27 Apr 2011

Big Brother 2.0 on your smartphone?

This is an update to my previous post on both Apple and Google engaging in geo-tracking via smartphone...

The Privacy Rogues Gallery is growing: First Apple, then Google, and now Microsoft...

According to a new article on CNET: "Like Apple and Google, Microsoft collects records of the physical locations of customers who use its mobile operating system.

Windows Phone 7, supported by manufacturers including Dell, HTC, LG, Nokia, and Samsung, transmits to Microsoft a miniature data dump including a unique device ID, details about nearby Wi-Fi networks, and the phone's GPS-derived exact latitude and longitude."

Users of the products didn't have a clue - but apparently the enforcers of "law" have known about it - and have been using it for over a year.

If geo-tracking via mobile phones is so prevalent, and obviously useful for the powers-that-be, it cannot be a technical oversight by the engineers.

So... is it actually a special "service" created by corporations for the state? If it is, how does the state apparatus pay back the corporations? And are there more such secretive "arrangements" between the political class and the business class?

And just one other question: Is this Big Brother 2.0?

22 Apr 2011

Your smartphone knows where you were last night...

...And the night before that. In fact, some devices store location-related data for a whole year!

"Security researchers have discovered that Apple's iPhone keeps track of where you go – and saves every detail of it to a secret file on the device which is then copied to the owner's computer when the two are synchronised," according to an article on The Guardian this week.

Before the Google fanboys begin to smirk... Within about 24 hours of this exposé comes the next revelation in The Guardian: "Smartphones running Google's Android software collect data about the user's movements in almost exactly the same way as the iPhone, according to an examination of files they contain."

Both articles raise serious concerns about consumer privacy - and the more forgiving readers' comments conclude that the location cache is probably for "better user experience", "quicker operation", "location-specific advertising", or "locating lost devices". There are also resigned observations from readers that "all mobile phones can record location", "the authorities can track cell phones anyway", "it's the price you pay for high-tech services", etc.

Meanwhile, a United States Senate member, Al Franken, has even shot off a letter to Steve Jobs demanding to know why there is a secret file recording the location of iPhone users.

Amid all the hullabaloo, two entities seem have nothing to say on the subject: Apple and Google.

To paraphrase what Eric Schmidt, Google's CEO, once said about 'user privacy': “If you have been somewhere you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t have gone there in the first place.”

Lo and behold! The problem's solved.

20 Apr 2011

How deeply entrenched is E.L. Rothschild in India?

In one word: VERY.

Evidence No. 1: FIELD FRESH

The Field Fresh website seems to imply that it is a simple tie-up between the Del Monte group, based in the Philippines, and Bharti Enterprises (best known as for its transnational telecom brand, Airtel), based in India. But under the surface is a "partnership" that includes the elusive E.L. Rothschild Ltd.

The ELR website doesn't help. But one scribd.com document on Field Fresh, says unequivocally that "Del Monte Pacific's partners in FieldFresh Foods Pvt. Ltd. are the well-respected Bharti Enterprises and EL Rothschild Limited."

To make matters worse for farmers (and other producers) Bharti Enterprises has also brought Walmart into the Indian retail market.

Evidence No. 2: International Affairs Fellowship

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) is said to be the fountainhead of continuity in US foreign policy - as well as at the centre of every New World Order (NWO) conspiracy theory in that country.

Apparently the CFR has a programme called the International Affairs Fellowship in India (IAF). According to the CFR website, "the IAF in India enables several outstanding young leaders to expand their professional horizons and enhance their understanding of India by spending up to a year on policy oriented research or related professional activity in India."

Only thing is that the Rothschilds sponsored the first International Affairs Fellowship in India (IAF) throught a front called the ERANDA Foundation.

Evidence No. 3: ICICI and UID

This is the crazy part, the smack on the face of every Indian...

There were two host for the recipients of the very first IAF fellowship in India: First is the Centre for Insurance and Risk Management (CIRM) - a dubious "social initiative" front for the ICICI banking group, and second is the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (ISDA) - a think-tank funded entirely by the Indian Ministry of Defence.

