Privacy Policies

Why is it that so many organizations feel that it is morally right for them to assume they can use my personal information (possibly collected without my knowledge) for any purpose they can think of without first asking permission?

I went to sign up for a weekly movie showtimes newsletter from Famous Players and decided to read their privacy policy. It turns out that if I don’t want them to sell my name, address, and email address to random, "reputable" organizations, I have to explicitly email them and ask that they don’t. If I don’t want random junk email from Famous Players, I have to ask them not to send it. They even have the audacity to say that they may use information collected automatically from people who just browse through their site for any purpose they see fit. And, to add insult to injury, they didn’t even write out their privacy policy in properly composed English or even Legalese. I mean, their policy essentially gives them the right to use my personal information, no matter how it was collected, in any way they see fit, without my permission. In fact, they even say straight out that they may use information collected for "unanticipated purposes" that are not laid out in the privacy policy. Of course, I can email them and ask them not to do that.

Now, I do have to give them credit. They required me to check off a box to say I had read and understood their privacy policy before I could sign up for this weekly showtimes newsletter. If I had checked that box without reading the policy, I would deserve anything that came out of it. I imagine most people do just that, however. I immediately terminated the process of signing up for this newsletter when I read their privacy policy.

I am hereby putting out a call to everyone who browses the web and/or signs up for anything to check on the privacy policy of the organization they are dealing with. I further charge all of you to refuse to provide any personal information to any organization which has a privacy policy you find inadequate or distasteful. I aslo urge anyone who finds a policy they disagree with to let the organization know (if at all possible) and to be explicit that any personal information contained in that communication is not to be used for any purpose whatsoever beyond discussion of the complaint. If enough of us do this, then maybe things will change without clogging the courts with yet more lawsuits.

Brain Damaged Walk Lights

Have you ever wondered why so many people end up getting clobbered because they ignore traffic signals? Well, I think I have a partial explanation.

Does the following scenario seem familiar to anyone? You are walking along a major road. You arrive at a minor intersection which has a "traffic controlled" traffic signal which normally stays green for the major road. As you approach, you see that the walk signal to cross the minor road says "Don’t Walk". In fact, the signal has been reading the same for several minutes yet the signal for the vehicular traffic has not changed. You arrive at the intersection. You see a single button labeleed "Push to cross". It may even indicate the name of the major road. Yet there is no way to call the walk signal to cross the minor road. Now, the only way to cross the minor road legally is to push the walk signal, wait for the light to change for the traffic on the main road, wait for the light to cycle through the side road (which has no traffic on it), then cross the side road when the main road again gets a green signal. Presumably, the walk signal for the side road indicates crossing is legal for some duration when the light changes.

I can’t speak for other jurisdictions, but I believe I can speak somewhat authoritatively about Calgary. It seems that almost all traffic controlled signals in Calgary behave in the exact manner described above. This means that pedestrians that frequent areas with traffic signals that exhibit that behaviour develop a disdain for the "Don’t Walk" signal since, in all likelihood, when the walk signal changes, there’s going to still be plenty of time to cross the street. And, how many people are going to stand there and wait up to five minutes for a light to cycle to trigger the walk signal in the direction they want to cross? It’s no wonder people simply ignore the flashing "Don’t Walk" signal and cross anyway.

In all fairness to the city of Calgary, I should mention that many of the newer traffic controlled signals do not exhibit the behaviour described. And, again in fairness, I must point out that some that have been adjusted have also had that annoying behaviour removed. That is, the walk signal doesn’t change to "Don’t Walk" until something triggers the traffic signal to cycle. If only they hadn’t installed thousands of signals with the previously described broken behaviour before someone exercised some intelligence.

I suppose, though, that if everyone did everything in a sensible way, I wouldn’t have anything to rant about. Can’t even begin to imagine what I would do if I didn’t have stuff to rant about.

The Hasty Society

As I was sitting in traffic the other day, I was reminded of just how pressed for time modern society is. Everything has to be done now (or sooner) and everyone has every minute of every day planned to the second with absolutely no allowance for unforseen circumstances.

Indeed, as three lanes worth of traffic inched forward into a construction zone (where there was only one lane open), I had plenty of time to ponder the pace of modern society. People simply have no idea what to do if they have time where they’re not rushing around doing something. Not necessarily getting things done but they have to be rushing around doing things. Perhaps this is one of the primary reasons for road rage. Nobody has any patience for anything that interferes with their nice ordered world.

