The Worst Job In the World

OK, so we’ve got BART making national headlines again. Not content with a four day strike last month, BART directors and union representatives are flirting with another.

Wait, wasn’t the contract ratified? Well, yes and no. The unions ratified it, but BART has not. Seems there’s a clause in there–the now-infamous section 4.8–that grants workers six weeks of paid family leave. BART officials are claiming that it could cost as much as $44 million over the length of the four-year contract, they never meant to agree to the clause, and it was included in the ratified contract by mistake.

The unions say that the estimate is outrageously overblown–$22 million is a realistic high-end estimate, and under $10 million is more likely–and that regardless of what they meant to do, they not only signed off on it in July, but didn’t raise any objections to it during the final review to resolve any questions before it went to the unions for ratification.

BART wants to reopen contract negotiations, a notion that the unions are flatly rejecting. The sides met to argue over the actual projected cost of the provision, but the unions explicitly stated that the meeting “should in no way be construed as interest on our part to resume negotiations.”

The contract includes the same “no strike” clause that the unions declared inapplicable and the same clause that prevents BART from hiring replacements until after a strike is called. Consequently, many Bay Area residents feel that BART caved into union demands, and that the current flap is a desperate attempt to save some face by “getting tough” at the expense of commuters’ jobs.

Both sides are acting like children here. BART is on one side of the room whining “It’s not my fault!” and blaming an unnamed “temporary employee”, and the unions are on the other side of the room, jumping up and down and screaming “No takebacks!” Commuters just want to spank both sides and send them to bed with no dessert.

Meanwhile, in hopefully unrelated news, Google is promoting an initiative to actively remove links to child porn. They say they’ve cleaned up over 100,000 queries, and 13,000 more queries will result in warning messages that child pornography is illegal.

Kudos to Google for taking steps to make such material harder to access. (None of the articles I’ve seen say whether suspected kiddy porn will also be reported to authorities, but since they have reported such material in the past, presumably they’ll continue to do so.) What’s especially interesting to me in these reports is that Google is taking active steps to avoid false positives. They’re not trusting computer algorithms to automatically remove links, which would have the potential to block legitimate content. Apparently, every image flagged by the software is reviewed by “a team of 200 Google staffers”. Those are the people that I really take my hat off to.

Not only do those staffers have to spend hours looking at some of the most depressing scenes possible, but they have to make very sensitive decisions about each one. It’s not just a question of whether the participants are actually children, but whether the images are pornographic–one article mentions “something innocent like a child taking a bath”. Keep in mind that Google is attempting to honor local (i.e. national) laws in making their decisions. That means that a given picture could be an “innocent” bathing image in one country and an actionable obscenity in another.

Not only do the reviewers need to look at the materials and make repeated sensitive but subjective judgments, but they’ll be under very close scrutiny while they do it. In many jurisdictions, possession of child pornography is an offense–possession, not viewing. Google is going to have to closely monitor reviewers to ensure that questionable materials don’t wind up on their computers; one hopes that reviewers are not able to use BYOD machines for the task. Given the number of prosecutions that have taken place when computer repairers have found images in browser caches or temporary folders, one failure to wipe a machine at the end of the day could result in nasty accusations or even jail time for someone who really was just doing his job.

I think I’d rather be a BART contract negotiator.

PS: I had already decided on the title for today’s post when Lior reminded me of this. Good timing!

Stupidity Runs Rampant

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Remember our discussion last week about Apple’s collision with the seamier side of the Internet? We talked about the fact that “ransomware” was beginning to show up on Apple’s computers, and specifically mentioned a piece of software that informs the computer owner that child pornography has been detected on the computer and that a fine must be paid to the FBI to avoid a criminal investigation.

According to the police in Prince William County Virginia, a resident of the county got the warning message while he was, in fact, looking at child pornography. Apparently he is in other respects a law-abiding citizen, as he promptly packed up his computer and took it to the local police station, where he asked if there were any warrants on file for his arrest. (Just to be clear here, I’m not suggesting that the man in question was using an Apple computer. Similar ransomware has been around in the Windows world for years, and there’s nothing in the police report that indicates what OS he was using.)

Of course there were no warrants, but the police were quite interested in the contents of the computer, and the subsequent search turned up “inappropriate messages and photos of underage girls”; at least one has been identified–a thirteen year old girl in Minnesota. On that basis, the police obtained a search warrant for his home and seized “computers and other electronic devices”. He is now being held without bail on charges of “possession of child pornography”, “using a communication device to solicit certain offenses involving children”, and “indecent liberties with a minor”.

I have this mental image of the guy standing there in the police station saying “Why are you arresting me? It said I could just pay a fine!”

I suppose the police’s forensic investigation tools bypassed the ransomware, but perhaps not. I’d be interested to see how they worded the expense report if they had to pay the ransom to get to the man’s data. Heck, maybe the ransomware author should get the payment as a reward for, in effect, turning the guy in.

Back to the original dilemma. Do we laugh at this guy’s gullibility, or do we cry over the fact that you apparently need no brain at all to convince children to send you inappropriate pictures of themselves? Kudos to the police for not making their press release into a cry for more legislation, but instead reminding parents to actively monitor their children’s Internet usage.