Daily Archives: January 29, 2012

TSA rail, subway spot-checks raise privacy issues


Riders make more than 10 billion trips a year on U.S. public transit services, according to the American Public Transportation Association. New York City police sometimes screen passenger bags at subway stops. TSA officers may coordinate with police on these operations.

CNN | Jan 28, 2012

By Thom Patterson

(CNN) — Rick Vetter and his teen son got a pretty good look at the legal line between privacy and security last month, as they wrapped up a day trip to Charlotte, North Carolina.

After watching the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons beat the Carolina Panthers, they were looking forward to a three-hour train ride back home to Raleigh when they arrived at the train station.

Walking up a ramp toward the platform, they noticed what appeared to be a uniformed Transportation Security Administration officer holding a leashed police dog.

“He just loosened the leash on the dog, and the dog came over to check me out,” Vetter said. Standing on the platform above Vetter were three other officers who appeared to be wearing bullet-proof vests.

As the guard dog smelled him, Vetter — who has two dogs of his own — told the officer that it probably was reacting to the smell of Vetter’s pets.

“The TSA officer said ‘OK’ or something like that. Then it was clear that the dog had done what he needed to do, and we went on up the ramp to get on the train.”

“I’m sure somebody who wasn’t comfortable with dogs would have found it a lot more disconcerting than I did, but I sort of didn’t worry about it,” said Vetter, an attorney for the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Vetters had encountered VIPR — special TSA Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response teams that are tasked with performing random, unpredictable baggage and security checks at passenger train, subway and bus stations as well as trucking weigh stations across the nation.

TSA officials like to point out that the acronym stands for Transportation Security Administration, not the Airport Security Administration. And that’s where VIPR comes in.

Born after 2004’s Madrid railway bombings, VIPR suffered some embarrassing coordination struggles, transit officials say.

The program has 15 teams and is expanding to get access to 12 new teams to spot-check thousands of transportation depots across the nation.

VIPR teams conducted 3,895 operations in “surface modes” nationwide in 2010, according to the Department of Homeland Security (PDF).

The expansion comes after intelligence from Osama bin Laden’s Pakistan compound revealed al Qaeda plans to target U.S. rail systems on the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

At a time when TSA airport searches are unpopular among many air travelers, civil liberties groups say VIPR’s joint participation with local police in “warrantless” searches have been “flying under the radar” in violation of constitutional protections. Transit police say it helps them better guard against attacks like those that have hit Madrid, London and Moscow since 2004.

VIPR teams join local authorities for many of their operations aimed at searching passenger bags. Authorities say officers include plainclothes and uniformed team members — some of them armed — who arrive without telling passengers in advance.

Officers in the joint operations then randomly ask travelers for permission to search their bags for explosives. To prevent accusations of profiling, searchers choose a random number — eight for example — and then search the bags of every eighth passenger before they board.

Also, VIPR observers may be in the vicinity, keeping an eye out for suspicious behavior, police say.

Local and federal authorities insist the searches are not mandatory.

Full Story

New iPhone and iPad app rewards couch potatoes for watching lots of TV


Down time: It would take about three weeks of heavy TV watching to earn a $5 gift card

Viggle listens to what’s on TV and gives approximately two points per minute watched  

App collects demographic information such as age, gender, ZIP code, and email address

New iPhone and iPad app rewards couch potatoes for watching TV – with gift certificates to Burger King and Starbucks

Daily Mail | Jan 24, 2012

Want to earn stuff by merely watching TV? There’s an app for that.

A new app slated to be released today for iPhones and iPads rewards viewers for watching shows – the more shows the better.

When you tap the screen, Viggle’s software for iPhones and iPads listens to what’s on, recognizes what you’re watching and gives you credit at roughly two points per minute.

It even works for shows you’ve saved on a digital video recorder.

Rack up 7,500 points, and you’ll be rewarded with a $5 gift card from retailers such as Burger King, Starbucks, Apple’s iTunes, Best Buy and CVS, which you can redeem directly from your device.

Related

HULU Commercials are Brutally Honest (video)

But the company plans to offer bonus points for checking into certain shows such as American Idol and 1,500 points for signing up.

You can also get extra points for watching an ad on your device. The beta version awarded 100 points for watching a 15-second ad from Verizon Wireless.

The venture was launched by American Idol backer Robert Sillerman, whose former company, CKX, owns the popular show.

‘Viggle is the first loyalty program for TV,’ said Chris Stephenson, president of the company behind Viggle, Function (X) Inc. ‘We’re basically allowing people to get rewards for doing something they’re doing already and that they love to do.’

The idea behind Viggle is that by giving people an added reason to watch TV, the size of the audience will increase, thereby allowing makers of shows to earn more money from advertisers.

Advertisers such as Burger King, Pepsi and Gatorade have also agreed to pay to have point-hungry users watch their ads on a mobile device.

In exchange, users earn points, which Viggle converts into real value by buying gift cards at a slight discount from retailers.

If the company gets the point-count economy right, it can end up making more money from advertisers and networks than it gives away in rewards.

The app will also give the company valuable insight into who is watching what, as redeeming rewards requires putting in your age, gender, email address and ZIP code.