Time and a again as I inched through construction zone after construction zone on my weekly tour of the major projects around Calgary, I saw impatient drivers speeding along. Even outside of the traffic jams, everyone was impatient, jumping ahead on lights, hardly stopping at stop signs if they even slowed down. Yet what has all this rushing around actually accomplished? Near as I can tell, absolutely nothing.

It seems high time that everyone simply slowed their days down. Slow down, do things right the first time. Take a break and smell the roses while you drink a coffee (or whatever vile brew you prefer). Take time to eat regularly. It seems to me that everyone should realize that all haste and no speed makes things take a long time. Wouldn’t it be better to take ten minutes more to do something than to spend forty minutes doing it again? Then you could have half an hour to set aside in the day to allow for traffic jams. Sounds like a great idea, doesn’t it?

The Illiterate Internet

Increasingly, browsing the web or reading email becomes an exercise in frustration. More and more, it becomes necessary to stop and analyze in depth just what the author of some piece of text actually means. There is nothing more frustrating than opening up a document and then having to apply the principles of a logic puzzle in order to make heads or tails of it.

I’m not referring to the rampant use of TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms) and various other common abbreviations used in informal speech. After all, instant messaging and quick notes to your friends by email need not be shining examples of diction and composition. In this case, as long as all parties involved in that particular communication understand the conventions used, there is no harm done. In particular, since it often takes much longer to type out a message using correct spelling and so on, it even makes sense to have a form of “internet shorthand” for rapid communication media such as instant messaging.

What I am actually complaining about are documents that are intended for a larger audience. In particular documents that are intended to have some level of longevity. I am referring to white papers, product descriptions, and so on. But I am not referring solely to academic and professional documents. I am referring also to more informal communications that are intended to last. I am also referring to web pages, amateur fiction, and so on.

Okay, anyone who’s read this far is now thinking that I am a long winded schmuck who never gets to the point. So what exactly is wrong with these documents? I can almost hear people screaming that question at their screens. Hey, nobody forced you to read this.

With these more permanent communications, there is an increasing number of instances of horrible spelling. It is becoming ever more clear that nobody proofreads anything before they publish it, whether publishing involves hitting send in an email program or creating a web page. Come on, people, why can we not take the extra few minutes to actually verify that we spelled the words we used correctly? To make sure we didn’t make any typographical errors? I mean, really, must everyone have "words" like "ysetredya" and "graet" and so on inflicted on them? What’s even worse, though, is that people are even misspelling their own names! While this may not be critical in personal communication, anything done on a professional basis should be checked, people! Show some pride in how you appear to your readers.

While spelling is a fairly easy item to pick on, it is not necessarily the worst offender. In so many cases, people just don’t use the correct word. There is a big difference between "to" and "too", for example. Just because a spell checker doesn’t find any problems, it doesn’t mean you have no errors. Read what you wrote and make sure the words you used are the ones you meant to use! While bad spelling can be forgiven in many cases because it doesn’t change the meaning of what is written, the entire meaning of the text can change dramatically when one word is substituted for another.

In general, grammar sucks on the internet. But then, grammar hardly does any better in the rest of the universe either. Especially with the English language. But come on, some of the things people are getting wrong are the easy rules. The real basic stuff. I mean, I can forgive it if someone doesn’t know the finer points of conjugating verbs in the subjunctive mood, but EVERYONE should be able to at least get past, present, or future correct. I mean, most people can get that right when they’re talking; why not when they are writing? Really, folks, it takes very little time to learn basic grammar and it does not increase the time it takes to write something to write it correctly (in most cases).

And punctuation. Why is basic punctuation so hard for so many people? I mean, a period ends a sentence or indicates an abbreviation. Question marks indicate the preceeding statement is a question. Exclamation marks indicate an emphatic statement. Commas are more difficult but even they are not that complicated. A good reference on punctuation can demystify most of it.

All the above ranting aside, even just taking a little pride in how you appear to your readers when you write something would help. How many people would be comfortable showing up for a business meeting wearing a greasy, torn tshirt, blue jeans with holes in the knees, hair cut to different lengths, and with mismatched shoes? Yet this is exactly the sort of impression people are giving on the internet. And how much effort does it really take to get this stuff right?

I expect some people are going to send me nastygrams about how I didn’t use correct grammar in this diatribe. And those people would be correct in their assessment. But I made a conscious decision to break the rules in this text. I know exactly what I did wrong. In English, the rules can be broken if it helps clarity or flow but should not be broken indiscriminately. Those of you railing at me about my grammar should note that most of this piece actually does follow established rules of grammar. No doubt there are errors that remain in this document that are unintentional, but, hey, this is a blog.