Oh, Pu-leeeze!

The Obama Administration sent out a memo today to ticket holders who are planning to take their children to the 135th annual White House Easter Egg Roll that says:

“by using these tickets, guests are acknowledging that this event is subject to cancellation due to funding uncertainty surrounding the Executive Office of the President and other federal agencies.”

Air Force military honors (flyovers) for veterans funerals and personnel killed in action: cancelled.

Show Tours–which are positive image builders for the US Military–for the Blue Angels, already cancelled or (for any shows not yet cancelled) on indefinite hold; for the Thunderbirds–cancelled.

Tours of the White House: cancelled.

And the list goes on.

All of these are due to “funding uncertainty.”

So where’s the memo saying President Obama has put a moratorium on his playing golf? Oh — wait — he should golf, according to NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg, because it helps build social relationships.

Huh. Isn’t that the same argument behind what established and maintained the Easter Egg Roll, military honors, show tours, and White House Tours?

Oh! I get it! Those don’t those count because they’re to promote the common good! Golfing is a sacrosanct presidential entitlement, don’t I get the difference?

No, I don’t.

I’m all for cutting back, but I guess I’m one of those stupid idiots who thinks that maybe our nation’s leader should lead the way by making a personal example — instead of making an example out of everyone else.

The sequester that’s the “reason” for all these cuts? It’s all about a tiny rollback of the amount of increase in the federal budget. Put another way, it’s all about a reduction in the increase–an increase that is way beyond the increase that any of us commoners are getting in, oh, say, cost-of-living increases (if anyone is getting those still).

Get. Real.

Yeah, I’m annoyed. But guess what? I’m not the only one.

And for a little historical perspective: Calvin Coolidge was the only president who actually cut the federal budget–made a true decrease–during his tenure in office.

Guess what activity President Coolidge didn’t cut?

 Grace Coolidge holding her pet raccoon, Rebecca, at the 1925 White House Easter Egg Roll

Yeah. The Easter Egg Roll.

(Pictured: First Lady Grace Coolidge holding her pet raccoon, Rebecca, at the 1925 White House Easter Egg Roll)

Hallelujah!

Hallelujah -- they finally got it!

Success!! My complaint got kicked up the food chain and The Company has changed their corporate practice because of my complaint! (see the original story here and round two here).

Emailing passwords- There are multiple ways a company can confirm an account has been created at an online web store. My apologies if receiving both your account and password information in one email has upset you. [Company] has taken this opportunity to remove password information from registering emails as of 9 am this morning.

(Name of Individual), Director of Marketing and Customer Service, (phone number)

Woot! Woot!

Now that’s the right answer!

Can We Say “Duh?”

Munch's The Scream, which is what I'm doing right now!

Here’s the response I got back to my complaint to The Company that sets up new customer retail accounts (including credit card information), then sends the user name and password in an unprotected email to the customers (see the full story here).

Greetings Judy,

I shared your feedback back with our web manager. Currently our website is protected with 256 Bit Encryption. If you would like more information, you can click on the padlock on the site when you visit a secure area.

(Name of Individual), Communication & Customer Service Coordinator, (phone number)

*head explodes*

And that pertains HOW?

I called the individual who sent the email, and said I was even unhappier as it was obvious that neither she nor their “web manager” had even READ MY COMPLAINT or understood the situation.

“Clueless” is (sorta) cute when it’s a movie. It’s not cute when it’s a company and their employees charged with keeping customer financial information secure.

The interaction did not go well. Clueless Company’s representative tried to fish out The Company’s Obligatory Silver Bowl and wash themselves of any obligations to make that information secure.

Wrong. Answer.

I’ll keep you informed on what happens in Round Three.

Companies Need to Make Identity Theft Hard, Not Easy

Companies need to stop making identity theft easy for criminals!

This just makes me spitting mad. I created a new account with a fairly large and well-known company so I could purchase some items for us online. To my dismay, the company sent me cheery “Thank you for joining us” email that has all of my new account information–including the user name and password for my account.

AAAIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!

What an utterly irresponsible business practice, one that makes identity theft a snap for even the most unsophisticated of online thieves.

*headthud*

This has become a real soapbox issue for me. I’ve had my credit card information stolen several times over the last decade. Every time it’s been by a criminal hacking into a company’s database. Companies need to get off their collective butts and take responsible actions to keep customer information safe at every step. Emailing a password to a customer as standard practice when creating an account is utterly irresponsible.

Few companies inform customers when their customer information has been hacked. Heck, according to my credit card company, retailers don’t even tell the credit card companies! It’s totally unacceptable corporate behavior. And it’s costing consumers a whole lot of money and time and energy to clean up problems that aren’t of the consumers’ making.

