Cynicism and Personal Data

IMG_4409I don’t think I’m giving away any trade secrets by stating that a healthy majority of attorneys approach life with a hearty helping of cynicism.  All it really takes to instill cynicism is that first time you present a finely crafted motion to suppress (or opposition to a change of venue, or any other kind of motion, really) to a judge, a motion so meticulously researched and supported by the facts and the law that there is no way you can possibly lose this hearing, and have that judge summarily deny the motion by saying “You’re right, counselor, but I’m denying your motion.”  (Concomitantly, this is also why you will rarely get a straight answer out of an attorney.)

So it is with this (un)healthy dose of cynicism that I read the Ars Technica article on the sale of RadioShack’s assets in bankruptcy with an air of “whattasurprise.”  In other words, it hardly surprised me that the contracts and promises about customers’ personal data not being sold to third parties amounted to not much at all.  In March, the States of Texas and Tennessee filed objections to RadioShack’s plans to sell off its assets, which includes customer data on approximately 117 million individuals. At the time, even AT&T got into the mix, by saying that the data in question isn’t even RadioShack’s to sell; instead, it should be considered AT&T’s data based on agreements and contracts between the two companies.  The case is In re RadioShack Corporation, et al., No. 15-10197-BLS (Bankr. D. Del. 2015).

Fascinating stuff, really, when you think about it.

The story popped back up today because Apple got involved (and if Apple sneezes…) by filing an objection that is largely similar to AT&T’s: RadioShack promised not to sell this data in exchange for the right to sell iPhones and iPads.

This all sounds good, right? States and corporations are trying to protect customer data, after all! And, after all, AT&T’s settlement agreement with RadioShack filed on April 1, 2015 appears to have protected the customer data associated with AT&T interests. So why so cynical?

Well, right off the bat, the very fact that these objections have been necessary shows that RadioShack was trying to sell off the consumer data, in contravention of the promises and privacy statements it promulgated.

Second, as the State of Texas notes in a response it filed on April 27, 2015, even while RadioShack claims in its own filings that it will work with the Ombudsman appointed in the case, it still is very keen on selling off some data.  According to footnote 2 of document 1919, the State of Texas says:

Exhibit A [of Document 1916] confirms that the Debtors have approximately 117 million records in their Customer Database; however they are apparently seeking to sell a smaller subset of those records (8.5 million email addresses and 65 million customer name and address files) and it is unclear what the Debtors intend to do with the remaining 52 million records–e.g., whether the Debtors will continue to market and seek to sell that data in the future or whether it will be destroyed at the appropriate time.

On April 30, 2015, the Bankruptcy Court issued an order that outlined how the bidding process would unfold (document 1981). In short, Verizon and AT&T data is being carved out based on agreements negotiated between those entities and RadioShack. All other data, however?  It went to mediation yesterday. Maybe. That is, “The Mediation will occur if (i) the Debtors select a Successful Bidder for any customer data/personally identifiable information and (ii) the Successful Bidder agrees to be present for the Mediation.”  If the Successful Bidder didn’t agree to attend the mediation, then depositions of RadioShack and the Successful Bidder could occur from May 13 through May 18.  The Ombudsman is also supposed to file a report on May 18, 2015.  Additionally, “Through a notice of filing, the Debtors will provide an updated description of the transaction data offered from sale that will include either (a) a list of the transaction data fields or (b) a 2-3 sentence summary of the transaction data that includes the categories of data that a typical person would find of interest.”  There’s a lot going on in this Order.

Where’s the Map for That?

It appears that at&t doesn’t like Verizon’s snarky “There’s a Map for That” commercials.  You know, the ones that somewhat inaccurately equate Apple’s “There’s an App for That” slogan with at&t’s native 3G service.  (Kinda shows you just how important the iPhone is to at&t’s viability, doesn’t it? Once that exclusivity is gone, I wonder what will happen to at&t…)

Anyway, at&t has filed suit against Verizon, in Georgia of all places, alleging false and deceptive trade practices. (source)  The ads are pretty aggressive, really, showing that at&t has pretty anemic 3G coverage while Verizon’s is quite extensive.  What at&t doesn’t like is the insinuation that somehow at&t customers aren’t able to access voice and data in the areas not covered by the 3G map.  at&t’s 3G implementation isn’t quite as robust as Verizon’s, but it does have the EDGE network in many places, so at&t customers get a sort of half-fast data network in the places where 3G isn’t available.

That’s why at&t is suing Verizon, because it feels that Verizon is insinuating that at&t customers don’t get any service in the areas where 3G has not been implemented.  Verizon is having none of it, saying that the ads are accurate because they clearly state that they are talking about 3G technology and that at&t data and voice access are still available in many places.

