Tuesday, December 3, 2013

InBloom : The Character of its Characters is Lacking in Content

Here in the Empire State we are sticking to our guns. Well, Sheriff Andy is in some hot water with a lot of hunters and the odd real Sheriff or two whose service sidearms became illegal under Andy's middle of the night SAFE Act. But our intrepid friends in The State Board of Regents as well as our fearless Commissioner of State Education have signed on with InBloom and Common Core and there is no backing down from either. We are going full speed ahead because, hey, signing up with a Bill Gates bankrolled $100 million dollar data mining company that's designed by Rupert Murdoch and stored in a cloud by Amazon, well really, what could possibly go wrong?

Well let's start at the tail of this three headed beast shall we? Amazon.com does not bring to mind the funky Apply, Googly, jeans and a turtleneck, Tai Chi to start the day and a swim break after lunch techie quirky workplace you might like to imagine. None of that at Amazon thank you very much. No, the point of Amazon is maximum profit, duuh, yeah same as every other company right? But not so fast. Not every company forces its employees to labor in 100 plus degree warehouses with windows and doors closed to prevent employee thefts. Quickly, what kind of an employer do workers steal from? Exactly. In Lehigh Valley PA, where jobs are few and far between and worker desperation gives Amazon a distinct advantage, Amazon's record in their warehouse approaches the Dickensian :

Workers said they were forced to endure brutal heat inside the sprawling warehouse and were pushed to work at a pace many could not sustain. Employees were frequently reprimanded regarding their productivity and threatened with termination, workers said. The consequences of not meeting work expectations were regularly on display, as employees lost their jobs and got escorted out of the warehouse. Such sights encouraged some workers to conceal pain and push through injury lest they get fired as well, workers said.

During summer heat waves, Amazon arranged to have paramedics parked in ambulances outside, ready to treat any workers who dehydrated or suffered other forms of heat stress. Those who couldn't quickly cool off and return to work were sent home or taken out in stretchers and wheelchairs and transported to area hospitals. And new applicants were ready to begin work at any time.

An emergency room doctor in June called federal regulators to report an "unsafe environment" after he treated several Amazon warehouse workers for heat-related problems. The doctor's report was echoed by warehouse workers who also complained to regulators, including a security guard who reported seeing pregnant employees suffering in the heat.  Full story here.

An atompshere of fear, intimidation and impossible demands put upon workers. Seems right up NYSED's alley so far. So much for the content of Amazon's character. Now how about a glimpse into their cloud storage. From Bloomeberg.com  -- of all places -- we learn:

Companies that use Amazon's popular cloud computing service have accidentally disclosed confidential information including sales records and source code, highlighting the risks of moving sensitive data to the Web, according to new research.
Rapid7, a Boston-based security firm, said in a report released today that it found more than 126 billion files posted online belonging to customers of Amazon Simple Storage Service, or Amazon S3, earlier this year. Rapid7 analyzed more than 40,000 of the files, most of which contained sensitive data, the company said.

Ahh but those are pikers, neophytes as it were. No way the folks who brought you the Pineapple Hare and the miscorrected Gifted and Talented tests could ever screw anything like this up right?

As for Murdoch, Klein et al and their Wireless Generation, how about a look at some of Murdoch's other recent imbroglios. Again focusing just for a minute on the content of corporate character here how about the News of the World scandal that effectively shut down one of Murdoch's rags and brought to light some really slimy "journalistic" behavior as well. Not only were Murdoch "reporters" hacking celebrity phones and those of the Royal family, they even got into the phone of a missing 13 year old girl and after listening to some of her messages DELETED several of them causing her distraught kin to hold out hope that she herself had called in and deleted the messages, filling them with false hopes that she might still be alive.  I am not here to say it was Rupert Murdoch who deleted the messages but there are recordings and transcripts of him discussing phone hacking with some of his team. He was aware it was going on and apparently it caused him no loss of sleep. This is the quality of character NYSED is eager to get into bed with. Another shiftless, profit driven sociopath who will step on anyone that gets in the way of his profits and his empire.

