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Comment It's even worse as an international merchant :-( (Score 1, Interesting) 214

I had my card suspended because i sent $2.50 over paypal to a kid in the UK for some software.

I'll see you that and raise you how it looks from a UK merchant's side. Running a simple on-line service with a small monthly subscription fee and a fair proportion of international customers, we literally lose more subscriptions because of unexplained card failures than all other causes put together, including active cancellation by a subscriber's own choice.

Worse, as far as we can tell, there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. The system simply doesn't work reliably and there is no useful information whatsoever provided to the merchant when the card fails. About the best you can do as a merchant is contact your customers after the failed charge, try to convince them that their card being declined is neither an indication of fraud on your part nor something they should be embarrassed about themselves, and hope they are willing to sit on the phone being told how important their call is for a few minutes while they wait to speak to their card issuer and confirm it's a valid transaction. Unsurprisingly, relatively few customers will actually do this, even those who have otherwise been active customers apparently happy with the service.

The card industry's incompetence is a tax on trade, and the sooner it dies its long overdue death and payment methods fit for this century take over, the better off literally everyone involved else will be.

Comment Re:what about game consoles (Score 1) 73

It's a shame they don't seem to have added much about EULAs and similar "agreements", though.

To clarify a little, there certainly is an attempt to include this sort of licence agreement within the fairness regime -- the new law refers to "consumer notices", which as defined would almost certainly include most EULAs and similar agreements -- but we still have the flaky legal basis for having EULAs in the first place.

Comment Re:what about game consoles (Score 1) 73

The law has always said that you are owed one, this just clarifies the situation further.

In particular, the legal changes that came into effect today extend various rights specifically in relation to digital content. Prior to these changes, there were a lot of loopholes and grey areas if you bought something like software or audio-visual content purely on-line. For example, a lot of the laws we had before dated from a time when we were talking about a single physical copy of something.

It's a shame they don't seem to have added much about EULAs and similar "agreements", though. These already had a somewhat unclear legal status, thanks to various technicalities about copyright law. However, they also increasingly seem to be abused by suppliers of on-line content and those who use DRM, product activation, and similar measures.

For example, it seems grossly unfair to me that a games distributor might have a policy where a dispute about a new purchase or an unproven allegation about on-line behaviour in one game could result in no longer having access even to other games or previous purchases from the same distributor. This would be a totally disproportionate level of power that could allow such a distributor to abuse a past purchase history in order to resolve any current dispute in its favour or to prevent a customer from legitimately exercising their normal consumer rights in relation to one purchase without risking losing items of much greater value. Not that I'm suggesting this actually happens with any specific game distributor, of course.

Comment Why does *anyone* pre-order in 2015? (Score 4, Insightful) 73

I really don't understand why anyone pre-orders games that are delivered via digital download. A few years ago, it made sense, because maybe you wanted to make sure there was a physical box waiting for you at the game store on launch day. How many games are still bought that way today, though? It's not as if the download server is going to run out of copies.

Game companies want everyone to pre-order, of course, because it guarantees them income no matter how much of a turkey the game turns out to be. But usually they offer at best some token DLC to go with the pre-ordered version, and often different token DLC for people getting the game in different ways so no-one can have everything, and in any case if that DLC is worth anything it will unbalance the game (which is bad) and if it's not then it's no incentive to pre-order anyway.

Don't pre-order on-line games, kids. There is no way it ends positively for you, and it gives the game companies every incentive to ship unfinished junk instead of polished products you'll enjoy.

Comment Re:It's not just IT (Score 1) 152

I don't think that's cynical, just realistic. I'm quite sure that's why they do it, and it's why I have no sympathy with them when they bleat about how terrible it would be for the health and safety of patients if they had to actually do things at a normal speed. For one thing, I don't believe them. For another, screw anyone who tries to play the health and safety card without justification, because there are enough genuine H&S issues worth thinking about and trying to fix that distracting from them by crying wolf is damaging.

While we're at it, taking a regulated document (a prescription signed by a qualified doctor) from a customer when you can't actually fill it, and then trying to keep hold of it and use it as leverage to get the customer not only to accept a partial supply that day but also to come back another day should be both a criminal offence and grounds for having the relevant licence to practise revoked. Way too many pharmacies -- again, it somehow always seems to be the ones in big stores -- try to play this trick, and in some cases it literally means people aren't getting the medication prescribed by their doctor until several days after they could have had it if they'd been able to take the prescription to a different pharmacy instead.

This seems rather off-topic now, but actually it's a great example of why you need supervision that understands enough of a technical field to call bullshit at the appropriate point and not accept dubious justifications for underperformance.

Comment Re:Not just a technical management problem. (Score 1) 152

Yes, I agree with that as well. As they say, there are two important questions: did we build the right product, and did we build the product right? It takes a mix of technical and non-technical skills to handle both aspects well.