What’s funny is that the whole case has the potential to be completely moot if it actually goes to trial.  By the time that happens, 4G will be the new standard, and 3G probably won’t matter one whit.

Hold the Fries, Please

Time has an article about how McDonald’s is doing relatively gangbuster business with its McCafé line of coffee drinks.  Now, I’ve never tried one, but I have heard one person describe a vanilla latte from McDonald’s as tasting like one of those cappuccinos you get from the gas station; fine if you’re looking for something incredibly sweet and vaguely coffee-tasting, but not really a latte.  But that’s anecdotal and based on an incredibly tiny sample size, and that’s not really the point.

The point is, profits at McDonald’s are up 4%, which is pretty impressive.  And the other point is that Starbucks’ earnings are down 77%.  Correlation? That’s certainly what seems to be implied.

But not necessarily.  For one thing, it appears that the lower earnings at Starbucks are due to, as Time puts it, “charges related to store closures and falling real estate values.”  Which doesn’t necessarily mean that people are ditching a somewhat relaxing time at Starbucks in favor of a trip to McDonald’s, despite what those irritating McDonald’s ads saying that drinking a latte from Starbucks turns you into a pretentious intellectual want you to think….  Wait what’s wrong with being a pretentious intellectual?

In any event, looking at Starbucks’ quarterly report, you can see that it had revenue of $2.3bn in Q2 of 2009, versus revenue of $2.5bn in Q2 of 2008.  That is down, no doubt, but “only” by about 7.6%.  By comparison, McDonald’s had revenues of $5.1bn in Q2 of 2009, compared to revenues of $5.6bn in Q2 of 2008, which is a decrease of about 10%.  So, while Starbucks pulls in about half the money McDonald’s does, I think it’s too much to say that McDonald’s is having Starbucks’ lunch.  Pardon the pun.

Now, I should make it clear that I frequent neither establishment regularly.  I will occasionally stop in to McDonald’s during a trip, but I don’t generally visit.  And I have no desire to drink one of their new McCafé things.  Mainly because of the afore-mentioned advertising campaign.  By the same token, however, I don’t regularly visit Starbucks.  This doesn’t really have anything to do with the price, as the price of drip coffee (my preference) is pretty much the same across the board: about $2.00 for a large.  It primarily has to do with the lack of free wireless internet connectivity.  I do a lot of work at coffeeshops, and having access to the internet is essential.  Now, I know that there are certain solutions available, such as signing up for a Starbucks Gold Card for $25.00 a year, that’ll give you two “free” hours of wireless a day, and I know if you sign up for new service with AT&T DSL Elite and Pro,  you can get free access to the AT&T hotspots.  But I’ve found a place I like, that doesn’t make me jump through hoops to get on the internet, and I’m sticking with it.  (So, in other words, I don’t have a dog in the fight.)

Bandwidth Conclusions

A couple of weeks ago, I posted some updated discoveries regarding bandwidth usage when streaming content.  My totals are, unfortunately, not much higher than they were when I posted that update.  I say “unfortunately” because the recent flooding in Houston really disrupted things for a while.

In any event, what did I learn?  Well, first of all, one should never expect constant throughput at maximum speeds.  For example, my DSL connection is through AT&T, and it is the “Elite” level, which is touted as having speeds “up to 6.0 Mbps.”  “Up to” is key here, as I have never once achieved that speed when testing it through tools like  Usually it’s in the mid-fours.  And often much slower than that. And latency in Houston is usually absolutely terrible.  (I suppose it’s fortuitous, then, that I’m not really into on-line gaming, preferring the solitary experience…)

Second, I think there’s a limit to the speed levels offered by ISPs, and what my computer can actually handle.  I have no slouchy desktop machine; it’s got an AMD triple-core processor (64-bit), 4 Gigs of RAM, and even half a Gig of dedicated video memory.  I mean, it’s not a Falcon Northwest Mach 5 or anything like that (I don’t know if it’ll run Crysis, but I’m thinking probably not at full resolution), but it also didn’t cost 2100 bucks, either.  Anyway, I monitored throughput while downloading some Linux distros, and I noticed that as the throughput went above 500 KBps, my machine got sluggish.  I’m not certain why this is, but there you go.  (Also, this forum thread explains the whole “I have 6 Mbps service, why do I only get 500KBps?” question.  Hint:  capitalization matters.)

Third, streaming movies via Netflix does indeed gobble up bandwidth.  A month ago, I asked the question “Is that right?  Really? You could blow through even your Comcast bandwidth in less than 20 hours?  That doesn’t seem right…”  The answer is: Yes.  Sort of.  Netflix movies that stream with pretty good video quality do eat up about 1.5 Gigs of bandwidth per hour.  But my math was off by a power of ten.  (20 x 1.5 = 30, not 300!)

So, there you go.  As ISPs implement bandwidth caps, stream judicisously!