of an irrelevancy for most IT managers and their organizations.

One issue worth considering is the supposed shelf-life of Windows XP. With System Builder licenses available only until the end of January 2009 (June 2008 for the retail channel), and with demand for Windows Vista in the enterprise extremely weak, Microsoft is coming under increasing pressure to re-think its Windows lifecycle policy. Indeed, InfoWorld is asking users to register their objections to this forced migration by signing its ‘Help Save XP’ petition.

We spoke of this in an earlier report and the site is still getting plenty of action. InfoWorld, a popular website for IT professionals, has the following to say on the matter: “Microsoft plans to end most sales of Windows XP on June 30, despite a deep reluctance by many business and individuals about moving to Vista .InfoWorld believes such an expensive, time-consuming shift with problematic benefits should not be forced on Windows users, so we have decided to rally XP users to demand that XP be kept available.” With Windows Vista a year in the market and Windows XP a year or so away from its supposed retirement, Microsoft is in danger of letting its Windows lifecycle policy get out of sync with reality. In the meantime, however, Windows XP SP3 provides Microsoft with yet another opportunity to address real and significant security concerns, and so the company would do well to promote Windows XP SP3 over Windows Vista SP1. However, whether or not the company will adopt this policy remains to be seen.

 In related news: Microsoft is lowering the price of consumer versions of Windows Vista. Microsoft’s plans to lower prices on consumer versions of Windows Vista are a clear indication that Vista has not had the expected uptake in the home market. While the company is keen to point out that retail sales are only a small part of total Windows-based revenue, there has always been a correlation between home and business users, which suggests business uptake is similarly disappointing.

For the full story:

Internet Explorer 8 BETA Version


Hot off the heels of Internet Explorer 7 comes the next “end all-be all” internet browser from Microsoft.

Are YOU ready to take the plunge? If so, keep a few things in mind…

2: IE7 and IE8 cannot co-exist. If you install this beta 1 version, IE* becomes your primary browser.
3: There seems to be a compatibility issue between IE8 and the widely used Google and Yahoo toolbars.  You will have to forgo these add-ons for the immediate future.
4: Read through the articles I’ve provided links for at the bottom of this page and make sure you know the implications if you intend to go down this path. I, for one, intend to pass on this initial beta release.  We still aren’t fully satisfied with IE7 so why mess with this version.

Once we get a later BETA version installed and working on a test machine, I’ll revisit this with our personal experience.

So- according to Microsoft, here are some of the New and exciting features:

Activities are contextual services to quickly accessa service from any webpage.  Users typically copy and paste from one webpage to another.  Internet Explorer 8 Activities make this common pattern easier to do.Activities typically involve two types of scenarios: “look up” information within a webpage or “send” web content to a web application.  For example, a user is interested in a restaurant and wants to see the location of it.  This is the form of a “look up” Activity where the user selects the address and views an in-place view of the map using his favorite map service.


An example of a “send” Activity is a user reads an interesting article and wants to blog about a portion of the article.  The user can select a portion of the article and uses the blog activity.  This navigates to the user’s blog site with the selection already available in the edit feild.

Activities are services that the user can install and manage.  Users can install them from the Internet Explorer 8 Service Guide or through any website that advertises Activities.


WebSlices is a new feature for websites to connect to thier users by subscribing to content directly within a webpage.  WebSlices behave just like feeds where clients can subscribe to get updates and notify the user of changes.


Internet Explorer 8 users can discover WebSlices within a webpage and add them to the Favorites bar, a dedicated row below the Address bar for easy access to links.  Internet Explorer 8 subscribes to the webpage, detects changes in the WebSlice, and notifies the user of updates.  Users can preview these updates directly from the Favorites bar and click-through to the website to get more information.

Favorites Bar

In Internet Explorer 7, the links bar provided users with one-click access to thier favorite sites.  The links bar has undergone a complete makeover for Internet Explorer 8.  It has been renamed the Favorites bar to enable users to associate this bar as a place to put and easily access all their favorite web content such as links, feeds, WebSlices and even Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents.


A user can easily ass a link to the Favorites bar by using the Add to Favorites button and selecting the Add to Favorites Bar option.