I don't think one person necessarily needs to have deep skills on both sides, but you need a combination of people who do. Crucially, you also need enough understanding of the business side from the technical people and vice versa for everyone to communicate effectively.

If the management team for a project don't know enough about the technical issues to understand what is realistic to achieve and when, then that communication can't happen. At that point, management are essentially just trusting that the senior technical people will know what they're doing and deliver good results anyway. Perhaps they will, because a business-savvy tech lead can help a lot in this situation, but in any case ignorant management probably isn't contributing much to the project.

Comment Re:Not just a technical management problem. (Score 1) 152

Having done it, that can certainly be true. As it turns out, my biggest asset when I'm doing freelance/consultancy gigs isn't my technical skills, it's my ability to understand the customer's real problem and devise a technical solution. The fact that I'm also pretty good at building the technical solutions helps, but it's being able to bridge the gap that really makes clients value you.

But this would be less of an issue if the in-house managers actually knew enough to value their own people, and that in turn would be helped if more of those people made an effort to understand how their contribution fits into the business as a whole.

Comment Re:It's not just IT (Score 1) 152

Exactly. I find that if I go to a big store with an in-store pharmacy here in the UK, say a city centre branch of Boots, I invariably get told to come back for my prescription after $SIGNIFICANT_DELAY. And yet if I go to a small local pharmacy to collect exactly the same product with exactly the same regulatory regime dispensed by people with exactly the same qualifications, they can manage to pick the product off the shelf and get a colleague to check it just fine in exactly the amount of time you'd think it would take to carefully select a product, check it yourself, and get the next available colleague to double-check it. That amount of time is not normally given as a fraction of an hour.

This is like the software guys who tell management they can't give anything resembling a useful estimate on any time or resources question, everyone's software is impossible to maintain long term and has high fault rates in production, and so on. Sometimes these things really are true for good reasons, but a lot of the time it's just crap they're making up to try to cover up their own incompetence and/or laziness.

And that's the best argument there is for having supervision with at least enough understanding of the relevant technical issues to tell the difference.

Comment Re:What about people who DON'T use Facebook? (Score 1) 202

If you take my private data and send it to someone else, then you are violating my privacy.

But it's obviously not as simple as equating private data with personal data. If I send you an e-mail, then unless you and I both run our own mail servers, some number of service providers between us are going to be involved in forwarding the mail, complete with your e-mail address and mine. I don't think most people would say sending or receiving an e-mail is violating the other party's privacy, but there is certainly personally identifiable data there, and in connection with other personally identifiable data and when used for other purposes than forwarding the mail it came from, that can become an issue of concern.

It may well be against European law, but that doesn't make it shady.

No, it's the involuntary collection and mining of personal data that makes it shady.

This really has very little to do with European vs. US business. We've had much stronger emphasis on privacy and, consequently, data protection in Europe since long before the Internet was a big deal, and our laws and social expectations reflect that emphasis. This will happen when things like the holocaust are still within living memory and there are still living members of a generation who really did have to fear for their lives because of government power.

The trouble with this debate is that most of the US population has no personal frame of reference here. Most people in the US probably consider the biggest attack on civilians in the modern age to be 9/11, when about 3,000 people were murdered by terrorists. Obviously that was a terrible day, and we've felt the consequences ever since.

However, let's try to put that in perspective, to the extent that any such loss of human life can ever can be. In Europe, most people probably consider the biggest attack on civilians in the modern age to be the Holocaust, when about 6,000,000 people were murdered by Nazis with the power of a state behind them. That is the equivalent of two thousand 9/11s, more than one for every day between the Night of Broken Glass and the end of World War II, and it was backed by a national government gone crazy and with a vast information gathering apparatus used to identify the targets.

There is an old saying about those who do not learn from history. And if you think the US is somehow immune from such barbaric behaviour, I would remind you that the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination is a shameless xenophobic racist, not far below him in the list is someone smart enough to be a qualified doctor yet who says no-one should lead the free world if they follow the second most popular religion in the world, and the most famous non-electoral news from the US in recent days has been how a 14-year-old kid was arrested and led away in handcuffs for being interested in building useful things, and how many people involved in running his school and local authorities thought that was OK.

Those are just the headlines from the past week or two, but to an outside observer, they seem to represent a disturbing pattern that has been developing for much longer. We should all be wary of giving any government where these kinds of values are not just tolerated but apparently flourishing the kind of access to huge databases of personal information that we're talking about here.

Comment What about people who DON'T use Facebook? (Score 1) 202

Facebook almost certainly does some things with personal data about some EU citizens against their will. For example, by uploading the contents of users' phone books, it would be collecting personal data about everyone in those phone books, not just their owners. Because phone numbers are effectively unique IDs, and because Facebook appears to be collecting that data systematically from a large number of people, it would also be building a database about the social relationships of everyone in those phone books. It is now well established that Facebook could derive other potentially sensitive details about those people with a high probability of being correct based on that social graph.

