2080 vision - new no-knee-jerk environmentalism

May 5, 2006. If you plan to live to 2080, please apply here:
(another blog on the theme of unintended consequences...)

There are a lot of people in charge, working hard, in government and business, etc. You've seen that. Some care a lot about things outside their own personal interest; we call these "good people". "Outside" could mean being a "company man", could mean worshipping your family, could mean caring about critters, you could be a patriot, or care about other aspects of the environment. But what I'm looking for is someone who cares about the year 2101, and it's likely going to be someone who will still be alive in 2080. Among those who will be around in 2080, those who care about things outside themselves will care about the year 2101. Also, they aren't yet distracted by other good things they'll one day care about, like the job or kids or status.
There are actually a lot folks who care about 2101, but most of us only have time to form opinion about the direction the world is headed based on cursory information. We learn about, and choose to care about, something outside our personal interest - say ice caps melting. We form an opinion about it. But most of us don't have enough expertise to do more than cast a vote and muster ourselves to agree or disagree with another person's opinion.
Both the young and the older tend to form opinions based on listening to people we trust. By trust, I mean we trust their motives and their facts, that they are a good source of information, smarter than us, or at least smart enough to know more than we are likely to learn in our spare time between now and the business trip or kids soccer game or taxes or box elder cutting or Mothers Day card or cassava pounding... At best, we are students who take a class on the issue and learn enough to write a paper during a semester.
So, let's call these people PTWs, Professionals We Trust, as gatekeepers for our opinion. Now let's pretend we work for the DEP or ANR or EPA, and we want to develop a policy, and we aren't experts in the field of, let's say, computer recycling. We want to get some PWTs together so we can have some informed policy that will improve the direction the world is spinning towards 2101. How about if we gather a big representative sample of these professionals, and see if they can arrive at a consensus.
All good so far.
Now we can't technically call this a "focus group". We may think we have a "focus group". But in actuality, a good focus group is designed to bring NEW BLOOD and fresh perspectives. Campaign Focus Groups disqualify anyone with a professional interest or knowledge, they are person-on-the-street consensus tools. We don't have a focus group, we have a set of people who may or may not be able to see outside their self interests. And of those looking outside their self interest, they may be well informed on just one thing, or have "patriotism" or something as their selfless goal.
You start with someone on the group who everyone can agree is unselfish, outwardly directed. One group of people is upset about photos of young kids standing on piles of garbage that were exported to their country from the USA. These people care a lot about others. They start to organize to drive business to people who share their concerns. That's a good thing! I don't like competitors who ship garbage to other countries! They undercut the costs I take on when I remove and properly manage the garbage. They have to be on the committee.
Other well meaning businesspeople, who have more facts, seem to agree there's a problem, and seem motivated to take resolve it. What could be a better business than helping improve the world? If you can earn a living, buy lacrosse equipment for your kids, and help these passionate folks improve the situation, that's great isn't it? We have me and another couple of ethical recyclers on the panel now, we are starting to form a real PWT group.
Now there's a third issue or fear - might be global warming, or national security, but it should be something relating to computers... I know! Privacy! There are a lot of stories about phishing scams and data. The beauty of this is that it can be a civil law issue - people are suing companies for losing or reusing confidential data. And who gets sued, usually? If you want bacon, you corner the fattest pig. Clients with money. Banks, hospitals, etc. These folks are concerned about their liabilities in both issues - seeing their garbage dumped overseas, and failing to safeguard client data, and they are certainly the victims of fraud as much or more than the rest of us.
Together, these people - the activists, the businesspersons, the EPA officials, and the bank/hospital clients, and other people like retailers and garbage haulers (who don't want to be involved in the policy but are afraid they'll get legislated at if they don't attend) agree that it's not ok to just send hard drives just anywhere, the information needs to be erased. A guy who sells hard drive shredding equipment will sponsor coffee at the conference, no one really pays attention to him but he's there for insurance.
Actually, everything I've written so far looks good.
Are these people enough to get legislation passed? NO. I'm telling you, from work in government, that this is a group which is "necessary but not sufficient" to create legislation which actually gets written and actually gets voted on, passed, and not vetoed.