‘It really shows what social TV is going to evolve into,’ said Michael Gartenberg, a technology analyst at research firm Gartner. ‘For folks behind the scenes, this is a great way of seeing who really is watching.’

The company hopes that user activity will grow by word of mouth, especially by offering a 200-point bonus to people who successfully get their friends to try out the service.

The app makes its debut in Apple Inc.’s app store on Wednesday. Versions for Android devices and computers are in the works.

The company has put in some safeguards. You must watch a show at least ten minutes to earn bonus points.

And you can’t watch the same ad over and over again to earn more points; there’s a one-ad-view-per-person rule.

Function (X) has brought in $100million in investment capital, and its stock trades on the Pink Sheets, a platform that allows people to buy shares but doesn’t require the company release its financial results.

Function (X) currently has a market value of about $1billion.

24 hour shifts, suicide nets, toxic exposure and explosions: Inside the Chinese iPad factories


Unpleasant sight: Nets to prevent workers from jumping to their deaths are pictured outside one of the Foxconn factory buildings in the township of Longhua, in southern Guangdong province

‘Work hard on the job today or work hard to find a job tomorrow’

– Banner in Chengdu plant

  •     ‘Working excessive overtime without a single day off during the week’
  •     ‘Living together in crowded dorms and exposure to dangerous chemicals’
  •     Two explosions in 2011 in China ‘due to aluminum dust’ killed four workers
  •     Almost 140 injured after using toxin in factory, reports New York Times

‘Forced to stand for 24 hours, suicide nets, toxin exposure and explosions’: Inside the Chinese factories making iPads for Apple

Daily Mail | Jan 27, 2012

By Mark Duell

Working excessive overtime without a single day off during the week, living together in crowded dormitories and standing so long that their legs swell and they can hardly walk after a 24-hour shift.

These are the lives some employees claim they live at Apple’s manufacturing centres in China, where the firm’s suppliers allegedly wrongly dispose of hazardous waste and produce improper records.

Almost 140 workers at a supplier in China were injured two years ago using a poisonous chemical to clean iPhone screens – and two explosions last year killed four people while injuring more than 75.

The California tech giant had allegedly been alerted to hazardous conditions inside the Chengdu plant in southwest China before the explosions at those plants, reported the New York Times.

‘If Apple was warned and didn’t act, that’s reprehensible,’ Massachusetts Institute of Technology work safety expert Nicholas Ashford told the New York Times.

‘But what’s morally repugnant in one country is accepted business practices in another, and companies take advantage of that,’ the former U.S. Labor Department advisor added.

Banners in the Chengdu plant gave a warning to the 120,000 staff: ‘Work hard on the job today or work hard to find a job tomorrow’. Workers who arrived late often had to write confession letters.

The newspaper’s report comes hot on the heels of Apple announcing whopping $13billion profits on $46billion sales in its last quarter – but the firm still wants its overseas factories to produce more.

Apple executives claim it has improved factories in recent years and issues a supplier code of conduct on labour and safety – but problems still exist, according to employment advocacy groups.

More than half of the suppliers audited by Apple have broken at least one part of its conduct code each year since 2007 and have even broken the law in some cases, according to company reports.

A Foxconn employee jumped or fell from a block of flats after losing an iPhone prototype in 2009 – and 18 other workers apparently tried to commit suicide in two years, reported the New York Times.

Suicide nets were installed to prevent workers from jumping to their deaths and Foxconn began providing better mental health treatment for its staff.

Li Mingqi worked for Apple manufacturing partner Foxconn Technology until last spring and helped manage the Chengdu plant which had the explosion. He is now suing Foxconn over his dismissal.

‘Apple never cared about anything other than increasing product quality and decreasing production cost,’ Mr Li told the New York Times. ‘Workers’ welfare has nothing to do with their interests.’

The fatal Chengdu explosion came from an aluminium dust build up three weeks after the iPad came out. Despite Apple’s probe, seven months on there was a further, non-fatal, explosion in Shanghai.

A former Apple executive claimed that the company has had knowledge of labour abuses in some factories for four years – ‘and they’re still going on because the system works for us’.

Suppliers are only allowed the smallest margins on what they produce for Apple, and executives at the Cupertino company always ask them for details on part costs, worker numbers and salary sizes.

But workers at a factory of Apple partner Wintek went on strike after rumours that employees were exposed to toxins because they evaporated three times faster than alcohol when rubbing screens.

Apple’s late co-founder Steve Jobs, who died last October, said two years ago that Apple is a worldwide leader in ‘understanding the working conditions in our supply chain’.

He said many of the factories have restaurants, cinemas, hospitals and swimming pools. While staff say they appreciate these facilities, the working conditions are still seen as relentless.

Foxconn said conditions are ‘anything but harsh’, just one in 20 workers assembly line workers must stand to do their jobs and the firm has a ‘very good safety record’, reported the New York Times.

But the Mail on Sunday visited a Foxconn factory making iPods in Shenzhen, China, in 2006, and our reports on long hours, crowded accommodation and punishments shocked Apple executives.

‘We’re trying really hard to make things better,’ one former Apple executive told the New York Times. ‘But most people would still be really disturbed if they saw where their iPhone comes from.’