Archive for the ‘Privacy’ Category

Service of Digital Receipts Going Astray: Can Square Fix the Glitch?

Monday, June 10th, 2019


It’s bad enough when you’re not paying attention and you email James Doe instead of James Doener because you let auto suggest have its way with you. Most people have done this or received correspondence for someone because of it. I cringe at a few of my bloopers.

Now it turns out that a record of your purchases could possibly be shared with others. Peter Rudegeair wrote about it in “Square Sends Millions of Digital Receipts, Sometimes to the Wrong Person From surprise gifts to pending divorces, misdirected notifications result in spilled secrets.” Square is a service that allows companies to accept mobile credit card payments via a gizmo inserted into the port of a phone.

In one example Rudegeair wrote about a friend who learned that the credit card owner was getting a divorce because she received a copy of a detailed lawyer’s receipt for the retainer.


In another a spouse received a detailed digital receipt, before Christmas, of gifts that were supposed to be a surprise. Because she was getting the blame–and had never before had so many complaints for her service–the local retailer asked Square to disable the automated digital receipt function two years ago.

Rudegeair reported that if a spouse signs up for a digital receipt program for a card they share, they both get them. The partner may not realize this. A florist “has gotten calls from spouses who had surprise gifts spoiled by an errant receipt,” he wrote. The florist added “God forbid anyone was having an affair. You’d see everything.”


Rudegear wrote: “Square has forwarded receipts documenting transactions as mundane as a cup of coffee and as sensitive as an obstetrician’s visit to people who were uninvolved in the purchases, according to emails reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. In some cases, neither the purchaser nor the recipient could say why Square sent receipts to the people it did.”

According to a Square spokesperson “digital receipts could be received by the wrong person for a variety of reasons, including consumers sharing a credit-card number, accidentally sending the receipt to a recycled phone number or seller or buyer error.”

Customers signing up for digital receipts is a profitable sideline for Square, Rudegear reported: “Square has a window into spending patterns that few other tech companies can match. By supplementing that data with contact details that shoppers provide to Square for the purpose of getting digital receipts, the company is able to assemble expansive profiles of consumer behavior that it can use to run marketing and loyalty programs for its small-business customers.”

Have any of your digital receipts gone rogue? Are you concerned that they might? Now that you know a glitch like this is possible, would you cancel the digital receipt option on your credit card?


Service of Boundaries—Walls if you Wish

Monday, March 4th, 2019


I thought of several other headlines for this post–Service of: “Too Much Information;” “I Don’t Want to Know,” or “Too Much to Ask.”

There are many things I don’t want to know and whether my parents had affairs and/or with whom, is one of them. I also would not want to be in any way involved.

How did this come up?


My husband asked me last week, after Michael Cohen testified at the congressional hearing: “What would you think if my father had me pay for illicit affairs or for the cover-ups?” I said, “WHAT?” He continued, “He didn’t, but I was shocked that Donald Trump, Jr. signed one of the checks Cohen presented in evidence about the Stormy Daniels cover-up.”


Authors—Susan Cheever for one—write about their parents’ sexual lives, which I think is not their story to tell. Some children resent that they were kept in the dark if they learn of a parent’s affairs after the death of the father or mother in question.

Should there be no secrets between parents and their children? Am I old fashioned because I welcome them? Do you draw the line as to what you’d ask your child to do for you or what you’d do for a parent?


Service of Quick and Easy Solutions for Depression: Intrusive Much?

Monday, July 25th, 2016



I appreciate companies that tackle a challenge in resourceful, efficient ways, but not at risk to safety, privacy and efficacy. According to Rachel Emma Silverman, “Companies are waking up to the costs of untreated mental illnesses like depression, which is linked to $44 billion a year in lost workplace productivity, according to the University of Michigan Depression Center. The center cites data suggesting that workers suffering from depression cost companies 27 lost work days a year.”

Her Wall Street Journal article “Tackling Workers’ Mental Health, One Text at a Time–Employers are turning to counseling services that can be accessed on smartphones,” inspired questions. We’re not talking about tips to treat a paper cut here. Plus, to receive what resembles a mental Band-aid an employee must be willing to give up privacy.

StressEmployee assistance programs [EAPs], where staff has access to free counseling on the phone, don’t seem to work, she reported. In contrast, Silverman wrote: “Some apps mine data about employees’ phone usage, or medical and pharmaceutical claims, to determine who might be in need of care. Others allow workers to text and video chat with therapists—in what are being called ‘telemental’ health services.”

The apps also collect data—telling employers how many look for help for stress, anxiety or depression–but according to Silverman, an employer doesn’t learn anything about individuals. However some in the industry worry that a lost or hacked phone puts an employee’s privacy at risk and others, who are happy to see something is being done, point out that the security of the privacy is unproven.