Automatic Crash Recovery

Automatic Crash Recovery (ACR) is a feature of Windows Internet Explorer 8 that can help to prevent the loss of work and productivity in the inlikely event of the browser crashing or hanging.  The ACR feature takes advantage of the Loosely-Coupled Internet Explorer feature to provide new crash recovery capabilities, such as tab recovery, which will minimize interruptions to users browsing sessions.


see Automatic Crash Recovery white paper for more information

Improved Phishing Filter

Internet Explorer 7 introduced the Phishing Filter,  a feature which helps warn users when they visit a Phishing site.  Phishing sites spoof a trusted legitimate site, with the goal of stealing the user’s personal or financial information.  For Internet Explorer 8, we are building on the success of the Phishing Filter with a more comprehensive feature called the “Safety Filter.”


For IT administrators, new Group Policy options are available to remove the user-override option and fully block access to known unsafe sites.

Five things you’ll love (or hate) about IE8

PC Magazines take and screenshots

Washington Post Article

CNet News
http://www.news.com/8301-13860_3-9886854-56.html?tag=newsmap HYPERLINK “http://www.news.com/8301-13860_3-9886854-56.html?tag=newsmap”

If you STILL want to experience Internet Explorer 8 after reviewing the articles above, here’s the link to all the Internet Explorer 8 BETA downloads

Another Slice of Internet Life

Is this site really necessary?

Well, it was bound to happen. Now there’s an online repository for all the email jokes “some” people are so fond of sharing.

You know who I mean – friends, family, co-workers – even people you’ve never met think nothing of adding you to their joke list.

Here’s one response to these types of forwards (yup – you guessed it – this graphic came from a forwarded email

So What’s This All About?
FWDitOn.com states it’s a repository for all of the funny emails circulating the Internet.

What Is A Forward?
A FWD is one of those funny/gross/disgusting/interesting/amazing/heart-warming emails we all get in our inboxes (almost) every day. We call these emails “FWD’s” (pronounced as “forwards”) due to the long list of “FWD: FWD: FW: FWD:” which these emails always seem to have in their subject lines from continuously being forwarded on from person to person

Users of this website can rate the fwd’s out of 5 stars. The site records this information to create a list of the best fwd’s circulating around the internet.

You don’t need to have an account in order to use this website, however, members do get access to some extra features. Thanks but I think I’ll pass…

For those of you who would like to review the site and see what it offers and how it works go to:


Now for the rest of us, if anyone out there knows of a site to counteract this sites purpose, please let me know. I’d love to find a way to get my email address removed from junk email lists – perhaps something similar to the governments Do Not Call List would be appropriate.

Now that’s a service that would probably be a real money maker!

Pakistan's YouTube Censorship Triggers Worldwide Outage

February 26, 2008

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority’s deputy director for enforcement sent a memo announcing the ban to major ISPs on Feb. 22. The PTA asked Pakistani ISPs to block access to three IP addresses that are associated with YouTube’s site. The ISPs could have used one of several methods to block access to the IP addresses, said Danny McPherson, chief research officer at security provider Arbor Networks.For a couple of hours on Sunday, access to YouTube worldwide was cut, the result of the Pakistani government’s banning YouTube in their country.Access to YouTube elsewhere was restored after two hours or so, but the question on everyone’s minds is, can this happen again?

Why the Ban?
Reports say the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) imposed the ban for two reasons: Controversial Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad were posted on YouTube, and the site carried a trailer for a forthcoming film by Dutch politician Geert Wilders portraying Islam as a fascist religion prone to inciting violence against women and homosexuals.
The cartoons caused a furor among Muslims worldwide when they were printed in a Danish newspaper in 2005 — riots led to at least 50 deaths and attacks on three Danish embassies. Earlier this month, they were reprinted by several Danish newspapers in response to a recently uncovered plot to murder the cartoonist.The PTA urged Pakistani Internet users to write YouTube requesting the offending materials be removed. It has told Pakistan ‘s 70-odd Internet service providers that YouTube will be banned until further notice. The PTA’s deputy director for enforcement sent memo announcing the ban to major ISPs on Feb. 22.

