Yearly Archives: 2014

Text spam, mobile number privacy and arguing over the internet

Globe’s Spam Reports Policy

A few days ago I got dragged into a debate over Twitter regarding Globe’s policy on handling reports sent in via Twitter about spam/scam text messages. When you send in reports of text spams via Twitter, one of Globe’s representatives will ask you to agree that in case the spammer disputes the allegation, they would have to disclose your mobile number to them. For me, the policy seems completely reasonable: if you accuse someone of a crime, they should have a right to know what exactly they are accused of and who exactly the victim was. Apparently some people aren’t okay with this; they complain that Globe disclosing your mobile number would be an additional violation of privacy and opens you up to possible harassment by the spammer. Now, I can understand the concerns, but you have to look at things from the POV of Globe and consider why such a policy exists.

Allowing people to anonymously accuse someone of being a spammer could lead to abuse. What if you had a vengeful ex who sent in one of your texts or someone faked a screenshot to accuse you of being a spammer? I’m not sure what other ways there are to abuse this, but I know that not disclosing your number is like reporting a rape attempt and then refusing to identify yourself. How can the accused defend himself? Sure there is some possibility of harassment, but that’s true whenever anyone comes forward to report a crime. And note that Globe will only reveal your number if the spammer comes forward to dispute, which exposes the spammer himself. I’ve been reporting on average maybe 3-5 spam texts to Globe per week for the past few months (although I have serious doubts on the effectiveness of this – more on that later) and no one has ever come forward to dispute. And I don’t believe any real spammers ever will; the whole reason they use disposable mobile numbers in the first place is to so that they’re hard to catch. Coming forward to dispute charges only exposes them.

Arguing over the Internet

As an aside, Twitter is literally the worst sort of format for this sort of discourse. I got dragged into the discussion by a friend who knew I often reported to Globe, and for a while I was responding via my mobile and working with less than 80 characters per post since there were a number of people (that I didn’t know) involved. Sure enough I got a barrage of replies from some people, one of whom apparently wasn’t even aware that even screenshots can be edited (welcome to the internet!). I really shouldn’t have let myself get dragged into it, but now that I was there, as XKCD so famously put it:

The problem with debating on the internet in general of course (aside from all the trolls) is that a lot of people easily get aggravated and just lash out without even considering other POVs or the reason why certain policies are in place, which makes their arguments not very constructive at all. Instead of trying to understand the situation so that they could suggest possible workarounds or solutions, they just act indignant and insist on their view. Eventually, I finally quit replying via mobile and just waited til I got home so that I could post a longer response via twitlonger. I gave my opinions (stated above) and just said thanks for the lively debate and let myself out of the discussion.

On the effectiveness of reporting spam

As I said, I don’t actually think reporting spam texts to Globe is very effective; these spammers use disposable mobile numbers that they discard as soon as possible and there are literally billions of possible numbers, so disabling their numbers one at a time wouldn’t be very useful. Spam is an age-old problem (in internet years at least) that hasn’t even been solved in the email world, even by big companies like Google. A more reasonable answer would be spam filtering, the same type Google uses for gmail (not Yahoo mail’s filtering, that seems to be much less effective). However, this filtering can’t be done on Globe’s side, since that introduces the possibility of false positives. It has to be done on the client-side, that means on your mobile phone itself. A quick search tells me there are some android apps that claim to provide sms spam filtering, but I’ve never tried any of them so I cannot speak for their effectiveness. And where does that leave people without smartphones?

Another problem is that the default SMS applications for smartphones aren’t as sophisticated as email clients are: no support for folders or automated filters, etc. that would make inbox management a lot easier. On the email side, spam hasn’t really been solved yet but has been brought to manageable levels by filtering. On the SMS side, we’ll have to wait for phone software to catch up.

On mobile numbers and privacy

A better question would be, how do these spammers get our numbers in the first place? There are many different types of spam, and I’m sure many of them just take advantage of unlimited text promos to spam numbers randomly by brute force. One type of text spam that’s fairly common (at least for me) is offers of some sort of loans from different banks. Aside from text spam, it’s actually happened that I received a call from someone offering cash loans from a certain bank. When I asked him how they got my number he just said it was “in their database” and wouldn’t tell me how it got there. I told him off angrily and hung up (I regret that now, I really should have tried to get more details like who his manager was and what branch he was working at so that I could complain to the bank later). What this incident tells me is that the sort of people who blindly push cash loans to people have a database of numbers they use. Some of the calls/spam text I got were from banks that I’ve never transacted with, so I suspect that these numbers are leaked/stolen by unscrupulous bank employees, since most bank account forms ask for your mobile number.  Or maybe these loan spamming operations are sanctioned by the banks themselves? It’s not out of the realm of possibility. If these banks had modern feedback channels like via Twitter or Facebook I’d definitely be asking them about it.

In conclusion?

If I don’t think Globe’s spam reporting policy isn’t effective, why do I still report spam on a regular basis? I don’t know, maybe it’s just a small token of fighting back against spammers, of fighting a war that can’t be won. Maybe every report I make reduces their address space by a teensy-tiny bit and there’s always hope we’ll get there someday. Maybe it’s just cathartic for me, I don’t know. I’ll keep doing it for the foreseeable future, and I’ll be suggesting any possible improvements to the policies where I can. I don’t want to be one of those people who rant on the internet without doing something constructive.

 

Thirty-Six

Thirty-six is a semiperfect number, meaning it is the sum of some subsets of its natural divisors.

