Warning Added to Library Borrowed Kindle Ebooks

Screen shot of dialog warning borrowers that Amazon has access to your check out record.
Kindle Warning
As previously noted, you can borrows ebooks from the library for the Kindle reader or Kindle apps. You can even cleverly extend the due date on a borrowed Kindle ebook. So it’s about time that Amazon and Overdrive warned borrowers that Amazon has access to your library record. They’ve added a warning dialog. I say they because while I think it’s Overdrive, it could be the local library; I honestly can’t tell, and both parties have declined to respond to inquiries.

It’s not clear, really, in terms of what they have access to; mostly it just states you’re leaving the library’s site and going to an unnamed third-party site that does not share the library’s privacy policy.

I wish they’d tell people up front that Amazon gets your email, the title and associated metatdata of the book you are borrowing, and the due date, and that Amazon will email you to tell you that the book is due in X days (usually 2) and offer to sell you a copy. I also wish that they required you to opt-in, or at least offer an opt-out.

FaceBook and Privacy

There’s a lot to like about social network services and sites, at least when they let you choose what you want to share, and who you want to share it with. FaceBook has been steadily degrading their Privacy policies to allow them to re-use posted content (for free, naturally) pretty much how ever FaceBook wants. They’ve consistently messed with their UI to make it difficult to understand or to change your privacy settings. And they’re grabbing user content and re-posting to Community pages that FaceBook controls (presumably for the purposes of ad targetting).

There’s bookmarklet on the page linked  below (drag the bookmarklet to your Web browser toolbar then log in to Facebook) that checks to see what kind of information FaceBook can/is sharing about you, and helps you tweak your FaceBook privacy settings, if you want.

This site has a bookmarklet that lets you check your Privacy settings, an otherwise arcane is complex process with a UI that often requires you to click five items before arriving at a setting to change.

The bookmarklet is a simple javascript; it is harmless, and you can safely use and delete it.

Turnitin Sued

My friend Dawno alerted me to this story about anti-plagiarism service Turnitin.com being sued for copyright violation by four students. Turnitin is a service contracted by universities and schools. Faculty submit student papers for analysis by Turnitin which compares the text to papers stored in an internal database and to text stored on the Web; Turnitin uses an algorithm based-text-string analysis of the sort an experienced teacher engages in when we use our own skills and Google to spot plagiarism. Turnitin looks for strings that match within a few characters, and then provides a “report” that color codes text and and offers statistics and URLs.

I’ve had problem with the concepts behind Turnitin right from the start; I blogged about my concerns regarding violating student’s rights some time ago. Now, students are suing Turnitin for copyright violation because their papers are databased and used for subsequent comparisons without their permission; I suspect we’ll see a privacy violation, particularly in the context of FERPA soon.

Death Threats are Not OK

Blogger and UI expert, Kathy Sierra, had to cancel her talk at the Etech conference, because of really really nasty death threats, and threats of sexual assault. You can read about it here.

There are fairly well-known “A-list” bloggers skirting the outskirts of this. And there are certainly quite a few people who know who’s responsible.

They need to go to the police. This is absolutely not acceptable, ever.

Via Chuqui, here are some blogs that talk about Kathy’s sick, vicious, criminal attackers.

CAPTCHA and the Non-Standard User

In the last year or so a number of sites that offer a service or interact with readers via comments have started using images as a way to authenticate users as living people rather than a piece of software. These CAPTCHA images reduce fraudulent accounts used for spam, spreading malware and engaging various other nasty practices. A Capcha image of a Google CAPTCHA sequenceis an image of a few characters (letters and numbers) without actual meaning, that are deliberately distorted so that a human is usually capable of deciphering them, but a piece of software is not. CAPTCHA stands for Completely Automated Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart. There’s a picture of one over there to the left, in case you’ve somehow missed them.

I think I first noticed them on Yahoo, but captchas have began appearing all over the place, in Google services account creation pages, on Blogger for comment posting, and in various blogging systems via plug-ins. The user sees the captcha, decodes it, and then types the nonsensical but short text string in a box to authenticate as a Real Live User. I’m sure using CAPTCHA to authenticate users reduces fraudulent accounts and spam comments.

But I can’t read them, most of the time. I suppose you could say I failed the Turing test. I’m dyslexic. My dyslexia rarely affects my reading, because while a b p and d might as well be the same letter, there’s context so I can figure out what the word is—and it’s not like I’m going to see b, p, and d in the same word all that often. I’m actually a good reader. Usually. Yahoo capchaBut captchas rarely use real words, they tend to mix letters and numbers, and they’re distorted spatially (which I do quite well on my own, thanks). In some implementations, captchas include extraneous data like “scratches” as well. More often than not, I can’t decode the image and can’t type the letters in the field, and so can’t authenticate myself as human.

That means, for instance, I may not comment on your blog. No big loss that. But what if you’re using CAPTCHA on an educational site, perhaps part of a LMS or class web site? What if the workplace uses Capcha for authentication for some services? Oops.

MIT, who created CAPTCHA, created a system of audio captchas; that is, a digital recording (usually a string of numbers) with a lot of background noise (say, burbling water, or “wallah”) and perhaps two voices providing the numeric string, and then inserting extraneous words. I have a hard time with those too, but at least Google thought to offer them; I can play the audio as many times as I want while I make a transcription. So far, Google is the only site I’ve seen using CAPTCHA that offers an alternative for those who can’t decode the image. There’s a useful Note on the Inaccessibilty of CAPTCHA from the W3C.

If you’re using CAPTCHA

  • Please provide a clear alternative for people who have difficulty.
  • Consider providing an e-mail address, where a user can introduce themselves and you can post their comment or create the account for them when they really can’t deal with the captcha.