The Technical Details
The PTA asked Pakistani ISPs to block access to three IP addresses that are associated with YouTube’s site.
The ISPs could have used one of several methods to block access to the IP addresses, Danny McPherson, chief research officer at network infrastructure security provider Arbor Networks, as quoted by TechNewsWorld.They could have deployed access-control lists on all their router interfaces leading to those addresses; route the three IP addresses to a null, the ISP equivalent of a black hole on the network; or basically have all packets that were being sent to or from those three IP addresses automatically discarded by the network.The second option requires the ISPs to add static routes to every router in their networks. However, the effect of that is to tell the world that traffic to those three IP addresses should be sent to the ISPs instead of to YouTube.This, in essence, is what happened. The fact that today anyone connected to the Internet could potentially go out and announce reachability for anyone else in the Internet space is a huge problem.

A Complicated Problem
YouTube is working to prevent similar problems recurring. “We are investigating and working with others in the Internet community to prevent this from happening again,” states YouTube spokesperson Kathleen Fitzgerald.

Will that work? Probably not.
There’s no authoritative source on the Internet for who owns what address space where you could do real-time address changes.
What about the Internet Routing Registry, with which ISPs register Internet addresses? “The problem is that, when your customers get new address spaces, you may not update that,” McPherson said. “You don’t have automated updates, no one does any filtering, and it’s this huge vulnerability.”Part of the problem is that the Border Gateway Protocol, which Internet service providers use BGP to inform each other which IP address goes where, is not robust. BGP works by maintaining a table of IP networks or “prefixes,” which designate network reachability among autonomous systems. It makes routing decisions based on path, network policies and rule sets.BGP was developed in an attempt to prevent anyone from, essentially, hijacking someone else’s IP addresses, as happened to YouTube, but it has a lot of holes. Remember, basically the Internet’s simply a bunch of loosely connected networks run by different administrators.

What Were They Thinking????

February, 19th 2008

Lately, we’ve been getting a number of calls (from clients and users here in our office) stating they can’t open a file that they are “absolutely positive” is a Microsoft Word document. These users aren’t crazy… Yes – it is a Word document they can’t open and it’s because the document was created in Microsoft Word 2007. You’ve got to wonder what goes through Microsoft’s programmer’s heads when they release a product that is not inherently backwards compatible. Are they trying to tick off the millions of MS Word 2003 users that don’t see a need to upgrade to 2007? Perhaps it’s just another way to scare consumers into a forced upgrade. What ever the thought process (or lack of) behind this decision, here’s a little explanation and a work around to help folks avoid an expensive upgrade. Microsoft Office 2007 provides a lot of new features and functionality. Here are some tips for dealing with compatibility issues when you upgrade to the latest version of Word.

Understanding and using the new file formats

All the Office 2007 programs use new default file formats based on the Extensible Markup Language (XML). The new formats are indicated by an “x” in the file extension. For example:

  • Word documents: .docx
  • Excel workbooks: .xlsx
  • PowerPoint presentations: .pptx

XML is an open standard, and the change makes it easier to move files between different applications. It also makes file sizes smaller than those saved in the old binary formats. However, some users with previous versions of Office may not be able to open files in the new formats. You can still save files in Office 2007 programs in Office 2003 file formats. Just select Word 97-2003 Document (*.doc) from the Save As Type drop-down list in the Save As dialog box, as shown in Figure A .

Figure A: You can easily save individual files in the old Office 2003 formats .

Changing the default format

If you want to always save files in the old format by default, click the Office button, then the <program name> Options button, and select Save in the left pane. Choose Word 97-2003 Document (*.doc) from the Save Files In This Format drop-down list, as shown in Figure B .

Figure B: You can set the default to always save files in the old Office 2003 format.

When you save a file in the old format that was originally created in the new format, you may get a message advising that some of the formatting and features that are only supported by Office 2007 programs will be lost but at least the majority of Word users will be able to open the document.

Using Office 2007 compatibility mode

Office 2007 programs introduce a new feature called compatibility mode. If you frequently share files with others who haven’t upgraded or you need to work on your files on another computer (for example, a laptop) that doesn’t have Office 2007 installed, you can ensure that the files you create in Office 2007 don’t contain any features that aren’t supported by the previous version of the Office program. If you place your Office 2007 applications in compatibility mode, incompatible features, such as the SmartArt diagramming tool, won’t be available to you. Instead, you’ll use the diagramming tool from Office 2003 so that the diagrams you create can be edited in the older version of the program. Compatibility mode is automatically on when you open a file that was saved in the old file formats, when you convert a file from the XML-based format to the older format, or when you configure the program to save to the old format by default. In Word, compatibility mode also kicks in if you create a new document from an old-format template (.dot). When the Office 2007 program is in compatibility mode, it will be indicated in the document title bar, as shown in Figure C .

