Category Archives: Technology

Technology Means Fair Play – Parking Apps

By the end of 2016, all parking meters in New York City will accept payment via mobile app. New York isn’t the first city to offer mobile parking meter payment (joining Boston, Fort Worth, Seattle, SLC, and others) and it won’t be the last. Interesting: unused parking meter money will be refunded to users. This is one of very few situations in which the government would volunteer to forfeit funds already in their possession. Historically, they may have kept monies in similar cases of overpayment to increase revenue or more likely to avoid the cost of processing more paperwork. Losses in annual revenue due to the refund feature are expected to be nominal, so it’s likely the latter.

New York City street with cars and taxis
Photo by Jon Ottosson

When technology makes transactions more seamless, it’s harder for either party not to play fair.

As the cloud replaces paper and user generated content competes with traditional journalism for greater media share of voice, policies that have served vendors and governments will give way to ones that serve users. Revenues from happy customers and their repeat purchases will characterize businesses that survive, rather than policies that hurt users but previously were not fought due to acceptance and a lower tech status quo.

Fine print, one-sided policies, and rigid contracts will go the way of the horse drawn carriage (and probably soon, the taxi). Keep an eye on companies like T-Mobile and Spirit Airlines. They put customers in control by foregoing required contracts, forced add-ons (e.g., paying for bags and peanuts), and in general offer more a la carte products. “We’ve never done it that way” and “our system wouldn’t support that” won’t be able to compete.

How to Manage LinkedIn Privacy Settings – Remove Imported Contacts

You may have unknowingly granted LinkedIn access to hundreds of your contacts and emails. The confusing privacy policy and slippery UI make it difficult to tell how much data you’re sharing (probably a lot more than you realize).

crowd of people walking down busy city street
LinkedIn’s methods for gathering data from its over 450 million* registered users are shrouded. Usually, they don’t ask permission, they just uncheck new Privacy Controls for you. It’s no wonder they’ve faced numerous lawsuits.

LinkedIn seems to know everyone you’ve ever emailed: The People You May Know feature seems to make predictions based on information you’ve never knowingly transmitted. Before I explain how this works, here’s a quick fix:

How to remove your imported contacts from LinkedIn:

Go to Connections -> Add Connections -> Manage imported contacts (top right of page) -> click “select all” and delete all

Linkedin how to manage imported contacts(This is easiest to do on desktop: forget performing half the functions you want to on the iPhone app.)

How LinkedIn is seemingly psychic about people you may know

  1. Other users’ actions: This algorithm is their secret sauce. LinkedIn analyzes other users’ searches and viewing histories to make assumptions about people you may know. I.e., if Sheryl and Dean searched for both you and Tony, then you and Tony may know each other. Multiply this across many users. The result is an algorithm that predicts your likely contacts without ever accessing your actual contacts. You may see recommendations to connect with someone who has the same name as someone you know, but is a totally different person.
  2. Your contacts: You may have granted LinkedIn access to your contacts, which often happens inadvertently by using the app. “Inadvertent” is the keyword for most privacy issues with LinkedIn, because its strategy hinges upon 1) the fact that most users don’t read fine print and 2) that its UI, especially on mobile, effectively shuffles users along a permission-granting bender.

    LinkedIn app import contacts screen UI
    Strategically designed buttons and CTAs usher users along a permission-granting path
  3. Your login: When logged in, even if you close the tab, LinkedIn has access to any activity you take on a site with a LinkedIn plugin or authentication that you’ve granted. To avoid this tracking, log out of LinkedIn whenever you’re done with your business.

I began researching this because I noticed that LinkedIn seemed to have access to hundreds of my old email contacts. Continue reading How to Manage LinkedIn Privacy Settings – Remove Imported Contacts

Multitasking Rots Your Brains

Playing online chess is like trying to get Wii Tennis to suffice for real tennis. You simply can’t digitally recreate the palpable exchange of energy with a live opponent in chess or tennis, as much as a shared physical space only seems a requisite for the sport and not the Eternal Game. (Give it time though… complete virtual reality sports with remote opponents will be quotidian soon enough.)

Beautiful female robot with computer mouseThe simulacra of social interactions that we enjoy online are stunting real relational and conversational skills.