AnxietyAccording to Silverman, one app,, “alerts a health coach when a user hasn’t texted in a while or hasn’t left the house, potential signals of increased stress or anxiety.” She continued, it “gathers phone-activity data with users’ permission; the app does not monitor the content of messages or a phone’s specific location.” The human resources director at a company that offers both EAPs and mobile apps reports about the latter. It “feels like a more immediate solution for folks, because they are always on their phones anyway.”

Another corporation expects an ROI of over $2 million this year. Last year it spent $11.5 million on “behavioral health treatments” for its US employees wrote Silverman. It has signed them up at Castlight Health Inc. that “computes users’ health and pharmaceutical claims, as well as their search history within the app, to identify who might be at risk for a mental health condition and direct them to appropriate care.” Silverman described that the smartphone screen of staffers with something like chronic pain– associated with depression and anxiety–might be “Feeling overwhelmed?” A click leads to a list of questions about mood, treatment suggestions and an online therapy program.

Mental health mavens add, “While treatment by text is convenient, some users may still need to supplement it with in-office visits to a therapist.”

I’m all for mobile apps that share weather, sports scores, the shortest driving distance between here and there, movie reviews and the time to expect the next First Avenue bus and I don’t care if the world knows I’ve accessed them. With technology as fine tuned as it is, I can’t believe that the employer won’t know if someone seeks out help which might prevent them from getting a promotion.

  • And if an app determines someone has stayed at home for two days, might the reason not be the flu or a sick child–rather than an indication that you are paralyzed by depression?
  • Haven’t you researched a disease or condition a friend or relative mentions? How would the app know it’s not about you?
  • Are corporations blaming stress and anxiety on staff, who must be cured, instead of fixing the management style, unrealistic expectations or work conditions that may have caused much of the employee anxiety and blues in such numbers?


Service of Small Town or Spooky

Monday, April 20th, 2015

Small town

I was born and brought up in NYC where life is as anonymous as you want it to be so I’ll never forget my first adult small town experience. I’d just moved into temporary quarters in a North Dakota town—population 300– north of Minot Air Force base and went to do laundry in one of the few businesses. A woman approached me and said, “Are you the wife of the Air Force lieutenant who just moved in to Sheriff Avery’s apartment?” I was. We’d been there one day. Shudder.

bike with boxA year later on an Air Force base in Turkey, a neighbor asked me: “How was your party?” “What party?” I asked. She explained that she’d seen me riding my bicycle with liquor boxes in the basket so she’d assumed we were having a party. Wrong: I needed the boxes, which were empty, to ship home Christmas gifts. Tremble.

apt mailboxThat old familiar uncomfortable feeling is back. We moved three months ago. I was diligent in letting friends and family know our new address as well as the post office, motor vehicles bureau and businesses that send bills. So when I get advertisements and catalogs from businesses from whom I’ve bought nothing, addressed to me or my husband at this address, I wonder: Who sold this information? I can run but I can’t hide.

I also feel stalked when I see something I researched on the Internet haunt me every time I open Facebook or in emails from a website like Amazon that sells the category of item I was looking for or maybe just researching for a work project.

Is what I interpret as intrusive really someone being friendly? Are businesses simply making me feel at home, trying to be nothing more than a helpful pal? Do you think it makes sense for some regulatory body to limit invasion of privacy whether virtual or actual?

Stalking on the Internet

Service of Privacy II

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

watching tv late at night

In a holiday card a friend mentioned that she suffered from a condition I wasn’t familiar with. So I looked it up on Google, but I did so reluctantly. I figured that my SPAM file would soon be filled with remedies for the disease and that commercials about them would appear every time I opened Facebook, CVS or Amazon.

In The New York Times Metropolitan section Charles Ornstein wrote “Dying in the E.R. and on TV,” about a family shocked to learn that their father/husband’s last minutes on earth in an ER appeared on “NY Med.” His wife happened upon the program during a sleepless night about a year after her husband’s death. He’d been run over and doctors were shown trying to save him. They couldn’t.

no entry without permissionNobody got his or the family’s permission to film him nor were they aware that a film crew was in the ER. Even though the health department concluded that the hospital “had violated” the patient’s “rights and indeed, its own privacy policy” regulators “did not impose any sanctions on the hospital,” wrote Ornstein.

He continued, “Federal health officials are still reviewing whether NewYork-Presbyterian was obliged to get permission” from the patient “or his family before allowing a TV crew to film him.” The hospital’s lawyers argued in State Supreme Court that you need permission to share information after a person has been examined/treated but that the film was shot before. An appellate panel dismissed the case. The conduct “‘was not so extreme and outrageous’ to justify a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress,’ the judges wrote.”

Hospital erThe hospital also claimed that they didn’t identify the patient and nobody would know who he was. However a woman who knew the family called the patient’s wife and asked if she’d seen the program as she’d recognized her husband on the show. The wife and children said that they were traumatized.