 

Like thirty-six, life isn’t perfect either. But there’s still much to be thankful for.

I am grateful that I have a roof over my head and am able to eat at least three square meals a day (if I so choose).

I am grateful that I have wonderful parents and siblings who are always ready to support me no matter what shenanigans I get into.

I am grateful for friends who are interesting and who share my interests and are more than willing to put up with my particular insanities.

I am grateful for having a well-paying job that affords me luxuries and opportunities most people are not able to avail of.

I am grateful for the prospect of a possible brighter tomorrow.

 

For my birthday wishes:

I wish for clarity of vision.

I wish for serenity of heart.

I wish for less hatred in the world.

I wish for more honesty in the world.

I wish for less traffic in Metro Manila.

I wish for better internet in the Philippines.

I wish for good health.

I wish for more free time.

I wish for more wishes.

 

Let the future come and bring what it will.

 

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Review!

Well, I haven’t written anything in a while, so I figured I’d write some words on the new Spider-Man movie. Spoilers abound!

Action-packed! The web-swinging is fun and looks and feels just like Spidey from the comic books. Spider-man moves and fights and banters pretty faithfully to the comic book version of our favorite wall-crawler, so that’s a definite plus. Peter’s Spider-sense is portrayed as a slow-motion bullet-time kind of deal which allows him to react quickly and save all the people while dodging everything. It doesn’t really translate exactly to the comic-book Spider-sense, but I suppose it’s better than having squiggly lines around his head.

Peter Parker, haunted by…the ghost of Dennis Leary? We get it, you’re breaking the promise you made at the end of the first movie and you’re putting Gwen in danger. What, did he become the physical embodiment of the Spider-sense? If I was Captain Stacy I’d haunt you too for stalking my daughter from the rooftops! Not even Uncle Ben haunted Peter like this!

And the deep dark secret of Peter’s parents is…what, is that it? Seriously, that was a lame reveal after all the drama at the start of the movie; it didn’t seem entirely too relevant and more like a subplot that didn’t go anywhere. The mysterious party who would’ve benefited from Oscorp experiments and was willing to hire an assassin to kill the parents on a plane was never elaborated on. Maybe it’s something they’ll explore in a future film, but for now it feels like they were just forced to create a link because of the mysterious disappearance of the parents from the first movie.

Norman Osborn, Spider-man’s greatest enemy! No? Decrepit old man on his deathbed? Dying of some weird goblinitis disease? Okay, at least Harry’s here, right?

Harry Osborn, Spider-man’s best friend turned worst enemy! Or at least we’re told they’re good friends, we just have to take their word for it. There they are joking like old pals for two minutes, surely we must be convinced they are best buds! BTW Pete, old-friend-of-mine-who-I-havent-had-contact-with-for-10-years-even-though-social-media-should-already-exist-at-this-time, can you get me some Spider-man blood? I’m dying brah

Max Dillon! Electro! Mild-mannered electrical engineer with low self-esteem who ignores safety procedures and gets bitten by radioactive electric eels! Seriously? I’m looking forward to the Sinister Six movie where Adrian Toomes gets bitten by a radioactive vulture. We get a high-power-level version of Electro here, he’s able to teleport around as electrical charges or something and he’s even able to magically generate underwear and later a bodysuit! But he’s no match for Peter Parker’s questionable movie science!

Not enough villains? Let’s add the Rhino! Well, just for a quick scene at the end to lead into the Sinister Six movie, maybe? A scene that we’ve already seen in the trailers too! I suppose it’s a blessing that they didn’t try to shoehorn a Rhino subplot, there’s already too much going on as it is.

Oh no, two airplanes might collide because there’s no electricity! How was this even relevant to Spider-man’s battle? It’s not like he knew what was going on at the airport!

“You need me, I know the specs to the grid thingy!” Uh, it turns out all you needed to do was know how to pick up a key from a dead guy’s hand and unlock a panel. And I thought her field was in biochemistry or something, not electrical engineering?

I have to admit, the death at the end caught me off guard. I knew it had to happen sooner or later, but given that they cut MJ out of this movie and had a subplot of Gwen flying off to England (which she did in the comics and she managed to come back to New York before the big deal at the bridge), I assumed it would be happening in the next film. Though by the time they had her falling from the tower, I would’ve been annoyed if they didn’t go through with it after the build-up. But now I’m worried that they’re going to rush the Peter-MJ relationship in the next movie the same way they rushed the Peter-Harry friendship in this one, since they didn’t get the chance to introduce MJ while Peter and Gwen were still a thing.

Where’s the scene where the New Yorkers come together to help Spider-Man? Isn’t this a franchise staple by now?

End credits sequence teases the Sinister Six lineup. Well, that was fine.

Overall plotting and pacing felt weird, with some scene transitions feeling like they could be better handled. The whole thing at the end with how Peter deals with Gwen’s fate felt weirdly out of place. They could’ve ended the second movie on a down note, and have Peter coming back strong in TASM3 (an Empire Strikes Back sort of thing), but no, they wanted to get the grieving out of the way quickly. Well, the movie was fun and enjoyable to watch, and had quite a few recognizable names for comic books fans (I’m sure all the comic readers noted the name of Harry’s assistant and Max’s boss), but all the nitpicky problems above pull the movie down especially when we just came back from the awesomeness that was Captain America: Winter Soldier.

Next: Days of Future Past!