For the novice this may be all coincidences but for the ones that follow the ways of these uber-elites, this is prime conspiracy material. (I admit I am not above feeling uneasy.)

ICICI, essentially a non-Indian entity, is a kind of cesspool incubating this hellish takeover of the nation's sovereignty... starting with the much-lauded Unique Identity (UID) Card... which (inexplicably) has Pravir Vohra, Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of ICICI on the UDAI Biometrics Committee. Go straight to page 23 of the Biometrics Design Standards for UID Applications document.

I am sure there is a perfectly rational explanation for the presence of a banker on the committee... but I am a wee bit worried about coincidence of the overlapping interests of IAF, UID and ICICI.

If you haven't noticed yet, "Expanding Access to Financial Services in Rural India" was the topic on which Luke A. Bronin (hosted by CIRM) received the IAF fellowship...

This exact aim of "expanding financial services to rural India" is also ostensibly among the key aims of BOTH the Unique Id scheme as well as the ICICI Foundation.

(Update: An ICICI manager has been questioned by India's Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in connection with the Rs170,000 crore 2G Spectrum scam. It seems that ALL 7 telecom firms embroiled in the infamous affair has accounts in ICICI - and ALL of them transfered massive amounts of money in 2006-07.)

Evidence No. 4: The Challenge of India, London 2007

Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild, Founder and Chief Executive of E L Rothschild LLC, listening to Dr J. J. Irani, Director of Tata Sons

Apparently the who's who of Indian industry spoke on the nation's future. Among them was Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild, Founder and Chief Executive of E L Rothschild LLC.

The event was organised by none other than - and I would never have guessed this in a million years - Tehelka!

There is no one that I can trust... and with due apologies to the McDonald brothers, I'm not loving this... Not one bit.

18 Apr 2011

Recipe for a DIY public relations disaster

A fast food restaurant takes exception to a review on a blog. The brand's managers opt for a knee-jerk reaction and threaten legal action against the blogger. Unfortunately, not everyone empathises with the restaurant's point-of-view. This story has all the ingredients for a PR-disaster-in-the-making. Even if it is potentially a short-term one.

In case you are interested, here's how you too can create the perfect PR disaster all by yourself in less than 48-hours.

Step 1:
Find an unflattering, seemingly unbiased view of your brand - preferably online, and preferrably on a platform that allows for third-party commenting and sharing.

Step 2:
React strongly. Pick on the blogger - preferably, use disproportionate means.

Hint: Threaten legal action. There's nothing that attracts the attention of commenters, casual readers, passers-by and news agencies than a David vs. Goliath scenario. Underdogs make for a lovely conversation topic.

Step 3:
Allow the situation to simmer for 24 to 48 hours.

Step 4:
Realise you have overreacted only when the situation is clearly impossible to control. After the SHTF, sprinkle incoherent half-hearted excuses.

Hint: Try the ever popular "we-were-only-kidding" defence to garnish. Nothing says "gaffe" better than fumbling and backpeddling.

Step 5:
Hunker down, keep fingers crossed, and hope for the online storm to pass.

Step 6 (Optional):
If you are looking to make a really well-done PR mess, choose a rigid position, dig in, and swing blindly at everyone with a different viewpoint.

Bon apetite.

Now, on the other hand, the brand's owners could turn the free publicity into a positive thing! How?

Well for example, the brand's managers could tender a sincere apology to the blogger for his anguish. They could come out with a "We're-So-Sorry Burger"! They could reach out to angry commenters and readers by leaving a conciliatory comment and a message on the "offending" blog.

The thing to realise is that there are no 'wrongs' and no 'rights' here. It's impossible to rationalise with a group of incensed people - in real life or online.

Update: The blogger and the restaurant have apparently made up... Quite a mature and civilised way to do things.

13 Apr 2011

Surreptitious haiku break

A pen twitches
The writer's on vacation
Withdrawal symptom?

8 Apr 2011

Is this victory bigger than the World Cup?

