Archive for the ‘Civil Rights’ Category

AT&T and the word “Unlimited”

March 2nd, 2012 No comments

Weasel words may change the meaning of ‘unlimited’ in terms of a court’s interpretation of a contract but the categorically do not change the underlying truth that ATT chose a word they weren’t willing to have mean what it means.


This word you keep using, ‘unlimited’. I don’t think it means what you think it means.

I have an unlimited data plan option on my iPhone. I have had this contract since shortly after the release of the iPhone in June of 2007. I stayed with AT&T to keep that grandfathered plan not because I needed it. Not because Verizon isn’t a MUCH more reliable cell carrier but because if you allow yourself to get on a metered plan, you fall to the mercy of your provider. To see how this is exploited, give this a read:

The thing is, with telcos both wired and wireless, we have more rights than if, for example, they were a restaurant  deciding after we’d ordered the meal that they were charging for ketchup.  With a restaurant, we don’t like the food or the prices? Tough noogies on us for that check.We pay. We leave. We don’t come back. We don’t have any right to tell a restaurant how much they can charge all we can do is choose another and hope market pressures keep prices in check.

With telcos and cable companies we really don’t have that option. We can’t just pay and walk away to a better, cheaper alternative. They have near and sometimes literal monopolies depending where you live, whether your devices are locked to their service.

What we do have is this:

If you’re old enough, recall long distance charges before the government broke up the original AT&T. Now, because of the way spectrum is allocated (wireless spectrum is owned by the people and allocated to companies to sell us back services using that spectrum) and the way Cable Companies and Telcos get access to tearing up the roads and putting up poles

They get this access in exchange for the right to make money selling us connectivity. When we grant them this access to public (public means we own them all citizens own them and we ‘hire’ government to manage them for us) facilities as a way to let them turn a profit we must also demand they find a way to profit in a manner that serves the public good.

This isn’t some hippy-lefty-tree-hugger-99% thing. This is simple logic. They get the right to exploit public resources to make money and with those rights come responsibilities. It’s our job to make sure we get both what we pay for as customers and what we, as a country pay for when we allow them that access.

Today, ATT announced:

” Info for Smartphone customers with Unlimited Data Plans

Do you have an unlimited data plan? If so, we have information to help you manage your account if you use more than 3GB, which means you are in the top 5% of data users in our network. If you have a 4G LTE Smartphone with monthly data usage over 5GB, you’ll also be interested in this information. You can check your usage for this month by dialing *data# on your mobile phone.
If you have one of our tiered data plans, this information will not affect you.
Background: In response to soaring mobile broadband usage and the limited availability of wireless spectrum, we implemented a network management program back in 2011 to help ensure the best possible mobile broadband experience for all of our customers.

If you have a smartphone that works on our 3G or 4G network and still have an unlimited data plan,
• You’ll receive a text message when your usage approaches 3GB in one billing cycle.
• Each time you use 3GB or more in a billing cycle, your data speeds will be reduced for the rest of that billing cycle and then go back to normal.
• The next time you exceed that usage level, your speeds will be reduced without another text message reminder.
If you have a 4G LTE smartphone and still have an unlimited data plan, the same process applies at 5GB of data usage, instead of 3GB.
You’ll still be able to use as much data as you want. That won’t change. Only your data throughput speed will change if you use 3GB or more in one billing cycle on a 3G or 4G smartphone or 5GB or more on a 4G LTE smartphone.”

This is actually a loosening of what they’d allegedly been silently doing before capping at 2GB but now they’re on record.

In my “informed but not a lawyer” opinion:
A lawyer would say this is not within the legal definition of a “reasonable” interpretation of the word “unlimited”.

This is what a lawyer would call ‘breach of contract’.

As a citizen and co-owner with you all, My Fellow Americans, this is not what I want my government to allow them to do with our  spectrum, our rights of way under and over  our land.

So, what I’ll be doing, and what I recommend y’all do too is the following:

– Look into what it takes to file a small claims action in your state. Might win, might lose but either way, it will cost AT&T money to defend themselves or pay because they refused to.

– Go here and file a complaint:

– Contact your representative and complain to them:

Why do you care?

