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Werner Patels

Stripped bare… of your privacy?

Do you sometimes feel like a see-through, vitreous human being? With the amount of data and information companies and government agencies have accumulated on and about you, you could be forgiven for feeling somewhat “exposed”.I recently translated a paper written by a company’s CEO who was extremely concerned about where data may end up. His remarks centred on the growing practice of outsourcing data to third-party service providers and/or to the Cloud.As he explained, if your cloud provider goes out of business, it does not necessarily mean that the cloud servers holding your data will be shut down as well. Quite often, they are sold on to other companies.Naturally, the CEO has every right to be worried about the data related to his company and that of its customers.When I moved back to Toronto last fall, I made a point of getting a phone number that had never been assigned to anyone else before. I have also been careful not to post the number on any websites or share it with companies I do business with (in the latter case, I use a different number).Yet, I keep getting calls from telemarketers. That in itself wouldn’t be so scary, because this happens to everyone (even those who signed up with the Do Not Call list, which is yet another example of the failures of Stephen Harper’s government).The scary part is that I receive calls to this number (never used before, unlisted, not shared or disclosed) the subject matter of which clearly is related to me, such as a robocall from an accounting firm seeking to be hired by me to prepare my income tax return for June 15 (the self-employed file on June 15, not April 30 like everyone else).So, even though my number is new and unlisted, somewhere out there… Read More

Do we really need a fourth mobile provider?

When I heard about the new CRTC rules for mobile providers in Canada, I was enthusiastic. The new rules, for example, that consumers would be able to terminate contracts after two years or that roaming charges including data traffic would be capped, so as to avoid nasty surprises, sounded perfectly positive. But the more I thought about it, the more I started doubting that this new regime would actually be beneficial to Canadian consumers.The capping of roaming charges, for example, will require new IT infrastructure (e.g., to notify consumers and/or to obtain their consent at each instant) to be put in place, as some of the mobile providers have already indicated, and that will of course result in higher charges. They have also said that implementing such a system would take much longer than envisaged by the government, which wants all that done by the end of the yearTrust me when I say that you, the consumer, will pay dearly for all that.Canada may be the world's second-largest country, but in terms of the population we are actually quite a small country. For our federal government to say that there should be four or more mobile providers is a facile comment to make that ignores the reality of our country.I believe our market is already sufficiently saturated with three national providers – Rogers, Bell, Telus. The fact that the new entrants in the marketplace, such as Wind Mobile, have not been able to turn a profit and connect with consumers speaks volumes.Sure, the new players may offer more tempting rates and packages, but their networks have been anything but reliable, and the hardware they offer is usually not the kind of equipment that consumers want. Just take the iPhone as an example, which is only offered by the three major… Read More

Reform the Senate? How about comprehensive tax reform first?

People buy products and services every single day. Some of those purchase decisions are voluntary, while others are made out of necessity. Spending money is easy for some, but the majority of people have to watch every penny that comes and goes out of their (household) budgets.Generally, though, we don’t mind paying for things as long as we receive the goods or services we want, and the quality that we expect. When we do, we are said to be satisfied consumers.These are not only products or services that we obtain from stores or companies; we also “purchase” various items from our governments – health care, streets, public transit, national defence, etc. In exchange for these, we, by way of a social contract, have agreed to pay taxes.This raises the question whether the “consumer”, that is, taxpayer, is satisfied with his/her “purchases”. Seeing some of the opposition, especially recently in connection with new taxes, fees and charges to fund new public transit projects in Toronto and around the province of Ontario, it’s hard not to come away with the impression that most people simply don’t want to pay taxes anymore – not just new or future taxes, but even existing ones.The reason why so many balk at the idea of paying taxes is that most of the time they don’t see anything of value in return for their money: so-called “universal” healthcare services that so many have to wait several years for to receive, gridlocked cities with insufficient public transit and cars clogging even the most obscure side streets – and politicians who keep getting caught with their fingers in the taxpayers’ cookie jar.That a city like Toronto, North America’s fourth largest city, always has to beg, cap-in-hand, for money just to keep the city going more or less (mostly, less)… Read More

Polls, schmolls

Pollsters have now failed three times a row in Canada. That’s three strikes right there.First, they failed to see the surge of the NDP in Quebec in the last federal election. Then, they got the outcome of last year’s election in Alberta all wrong, and now we have British Columbia as the most recent example of why polls are not worth the substantial amounts of money parties and others spend on them.Canadians don’t like being put to the test. They also have a problem with expressing their true feelings openly and honestly in front of strangers. They’ll say one thing to a pollster, be it in person, on the phone, or in a questionnaire, but then go and do the exact opposite.Even the most creative math can’t turn this particular sow’s ear into a silk purse. Polls simply cannot work. When you try to figure out what millions of people will decide on election day, it’s downright impossible to draw conclusions about millions of voters from the answers given by a few hundred or even a few thousand respondents.Think about it: a sample of 2,000 or 3,000 people (and most political polls don’t even involve that many people) can’t reveal what an entire province or country is thinking. Of those polled, so many won’t even go to the polls – and the probability of that happening is indeed very great, as voter turnout is abysmal and keeps getting worse all the time. Thus, of a thousand respondents in a political poll, as many as five hundred, or even a lot more, may not vote at all, which makes their answers quite useless.That polls, that is, any surveying of opinions or behaviours in a formal setting, don’t work is also borne out by what I call the “social drinker syndrome”.We’ve all… Read More

Time for Ford to resign

No matter what you think of the mayor of Toronto politically, you clearly will have to question his common sense and judgment.The picture that recently adorned the front page of the Toronto Star speaks volumes, and says more than a thousand words. It shows Rob Ford in the company of what appear to be gang members, one of whom has already been murdered in the meantime. (There are different takes on who those people might be, though).Add to this a video that has surfaced that allegedly shows the mayor smoking crack cocaine while hanging with drug addicts and gang members. (Full disclosure: based on what I know about the mayor, and the account given by two Toronto Star journalists, I have no doubt whatsoever that the video exists and is real.)Ford and his supporters cannot deny that the individual shown in the photo is the mayor himself. After all, he has a very unique appearance and stands out wherever he goes.In addition, he is also heard speaking in the video, according to those who have seen it, and based on the voice and the things he says, there can be no doubt as to the identity of the video’s star.For example, he talks about being “right wing”, and refers to the Liberal leader Justin Trudeau as a “fag”.Apparently, the video was recorded just about five or six months ago. That would place it right around the time the mayor was faced with the distinct possibility of being removed from office by a judge.At the very least, he has shown himself yet again to be an embarrassment for the entire city, and since Toronto is Canada’s biggest and most important city, it also casts a huge shadow over the entire country and its reputation.It is to be hoped, once they have seen the video,… Read More
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