Figure C:
Office Compatibility Mode is indicated in the title bar of the document.
Some features can be returned to the document if you reopen it in an Office 2007 program; others can’t. For a full list of the features that are lost when you work in compatibility mode and which ones can be refreshed, see the article “ Compatibility Mode in the 2007 Office System “ on the Microsoft TechNet site.

Installing the Office 2007 Compatibility Pack

If someone with whom you exchange files is still running an older version of Office and you want to be able to send them files in the new XML formats (for instance, so they can see the formatting features that are unique to Office 2007), they can install the Office 2007 Compatibility Pack. The Compatibility Pack allows users of Office XP or Office 2003 to open, edit, save and even create files in the new XML-based formats. The pack is available as a free 27.1 MB download from the Microsoft Web site . It can be installed on machines running Windows 2000 SP4, Windows XP SP1, and Windows Server 2003.

It's Almost Time!

Windows Vista SP1 is right around the corner…

Microsoft has finally ended the “beta” test on their MS Vista Service Pack 1 and we should expect to see the release candidate available for download over the next few weeks.

Microsoft released the latest pre-release build of SP1 – ‘Windows Vista SP1 RC Refresh’ to approximately 15,000 beta testers. This group includes corporate customers, consumer enthusiasts, software and hardware vendors, and others. The code is not available for public download yet. You may recall that Microsoft released a publicly available test build of Windows Vista SP1 back in December 2007.

A Microsoft spokesperson said “We are still on schedule to deliver SP1 RTM in Q1 2008. The final release date is based on quality, so we will continue to track customer and partner feedback from the beta program before setting a final date.”

Word on the Microsoft street is the Vista team is aiming to deliver the final SP1 code at the same time as Windows Server 2008 becomes available, which is expected in February (and some time before the big Windows Server 2008/SQL Server 2008/Visual Studio 2008 launch on February 27, 2008).

Microsoft also pushed out this week several new Windows Vista reliability and performance updates via Windows Update, as well as an update to the BitLocker encryption component of Windows Vista Enterprise and Windows Vista Ultimate that will be a prerequisite for successful installation of SP1.

What will this mean for users?
Hopefully a more stable and robust version of the Vista operating system – here’s some of the info Microsoft has decided to share.

First, Windows Vista SP1 will include all previously released updates for Windows Vista. It also will include security, reliability, and performance improvements. These improvements target some of the issues Microsoft has identified as the most common causes of operating system crashes and hangs, giving customers a more reliable experience. These updates also improve performance in key scenarios-for example, when copying files or shutting down the computer.

The following sections describe many of the security, reliability, and performance improvements that will be in Windows Vista SP1.

Security improvements that will be in Windows Vista SP1 include:

Provides security software vendors a more secure way to communicate with Windows Security Center .

Includes application programming interfaces (APIs) by which third-party security and malicious software detection applications can work with kernel patch protection on x64 versions of Windows Vista. These APIs help ISVs develop software that extends the functionality of the Windows kernel on x64 computers without disabling or weakening the protection offered by kernel patch protection.
Improves the security of running RemoteApp programs and desktops by allowing Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) files to be signed. Customers can differentiate user experiences based on publisher identity.

Adds an Elliptical Curve Cryptography (ECC) pseudo-random number generator (PRNG) to the list of available PRNGs in Windows Vista.
Enhances BitLocker Drive Encryption (BDE) to offer an additional multifactor authentication method that combines a key protected by the Trusted Platform Module (TPM) with a Startup key stored on a USB storage device and a user-generated personal identification number (PIN).

Windows Vista SP1 will include improvements that target some of the most common causes of crashes and hangs, giving users a more consistent experience. Many of these improvements will specifically address issues identified from the Windows Error Reporting tool. The following list describes some of the reliability improvements that Windows Vista SP1 will include:

Improved reliability and compatibility of Windows Vista when used with newer graphics cards in several specific scenarios and configurations.