Very simple. If there is no such thing as an ‘unlimited’ plan for data services, wired and wireless, then there will be no “cloud”. There will be no ‘backup to a server’. There will be no “access my data from anywhere”. There will be those who can pay the metered fees and those who can’t. The digital divide will be a chasm. The telcos will be able to skim a piece of the action off everything you do. Netflix will be Netflix’s fees plus however much your ISP charges for having been home with the flu and watched more movies than last month. It will mean if you iTunes Match and want to listen to your music you may pay a bit more for the last few plays of that great new London Calling reissue.

This isn’t some small little narrow issue. This is about the future of the connected world. There is plenty of money to be made selling unlimited connectivity. Our job as customers is to simply make it too expensive not to.

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook

SOPA/PIPA Blackout Protest Day

January 18th, 2012 No comments

The timing is terrible for me to have the time to write a proper post. In short, SOPA and PIPA are a bad thing for freedom and the Internet and the American public needs to make sure neither become law. I may not have time to write a long post but I made the time to call my reps.

For now, some links:

SOPA Resistance Day begins at Ars

LA Times:Where’s my Wikipedia? SOPA, PIPA blackout coming

Mashable: Why SOPA Is Dangerous

Why SOPA Threatens the DMCA Safe Harbor

No Flying Cars – Technology wins and losses – Harvard Law School Blog Post

Call, speak to person, don’t just click some online petition. Call, write a paper letter. Be impossible not to notice.

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook

OnStar, sat-nav and your safety

September 21st, 2011 No comments

****update*****  9.27.11

Seems OnStar had a change of heart. I wonder how much things like this had to do with that?


Jonathan Zdziarski’s blog post describes changes to OnStar’s Privacy Policy (The main link to OnStar’s Privacy Policy which may be updated from the preceding is here.)

In short, not only does OnStar currently track your vehicle’s speed and location but, under the policy linked above, they will continue to track this data and sell/give it to third parties even if you cancel your service unless you explicitly opt out (or disable the hardware).

“Big Deal” you say, we all use GPS all the time, we’re always tracked. No, in fact, you are not. Despite what you may think based on what you’ve seen in spy movies, GPS can’t track you. At its core, A GPS unit is a receiver only. It listens for signals constantly being broadcast to anyone listening by satellites in orbit around Earth. The GPS device figures out your latitude, longitude and altitude based on listening to not communicating with these satellites. GPS is a one way radio from satellite to your device.

Nothing about your location needs to be transmitted to anyone for your device to show you where you are. The data sent by each satellite is incredibly simple, basically, it’s a very precise and synchronized clock. Your devices uses the differences between when these clock signals arrive to calculate your location. By detecting relative delay, the GPS device calculates how far it is from each of the satellites it can ‘hear’ and using this math, it locates itself on the earth relative to the satellites. 299,792,458 metres per second is not just a good idea, its the law. Radio takes time to travel from space to your Garmin. A satellite is farther away, it takes longer, if it’s closer, it gets there quicker. If all the clocks are synchronized, the device can calculate your position based on listening to the signals of 4 or more of the 24 to 32 working satellites in orbit and comparing the timing against each other.

With GPS only ways your location are transmitted to anyone are:

• Your GPS device retrieves maps from some online provider in realtime. Google Maps, Yahoo Maps or somebody else and, in requesting these maps, tells the map-server where you are.

• Your device is OnStar or a system like it with features built in to it with the explicit purpose of telling the provider where you are. In OnStar’s case so they can mine the data and make you feel safer that if you crash and are unconscious, police and rescue can be sent because they detected the airbag going off. Now, if you have a cell phone and call 911, your cell phone will tell first responders where you are. (This is done according to this FCC rule) and can be done via cell tower triangulation and, theoretically, your phone broadcasting the GPS-derived location of your phone when you dial 911.

• Somebody has explicitly attached a GPS tracking device to you (or your vehicle) which passively listens to the GPS system and then actively transmits that location data it’s calculated to whomever is ‘bugging you’ with the tracking device.

There are lots of legitimate concerns about how smart phones and tablets and even your computer browser can send location information to the web sites (or ‘app’ back end servers) you connect to but those are unrelated to GPS tracking and OnStar and a topic for another post.

What should concern you about OnStar and other services that may work in a similar way (XM traffic and weather services perhaps?) is that your location at any given time is potentially very dangerous information when in the wrong hands.

Should the son-to-be-ex-spouse-under-restraining order have any possibility of buying this information? Should the police have any possibility of retrieving this information without a warrant? Should the burden of proof in a legal proceeding be shifted to a presumption of guilt if your phone or your car was found to be in a location you may have been nowhere near?

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook