No, you should never give a potential employer your passwords

I just about fell out of my chair when I read that it is an increasing trend in the United States that potential employers are asking applicants to give their Facebook passwords during the interview process.  I mean literally almost fell out of my chair.  The entire concept of that is so appauling to me that I can't even begin to describe it.  This isn't going to be a long post for a pretty simple reason.  Would you give an employer your mail to look through?  Would you give them the keys to your house to look through?  Giving up a Facebook account, email access, etc is the exact same thing.

The other consideration is that when you give up your Facebook login details to anyone, you are not only compromising your own personal information, but also the personal information of your Facebook friends, since anyone logging into your account would also have access to your friends and their information which they have shared with you.

Then there is the simple fact that if an employer is going to base whether or not they hire me on my Facebook account, Twitter profile, or any other kind of personal device like that, they are not an employer that is one that is worth working for.  If an employer is not going to hire me because of a picture of me at a bar having a shot, than what realistic expectation do I have as to the type of workplace that will be?

I will say it again, never give your passwords for any kind of online account to anyone, especially a potential employer. They are not worth it.  I could go on a lot longer about this, and how much of an invasion of privacy it is, etc.  But I don't need to, because the entire idea is so hilariously bad it speaks for itself.

That feeling when your credit card is stolen

Last Wednesday I logged into my bank account online to check a balance.  As I looked at it my eyes went to my visa.  I then looked at it again.  And then one more time.  My Visa had a balance of about $3600, which was about $3400 more than it should have been. I looked at the transaction summary, and saw a large list of purchases that I hadn't made.  It has been a while since I felt my stomach drop like that, but something I never thought would happen to me happened, my credit card number was stolen.

Looking at those transactions over and over again was a really helpless feeling. It was a pretty long list of things I had never purchased.  I knew that I had to call my bank, but it just really took a second to process the fact that I had almost $3500 in charges on my card.  I wasn't quite speechless, but the words I had are not what I would call family friendly.  Looking back it is actually hard to remember exactly what I felt that morning, as it was kind of a blur.  I've never had something like this happen to me before, and the feeling was almost surreal. A week later it is still hard to believe. Sounds cliche, but I never thought this would ever happen to me.

Long story short I called my bank, after the first person I talked to realized that this wasn't one or two transactions, I was transferred to the Visa security area and went through a few things with that person.  The charges were flagged, my card and number were cancelled, and a new card with a new number were put in the mail to me.  I was initially told it would take 3-4 weeks for the charges to be reversed, but they were all reversed 2 days later, much to my relief.  I wasn't super worried, since pretty much every credit card is insured against fraud now (though I HIGHLY recommend you check yours if you aren't sure).  But it was still a scary few days.  This wasn't even money stolen from me, this was someone basically spending money in my name, which is something that was hard to wrap my head around.

Since all of the charges were reversed I can now laugh about the purchases, which I happen to have taken a screen grab of.  This is no way means I condone what these people did, but man, did they ever have a good 2 days at the expense of insurance.  Hopefully they get caught, because this is amazing.

Fraud

 

So, lets see, a $200 sushi dinner, a $400 tab at Hudson's and $300 at the Sunterra market.  A total of about $1600, likely in power tools at Home Depot and Rona, a few trips to a gas station to fill up the trucks that were holding the power tools and Sunterra products. Oh, and $4 in parking.  That one seriously makes me chuckle.  They spent $950 in one trip at home depot on my card, but then also $4 on parking….sure, why not.

Now, the attention turns to exactly how this happened.  The reality is that I'll never really know, but one thing I'm sure of is that the card had to have been skimmed locally.  Since all of the charges are local (the Sunterra one, even though it says calgary, is still a local purchase, Sunterra just reads that way) there isn't anything else it could be.  The odds of my card number being stolen online and then all of the fraudulent charges being where I live are astronomical.  Where could this have been? Again, who knows.  Since the card has been cancelled I can say that it was a new card issued in November of 2011, which means that it could have been skimmed at any time between early November and early February.  I put a lot of my Christmas shopping on my Visa this year, just because I did most of my shopping in 2 big spurts and I have a limit on how much I can spend on my debit card every day (ironically to combat if that card ever gets compromised), and I didn't want to run into that while doing my shopping.  I used it one night to start a bar tab when I was out, even though we didn't use the card to pay for anything in the end, and I also use it at gas stations when I have to pay at the pump.  It could have been at any of those places.  I've also been told that it is very common for the thieves to sit on the numbers they have stolen for a few months after getting them.  They then either use them or sell them slowly to try to keep it as low profile as possible, which is likely what happened to me.

One thing that this has really opened my eyes to is how much i rely on my credit card.  Not that I'm swimming in debt and am living on my card, but there are so many things that I do use it for on a regular basis without even thinking about it.  I do buy a lot of things online, which obviously uses my credit card in most situations.  I have a few things that charge my credit card on a monthly basis (Netflix, Star Wars: The Old Republic, etc), and i purchase music through iTunes using my credit card.  But oddly the one thing where I notice it the most is with my phone.  With my Galaxy Nexus running Android, I cannot buy apps or anything using an in-app purchase at all.  Again, it's not like I was spending a ton of money there, but I went to buy a 99 cent game to play around with, and realized I couldn't because my card was no longer valid.  There are just so many little things that it gets used for that without it I actually cannot do many of the things I do on a regular basis.  I know of a few people who don't like credit cards, and even some people who do not have a credit card, and don't know how they can actually live without having one.  This doesn't apply just to online purchases either.  Renting a car, staying in a hotel, basically anything you want to do when travelling needs a credit card, and I can't begin to imagine not having one.

This has identified a real need that I have to address.  What would have happened had this occurred while I was travelling? What if I lost access to my credit when I really needed it?  I know a few people who have a second credit card that they only use for online purchases, and while Im' not going to go quite that far I think what I need to do is get a second credit card with a lower limit that I can keep as a "just in case" situation.  I don't need another card to rack up a lot of charges on, but this has really shown me that I depend on access to credit enough that I really should have a backup option, in case this ever happens again.  That is something that I'm going to look into, and something that, after this situation I have gone through, I would recommend to pretty much everyone.  Having that backup plan is more important than I thought.

The last thing I want to just mention is how ironic this is.  To this day there are still many people who are afraid of online shopping because they are afraid of using their credit card online.  They are afraid that someone could steal their number and use it.  I've always been someone trying to clear the fear on that, as online credit card transactions are among the most safe and secure things someone can do on the internet these days.  There is no company that wants to have to tell the world that they have had their users' credit card information stolen.  Sony had to do it on 2011 and it was a nightmare for them, and really damaged them as a company.  Companies spend more money that most people realize to ensure that online shopping is among the safest things on the internet, and I have almost no fear of giving my credit card to a reputable company for a transaction.

For all the shopping I do online, my card was stolen the old fashioned way, the magnetic stripe was skimmed.  This is something that could happen to someone who has never used a computer in their life.  Really, when you sit down and think about it, I really think that shopping online is actually safer than giving your credit card to a waiter or waitress in a restaurant, or swiping it in some machine at a gas station.  I have no idea where my card goes when a waitress takes it at a restaurant, nor do I know who has touched or tampered with the machine at a gas station.  For everyone who has told me that online shopping is dangerous, and that they will never do it, I can simply point them to the time when I had my number stolen, without the help of the internet.  It doesn't make me feel good about the situation, but the sense of irony is certainly not lost on me.

Shocking: apps that need to use your address book do, in fact, need to use your address book

There has been a massive uproar in the last week about smartphone apps that take users address books and use them for an action in the app.  This is most common with social type apps, those that say "hey, these friends are using [app X], do you want to be friends with them?"  What is unfortunate is that this has been going on for years, and people simply don't understand how it works.

I will be talking about Path here, since that is the app that received much of the attention, but many other apps like GroupMe, LiveProfile, even Facebook and Twitter, do this.  What happens is that when an like Path wants to check to see fi any of your contacts are already using Path, there are two ways it can do that.  The first is to upload your contact list to the Path servers, where they can then check that list against the hundreds of thousands of users registered on Path.  The other option is to download the database of all of the hundreds of thousands of users who use Path to your phone, so it can then check yoru contacts against that list.

So, which do you think is better/easier?  Uploading 50-200 names so it can be checked against a list of say, 700,000, or downloading 700,000 names so they can be checked against a list of 50-200?

The other part of this is that some apps will alert you when a new friend joins Path.  To do this, Path would have to upload your contact list each and every time the app starts.  I would honestly rather have the list get uploaded once, instead of several times a day.

Now, I will admit that many apps are not clear about this, and I don't think most people even realized how this worked, even if it is fairly obvious when you sit and think about it for 5 minutes.  This is another unfortunate case of most consumers not understanding how the technology they use every day works.  And again, because too many people don't understand, things will have to change.  Apple has said they will update iOS to force any app that wants to use contact information to explicitly ask before it can.  I will point out though that in Android every app you install does list the permissions it requires, and an app will tell you then if it needs to use your contact list.  I doubt many people really look at this, but it has been in Android since the very beginning.  The change Apple is making is not a bad change, I just wish it didn't have to be necessary.

Twenty Five

As I sit here writing this, I'm only a few hours from my 25th birthday.  That really blows my mind. Not because I'm 25, but because I don't know where the last year went.  2011 was a year that I won't soon forget, and not just for good things.  It has been a wild 12 months, and the fact that I'm turning 25 only amplifies that.

2011 brought some great opportunities for me.  I got to go back to downtown Toronto for a few days, the first time I've actually stayed there, and it was a blast. I saw my first Major League Baseball game in Toronto, a wonderful AL East matchup between the Jays and the Red Sox, and the Jays actually won. I also got to see the Niagara falls for the first time.  The falls are simply breathtaking.  There really aren't words to describe how big they are.  It is something everyone should see once.  I went back to the Oakanogan valley for the second year in a row. My family went there every year for many years when I was a kid, and I'm loving the return of that tradition.  I attended Fragapalooza for the 5th time.  I was able to go to the Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle in August.  PAX is an amazing experience and one I won't forget.  I'm really hoping to go back again this year.  I also got to see another baseball game in Seattle and the beautiful Safeco Field where the Mariners, a pretty terrible team also won, beating the Angels.

Even with all of those great things I did last year, it was still a difficult year.  A couple things changed with my family in the past year.  While those closest to me will know what I'm talking about, I haven't, and won't, talk much about it in a public forum.  My family was presented with a new challenge this year, one that we will have to face for a long time.  It is what it is, and the learning curve has been steep, but life does continue on.  The year was difficult, and while nothing has changed, a lot has been learned and my hope is that while things might not necessarily get better, we are a bit better equipped to deal with what comes our way, and managing things will be better, if not easier.

Turning 25 has made me think a lot in the last couple weeks, both about the past and the future.  The last two years have been years of change for me.  I've developed a lot of new friendships, many of them thanks to things like Twitter, and have seen some old ones fade away.  I know that it is normal for that to happen, but it still makes me pause sometimes.  I think about how I'm 25, and have already been working full time for 5 years.  While I don't regret it, sometimes I wonder what might have been had I not done that so early, how different things would be.  But what's done is done. I have a good full time job with a good company. While I am not going to say that I'm working my dream job, mostly because I'm still not 100% sure what that even is yet, it's not a job that I hate, and right now that is good enough for me.

But, one thing I want to stop doing is looking back.  As I said the last 2 years have been years of change for me.  I don't' see this year being any different, but this year I want to have a different attitude.  My goal for this year is to think less about the "what if".  Too many "what if's" have led to too many missed opportunities, too much uncertainty.  I want to stop worrying about what might happen and just see what actually does happen.  I have some decisions to make this year, and some of them might include letting go of the past a bit.  I think I have made great strides in the last year especially, and it is time to continue that.

So, 25, I'm coming for you.  I'm looking forward to you, and I can't wait to see what you have to bring.  I know you aren't always going to be kind to me, but the feeling will be mutual.  What matters is that I'm heading into it full steam ahead. Lets see what happens.

The Twitter redesign - it's about the people

Yes, the Twitter redesign is different. No, there are parts of it I don't like either. But yes, it is better for Twitter.  Too much is being made of how it's changing too much and it's not the same way it was 5 years ago.  People say the same thing about Facebook, and last time I checked, they're doing pretty well.

Twitter is not the same service it was even 2 years ago.  Twitter has changed from what was essentially a combination of a text messaging replacement and a group messaging system to a communication platform.  It has evolved far beyond what anyone, myself included, thought it could.  The recent changes to Twitter make that more evident than ever.  Twitter has become more about connecting people and discovering information.  It should be no surprise that "connect" and "discover" are two words that feature prominently in the new Twitter design, but more on that later.

As simple of a concept as Twitter is, it actually hit a point where it did become very complicated to use, especially for newer users.  The first time you see "RT @wunderbar this #coke commercial is so #winning: bit.ly/1234" (note that is not a real link), how are you supposed to make sense of that?  RT, what does that even mean?  What is the email sign doing there? why are we putting pound signs in front of random words, and what is this bit.ly thing?  It may seem trivial to those of us who have been using Twitter for years, and in some cases literally invented some of those things.  (@replies, hashtags, and retweeting were all originally things users did to try to overcome shortcomings of the service that Twitter eventually embraced and built into the service.)  Twitter, in all of the simplicity, was becoming complicated.  The new design is there specifically to tty to make it simple and more accessible again.

Twitter's new design is focused on 4 things.  Home, connect, discover, and Me.  Home is pretty self explanatory, that is where your twitter feed is, and where you will spend most of your time.  Connect, or @connect as it is branded, combines things like suggested followers, replies, and retweets.  this is very akin to the "activity" feed that twitter launched a few months ago.  I didn't like the concept of the activity feed before, but after looking at it for a few days now, I can see the value.  It is a good tool to see everything that is happening related to you, including who has started following you.  the "Me" part is also very simple, that is your profile page. In an unfortunate UI choice that is also where Direct Messages are now found.  I *really* dislike that, and hope that they move DM's to somewhere more obvious soon.  Having them in the profile page is stupid at best.