The family wants the case to go in front of a jury as they feel that their peers would agree that “a wrong was done.” At the moment apparently there is no case. The dead man’s wife said that if there wasn’t a law to prevent such filming there should be one and she plans to make it her business to get one.

Would you want to be photographed in the E.R. without permission while out of it or subject a family member to the same, regardless of outcome of the treatment? Do you feel this instance was a breach of privacy? Do you think that the judges, who wrote that there was no “intentional infliction of emotional distress,” might say the same of anyone who has injured someone in an accident that clearly they did not mean to happen? Wouldn’t such a precedent remove the potential of millions of lawsuits in any number of instances?A law

Service of Patterns:, The New York Times Online and Nasdaq darkened; Pleasant Hospital Staff and Apps & Privacy

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

quilt pattern


Within less than a month nobody could access The New York Times online or, for hours, and Nasdaq closed down for 180 minutes causing millions to land on starvation diets of news, shopping, reviews and research. Whatever the reasons–computer glitches or hackers–the coincidences are unsettling.

keyboardIs this a pattern and is something fishy going on?


My husband was in two emergency rooms in one week, one, Lenox Hill, in NYC and one in a rural community, Sharon Hospital, Conn.[He’s fine.] We were encouraged and delighted by the warm, professional, smart care he received by medical and support staff in both places.

smiling nursesThe entire health care/insurance industries are in a sling these days so this pattern of behavior is especially reassuring.

None of Your Business

We’ve come a long way since party lines when telephones were new, especially in rural areas, and many homes were connected to the same line. Nosey neighbors had only to pick up the phone while someone else was talking to catch some juicy tidbits. No doubt the operator who placed the calls was a town’s gossip action central.

party lineThese days it’s a lot more than the N.S.A. listening in and I get the feeling that millions have no clue what their own actions are doing to them. Health apps are among the culprits according to Consumer Bob on In “Health Apps May Share Personal Information: A San Diego privacy group says many of those apps are selling personal information they collect from users.” He wrote: “Collecting data on websites is nothing new. Everyone from Facebook to Google use profiles to market products and services to their users. But few people know their health and fitness apps may be doing the same thing.”

He also noted that “Many of these free applications will then sell your information to third-party advertisers.”

In the July/August issue of Dwell magazine I read about an app that for $20 stores photos and barcodes of all your furniture and appliances in case of fire or theft. There’s an option that tells you if you are adequately insured. But imagine the hacking possibilities and repercussions should this happen especially on a local level. Once you’ve collected all the information an old fashioned flash file backed by a hard copy would seem less potentially intrusive.

What do you think is going on with technology and big brands? How is it that hospitals big and small, rural and urban, have [finally] realized that a positive and pleasant atmosphere helps in healing? Are most people aware that the more they share in a digital world the more they give up their privacy?

 privacy please

Service of Privacy

Thursday, September 15th, 2011


My bank–a major one–sent me information marked “Privacy Notification” on a folded piece of cheap copy paper, open on the sides with no envelope. They must send the info under Federal law so you probably got one too [unless you are so annoyed that you keep your money in a hole in your backyard.]

I learned that I cannot limit the bank’s sharing my personal information for its everyday business purposes and that sounded reasonable.

bankBut I also can’t limit their sharing my information for: “our marketing purposes to offer our products and services to you; joint marketing with other financial companies and our affiliates’ everyday business purposes-information about your transactions and experiences.” Translation: I must get direct mail from the bank and others which adds to their cost of doing business and therefore what I’m charged in fees. Hmmm.

I can limit the sharing for “our affiliates everyday business purposes-information about your credit worthiness; our affiliates to market to you and non affiliates to market to you.”

The bank says it collects my personal information when I make deposits and withdrawals from my account, pay bills, apply for a loan, use my credit or debit card and it collects info from others.

sharing-info1“Why can’t I limit all sharing?”  That’s one of the questions posed on the sheet. Federal law gives you the right to limit only “sharing info about your creditworthiness for affiliates’ everyday business purposes; affiliates from using your info to market to you and sharing for non affiliates to market to you.” Now I’m confused. See copy in red, above.

lawsuitI find it odd that while this is going on an employer can’t breathe a negative word about an employee or confirm a salary without fear of punishment. I know a woman who was sued-and lost-when she warned someone calling for a reference about an ex staffer.  She’d fired her because she’d stolen from her design firm. The thief didn’t get the new job which is why she sued. As Onslow, the brother-in-law in the 1990s British comedy “Keeping up Appearances” would say, “Nice,” pronounced “noyce.”

The banking law smacks of “big business 10, Jeanne and Joe consumer, zero.” Will medical records be next or are they already wide open for all to share?

Can you think of situations where a consumer’s hands are tied? What do you do to protect your privacy?


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