-Improved reliability when working with external displays on a laptop.
-Improved Windows Vista reliability in networking configuration scenarios.
-Improved reliability of systems that were upgraded from Windows XP to Windows Vista.
-Increased compatibility with many printer drivers.
-Increased reliability and performance of Windows Vista when entering sleep and resuming from sleep.

The following list describes some of the performance improvements that Windows Vista SP1 will include:

Improves the speed of copying and extracting files.
Improves the time to become active from Hibernate and Resume modes.
Improves the performance of domain-joined PCs when operating off the domain; in the current release version of Windows Vista, users would experience long delays when opening the File dialog box.

Improves performance of Windows® Internet Explorer® 7 in Windows Vista, reducing CPU utilization and speeding JavaScript parsing.
Improves battery life by reducing CPU utilization by not redrawing the screen as frequently, on certain computers.

Improves the logon experience by removing the occasional 10-second delay between pressing CTRL-ALT-DEL and the password prompt displaying.
Addresses an issue in the current version of Windows Vista that makes browsing network file shares consume significant bandwidth and not perform as fast as expected.
For the complete list, or perhaps just as much as Microsoft wants us to know today, check out this whitepaper.


This is going to be a BIG download and only time will tell if the wait will have been worth it.

Remember you can still opt to try and SAVE WINDOWS XP by adding your name to the list on the InfoWorld website.

Some Digital Photo Frames Sold at Best Buy During Holidays Found To Contain A Virus!

Do you have one of these cool little gadgets on your desk?

If you bought a 10.4-inch Insignia-branded photo frame with model number NS-DPF-10A from Best Buy during the holidays, then beware: The device may come with a virus that can infect Windows-based computers.

Best Buy has taken all the remaining Insignia-branded frames off its store shelves and has discontinued producing them. According to the Insignia Web site , “this is an older virus which is easily identified and removed by current anti-virus software.”

The company is also providing telephone support for any consumers concerned they have one of the infected frames at 1-877-467-4289. (Note: Insignia is a brand name created and owned by Best Buy to create several lines of consumer electronics products for distribution through its stores. This is similar to store brands of other types that consumers typically see in everything from grocery stores to auto parts dealers.)

This isn’t the first time a consumer electronics product comes installed with a little something extra that the consumer wasn’t counting on. GPS maker TomTom found out the hard way in late 2006 that a batch of its GO 910 units were infected at the factory level with a virus. And even the beloved iPod hasn’t been immune , with an incident also in late 2006 where a collection of its 5.5-gigabyte MP3 players sprung up with a virus that was inserted at the manufacturing point. (That virus only infected Windows machines, as well.)

How does this happen? Typically, it’s not the work of some nefarious factory employee who wants to sabotage a product line. Instead, the people who work at these manufacturing points are just as susceptible as the rest of us to mistakenly downloading a virus onto their work computers. This virus then replicates itself and ultimately makes its way onto one of the computers that is tasked with setting up the consumer electronics products destined for store shelves.

Both Apple and TomTom stated at the time that they were reviewing their manufacturing processes to prevent this from happening again and issued warnings and advice to consumers, just as Best Buy and Insignia are doing now.

Best Buy has not issued a recall of the photo frames. Since the flaw is (apparently) easy to correct, we don’t think a panic is forthcoming — or necessary – but… let’s see what happens.

Insignia’s Second Notice To Consumers:

Computer World Article:

Save Windows XP! The Clock Is Ticking!

January 22, 2008 Microsoft plans to end most sales of Windows XP on June 30, despite a deep reluctance by many business and individuals about moving to Vista . InfoWorld believes such an expensive, time-consuming shift with problematic benefits should not be forced on Windows users, so they have decided to rally XP users to demand that XP be kept available.

Microsoft will end OEM and shrink-wrapped sales of Windows XP on June 30, 2008 , forcing users to move to Vista . Don’t let that happen!

Join the 41,185 people so far who have signed InfoWorld’s online petition to demand that Microsoft not stop OEM and shrink wrapped sales of Windows XP as planned on June 30, 2008, but instead keep it available indefinitely.