Discover, or #discover, is the most interesting part of the redesign.  One of the most powerful features of Twitter has always been the ability to search twitter to find out what people are talking about, right now.  The power of being able to see what thousands or millions of people are saying at the same time about the same thing cannot be under-estimated.  Whether it be during the Egyptian revolution in the spring of 2011, current news events, sporting events, or elections, the ability to do this is something that we have simply never had before.  Twitter has been trying to harness this power for a long time.  Summize was the first way to search Twitter, and it was so good that Twitter bought it way back in 2008.  From there, Twitter introduced Trending Topics, which aimed to show what the most talked about things were on Twitter as they were happening.  #Discover is the evolution of that.  Discover takes trending topics and evolves them.  No longer about providing just the topic itself, but to provide some context.  Beside the trending topics will be news stories about them, integrated into the page.  It is an interesting new use, and one that I do think will put the idea of the hashtag, trending topics, and search into the forefront of how people use Twitter, as it is much more streamlined.

Twitter also overhauled their apps.  Twitter for iPhone, Twitter for Android, and Tweetdeck all received significant updates.  Twitter for iPhone and Android have nearly identical UI, and integrate the new features.  Now, I've never been a big Twitter for Android user, but I have been forcing myself to use it for the last few days.  I can say that I don't hate it, but that I wish it performed faster.  It is faster than it was before, but I think I still prefer Tweetdeck for Android.  I'm going to keep using Twitter for a while, but I see myself going back to Tweetdeck shortly.

Tweetdeck is another matter.  Tweetdeck has always been known as the power users' Twitter.  It was powerful and could do more than 95% of users would ever need, and had more customization options than I even knew what to do with.  Tweetdeck, like Twitter, was overly complicated, and too complicated for most users to even understand.  Twitter bought Tweetdeck recently, and released Tweetdeck 1.0.  This has been very controversial, because Tweetdeck has taken some of that power away.  Gone are some of the customization options.  Gone is some of the features such as Foursquare account support, and most of the Facebook support has been cut.  The UI, while similar, has been completely overhauled.  Things are now displayed inline instead of in another column or as a focus stealing picture frame, which is consistent with the rest of the Twitter UI.  Searching is now easier, and the information is displayed in a way that is easier to see.

That doesn't mean that it is all good.  There are many changes to the UI which I frankly hate.  How columns are handled now is frankly terrible.  instead of a simple horizontal slider to move between columns, especially when you have a number of them, has been replaced with large buttons at either side of the end columns, switching between 2-3 at a time.  It is a very unfortunate UI choice which takes away many of the great advantages the column layout has.

some of the options taken away will be missed, and power users will complain that getting to others takes an extra mouse click or two compared to previous versions.  Some will dislike that the colour scheme cannot be customized, and some will dislike how it has been "dumbed down" somewhat.  Personally, i'm going to miss some of it too, but the changes to Tweetdeck and Twitter are much more positive than they are negative.

When thinking about the changes to Twitter, I've tried to look at it through someone else's eyes.  One thing that is easy to forget, especially for power users, is that Twitter is not being made just for us anymore.  It is being made so anyone can jump into it and not feel overwhelmed.  Twitter is a platform, and a platform has to appeal to everyone.  That means making it more accessible, which is what it is now.  While it has lost some of the "power" that it had before, I would argue that Twitter now has even more power, because there will be even more people using it, and the real power of Twitter is in the people.  If 100 million new people join Twitter after this re-design, which is possible, and even likely, that means that there are 100 million more people to search.  I said at the beginning that the real power of twitter is in the ability to find out what people are talking about right now.  The more people there are talking about things, the better a metric it is.  That is what Twitter wants.

Now, let's not kid ourselves.  Twitter is a business, and the real reason for this redesign is advertising.  Twitter has been experimenting with promoted items for a long time and this only makes it easier.  Brands and companies are easier to promote now, the #Discover page really begs for advertisers to attach their news stories to trending topics, and the @connect page will make it even easier for Twitter to suggest new people and brands for a person to follow.  This is a brilliant move by Twitter simply because it will make advertising on the service much more valuable without compromising much of the user experience.

I don't mind the dumbing down of the Twitter service, I don't even mind the prospect of more advertising, as long as the result brings me a better service than it was before.  While the changes last week have been very jarring, and change the service more than some people like, overall Twitter is a better service today than it was two weeks ago.  The power of Twitter is in the people, and that is evident now more than ever.