TIL Banks Don’t Have Credit Ratings

On June 3, 2018, Cory Doctorow tweeted a link to a post on the Boing! Boing! website titled America is the world’s first poor rich country. Cory doesn’t seem to have a very good grasp of economics, so I typically ignore these kinds of posts, but the title was intriguing so I took the bait.

The post is a summary and then an extended quote from a Medium post of the same name by Umair Haque. Near the end of the portion that Cory excerpted is a stunning, obviously false claim (emphasis added),

Well, what happens if the average American steps over the line? Misses a mortgage payment, gets ill and is unable to pay a few bills on time, can’t pay the costs of healthcare? Then they are punished severely and mercilessly. Their “credit rating” (note how banks and hedge funds don’t have them) is ruined.

Of course banks, hedge funds and other financial institutions have credit and similar ratings. Companies like Moody’s, Standards & Poor, and Fitch all produce such ratings. And, unlike most personal credit, many of these ratings are generally publicly available.

For example, I do most of my banking with PNC. Here’s a full run-down of PNC’s various credit ratings from different agencies.

Yet both Haque and Doctorow felt qualified to make sweeping claims about the economy without having even a basic grasp that links like Standards & Poor exist to rate financial institutions.

It was both surprising and unsurprising to see Doctorow suggest an essay by Haque. Haque is clearly a bit of a nutcase, as exemplified by another Medium rant of his, The Breaking of the American Mind.

A large part of the essay deals with a minor kerfuffle created around the status of 1,500 minor immigrant children who arrived in the United States during the Obama administration. The children applied for asylum, and in many cases were placed with family members (often themselves in the United States illegally), while their asylum cases were adjudicated.

As Politifact summed it up,

From October to December 2017, the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement attempted to reach 7,635 unaccompanied minors and their sponsors, said Steven Wagner, acting assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families within HHS in April.

Of the 7,635 children:

• 6,075 remained with their sponsors;

• 28 had run away;

• 5 had been deported;

• 52 relocated to live with a non-sponsor;

• 1,475 could not be reached.

. . .

“These children are not ‘lost’; their sponsors — who are usually parents or family members and in all cases have been vetted for criminality and ability to provide for them — simply did not respond or could not be reached when this voluntary call was made,” HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan said in a May 28 statement.

Here’s how Haque frames this issue,

Yet shortly before all this took place, a lawyer of some sort took to Twitter(First, she remarked that the kids are OK?—?Schrodingers’ kids, remember?But she cannot have interacted with all of them, and didn’t claim to have talked to a single one. So are we to simply take her word for it? That is what most people appeared to do. Critical thinking, remember? But I digress.) She went on suggest that disappearances are good for the disappeared?—?better for the government not to able to keep track of people. Maybe vulnerable people can vanish and escape into thin air that way. Liberals cheered. How wonderful! Disappearances are not a bad thing after all! Hooray!!

Only a cursory glance at history suggests none of this is true in any way whatsoever. Disappearances in Argentina, Iraq, the Soviet Union, Maoist China and Nazi Germany did not mean that the disappeared had escaped. It meant that quite the opposite. Almost never in history have disappearances been good for the disappeared?—?usually, they have been very bad. It’s true that should an authoritarian government not be able to track you, that may well be a benefit to you. But that is not what a disappearance is, is it? A disappearance is the erasure of a person who already exists?—?not the failure to record a person’s existence in the first place. Surely the difference is obvious enough. And yet no one questioned any of this?—?because no one appeared to be thinking much at all.

This is little more than word salad of the variety that the Trump serves up on a regular basis.

There Is No Boing! Boing! (Or Spoon, For That Matter)

The exchange below between Boing! Boing! moderator Antinous and a couple of readers had me laughing out loud. SedanChair pointed out an alleged inconsistency in Boing! Boing!’s approach to intellectual property, claiming the site tends to be IP minimalists when it comes to things like books or music, but acting like IP maximalists when it comes to things like genetic information in the case of the HeLa cell line.

I don’t necessarily agree with that argument but am more interested in how Antinous nicely regurgitates the party line that there is no “Boing! Boing!” You can judge for yourselves, but I suspect if someone made this argument at Boing! Boing! about any other corporation, this argument would be rightly ridiculed at Boing! Boing!.

 

There Is No Boing! Boing!

Why Do Websites like Boing! Boing! Collect So Much Data?

This exchange between Greg Yardley of Pinch Media and Joel Johnson of Boing! Boing! highlighted a fundamental hypocrisy about data collection and really begs the question of why so many websites think they need to collect so much data about visitors while really making this hard to suss out for normal users.

Yardley is co-founder of Pinch Media which makes spyware that is then baked into iPhone apps. When you use the iPhone app, the app gathers and transmits information about you back to Pinch Media. Johnson highlighted this, but Yardley responded that what company does is no different than what Boing! Boing! does,

Here’s what Boing Boing is running right now, right when I loaded this page:

Google Analytics
Quantcast
Federated Media
HitTail
Doubleclick
Google Custom Search Engine
Tribal Fusion
Six Apart Advertising
Adify
Chitika
AWStats

That’s no fewer than eleven different services that started tracking information about me without my consent. Most (not all) of these services track users across every domain where their code is placed, constructing a profile that’s then used for ad targeting. Some of these services go out of their way to circumvent user attempts to safeguard their privacy. A couple, for instance, store information in the much lesser-known – and rarely deleted – Local Shared Objects that come along with Flash, and have been known to use this information to ‘recreate’ user cookies after they’ve specifically been deleted. A couple more combine the information they’ve gathered about you here with information they’ve pulled in from social networks (where you’re also tracked) to work up a complete demographic profile for targeting. Some of these probably don’t even have a direct relationship with Boing Boing, but are served by other ad networks doing backfill – you could get a different set of trackers, potentially even more invasive, the next time you reload the page.