Millions of us have grown comfortable with XP and don’t see a need to change to Vista . It’s like having a comfortable apartment that you’ve enjoyed coming home to for years, only to get an eviction notice. The thought of moving to a new place — even with the stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, and maple cabinets (or is cherry in this year?) — just doesn’t sit right. Maybe it’ll be more modern, but it will also cost more and likely not be as good a fit. And you don’t have any other reason to move.

That’s exactly the conclusion people have come to with Vista . For most of us, there’s really no reason to move to it — yet we don’t have a choice. When that strong desire to stick with XP became obvious in spring 2007, major computer makers such as Dell and Hewlett-Packard quietly reintroduced new XP-based systems (but just to business customers, so as not to offend Microsoft). Come June 30, however, even that option goes away.

So what to do? Let Microsoft decide where your personal and enterprise software “lives”? Or send a loud and clear message that you don’t want to move?

InfoWorld is going for the loud-and-clear option. Sign the petition, and tell Microsoft that you want to keep XP available indefinitely. Not for another six months or a year but indefinitely. Ak your friends and colleagues to join in, too. Just point them to SaveXP.com for a quick link to the petition.

Don’t think Microsoft will listen? Consider this: Although Microsoft denies that anything is wrong with Vista or that most people don’t want it, the company has already postponed XP’s demise by six months. That’s a start, but it’s just not good enough.

Microsoft doesn’t have to admit failure; it can just say it will keep XP available indefinitely due to customer demand. It can take that opportunity to try again with a better Vista , or just move on to the next version that maybe this time we’ll all actually want.

There’s a precedent for that, too: In many respects, Vista is like the Windows Millennium Edition that was meant to replace Windows 98 in 2000 but caused more trouble than it was worth. At that time, Windows 2000 was promising but didn’t support a lot of hardware, so users were stuck between two bad choices. Without admitting Millennium’s failure, Microsoft quietly put Windows 98 back on the market until the fixed version of Windows 2000 (SP1) was available. Microsoft needs to do something like that again today.

Make sure your voice is heard by Microsoft. Sign the petition to save XP today and InfoWorld will present it to Microsoft.


How Companies Can Use Your Personal Data Against You

January 15 th , 2008

When you’re stacking up grocery items at the checkout line, you’re probably not worried about whether your supermarket chain is compiling a profile of you based on what you buy, and storing that information for its own use. After all, who cares if you buy one brand of tissues over another, or favor name-brand microwave pizzas over store brands?

Supermarket chains care. So does CVS. So much so that they use discount cards (referred to as “membership” or “loyalty” cards) to offer you what seem like great bargains. They use the cards to keep tabs on what you purchase, how often you shop, and what your buying preferences are.

With private companies collecting your personal data like never before, why be concerned? Because the information can hurt you. For Instance…

Loyalty Cards
Supermarkets and pharmacies offer discounts when you sign up for their loyalty cards. But every time you swipe your card, your purchases are recorded for marketing purposes. Stop and Shop now features “Shopping Buddy” which will soon identify you by your loyalty card, present you with a list of items you’ve purchased in the past and even make recommendations for items you might like based on previous purchases. Sounds like it might be a good thing??? Perhaps not.

The Problem
These buying records are now being sold to life and health insurance companies, who use them to evaluate your rates based on your food and non-prescription drug purchases. You may be buying stuff for a friend or relative, but the database still logs you as the end user. Do you really want your HMO to know your shopping habits?

If possible, avoid giving your full name when you sign up for a card. Many stores let you sign up anonymously as “Store Customer”. If the person attempting to sign you up says you can’t do that, ask to speak to the manager. In many cases these folks are being paid by the number of new customers they sign up. If you can’t sign up anonymously perhaps it would be best to refuse the loyalty card altogether.

Lastly – if you’re concerned – ask for a copy of their Privacy Policy. I searched Stop and Shops website in vain, never finding their policy but CVS.com has a link to theirs from almost every page. Remember once your personal data has been collected it has a nasty habit of never going away.

Another take on loyalty cards:

In researching this piece, I was asked to report on the E-Z Pass system and the rumors surrounding it. Rumor has it that the E-Z Pass system is tracking how fast you travel between tolls in order to issue speeding tickets.