Zappos is a stellar example of a retailer that does it right. When they had a data breech last year, they immediately locked down all of their customer accounts. They informed customers right away about what had happened, and how Zappos was handling it. They kept customers informed, and put together a process that let every customer reopen their account in a secure fashion, with new passwords. Customers found out as part of this that Zappos had taken steps before any such breech occurred to protect customer data by separating credit card and other information apart, and encrypting it, thereby ensuring that if a breech ever did occur, the damage to the customer would be minimal. Way to go, Zappos!

As a consumer, I’ve made it a practice to contact companies when they’re endangering my identity and credit card safety. Less than fifty percent of the companies contacted take any steps to fix the problem. Guess who walks away from ever purchasing anything from that company again? Yup. Me. I vote with my dollars.

I sent the following email to the customer service division of Irresponsible Company, expressing my unhappiness regarding their business practices. We’ll see what–if anything–happens this time.

Hello,

I just created an online account with XXXX as a returning customer.

To my dismay, your “Thanks for registering” email contains both my user name AND my password.

Hello? Has no one at your company who is responsible for customer accounts ever been through a course on identity theft and customer security?

Sending an email is like sending a postcard through the US Mail. Every bit of information in the email is public. So you’ve just sent my account login and password out to the world.

As a retailer, you are charged with keeping my customer information secure. Obviously, this can’t happen with this business practice in place.

I’ve taken steps to secure my own customer account with you by immediately going in to the new account and changing the password. Hopefully, I won’t see a cheery email shortly telling me “you changed your password, and your new one is: _____.”

This experience doesn’t leave me with any confidence in your corporate practices regarding how you are safeguarding my credit card and other customer information.

Please let me know ASAP what steps XXXX is going to take, and by when, to correct this situation regarding emailing passwords for your customers. I’d also like your assurance that you have taken steps to protect credit card and contact information that you are gathering from your customers.

Best regards,

JAS

I’ll keep you posted on anything that happens in response.

Help Students Read!

Help the print disabled read!

Imagine going to the New York Public Library, or any public library–or even a bookstore–and finding to your dismay that ninety-five out of every one hundred books there are written in a language you don’t know. You can’t get anyone to translate them into a language you understand. Resources are too scarce to allocate time and money and energy to make materials available to everyone. Oh, and to make things worse? There isn’t any way for you to learn the language all those books are printed in, either.

That’s what it’s like every single day when you’re print disabled. At most, five percent–five out of a hundred–of books that are published ever become available in a form that a print disabled individual can access.

Think, for a moment, what that means to a student. For every 100 required textbooks their teachers will assign, only 5–at best–are available to a print disabled child in a form they can read.

Enter Bookshare.

Bookshare’s goal is

“to raise the floor of access so that people with print disabilities can obtain a broad spectrum of print materials at the same time as everyone else.”

Bookshare tackles this goal three ways:

  • “Building the Bookshare digital library as rapidly as possible through Volunteers, partnerships, and publishers.
  • Spreading the word so that everyone who is eligible to join Bookshare has the opportunity to do so.
  • Expanding the choices of access technology available for people with print disabilities. Bookshare is leveraging new technological developments that make reading digital books easier.”

As of today, over 167,000 books are available in a variety of accessible forms to the print disabled. Every single title is available as a DAISY talking book, an MP3, a browser-readable XML file, and in electronic braille.

Every. Single. Book.

(Printed braille books can be created, too, on a demand basis.)

For students (in the United States): membership is free. Not only is electronic access to every book in the collection free to students, Bookshare will also scan any textbook a print-disabled student needs for a class at no charge. The funding to cover student memberships and get books into accessible formats for them comes from an award by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) of the U.S. Department of Education.

Currently, over 200,000 students are Bookshare members. That’s almost a quarter of a million minds that now have not five percent but one hundred percent of the textbooks that a student needs for their education available to them.

It’s a staggering thought.

Bookshare also offers memberships to print disabled individuals who aren’t students, at a cost of $50 a year (plus an additional $25 the first year in set-up charges). If the member can’t afford that, they can volunteer to help, in a variety of ways, earning credits that are applied against their membership. In situations where an individual can’t volunteer because of personal circumstances, other volunteers chip in their own credits to cover the memberships.

You don’t have to be print disabled to volunteer. Just the opposite. Everyone is welcome, with open arms. Volunteers scan books, proofread books, and (if sighted) have the opportunity to describe images that are in books so they are understandable to readers.

How amazing is that?

If you know a print disabled student, I urge you to make sure they, their parents and their school knows about Bookshare. You can visit Bookshare’s site for more information. If you’d like to volunteer by scanning or proofreading books, or describing images–anyone with a computer can volunteer, although completed books are only available to the print disabled–go read their page about volunteering, and jump in.

If you’d like a membership yourself, because you have a qualifying print disability, you can find out how to join on Bookshare’s website.

It’s a good organization. Worth your time. What they do helps make the world a better place.

Trust me on this one. I know.

I’m print disabled.