Friday, April 8, 2016

Open Letter to eBay: Your policies protect criminals, and you profit from it.

Dear eBay,

I have reported a crime to you. Not only are you ignoring this, and refusing to take ation as a company, you are also withholding the information I require to pursue the matter legally myself. Pointing me to your 5000 word legalese user agreement may or may not cover you legally but it makes not one bit of difference to the ethical and moral issues here.

You have a system that allows criminals to prosper with no possibility for redress for their victims. The simple recipe for the criminal is as follows:

1. Ensure your postal address is not your residential address and, ideally, use an incomplete name (e.g. A Smith, rather than Mrs. Annabel Smith).

2. Buy something on eBay, preferably expensive and easy to sell.

3. When it arrives, report it as 'not as described' and wait for the seller to accept a return.

4. Send back an empty box.

5. eBay gives you, the criminal, a full refund, essentially completing the theft on your behalf.

6. The seller can't make a small claims court claim against you because they don't have your full details, and eBay will help you get away with your crime by refusing to give the seller your contact details.

7. eBay will also charge the seller their normal fees, hence profiting from your crime. Apparently, that's OK if you're an international tax-avoiding mega-corporation.

So, eBay, if what you are telling me is that this is how your business is intended to operate, then we're done here. If, however, anyone in your organization has the smallest chance of thinking this is an immoral way to act, then please pass this case on to them for their consideration

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Hello Libreboot Thinkpad X200

 Libreboot logo
When it comes down to it, laptop hardware basically hasn't improved for normal research use since at least 2009. A 2009 Thinkpad X200 has a 2.4GHz dual-core processor (Core 2 Duo) and 4GB of RAM.  The GMA X4500 HD graphics is also fine for most research purposes. The 13-inch screen is 1280x1024 pixels, which is fine. Not quite as beautiful as a Mac Retina screen, but very usable. And a docking station, gives you a DisplayPort to connect an external monitor for desktop use.

And, my god, these X200s are cheap - less than £100 used. And parts are readily available and easily replaced. I bought one in great condition for £80 including a charger, added a new 9-cell battery for £40, and an SSD for £50, and it runs Linux just as well as my 2-year old Macbook Pro (before it was bricked by a criminal).

But, the very best thing about them, is that you can add Libreboot - a fully free and open-source BIOS that disables the worrying Intel Management engine on all recent Intel machines and allows for a fully encrypted hard drive (including /boot). So, basically, much more secure, as well as free as in freedom.

Although, I'm now thinking that I might go even further, and build my own laptop, possibly something based around Novena.

And goodbye Apple, too

So, this one's a bit more subtle. The reason I was selling the Macbook in the first place (see earlier post) was that it's basically a massive pain in the ass trying to run Linux on Apple hardware. The EFI boot system is non-standard, the retina screen is poorly supported, and the wirless card does not have a free driver. It's a shame in a way, because Apple hardware is beautiful, and really robust. But Apple, in the end, are not a hardware company - they are an 'experience' company - they want to sell you the hardware, software, and services package, and they don't want to give you the freedom to go things the way you want to.

So, give up on Linux, or give up on Apple hardware? Not a hard decision really. I don't want an operating system that requires I have an AppleID. I don't want an OS that thinks it knows what I want better than I do. And, even for the hardware, the price premium you pay is ludicrous - see next post.

Goodbye eBay, PayPal.

Recently, I sold a 2 year old MacBook Pro in good condition on eBay. The seller raised a fallacious case that it was not as described, and I reluctantly accepted a return. When the item was returned, it was a brick - would not boot. Upon opening the back, I discovered that the seller had taken out the 512GB SSD and replaced it with a 128GB SSD. It also seems likely, although I am not sure, that the logic board was changed as the Thunderport ports were misaligned on return.  So, basically, the seller is a criminal.

I raised a case on this basis. eBay awarded the buyer a full refund. And, to rub salt in the wound, they charged me a total of £81 on top of that (reimbursement fee, return postage). So, now I not only have a laptop I can't sell, eBay feels it's OK to make a healthy profit from me being a victim of crime!

So, that's it for eBay. And also Paypal - a payment system that makes it far too easy for criminals to benefit from this kind of fraud.