E-Z Pass was created to help speed traffic flow and decrease congestion at toll booths. The rumor mill is reporting that several states use this technology to issue speeding tickets – if you travel too quickly between tolls on the highway! In effect, you can get a speeding ticket even if you don’t get caught speeding. What’s more, E-Z Pass records have been turned over to law enforcement to track people’s whereabouts and have been subpoenaed in civil lawsuits, including divorces.

Debunking the myth
Although there are many articles and resources talking about this, let’s look at it logically.

Speeding ticket’s NOT issued be a police officer that actually saw you violating a law are worthless. There have been many attempts to set up systems to monitor speeding vehicles, record the license plate and issue a ticket but the main problem is that an individuals drivers license is personal and there is no way to detect who the actual driver is in order to give the ticket. It’s not like a parking ticket that just goes against who ever owns the car.

The system that E-Z Pass is putting into place is strictly for safety purposes at this time. If anyone ever gets one of these so called speeding tickets you can take it to court and plead not guilty. The ticket will be thrown out simply because there is no issuing officer to represent the letter of the law.

Washington Post sticks by RIAA story despite evidence it goofed…

Well, it’s late on Monday evening and the Washington Post has yet to correct a story that accused the recording industry of trying to paint law-abiding music fans as criminals.

Marc Fisher, a Post columnist, wrote on Sunday that the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) asserted in a legal brief that anyone who copies music from a CD onto their computer is a thief.

The document, filed last month, was part of the RIAA’s copyright suit against Jeffrey Howell, an Arizona resident accused of illegal file sharing.

Quoting from the brief, Fisher wrote that the RIAA had argued that MP3 files created from legally bought CDs are “unauthorized copies” and violate the law. If it were true, the move would represent a major shift in strategy by the RIAA, which typically hasn’t challenged an individual’s right to copy CDs for personal use.

The problem with Fisher’s story is that nowhere in the RIAA’s brief does the group call someone a criminal for simply copying music to a computer. Throughout the 21-page brief, the recording industry defines what it considers to be illegal behavior and it boils down to this: creating digital recordings from CDs and then uploading them to file-sharing networks.

A sentence on page 15 of the brief clearly spells out the RIAA’s position: “Once (Howell) converted plaintiff’s recording into the compressed MP3 format and they are in his shared folder, they are no longer the authorized copies distributed by Plaintiff.”

The key words there are “shared folder” and it’s an important distinction. It means that before the RIAA considers someone a criminal, a person has to at least appear to be distributing music.

The Post story, which followed similar pieces in Ars Technica and Wired.com, has spurred scores of other media outlets to repeat the paper’s erroneous assertion. Ironically, even typically anti-RIAA blogs, such as Engadget, Gizmodo and TechDirt have jumped in on the side of the RIAA.

“The Washington Post story is wrong,” said Jonathan Lamy, an RIAA spokesman. “As numerous commentators have since discovered after taking the time to read our brief, the record companies did not allege that ripping a lawfully acquired CD to a computer or transferring a copy to an MP3 player is infringement. This case is about the illegal distribution of copyrighted songs on a peer-to-peer network, not making copies of legally acquired music for personal use.”

After reading Lamy’s statement, Fisher didn’t back down. He responded in an e-mail to CNET News.com: “The bottom line is that there is a disconnect between RIAA’s publicly stated policy that making a personal copy of a CD is ok and the theory advanced by its lawyers that in fact, transferring music to your computer is an unauthorized act.”

He took one more shot before signing off: “Rather than suing its customers and slamming reporters, the RIAA might better spend its energies focusing on winning back the trust of an alienated consumer base.”

Still, Fisher received little support from respected and independent copyright experts. William Patry, the copyright guru at Google–not exactly known as a lackey for copyright holders–wrote on his blog that the RIAA is being “unfairly maligned” in the Post story.

Patry does, however, caution that recent statements made by the RIAA and included in Fisher’s story reflect the group’s growing tendency to use language as a means of control.

Fisher quoted Sony BMG’s chief of litigation, Jennifer Pariser, who testified recently in court that “when an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song.”

Patry disagreed.
“This new rhetoric of ‘everything anyone does without (RIAA) permission is stealing’ is well worth noting and well worth challenging at every occasion,” Patry wrote. “It is the rhetoric of copyright as an ancient property right, permitting copyright owners to control all uses as a natural right; the converse is that everyone else is an immoral thief.”

Washington Post Article

See the legal brief here:

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