Now consider that not everyone uses Facebook, and indeed some people actively choose not to because of privacy concerns, and there is clearly a concern about the legality of such a system in Europe.

If you're about to argue that it's not Facebook's fault and everyone shouldn't just upload their phone books and give up their friends'/family's/colleagues' details, then we next get into arguments about incitement/coercion and about misrepresentation, which are things the law typically takes a dim view of. It is also now well established that many people using these on-line services don't fully understand the implications for themselves or for others, and that sometimes people find the reality surprising and undesirable when it is fully explained to them.

In any case, it doesn't matter what the Facebook users themselves think in the scenario I've been discussing, because the people who didn't sign up are entitled to have their personal data protected under EU law regardless of what their friends do. That doesn't necessarily mean the data can't be used or shared, and there are certainly interesting ethical and legal questions when it comes to service providers that need some information to provide their service but operate at a scale that has deeper implications for privacy such as, say, Google Mail. But what Facebook reportedly does with personal data about individuals who didn't opt in seems pretty far towards the shady side of legal in Europe.

Comment Re:Why "the same computer" does so much in cars (Score 1) 91

This is a problem that is easily solved by providing read only access to sensor data. There is no reason for the external communication systems to allow write operations of any sort.

Absolutely true, but unfortunately a lot of cars shipping today have a CAN bus architecture that can't make that distinction, and the components communicating via the bus aren't set up with the necessary security in mind either. That's a large part of the problem here.

Comment Re:Nothing to worry about (Score 1) 414

Personally, I'm not sot so sure; nobody expected that Corbyn would be anything more than a loser in the leadership election, yet he won.

That "nobody expected" wasn't really true for more than a few days after the campaign started, though, and it didn't help that the other three candidates weren't exactly political giants.

I think the challenge for Corbyn and his team is that they have won a modest degree of influence for now, but they've done it by essentially reducing the Labour Party to the "idealistic protest vote" role held by the Liberal Democrats until a couple of elections ago. Just think about that for a moment: a party which has formed the government for three of the last five administrations in the UK has successfully replaced a party that in one of the last five general elections managed to form a coalition giving it power for the first time in generations and then mishandled that opportunity so badly that they lost almost 90% of their MPs and their leadership disintegrated at the next election. (Have you heard anything from the Lib Dems since the election? I literally haven't seen any Lib Dem speaking about anything since that time, not even a quick news sound bite from their new leader.)

At this point, four years from another general election, it's easy for Corbyn and company to criticise widely and take an idealistic stance of many issues. No-one's really going to challenge them and force them to defend those positions in the face of reality. But three years from now, if the same Labour leadership has survived the inevitable coup attempt(s), they're going to have to start explaining exactly who they are going to hurt personally with those higher taxes, and how they're going to make up for the jobs that are lost by their heavily anti-business economic policies, and how they're really going to pick up over £100,000,000,000 in uncollected tax revenues that no previous generation has found. They're going to have to explain how they will protect our country if the laudably diplomatic approach to international relations that they propose doesn't work with some bad people. They're going to have to deal with whatever happens as a result of the EU referendum. And so on.

I agree with you that Corbyn's election will probably be very good for the country in the short term. For the first time in a long time we might actually have an official opposition who are actually opposing some of the government's policies with more than lip service and sound-bites. Given the complete lack of effective opposition from any of the other English parties since the general election, that is no bad thing at all.

However, I reckon he's probably got until the party conference season next year to convince people that he can actually do real politics as well. If he can't then, in the words of a UK political drama, I expect his candle will burn brightly, but briefly. Labour just lost one election standing by someone even though a lot of them didn't really think he was a credible leader. They won't be quick to make the same mistake again.

Comment Re:The only fix... (Score 1) 91

You can also always turn off the car

Unfortunately, in modern vehicles even that doesn't always work.

These kinds of failsafe should be completely reliable, and it's crazy that they aren't, but it seems auto makers are just trying to be too clever with what they do in software and they sometimes get it wrong.

Comment Re:That will never happen. (Score 1) 91

The problem is that nobody gives a rat's ass until people wind up dying on a massive scale, as in the hundreds to thousands.

Isn't the real problem that in this case that might actually happen? A few posters right here in this discussion have already described some very nasty scenarios that could have that kind of result, and the necessary proofs of concept have already been demonstrated, which is why we're having today's discussion in the first place.

All too literally, the only thing protecting us from this kind of attack right now is the blessing that there aren't yet very many people in the world with all of the knowledge, the resources and the desire to hurt a lot of people by doing it.

"Confound these ancestors.... They've stolen our best ideas!" - Ben Jonson