I didn’t consent to any of the tracking Boing Boing does – there’s no terms of service or privacy policy that pops up on first entry. Even if there *was*, by the time I got here, it’d be too late. If we went by the first commenter’s standards, Boing Boing’s running eleven different pieces of spyware.

The weird thing is that Johnson’s response is extremely weak (emphasis added),

And as far as Boing Boing‘s tracking and analytics goes, I can’t really argue against his general point. It’s useful for me as a writer and small businessman to have some basic stats (tracking pageviews to understand what sort of articles readers find compelling, for instance), and I think most people understand that a baseline of metrics is par for the course on commercial sites, but I hate the amount of tracking the comes out of the ad networks, too, and it only seems to be getting worse. There’s rarely more perfidious Javascript than that coded by an ad network programmer.

First, I think he’s totally wrong about the bolded part. Most people don’t have a clue just how much data the typical website is gathering about them. If you started talking to them about “baseline metrics” as Johnson does their eyes would glaze over.

But even assume that is true, so what? Saying it is useful and most people have come to expect it seem like the sort of weasel words we’d see from any industry trying to cover its ass.

Johnson continues and here’s where he really goes off the rails,

But there’s one difference between web-based tracking and the sort of analytics that Pinch Media gathers on the iPhone: it’s pretty simple to figure out what stats tracking occurs between a web site and a browser on a computer, as Yardley shows; it’s much more difficult to discern—or even be aware of—tracking that occurs in a closed system like the iPhone. And it’s not FUD to point it out so users can make their own decision.

That is a complete crock of shit. It is, in fact, extremely difficult for most people to figure out what is going on when they visit a website. I know pretty much what Boing! Boing! is doing in the background because I run Adblock and NoScript and can quickly look at all of the stuff Yardley points out.

The secretary down the hall has no clue. Moreover, my experience has been that once you show people and they understand, rather than being empowered they are resigned to going along with the system because they have little choice to do otherwise.

I can quickly right click on the NoScript button and enable the Flash movie that I want to see but that it blocked. The secretary has better things to do than spend all of her time trying to guess which script on the page is serving up necessary content and which is going to rat her out to some other server.

And before anyone beats me to it, I do run two services here — Google Ads and WordPress.com stats. Google Ads because I’m a greedy bastard, and WordPress.com stats because I wanted a basic stat tracking without the overkill that is Google Analytics. I’m not prepared to defend either one as motivated by anything other than crass self-interest.

Conspiracy Theories at Boing! Boing!

What always amazes me about partisans of any political stripe is the sort of cognitive dissonance that allows any given behavior to be justified or condemned based on who is carrying it out rather than what is actually being done. So the Republicans who until a few months ago were defending pretty much unlimited power for Bush are suddenly concerned about the concentration of executive power in the Obama administration.

Mark Frauenfelder at Boing! Boing! provides an excellent example of this in posting about Fox News’ Glenn Beck claiming that FEMA is building camps that are intended to house American dissidents. The headline at BB reads, “Fox’s Glenn Beck says Obama is building concentration camps for Republicans,” even though Beck never says the alleged camps are exclusively for Republicans.

Frauenfelder rightly dismisses this nonsense, writing,

Swiping material from the X-Files, Fox’s Glenn Beck warns that Obama is setting up FEMA concentration camps to warehouse the nation’s neocons, fundies, wingnuts, and dittoheads.

Of course the FEMA story has persisted through a number of presidencies. Back in the mid-1990s, it was Clinton who supposedly was going to round up conservatives for the camps, and then for most of this decade it was Bush who was preparing to incarcerate potentially millions of American dissidents in FEMA camps.

Absurd. No one would believe this, stuff, right? Hmmm…lets rewind to May 19, 2008, when Frauenfelder decided to post to Boing! Boing! a link to an article on that scholarly publication, Radar Online, that alleged the government was compiling a list of millions of American dissidents to track and possibly even detain. Frauenfelder, swiping material from the X-Files, wrote,

A feature in the most recent issue of RADAR is about a possible government program that tracks citizens’ behavior (online and otherwise) to compile a list of people to detain in case of martial law.

Now that’s cognitive dissonance.

Hey Target Market — Er, I Mean Happy Mutants

Damn. Boing! Boing! certainly took down David Pescovitz’s marketing survey request in a hurry. It’s too bad, because I would have loved to have seen the comment thread there.

Boing! Boing! Marketing Survey

The actual survey is still up here, and its pretty basic market droid stuff. What’s your household income, how much time do you spend online, do you pledge allegiance for Boing! Boing! in the ongoing slime war against Violet Blue (okay, I made that last one up).

For a site like Boing! Boing! that’s all over other people’s failures in this area, there’s not a  goddamned word about privacy or how the data will be treated beyond what you read above (for example, will they log my IP when I fill out the form? I don’t know — the survey doesn’t bother to say anything either way).

At this point, I’d recommend replacing the “Get Illuminated” text in the Boing! Boing! logo graphic to “You Are A Target Market”, but that’s just me. This could be good info for Douglas Rushkoff to have the next time he runs his infomercials — er guest blogs — for Boing! Boing!