Bullshit Technology

Petition crazy! This time it’s about DRM

Another day, another government response to an online petition. This time it’s a request to ban DRM, and the government says:

DRM does not only act as a policeman through technical protection measures, it also enables content companies to offer the consumer unprecedented choice in terms of how they consume content, and the corresponding price they wish to pay.

As No Rock’n’Roll Fun notes, that’s absolutely true if by “unprecedented choice” you mean “locking consumers into one supplier and one format [so] you have no control whatsoever over what you want to pay”.

Bullshit Hell in a handcart Technology

Blair responds personally to ID card critics

The road pricing petition isn’t the only protest getting an email response from Tony: anti-ID card signatories are getting an email too. Although it’s easy to summarise – “I’m in ur base, eroding ur civil libertiez” – here’s the whole text. As you’d expect it trots out the usual crap – ID cards preventing benefit fraud, fighting terrorism, stopping children from being abducted by evil wizards and forced to mine salt in the centre of the Earth, that sort of thing.

The petition disputes the idea that ID cards will help reduce crime or terrorism. While I certainly accept that ID cards will not prevent all terrorist outrages or crime, I believe they will make an important contribution to making our borders more secure, countering fraud, and tackling international crime and terrorism. More importantly, this is also what our security services – who have the task of protecting this country – believe.

So I would like to explain why I think it would be foolish to ignore the opportunity to use biometrics such as fingerprints to secure our identities. I would also like to discuss some of the claims about costs – particularly the way the cost of an ID card is often inflated by including in estimates the cost of a biometric passport which, it seems certain, all those who want to travel abroad will soon need.

In contrast to these exaggerated figures, the real benefits for our country and its citizens from ID cards and the National Identity Register, which will contain less information on individuals than the data collected by the average store card, should be delivered for a cost of around £3 a year over its ten-year life.

But first, it’s important to set out why we need to do more to secure our identities and how I believe ID cards will help. We live in a world in which people, money and information are more mobile than ever before. Terrorists and international criminal gangs increasingly exploit this to move undetected across borders and to disappear within countries. Terrorists routinely use multiple identities – up to 50 at a time. Indeed this is an essential part of the way they operate and is specifically taught at Al-Qaeda training camps. One in four criminals also uses a false identity. ID cards which contain biometric recognition details and which are linked to a National Identity Register will make this much more difficult.

Secure identities will also help us counter the fast-growing problem of identity fraud. This already costs £1.7 billion annually. There is no doubt that building yourself a new and false identity is all too easy at the moment. Forging an ID card and matching biometric record will be much harder.

I also believe that the National Identity Register will help police bring those guilty of serious crimes to justice. They will be able, for example, to compare the fingerprints found at the scene of some 900,000 unsolved crimes against the information held on the register. Another benefit from biometric technology will be to improve the flow of information between countries on the identity of offenders.

The National Identity Register will also help improve protection for the vulnerable, enabling more effective and quicker checks on those seeking to work, for example, with children. It should make it much more difficult, as has happened tragically in the past, for people to slip through the net.

Proper identity management and ID cards also have an important role to play in preventing illegal immigration and illegal working. The effectiveness on the new biometric technology is, in fact, already being seen. In trials using this technology on visa applications at just nine overseas posts, our officials have already uncovered 1,400 people trying illegally to get back into the UK.

Nor is Britain alone in believing that biometrics offer a massive opportunity to secure our identities. Firms across the world are already using fingerprint or iris recognition for their staff. France, Italy and Spain are among other European countries already planning to add biometrics to their ID cards. Over 50 countries across the world are developing biometric passports, and all EU countries are proposing to include fingerprint biometrics on their passports. The introduction in 2006 of British e-passports incorporating facial image biometrics has meant that British passport holders can continue to visit the United States without a visa. What the National Identity Scheme does is take this opportunity to ensure we maximise the benefits to the UK.

These then are the ways I believe ID cards can help cut crime and terrorism. I recognise that these arguments will not convince those who oppose a National Identity Scheme on civil liberty grounds. They will, I hope, be reassured by the strict safeguards now in place on the data held on the register and the right for each individual to check it. But I hope it might make those who believe ID cards will be ineffective reconsider their opposition.

If national ID cards do help us counter crime and terrorism, it is, of course, the law-abiding majority who will benefit and whose own liberties will be protected. This helps explain why, according to the recent authoritative Social Attitudes survey, the majority of people favour compulsory ID cards.

I am also convinced that there will also be other positive benefits. A national ID card system, for example, will prevent the need, as now, to take a whole range of documents to establish our identity. Over time, they will also help improve access to services.

The petition also talks about cost. It is true that individuals will have to pay a fee to meet the cost of their ID card in the same way, for example, as they now do for their passports. But I simply don’t recognise most claims of the cost of ID cards. In many cases, these estimates deliberately exaggerate the cost of ID cards by adding in the cost of biometric passports. This is both unfair and inaccurate.

As I have said, it is clear that if we want to travel abroad, we will soon have no choice but to have a biometric passport. We estimate that the cost of biometric passports will account for 70% of the cost of the combined passports/id cards. The additional cost of the ID cards is expected to be less than £30 or £3 a year for their 10-year lifespan. Our aim is to ensure we also make the most of the benefits these biometric advances bring within our borders and in our everyday lives.

Yours sincerely,

Tony Blair

The nice people at No2ID have a rather different perspective.

Bullshit Health Media

Dr Ben boots old boot-face

Ben Goldacre’s gone after Zelda from Terrahawks Gillian McKeith again, and this time it’s serious: ASA verdicts that she can’t call herself a doctor, selling products in defiance of the law, that sort of thing. So naturally he does what any right-minded person would do: he sticks the boot in. Heh.

