Saturday, December 10, 2011

Teacher ridicules 7 year old student on Facebook

Originally published 4/05/11 on

Andre Yoskowitz at reports that a teacher at a school in Chicago faces discipline for making fun of a students hair on Facebook. This was bad enough when I assumed it was a teacher making fun of a middle or high school student. But it wasn't. The student was a 7 year old who asked her mom to do her hair like a picture in a magazine. It looked cute, so mom tied Jolly Rancher candies to her daughters hair. Other teachers complimented the child for her colorful hairstyle, so why should a teacher wanting a picture make a 7 year old suspicious? The teacher posted the picture on her Facebook with some rude comments. Inevitably, someone who knew the parent and was friended with the teacher saw the photo and the comments. The parent complained and the teacher is facing discipline.

In one sense this is such a normal Facebook occurrence it's not even worth mentioning. But this has a few unusual - and to me troubling - elements. There's been a lot of talk about cyber-bullying lately. Most cases have been between children, usually of similar age. This is a case of an adult, a teacher, making fun of a 7 year old. A teacher should know better. Of course, this isn't the first time teachers have been burned by their Facebook postings. Another teacher damaged her career last week - a first grade teacher who allegedly referred to her students as "future criminals" and said she felt like a warden.

The problem with Facebook isn't that teachers speak their minds - although speaking without filters is almost always a problem - but that they think they're speaking in a walled garden where they control who sees it. Facebook does nothing to correct this error, talking about concern for users privacy even as new privacy settings make it harder to keep things private on Facebook.

Edit: Changed title to better reflect story

Kroger, Chase suffer data breach

Originally published 4/04/11 on

Emily Fox of reports that Epsilon, a marketing firm based in Irving, TX, suffered a data breach including email addresses of customers of Kroger and JP Morgan Chase. Supposedly that is all that was stolen, but Chase is investigating further.

If you are a customer of either company you can learn more by going to their respective websites at: and

Are you a better codebreaker than the FBI's best?

Originally published 4/01/11 on

Did you read "Encyclopedia Brown" growing up? One of the stories involved Encyclopedia learning to decode the product codes on items in the grocery store. That got me interested in cryptography. I'm still interested, but I've learned that I lack the patience required to be a really good cryptographer. But if you've always had a secret yearning to play secret agent and a desire to one up the FBI, I have just the thing. Michael Cooney of the "Layer 8" blog at Networkworld reports that the FBI is seeking help decrypting some notes found on the body of a murdered man in 1999.

This isn't an April Fools joke. The FBI has placed images of the notes here. If you like decoding those cryptograms in the Sunday paper you might give it a shot. The FBI's experts haven't been able to in 12 years, but right now they're hoping a fresh set of eyes and a different way of looking at the problem will work where experts haven't. They are also hoping that someone may be able to show them samples of similar code.

One interesting aspect of this code is that it may have been a code the victim had been using since he was a child. That made me wonder if maybe this isn't a code, but a language that was developed over 30 years or more. Maybe the FBI is looking for the wrong thing.

The FBI story is here.


Edited @ 11:09 to remove comment tags hiding some of the text.

Watch those unsolicited insurance calls

Originally published 3/31/11 on

When I got home from work my wife told me about a phone call she'd received just before I arrived. A foreign man told her he was from the insurance company. I suppose it's obvious he wasn't, or I wouldn't be writing about it. He knew her name. He knew she was in Lubbock, but that was about all he knew. She asked him what insurance company he was from, and he said his company represents all of the online companies. He could tell her what companies he represents, but not who our insurance company is, even though he claimed to represent them. When he asked for her birthday, address and if she'd had any wrecks or tickets she told him if he represented our insurance company he should already have that information. He hung up on her. For amusement I called the number that the caller ID gave when he called. It wasn't an insurance company. I've included a few seconds of it for your amusement and edification. Never trust an unsolicited phone call from 'your' insurance company, mortgage company, bank, whatever. Don't let them push you into proving who you are. They called you. If they don't know who you are hang up, call your real insurance company, bank, whatever, and find out if they need to talk to you. If it was actually them, they'll understand. If they don't, find one that will.

Who knows more about you than Google? Your cell phone provider.

Originally published 3/30/11 on

Malte Spitz, a German politician and privacy activist sued Duetsche Telekom and obtained 6 months of their records on him - including location data. He gives details in his blog, but perhaps the most interesting result of his efforts is the animated map of his movements during that 6 months. If you put it in satellite view, it's even a little creepy.
Mr. Spitz also makes the data available for download to play with if you want. But all of the data isn't there. Even though the telecom company routinely gathered and kept the numbers of the people he communicated with, both phone calls and texts, they did not release that information to him. So the data is incomplete. Part of the information given of the map is the number of calls and texts sent and received each day. With the phone numbers you could probably have identified his best friend, his wife or significant other, etc. The cell phone company had that information, and if he surfed the web on his phone a lot more, just waiting for someone to break in and take it. Or bid high and buy it.
Online many services are paid for with our personal information. I don't agree with that, I don't like it, but I understand it. I believe we should control what happens to our information, and we should know how it is being used by the people we're giving it to, and be able to tell them how they can and can't use it. When it comes to cell phones, cable companies, ISP's and the like, they have no right to any more information than necessary to verify we are who we say we are and determine our bills. We are already paying them for the right to use their services.

Update: The New York Times has an in-depth article on this:  It’s Tracking Your Every Move and You May Not Even Know