I touched on this in Episode 25 of The Digital Dive Podcast (see 12-minute mark). We thrive off social interaction. Each transaction — from exchanging a greeting in an elevator to chatting at a coffee shop to flipping the bird in a fit of road rage, is a little rally, a serve, a distracted miss. The physiological feedback we get from connecting through technology (social media in particular) creates an addictive dopamine reward system in the brain.

We are bathing in these transactions, but they’re not happening in proximity to our bodies. So exactly what true energy are we processing? Tech addiction (i.e., checking habits) can cause a host of problems, including a loss of normal socialization skills. Something is lost when relational transactions occur primarily digitally. We’re breathing ether. I’ve tried to tweet a smell, it’s getting so bad.

Multitasking is Just Stuff

We should not assume that the quantity of available matches, so to speak, makes up for lost quality. You can’t multitask while playing chess or tennis. Finishing a live game satisfies a deep need for connection, competition, and stimulation. In play, we’re exchanging raw energy, we’re focused and mindful. You cannot be in positive psychology’s beloved zone (feeling flow) while watching TV, eating, texting, and Candy Crushing.

business man and woman multitasking acrobaticsSure, you can multitask continually throughout the day and imagine you are adequately returning simultaneous serves, nailing forehands, and setting up tidy gambits with your network, coworkers, clients, family, and friends as you tap and click, fire off emails, Facebook updates, texts, reblogs and Likes. But it’s fragmented. You aren’t focused. As Lester Burnham said, “This isn’t life, it’s just stuff!”  (- American Beauty)

Since I doubt many of us are willing to give up our technology, whenever possible, let’s return to the simple purity of focusing on just one task at a time. Read more books and fewer articles. The end game will be a disappointment otherwise.

Chess quiz – White to move and mate in 2 moves:

chess problem

Alain White, American Chess Bulletin, November-December 1941. Solution

Original chess move challenge posted 8/23/10, post updated 1/28/17

How To Turn On Google Chrome Voice Search

The problem: You are trying to enable Google Chrome Voice Search but you are not being prompted to grant Google permission to your microphone.

illustration retro woman speaking in speech bubble

The solution: You need to adjust your Chrome settings and/or Adobe Flash Global Privacy Settings. At one point you may have denied Google access to the mic and the settings saved, never to ask again. When you click the microphone icon on the Google Chrome search bar at google.com, you see a link to Learn More, instead of being prompted to Allow or Deny permission (because you already denied it). On Chrome for Mac you’ll see “Voice search has been turned off. Details”

Google Chrome Voice Search searchbar microphone icon

Clicking on “Details” on Mac or “Learn More” on Windows 7 takes you to a page entitled “Voice search and voice actions on Chrome” where you can read about how great Voice Search is and how to enable Ok Google but there is no information about turning the mic on/allowing permission. How do you adjust your permission settings for the microphone in Google Chrome? 

Enter chrome://settings/ in your omnibox. Click Advanced Settings. Under Privacy, click Content Settings.

You’ll see these options on Windows (similar on Mac):

Google-Chrome-Content-settings-Media-camera-AdobeSelect “Ask me when a site requires access to my camera and microphone (recommended).” Click on Manage Exceptions. You may see some entries for Hostname pattern and Behavior. If you see the Hostname https://www.google.com:443 you will want the Audio to be set to “Allow.” If it says block, simply highlight this row and click the X to delete it. Then Google will ask for permission to access the mic when you return to google.com and click the microphone icon to use Voice Search. The problem should be solved now.

However, if it says “Allow” here and you are still having issues, just click on the URL to highlight it, then click the X to delete it. We’ll try and reset the process. If you see no entries for Hostnames here and are unable to type any in manually, that is also okay. Let’s make sure you don’t have any settings in Adobe that are at play:

After you’ve clicked Manage Exceptions, at the bottom, click the “Change” link in: “Adobe Flash Player camera and microphone exceptions are different. Change” and you will end up at Adobe Flash Player Global Privacy Settings: http://www.macromedia.com/support/documentation/en/flashplayer/help/settings_manager02.html. (Note: it does not matter if you’re logged into Adobe.)

Look for Google in the list of website settings. Delete it. Now you should have no settings regarding Google Chrome in your Chrome Settings or Adobe Flash Player: try to click the mic at google.com again. You should see Allow or Deny pop up.

You’ll find the basic instructions about setup and voice search examples on the Chrome voice search information page (but this page does not allow you to adjust the permission settings and the troubleshooting section doesn’t touch on Adobe). If you have problems after managing the Adobe settings though, the troubleshooting tips there could help.