Congratulation India! This is a sweet victory gifted to the people of India by a 72-year old man with the spine to stand toe-to-toe against the arrogance of public servants turned autocrats turned kleptomaniacs.

And this has the potential to be waaaay more important the fake ICC World Cup.

Today I feel I may have a remote shot at walking into a government office and getting some inane paperwork done without being met by pillar, post or chai-pani request.

I wish to take nothing away from the moment, but this is just the conclusion of Act I. There was no choice for the government given the circumstances. And especially given the timing, which is right smack in the midst of election season.

We also need to bear in mind that what comes next is a committee, so... Even if there is consensus. Even if there is a recommendation. Even if there is a draft bill. Even if it is debated in parliament. Even if it gets voted into law... It will still need to be implemented.

India doesn't lack laws - but accountability and a sense of duty.

One more thing I cannot come to term with is this: If the goverment exists under a people's mandate, why then should "the people" have to literally plead for 50% representation on a lousy committee?

Why can't the Jan Lokpal Bill, which was jointly drafted by Justice Santosh Hegde, Prashant Bhushan and Arvind Kejriwal, simply be forwarded to the hon'ble Law Minister to be drafted into law? Why involve ANY slimy politicians at all when it is so clearly the will of the people?

Anyway, the Jan Lokpal Bill only requires that:
1.) investigations into any case should be completed within a year
2.) the trial should get over in the next one year
3.) so that a corrupt person goes to jail within two years of complaint, and
4.) the ill-gotten wealth is confiscated

If Mr. Kapil Sibal feels "committee notification" or "summoning of the National Advisory Council" or any other legal hocus-pocus needs to be done - well, then Sir, do it. And make it pronto. That's what you get paid to do.

And still another thing that piques my interest: If members of the public are part of "civil society", does that mean the rest are - well, "uncivil" or "anti-social"? Can we not expect honesty, decency and integrity from them?

Anyway, it seems like a good idea to get out there and occasionally remind the political class that they are not ruling India - but mere representating Indians.

7 Apr 2011

Whose homeland? Whose security?

Just read this on Tehelka... At an internal seminar conducted by the Indian Army's think-tank, Centre for Land Warfare Studies in March 2011, Home Ministry officials identified India's growing population of young people as a potentially significant security "challenge".

Let us try to understand the scale of their concern... India is expected to add a whopping 241 million people of working age to its population between 2011 and 2030, compared to China's probable growth of just 10 million during the same period.

The only reason the governing system in general - and the security apparatus in particular - should view a "growing population of youth" as a "liability" and not an "asset" is because a larger population is more difficult to control.

This control-driven mentality is clear from the solutions that are being proposed by the Home Sectretary, GK Pillai: "This increasing population requires better policing measures and judicial intervention." India apparently requires an additional 800,000 police personnel, many more judges, and the country also needs "to churn out good lawyers".

The sum total, or at least, the essence of his solution is this: More laws. More interference. More enforcement.

The "us" (government) vs "them" (governed) divide pervading in the corridors of power could not be more obvious. Population-control policies and practices are first a hangover from the colonial past, and later aped from the so-called democracies of the Western Hemisphere.

The seeds of a highly intrusive government are perhaps already sown in India.

How else can one explain the Homeland Security System being set up in India - with its barbs clearly pointed INWARD?

Take Rolta, for example. It is a private company with 32.59% FII (foreign institutional investor) ownership, and 41.91% ownership resting with just 10 individual shareholders. Rolta's services are aimed at the full alphabet soup of security and intelligence agencies in India.

And many of their technologies and services are clearly directed at the citizens and residents of India. For example, "Rolta provides systems to cater to lawful interception of communication be it IP Traffic, Cellular Traffic, Satellite Communication or Radio Communication." And their services "portfolio also includes systems that can undertake Data and text mining in real time." In other words, "spying".

But of course, they'll tell you all of it to keep you and your family safe... The question is, safe from who?

Has India found its Tahrir Square?

"So, is Jantar Mantar the new Tahrir Square?" asks columnist, G Vishnu at Tehelka.

