In Password Hell

Today I went to get a new iPhone.  The battery on the old one was running down at Usain Bolt-like speed, and clearly, it was time.

51yn54juiql._sx569_When I got to the Verizon store, the pleasant young guy who took care of me looked at my phone, chuckled softly, and noted that the phone was more than five years old.  That’s like taking world history back to the Pharaonic period — when cell phone data storage was miniscule, cell phone cameras were crappy, cell phone batteries were tiny . . . and, not incidentally, cell phones were a lot cheaper than they are now.

So, I had to decide how much I wanted to spend for my new phone.   It didn’t take me long to decide that I didn’t need to spend $1500 (which, amazingly to me, is what the Verizon store employee who is probably making not much over minimum wage confessed he had spent on his phone) and would be perfectly happy with the cheapest iPhone 10 they had — which was still incredibly expensive.  Then I had to pick a color (red), and a phone case (a clear Pelican) and then it was iPhone set-up time.  And that’s where the process ran off the rails.

“What’s your Apple password?” he asked pleasantly — and I felt cold, icy fingers of fear clutching my heart.  And then he asked for my iTunes password, and then for my gmail password, and the depths of angst and despair burrowed ever deeper into my soul.  “I’m not sure,” I said uncertainly.  “Well, what do you think it might be?” he asked, slightly baffled and no doubt wondering how could anyone who uses a modern phone wouldn’t have all of their passwords memorized and ready to use at any moment.  So I gave a few half-hearted attempts, using passwords that I know that I’ve used for something or another over the years — but there was no conviction in my efforts.  Sure enough, none of the passwords worked, and I got the accusatory buzzings and beepings that inevitably accompany password failure.  So the pleasant kid had to reset my passwords — passwords that will now promptly be forgotten, and vanish on the wings of the wind down the password memory hole.  It made the new phone process even longer and even more embarrassing.

As I left the store I realized that there is a reason I get a new phone only every five years.

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Smug And Annoying

There’s nothing more annoying than an annoying commercial pitchman.

That’s why I’m grinding my teeth at the commercial TV reappearance of the former Verizon “can you hear me now” guy — this time as a spokesman for Sprint.

0c9df173f01d6b91-822x512I didn’t particularly like the guy during his first 15 minutes of fame, because the constant “can you hear me now” questions became incredibly irritating.  But at least in that incarnation he was a uniformed blue-collar guy, apparently an engineer type, out there in the hinterlands, hiking around in remote areas and personally testing the geographic range of the Verizon network.  He was a working man just doing his job.  You got what he was doing and the message he was sending, and it made his irritating catch phrase a bit more bearable.

But he apparently lost the blue-collar, working man identity when he switched sides, and now he’s just a smug wise guy walking down the street and drinking lattes in a Christmas tree lot, trying to tell you that you’re a colossal idiot if you still use Verizon rather than paying less with Sprint.  And all the while, he’s got this insufferable I’m smarter-than-you smirk on his face — probably because his dormant commercial career has been resurrected due to his willingness to switch sides in the ever-present cell phone wars, and he’s now getting paid a boatload of cash that he wouldn’t be making otherwise.  His commercials are as unlikeable as the historically obnoxious “Jake from State Farm” ad.

Maybe I’m alone in this, but I normally wouldn’t take the unsolicited advice of some know-it-all buttinsky, on the street or in a Christmas tree lot, and I don’t exactly trust the lectures of people who’ve peddled their opinions to the company that pays the most cash. Wouldn’t you like to know whether this cell phone Benedict Arnold is moving the needle on Sprint subscriptions?  I’m betting that his ad campaign is a flop.

Land Of The Free, Home Of The Monitored

Yesterday the New York Times published an excellent editorial on the federal government’s routine collection of data about everyday Americans.  As the Times aptly framed the issue, the question is whether the government should be allowed to continue to use anti-terrorism efforts as a catch-all excuse for increasing encroachments into our private activities.  In short, have we gone too far in trading liberty for (alleged) security?

The latest disclosures indicate that the federal government, through the National Security Agency and the FBI, obtains massive amounts of data from the servers of internet companies.  The NSA also apparently has obtained an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that requires Verizon to give the NSA on “an ongoing, daily basis” information on all telephone calls in the Verizon system, including calls that are entirely domestic.  That court order runs from April 25 to July 19, and will provide information on millions of calls — including mine, because Verizon is our cell phone provider.  (Nice to know that, somewhere deep in the bowels of an NSA supercomputer, data about my calls to Kish telling her I’m on my way home from work will be preserved forever, available for use by whatever government functionary cares to access it!)  And, of course, we know that in most metropolitan areas video surveillance cameras surreptitiously record our movements.

For decades, the argument in favor of enhanced government police powers has been that law-abiding citizens have no cause for concern, because only criminals would be targeted.  That argument doesn’t wash when information about the personal activities of millions of Americans is gathered indiscriminately.  Whatever you might think of your fellow citizens, we aren’t all terrorists.  By what right does our government collect information about our telephone calls, our internet searches, and our daily movements?  Shouldn’t anti-terrorist activities be focused on terrorists?

As the Times editorial linked above notes, the Obama Administration’s response to such disclosures has been to offer bland reassurances that systems are in place to prevent abuses.  Those reassurances ring hollow in the wake of incidents like the IRS scandal or the Department of Justice targeting of journalists, where the President and other high-ranking officials disclaim any prior knowledge of classic examples of overreaching by faceless government employees.  So, where are the systems that we are supposed to trust?  With respect to many of these governmental intrusions, it appears that there is no control from the top and — if the statements of press secretaries are to be credited — no meaningful decision-making by anyone who can be held accountable to voters.

Under President Obama, the government’s ever-growing appetite for collection of data about average, taxpaying Americans seems to be on auto pilot.  That is a very scary proposition.