One place you can turn is to Public Interest Groups (PIRGs). They have mainly been fueled by 2080s, college kids who care about something but don't have anything invested yet, who care and burn. Because lacrosse pants and home mortgages really do start to dilute your time spent thinking of things in the future (back to paragraph 1).
Where else can you turn?
How about a multi-billion dollar company which is working on another realm of the world - personal property rights vs. copyrights and copyrewrites. They for years have been involved in a slugfest with another group of individuals, technicians and folks who hate checking the End User License Agreement (EULA) which basically says that you can't make a copy of their software for your friend. That's fair. But they have also come up with OEM licenses and other things to keep you from passing on the software when YOU HAVE FINISHED USING IT. It is all about moving away from personal property, to a new system called LICENSING. It's based on the same concept as the Inheritance tax, that when a deceased person is "finished" with their things, that the government can take a slice. Again, probably fair. But this is digital... it is when you are finished with each individual piece of property, before you've died, that they take ALL OF IT.
"So when the company [Microsoft] announced late last year that it was favoring sweeping federal privacy legislation holding companies accountable for how they treat consumer data, one might be forgiven for wondering what the company had up its sleeve." (Wired News
Well, some of us are exhausted, and willing to take any victory we can, so if we can do well on our issue (children perched on garbage overseas sent by competing businesspeople underpricing our services), and our friendly businesspeople who care can get more money from the banker and hospital, let's take this. The Linux guys will work out the other thing.
OEMs also jump in. HP makes 50% of all corporate profit from sale of toner cartridges, and has gone to great lengths to ban refilling and reselling toner cartridges. Too bad we can't scare people about privacy issues around toner cartridges. But we CAN scare them about their HARD DRIVES. Refurbished "white box" computers are 1/3 of all sales in the USA, much higher worldwide. For used monitors, white box PCs, and toner cartridges, there is another piece of legislation, a form of flow control called Manufacturer TakeBack, which I'm someday going to defeat in court. That's for another blog... let's finish the privacy issue. Privacy is good. Where is Robin's problem in all of this?
ONE, no one discussed the fact that the billions of dollars in software being wiped off the hard drives from this new legislation will cripple the secondary market, whose revenues other businesspeople (very small businesses, by the thousands) depend upon to make their own recycling collections work. Will the net effect be more recycling? Maybe it will, I'm just saying that I didn't bring it up because I didn't hear anyone else ask.
TWO, no one actually documented that hoards of Iranian students have upgraded the factory where they were taping back together all of the shredded paper (a big sales line in the fine paper shredder equipment market) and they are now booting up hard drives to get your personal information. WE NEED A VICTIM. In law, it's called Habeus Corpus. I have not seen any evidence other than BAN grabbing hard drives in Nigeria for their own purposes that there is a business booting up Pentium Is and getting data.
THREE, no one looked at the balance of harm. One of my clients used to donate their computers to schools. Now we take them and wipe all the drives, and the schools don't have software and we can't afford to donate the PCs because of the wages we paid wiping the drives. So I'm the winning businessman in the example above.
We need people who are experts in data security and information theft in the room. That doesn't mean people who sell fear or shredding equipment. We need statistical measures. If I put my P1 on a boat to China without wiping the hard drive, which do have have to fear more, data theft, or getting struck by lighting on the way home? How does hard drive skullduggery compare as a statistical risk against, say, avain flu?
My understanding from talking with writers on the subject is that the risk is real, but that Microsoft and other program sellers have much more to gain by wiping used equipment than any consumers have to lose. Most data theft (where there's habeus corpus, an actual, not theoretical, crime) happens where there is proximity to, knowledge of, or contact with, the victim. The thief has as some point been within 50 feet. In house, or a neighbor, somehow you want enough info about your victim that you don't do something dumb, like me claiming to be a 80 year old black woman. A distant second is theft from online hacking and phishing, where the data is at least very current and available in great volumes very quickly.