Bullshit Health

Mobile phones are frying our brains – or at least, they seem to be when we write about them

This story is being widely reported in the mainstream media:

An international team of researchers has found new evidence that long-term use of a mobile phone may lead to the development of a brain tumor on the side of the head the phone is used. In a study which will appear in an upcoming issue of the International Journal of Cancer, epidemiologists from five European countries report a nearly 40% increase in gliomas, a type of brain tumor, among those who had used a cell phone for ten or more years. The increase is statistically significant.

Here’s the research the above story refers to. Again, I’ve emphasised the salient points:

For more than 10 years of mobile phone use reported on the side of the head where the tumor was located, an increased OR of borderline statistical significance (OR = 1.39, 95% CI 1.01, 1.92, p trend 0.04) was found, whereas similar use on the opposite side of the head resulted in an OR of 0.98 (95% CI 0.71, 1.37).  Although our results overall do not indicate an increased risk of glioma in relation to mobile phone use, the possible risk in the most heavily exposed part of the brain with long-term use needs to be explored further before firm conclusions can be drawn.

Now, the “do not indicate an increased risk of glioma” bit seems pretty straightforward to me. Unfortunately I don’t have any grounding in stats (I’m barely numerate) so I’d like to ask for help here – can anyone put the odds ratio stuff in the study abstract into plain English? There seems to be a statistical difference between people claiming to have held their mobiles on one side of their head from the other – but I can barely count to ten, let alone translate ORs and confidence intervals.

(Thanks to David for the links)

Bullshit Health

“If electromagnetic waves can penetrate walls, just imagine what they can do to your skin!”

Various lifestyle mags (GQ and some women’s ones) are running tech-related bullshit from Clarins: artificial electromagnetic waves make your skin go all bobbly or something, and you need to spend your cash on expensive beauty products. Now!

– Magnetic Defence Complex protects skin from the ageing effects of Artificial Electromagnetic Waves.
– Clarins Anti-Pollution Complex of White Tea and Succory Dock-Cress protects skin from indoor and outdoor urban pollution.
– Creates an imperceptible physical film on the skin to reinforce the skin’s own natural protective barrier.

Here’s the science!

the spray contains molecules derived from microorganisms living near undersea volcanoes and from plants which survive in extreme conditions such as alongside motorways and in Siberia.

In a just world, this would be the ad campaign:



eBay can kiss my increasingly lardy arse

The joys of online-only customer service: a few months back, eBay spotted – and stopped – some fraudulent sales going via my eBay account. The sales incurred listing fees, which eBay promised to credit; today, eBay threatened to send debt collectors round to recover the fees which were nothing to do with me and which they’d promised to credit.

I’m trapped in a system that I’m sure you’ve encountered too: you email eBay, they promise to do something, they don’t, they threaten you, you reply, they promise to sort it out, they don’t, they threaten you, you email…

Bullshit Media

More Dianaballs


Bullshit Music

eBay: Dianaballs

With crushing inevitability, eBay’s pulling auctions of tickets for the Diana concert. eBay says it’s out of respect for the dead Di, but of course it’s out of respect for eBay’s corporate image: if the usual rentagobs hadn’t caused a blizzard of publicity – “eBay’s profiting from cloth-eared sentimentalists!” – they’d have left the auctions up.

This annoys me immensely because loads of charity gigs are touted on eBay, and the firm doesn’t give a toss. It also annoys me because the very existence of eBay means that, unless you’re very quick and very lucky, already-overpriced gigs are even more expensive.

I’d be more impressed by eBay’s response to the Diana furore if it didn’t spend its adwords budget on things like this:



Tabloids in “making stuff up” shocker

Whenever you see the phrase “political correctness gone mad” in newspapers, it’s usually a sign that you’re being lied to: a few years ago, tabloid newspapers regularly printed stories about PC madness – replacing black bin bags with green ones, that sort of thing – that they’d simply made up. It seems that the tradition is alive and well, judging by this wonderful piece in today’s Guardian: Oliver Burkeman investigates the supposed War on Christmas and discovers that it’s a load of crap.

Perhaps the most notorious of the anti-Christmas rebrandings is Winterval, in Birmingham, and when you telephone the Birmingham city council press office to ask about it, you are met first of all with a silence that might seasonably be described as frosty. “We get this every year,” a press officer sighs, eventually. “It just depends how many rogue journalists you get in any given year. We tell them it’s bollocks, but it doesn’t seem to make much difference.”


Fake DVDs “fund kiddie fiddlers”

Here we go again:

GLASGOW is being targeted in a hard-hitting campaign to warn that buying pirate DVDs can help fund child porn rings... The campaign has been launched by the Industry Trust for Intellectual Property Awareness whose members include film and video distributors, retailers and cinema chains.

It seems that telling people fake DVDs funded Osama Bin Laden wasn’t effective, so the campaign’s looking for a new angle. Is there any evidence? Of course not. I’ve scoured the web and the best I can find is this, from a similar campaign in 2004:

raids to premises involved in piracy have also unearthed drugs, pornography and weapons.

Is it a surprise that groups involved in large-scale counterfeiting are also involved in drugs or porn? Not at all – the police have long said that the same people flogging fake movies are often flogging counterfeited porn DVDs too. But fake DVDs funding kiddie fiddling? Even by these scare stories’ usual standards, that’s sinking to a new low.

The truth is actually in the story:

Some market traders are thought to be earning £1000 an hour from fake DVDs, CDs and computer games.

And that’s why they do it. The people flogging fakes, generally speaking, aren’t funding Osama Bin Laden or secret kiddie-fiddling networks. They’re people who’ve realised that the cost of duplicating a disc is almost zero, and that selling dodgy discs is therefore one of the most lucrative crimes you can commit. It’s also one of the safest, which is why the porn/terrorism angle is so ridiculous.