Finally we come to philanthropist, billionaire and misunderstood citizen, Bill Gates, the bankroller of InBloom who's kicked in $100 million for the good of the children and to improve education in America. In case you missed my irony, here's a little follow up on some of the other reasons Bill Gates might be especially interested in mining student data : While inBloom itself is a non-profit, one of its expressed aims, as the NYT points out, is to “bolster the market for educational products.” The K-12 education software market alone is estimated at $8 billion according to the Software and Information Industry Association. Murdoch, however, has pegged the education-technology market, which also includes hardware and networking technology, at $500 billion. And while information gleaned from individual students is supposed to provide the vital information need to develop and hone products, schools will pay dearly not only for the products that are made possible by inBloom, but for using the portal itself. As Leonie Haimson notes, starting in 2015, inBloom says it will charge states and districts between $2 and $5 per student each year for storing data on the site. Like any good drug dealer the first few hits are free then when those run out you pay. And pay. And pay.

While Gates spends millions more than Murdoch to launder his image in the media, and it shows, he's not the darling he hopes to be and more than a few cranks around the mediashpere seem to be onto his game. While he makes great pronouncements of his charity and his foundation's magnanimous works he says less about other shadier ventures like buying up 3% of a struggling private security company called G4S whose most recent claim to fame is failing to provide adequate security for the London Olympics, causing the army to be brought in to take up the slack. While Cascade made the purchase, Gates' investment arm, it's a little like saying Murdoch had no knowledge of hackers to say that Gates has no connection to what amounts to owning a significant piece of a small private army. Why would anyone want to do that?  And not to be too critical of such a big hearted slob like Bill Gates but the reports that his company Microsoft aided and abetted NSA spying on Americans and anyone else they wanted to snoop on doesn't exactly add up to a great endorsement of this third head of the InBloom Cerberus. The GuardianUK through some highly clandestine documents has also added the following to Bill Gates' folio of shiftlessness and exposed his company's eagerness to spy on citizens and enable the government to breach their own systems: 

• Microsoft helped the NSA to circumvent its encryption to address concerns that the agency would be unable to intercept web chats on the new Outlook.com portal;

• The agency already had pre-encryption stage access to email on Outlook.com, including Hotmail;

• The company worked with the FBI this year to allow the NSA easier access via Prism to its cloud storage service SkyDrive, which now has more than 250 million users worldwide;

• Microsoft also worked with the FBI's Data Intercept Unit to "understand" potential issues with a feature in Outlook.com that allows users to create email aliases;

• In July last year, nine months after Microsoft bought Skype, the NSA boasted that a new capability had tripled the amount of Skype video calls being collected through Prism;

• Material collected through Prism is routinely shared with the FBI and CIA, with one NSA document describing the program as a "team sport".

We are talking about student data and in New York State the great minds of the State Ed Department are willing to put in the care of a rapacious company who grinds up its workers and spits them out, whose cloud storage is at best foggy, a media megalomaniac whose employees erase dead girl's phone messages and a billionaire control freak whose software company is all ready up to its eyeballs in spying for and with the government. One of the concerns advocates for student's rights have stated is that InBloom plans to share "discipline" data that amounts to a school rap sheet against a kid using legalistic terms for small infractions that create the image of a hardened criminal from a kid who may well be a class comedian at worst. 

As teachers many of us are subject to quaint little notions of morality clauses in our work agreements. We best not appear in adult films, advocate for nudity at local beaches, protest alongside the NORML folks in a plume of smoke or copulate while bombed in the stands at boring football games. These kinds of things tend to get us put on leave and/or fired. Funny how the people NYSED couldn't wait to make a deal with folks have no such prohibitions. The InBloomers are free to pillage, cheat, steal, lie and screw anything that walks. To judge these corporate personalities and their corporate entities by the content of their character would yield some highly ineffective scores. Yet for all of these peccadillos  and more that I simply couldn't cram in here, John King and his puppetmasters in the New York State Regents can't think of a single reason to get New York and its kids out of this Faustian bargain. No matter what anyone tells them at any of their Not Listening stops, they are committed to their plan. They have their story and they are sticking to it. I am looking forward to seeing how much of it ends up sticking to them. 

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