I'm sure there are opportunity crimes. You know what - Pentium IIIs an 4s need to be wiped. That's because someone will boot them up to see if they work, and that person is probably honest, but might not be. Generally, it's enough to erase the files, but you might want to go further and erase the whole hard drive. DON'T LEAVE YOUR P4 for curbside pickup, or in an unattended recycling shed until a data wiper can get to it, please. But a PII that's been sitting in your closet for 5 years?
On the scale of risk, where does booting up old Pentium Is, shipped halfway around the world, rank? I'd guess it's like leaving sales records of maintenance in the glove compartment of your car when you sell it. Someone COULD find out more about you through that paperwork. And wipe your DNA and fingerprints off the glove compartment while you are at it.
Can hard drives which are F-disked be reopened with special software? Yes. That's what DOD (Dept. of Defense) standards are about. If it's George Bush's red button laptop, DOD isn't enough, that thing's gotta be smashed. If you are already taking steps to secure data in house, like a hospital, you should be wiping hard drives yourself.
Don't get me wrong, I'll keep doing this, and keep charging for it. But we recyclers need to come to grips that there is a significant sector of our marketplace which ain't buying the fear we are selling. If I am a public library and I know all the data on the PCs has been publicly available to everyone since we got the P1, am I going to take money out of our book fund to pay Robin to wipe the drive? In the meantime, if I am a data thief, will I pay for an unseen/untested P1 laptop from that library and spend 20 minutes reformatting the F-disk hard drive?
The future: There will be a program installed in every PC which is a "Mission Impossible" cassette. IT departments will have a key to execute the program, which will spew 1s and 0s all over the drive. We want to work with colleges and other institutions so that the program also re-installs a "spare tire" program, like Linux, so that the PC can still be easily retested and resold.
Meanwhile, your privacy is already for sale by credit card companies. go to
www.abika.com and order your own info. It's worse than an FBI file. Legislation should be directed at ABIKA not at making Microsoft's EULA system easier to manage.
The anti-export folks need to look at where the piles of garbage are coming from. If it is a residue from a legitimate reuse practice, like spoiled apples from an apple store importing apples from America, how can fresher produce be sent? Who is sending the wormy apples? Don't just plunk a kid on the pile and say "don't export food!!!"
The PWT need to take stock in the "consensus" packages we are putting our names on. Too often, a focus group begins with a fair list of reps, and then the ones with less money stop flying to meetings, and it turns into "last man standing" model legislation, sponsored by a billion dollar anti-grey-market conglomerate.
Don't get me started on leadfree WEEE legislation today.
A lot of my friends say, this is good info, good points, but it's too much. If we try to consider all of the possibilities, no one will ever do anything. At least we are making progress. We may as well give up and follow the "free market".
This is where we need some 2080 folks. My generation takes "improvement" to mean next year will be better than yesterday, and we can't deal with a bigger scope of work than that. I say, suck it up, soldiers. You and I couldn't design an airplane either, but let's not give up on flight. Environmentalists have to be more like engineers and med school students. If we care enough about the planet to make legislation, we should care enough to work as hard as a doctor or software writer or a bridge architect. Fixing a problem today which sets the world on a path of powerlessness is wrong. I think people in 2101 should own personal property, stuff they can keep and maintain and resell and buy second hand and adapt and fix. A guy started collecting "disposable" cameras, the ones everyone was screaming about being wasteful 15 years ago, and started refilling and reselling them... Now he's a millionaire. And Fuji and Kodak are bringing suit against him all the way to the Supreme Court!! They say he isn't licensed to fix their disposable stuff.
If there is a simpler solution to the kid sitting on a pile of garbage that preserves our freedom, let's keep the freedom for now.
We are good people, we conference goers. But I think in 2080, we will be seen as the Alchemists who gave birth to modern medecine. The future environmentalists and ecologists will be less scatalogical and reactionary, and take time to measure all of the organs affected by legislation, and make the best choice. Maybe it will turn out to have been the privacy legislation after all. I'm just critiquing the sausage making process. I don't have time to actually answer the question, you see... I have to go to work.
If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins. - Benjamin Franklin
There is no poison on earth more potent, nor half so deadly, as a partial truth mixed with passion. -- Michael J. Tucker

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