Tag Archives: telephones

Privacy vs Security, 21st Century style

FBI Seal

Why Tony Soprano used public payphones.

I just read that a US phone company has refused to produce customer records that were requested by the FBI. The anonymous phone company received a national security letter (NSL) from the FBI in 2011, and refused to comply with the NSL’s demands. The case is now in court.

Lisa Vaas, writing for UK-based security firm Sophos’ Naked Security, today published an excellent article that summarizes the case: Telecom firm says “No” to FBI surveillance demands. Check out Lisa’s other articles on security and privacy topics. They’re good!

Not much detail is known about this case. It raises questions regarding our right to privacy and the need of our government to protect its law-abiding citizens from harm. My opinion on this question swings from one extreme to the other. What’s your opinion?

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Call phones from Gmail using Google voice

Logo is property of Google

Google tightens link between Gmail and telephone: Great for consumers who trade service for privacy; Irrelevant for major corporations.

The walls between email, voice mail, and the telephone have been under attack for years, by a variety of companies. Google has recently added the ability for its Gmail users to place calls directly from their Gmail mailboxes. Google announced on August 25, "Starting today you can use Gmail to receive or place Google Voice calls." Here’s a short independent demo on Youtube

This seems to be aimed at the VOIP market shared by Skype and Vonage, as well as the traditional phone companies. Caveat: Before getting too excited about any Google product, remember that by using Google products, you grant them almost unlimited rights to your material.

Here is section 11 from Gmail’s Terms of Service http://www.google.com/accounts/TOS. I’ve emphasized the most troublesome term for me:

11. Content license from you

11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in
Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services.
By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a
perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive
license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly
perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit,
post or display on or through, the Services
. This license is for the
sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the
Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the
Additional Terms of those Services.

11.2 You agree that this license includes a right for Google to make
such Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals
with whom Google has relationships for the provision of syndicated
services, and to use such Content in connection with the provision of
those services.

11.3 You understand that Google, in performing the required
technical steps to provide the Services to our users, may (a) transmit
or distribute your Content over various public networks and in various
media; and (b) make such changes to your Content as are necessary to
conform and adapt that Content to the technical requirements of
connecting networks, devices, services or media. You agree that this
license shall permit Google to take these actions.

11.4 You confirm and warrant to Google that you have all the rights, power and authority necessary to grant the above license.

As I understand this section, no message in Gmail is "private". Will Google process your voice, as it does your text, and use it to build your profile so that it can direct advertising at you? Yes, probably.

While examining Gmail’s Terms of Service, note that Google may discontinue any aspect of Gmail at any time with no prior notice. This is the definition of an anti-SLA (Service Level Agreement). This is one more reason why relying upon Gmail for business messaging is reckless (emphasis is mine):

4. Provision of the Services by Google

4.1 Google has subsidiaries and affiliated legal entities around the
world (“Subsidiaries and Affiliates”). Sometimes, these companies will
be providing the Services to you on behalf of Google itself. You
acknowledge and agree that Subsidiaries and Affiliates will be entitled
to provide the Services to you.

4.2 Google is constantly innovating in order to provide the best
possible experience for its users. You acknowledge and agree that the
form and nature of the Services which Google provides may change from
time to time without prior notice to you.

4.3 As part of this continuing innovation, you acknowledge and agree
that Google may stop (permanently or temporarily) providing the
Services (or any features within the Services) to you or to users
generally at Google’s sole discretion, without prior notice to you
. You
may stop using the Services at any time. You do not need to
specifically inform Google when you stop using the Services.

4.4 You acknowledge and agree that if Google disables access to your
account, you may be prevented from accessing the Services, your account
details or any files or other content which is contained in your

4.5 You acknowledge and agree that while Google may not currently
have set a fixed upper limit on the number of transmissions you may send
or receive through the Services or on the amount of storage space used
for the provision of any Service, such fixed upper limits may be set by
Google at any time, at Google’s discretion.

Gmail is well done, and I admire the constant upgrades that Google introduces, but I regard Gmail as a consumer service — not a service that’s suitable for business use. Then again, maybe Google guarantees privacy and offers service level agreements to large corporate accounts. (I’m not aware that Google does anything like this.) Such guarantees, with penalty clauses, are the only way that corporate boards and managers will (or at least should) approve Gmail for business use.

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Lucyphone: Never wait on hold again.

Lucy will wait in telephone queues for you.


Are you tired of waiting in a queue when you’ve phoned an organization? (I use a speaker phone when this happens, so that my ear isn’t glued to the telephone.) These days, waits on the phone of more than 15 minutes are common.

Here’s a solution: Go to lucyphone.com. Either search by name for the organization you wish to reach or fill in the blank with the telephone number you are calling. Watch the computer screen and follow the prompts. Lucyphone will call you and offer to connect you. After you’re placed in a queue, you can disconnect your phone by pressing **; Lucyphone will call your phone when a live person responds.

Lucyphone works amazingly well, is free of advertising, and I see nothing objectionable about its privacy policy — at least now. I won’t be surprised to see privacy policy changes, once Lucyphone’s owners look for ways to make money. (I’m sure that companies will pay to learn the phone numbers — and maybe call content — of consumers who are buying, repairing, and returning competing products and services.)

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com



Speak with a human being.

If you need to speak with a company or government agency, go to this site first to see if there’s a trick to bypassing their voice menu system: http://www.gethuman.com

 They’ve begun to allow users to comment and grade support.

Here’s a related site: http://get2human.com/

One theme that runs through the comments is that tech support from India ranges from horrible to slightly substandard. The tech support from some companies such as Hewlett-Packard is truly abysmal. What happened to the simple quality control step that every CEO and COO should take: simply call your own company to ask for assistance?