Since social movements are good for ratings amd soundbytes, the mainstream media is on the bandwagon too. But this time they have the opportunity to make a real difference... It's the difference between playing "nation's conscience-keepers" and "corporate opportunists". Either way, I hope Anna Hazare's gesture will not degenrate into a frenzied media circus!

As an aside, there seems to be a close parallel with the exasperation against both corruption and politicians seen in Middle Eastern protest... If the parallel continues, the issues will not stop at cosmetic changes. I do hope someone within the GoI is thinking seriously of a systemic overhaul.

Perhaps it is time for an new (Indian or Eastern) paradigm for progress... The current one doesn't seem to be working too well.

6 Apr 2011

Anna Hazare is 72, India is 62, and the Lokpal Bill is 42

There is bitter irony in the fact that it took a man 10 years senior to Independent India to take a stand about the nation's future.

One can only hope it's not too late.

In his open letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Anna Hazare asks: "You say that your Group of Ministers are drafting the anti-corruption law. Many of the members of this Group of Ministers have such a shady past that if effective anticorruption systems had been in place, some of them would have been behind bars. Do you want us to have faith in a process in which some of the most corrupt people of this country should draft the anti-corruption law?"

A fair point - but surely, Anna must know that bills take time - sometimes years - to be drafted, debated on, possibly amended, and finally voted upon in parliament... Or do they?

About three years ago, I had come across this rather interesting piece of news: In 2008, the Lower House (Lok Sabha) of the Indian Parliament set a record of sorts by passing 8 Parliamentary Bills in just 17 minutes! A little over 2 minutes per bill.

The feat was accomplished amid the chaos and din of the final hours of Winter Session.

The action apparently did not go un-noticed... “So many important Bills were passed without any discussion. The Congress and BJP have killed democracy,” said CPM leader Basudeb Acharia. “The Congress tried to bulldoze the institution of Parliament,” said BJP MP Kiren Rijiju. Even Congress MP Bagun Sumbrui, who was first elected to the 6th Lok Sabha, said what happened was “unusual”.

Hmm... It would be interesting to find out what exactly were in those 8 super-urgent bills.

5 Apr 2011

A message from Fukushima, Japan to India

The single biggest danger in nuclear power generation is that of radioactivity escaping the confines of a reactor.

However the limited number of "active" nuclear fuel rods in the reactor core is just part of the radioactivity threat. The real under-estimated (and under-reported) radioactivity hazard is nuclear "waste".

For example, while the bright lights of mass media are focused on the potential meltdown in 4 of 6 reactors at the beleaguered Dai-ichi Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant in Japan, what has largely escaped public are tens of thousands of radioactive spent fuel rods in "storage" at the compound. Moreover, the radioactive spent fuel rods are stored without anything near the multiple layers of concrete and metal containment found in a reactor.

Spent rods too require constant water circulation to keep them from heating up and catching fire. Since the plant lost power, it is believed that the water in the spent rod pools are either boiling, or already completely dry.

If it's true. It is beyond bad news...

Let us turn our attention to India now as the big nuclear power companies from the US and Europe eye lucrative contracts in the country... I recently received from two close friends (Thank you, Ramesh and Shibu) the same disturbing powerpoint presentation on the known harmful effects of nuclear power generation - especially around India.

I really could not think of a way to take up this subject without making the arguments either too simplistic or too complex to convince someone who may already believe the propaganda that nuclear power is the ultimate energy panacea for New & Improved India... The up-and-coming economic superpower of the 21st Century!

Now apparently, we are in eminent company... Dr. P. Balaram - a top Indian scientist, a Director of the prestigious Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bangalore, and member of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Scientific Advisory Council - described the events in Japan as "a wake-up call" for India.

Backed by more than 50 prominent figures, he has called for a moratorium on all future nuclear projects in India.

Hopefully, this group of scientists can do what the powerpoint presentation tried: to educate people and the powers-that-be that nuclear power has a greater downside than emitting carbon dioxide.