I’m a fan of any technology that helps us get away from typing.

Target Customer Service and Faxing Twitter: Illusion of Hard Copy as Fraud Prevention

Girls with old fax machineRecently, two ridiculous, antiquated requests have been made of me in order to verify my identity to two companies that I like: Twitter and Target. I somewhat understand the fax requirement for a Twitter impersonation report so I’ll focus on Target. (FYI I’m the real @emilybinder and @adoreajabakery and @thedigitaldive_. If any other handle claims to be me, it’s not me: I wouldn’t set up a handle that required a number on the end because my desired name was taken. I would find another handle. I don’t do numbers on the end.)

A couple weeks ago, I signed up for a Target RedCard in-store. I applaud Target on the convenient offering of quick sign-up with the cashier by providing a blank check and a driver’s license: no forms or visiting guest services.

Annoyance #1: Lack of Internal System Network Cohesion

The RedCard account must be set up with the address on the customer’s driver’s license. Mine happens to be my old address. The cashier couldn’t enter another address or update it after setup. She instructed me to call the RedCard 800 number immediately afterward and request an address change so that Target wouldn’t mail my new card to my old address. My blank check — tied to a bank account with what is necessarily a more reliable current address than the one on a driver’s license which doesn’t expire for years — should have sufficed for proof of address.

Annoyance #2: Human Error Followed by Outsourced Customer Service Giving Dangerous InstructionsTarget bullseye RedCard dog

I called the RedCard 800 number and asked to change my address. The lady in India asked for my driver’s license number, which I read aloud. It did not match my account: the cashier had mistyped my DL number. The lady said that since she could not verify that I was the account holder, she could not change my address. For that to happen, I would need to send a letter in the paper mail to Target headquarters including:

  • name
  • old address
  • current address
  • driver’s license number
  • social security number
  • last four digits of new Target RedCard

She did not instruct me to explain the situation – just to list these things.

A of all, that is a joke if you think I’m sending my social through the paper mail to your PO box.
B of all, I told her that, and she said, “Okay, you can exclude it.”

Identity Theft

IDENTITY THEFT written on shredded fax paperBut her protocol was to tell the customer to send the above and nothing else. That would be a great formula for
1) no action due to lack of context
2) identity theft with that piece of paper floating around Minneapolis
Some customers are ignorant though, and would have followed those instructions. NEVER GIVE YOUR FULL SOCIAL unless you truly need to and you’re dealing with a trusted government entity or a bank, for example. Every single time a company or office has requested my social, I’ve refused and they’ve said it wasn’t necessary after all. Comforting. Keep it secret keep it safe. -My high school

I couldn’t print that day. So I, Emily Binder, hand wrote the letter. To make a petulant point about how ludicrous this was. After filling two sides of a page (many details to cover by this point) I finished with, “Please call or email me to confirm your receipt and processing of my request.” (That never happened.)

The Outcome

Two weeks after sending the letter, no card. I called the main Target customer service number. The system required entry of the last four of my RedCard and social. The lady who answered sounded like she was in Minneapolis. Great, maybe she will actually be able to update her own company’s system that she is staring at right now. She said the account showed my current address and that my card was just mailed. So my handwritten letter worked, which blows my mind. (I hand wrote it because I expected my request to fall into the void and I planned to later complain that I was merely providing information in the 1800s format they requested.)

Why couldn’t the outsourced RedCard 800 number customer service rep use the same credentials to verify me and change my address on that first day?

My letter provided no new (or verified) information that I wasn’t telling her over the phone or that I couldn’t email. At least with an email, the sender’s identity is somewhat traceable. USPS does not require a return address. Anyone could have sent Target a letter from “Emily Binder” and given any address where my card would then be sent to a scam artist. Note: Target still sent a RedCard to my old address.

The Customer

Do not burden the customer. If an onerous hard copy type of action is needed, there better be a good reason why electronic submission would not suffice. It’s ludicrous for anyone to think that fraud is any less likely by requiring a customer to print and put a stamp on the same letter they would otherwise email. Even if it includes a scan of a photo ID. It’s a scan. This mailing a letter ballyhoo is simply a waste of paper, time, and resources and in fact creates a greater chance of identity theft because there is a paper trail. Or, for the unfortunate ignorant or trusting customers in my position, it creates paper floating around with the customer’s full social security number on it. This 5% off all purchases better be worth it.