This year, we honor tech companies and government agencies who have firmly put the “i” in stupid, and their executives who truly earned their C-level officer status. In no particular order, here are the entities who have shown time-and-again that they are willing to put profits over lives of their fellow Americans.
1 Winner, Winner, Chickentofu dinner.
Twilio – Jeff Lawson, CEO @jeffiel
Twilio offers a number of voice and text over IP services. They provide text message relay services, even with emojis, for any messages whatsoever about any trivial thing for their customers. Especially marketing and robotexting services. However, when it comes to messages which seek help, are related to an emergency, or which seek to connect with 911 or emergency PSAP call centers, they childishly insist that this violates their terms of service (TOS) and Acceptable Use Policy (AUP). Even in areas where #text911 is fully functional like Puerto Rico- in all 78 municipalities, Twilio would rather cling to their AUPs, TOS, and ROIs… even if it means we’ll be wishing 3000 Puerto Ricans RIPs. Twilio RT: Use our product, unless you really need it.
Twilio, is proud to be striving towards a 50% female employee statistic. Fun fact, nearly half of the survivors in Puerto Rico are women… but when it comes to a service like text 911 which is invaluable in helping women in domestic abuse situations, they’d rather the abuse continue than allow their service to be used to get abused women help – even in disaster areas like Puerto Rico where women are all the more likely to return to an abusive home.
I tried to let them know there was a problem… but… apparently Twilio doesn’t have access to Twitter, Instagram, Email, Facebook, or projector vision… Hell I even had a 10foot banner installed outside their Silicon Valley HQ. They KNOW… they just don’t care. I emailed Jeff to let him know that he won this year’s Jackass Of The Year Award… no comment yet.
2. BridgeFy – Jorge Rios aka Ribs @JorgeRibs @BridgeFy
BridgeFy provides an offline text messaging program that uses advanced peer to peer (p2p) adhoc wireless networking to deliver messages in a community- device to device. When cell towers fall or when reporters, activists, whistleblowers need to communicate off the grid, BridgeFy provides this service without needing any infrastructure, nothing except your phone or tablet device. This is particularly useful in disaster areas like Mexico City after the earthquake, in Puerto Rico after the hurricanes when cell towers are down, power is out, wifi is down, and all other communications means have failed.
However, before survivors can use this application, they must each download and register a 10 Megabyte install file, have a working cellphone number for verification and/or working data services. The last thing you want during a disaster is a plurality of users downloading multi-megabyte files and sending confirmation sig/acks. Rather than provide the install file themselves, luckily 3rd parties have made available the BridgeFy .apk install file for offline sharing (e.g. memorystick, card, hotspot fileshare…) and installation in a disaster area – however, the emergency offline communications application, while disingenuously offering the ability to skip the registration/verification step, actually requires working cellular, text, phone and/or wifi data before.one.can.use.the.application.for.offline.disaster.communications. WTF!?
The very first thing that generally happens after a disaster like the Mexico City earthquake or the Puerto Rico hurricanes, is that the power goes out and the wifi goes down, followed by the celltowers being saturated with calls and messages which quickly results in a failure of LTE, 3g, data, and text messaging services and melts the backup batteries and diesel runs out. To compound this problem, people of limited means, like many of those in disaster areas may not even have a working cell-phone subscription to begin with – this is precisely why the FCC requires that all phones, even those without a simcard be able to call/text 911 – this is why we don’t put locks or chains on emergency exits.
BridgeFy, for some reason, feels that survivors who truly need disaster communications should be required to have an operable cell-phone subscription and sim card, with working cellular towers, and/or working wifi before they can use their product – whose sole reason for existence is communications when there are no other avenues available. Further, BridgeFy feels that for reporters, whistleblowers, and activists who want to use their product for off the grid communications, they must first use that very grid they seek to avoid by providing their name, email, phonenumber, unique device id, and other personally identifiable information before they can even use their app.
But it gets better. So much better. BridgeFy *actually* has the cojones to troll us with the taunting and inviting roast “Having Trouble? Contact us” hahaha fxck you! Good luck. When I brought this to their attention, they initially lied about it on twitter, then deleted the tweet and banned my account. They know. They choose not to unfuck their app to save lives. I’ve emailed Jorge to let him know he won 3rd place. No comment?
3. Gotenna – Daniela Perdomo, CEO & Jorge Perdomo, Founder/Inventor
Helpdesk: 1 (302) 540-2246
Gotenna offers the ONLY long-range, emergency communications device that works when all other avenues of communication have failed. The Gotenna device offers 1-2 miles of range for each hop (up to 62 miles with elevated positioning) and allows for hopping/relaying the message up to six hops away and does not require any classes, testing, or license from the FCC – meaning that anyone, any idiot can use it, and it’s used through the user’s own phone or ipad. My Mom can operate these devices. It’s basically just a text and gps chat app. Gotenna has taken great strides to market and provide both “Emergency” chat and “Emergency SOS beacon” features so that their customers/survivors can send out emergency messages if they need help. They even offer a simple five-click mode to call for help.
Gotenna also provides a GotennaPlus SMS Relay feature which will relay a text and gps location across any working data signal available – so if, for example, a user sends a message to another user, the message will hop up to 6 times, gotenna device to device (tens of miles without needing ANY infrastructure) and if the message was not able to be delivered, any of those six relaying Gotenna hops can backhaul or relay the message across any signal to get to the internet to deliver a standard text / sms phone message to the intended recipient anywhere in the world, even if they don’t have their own Gotenna device.
This is truly a powerful feature that could be the difference between life and death for many of their users – EXCEPT that Gotenna uses the Twilio text message delivery service
(Estupido Winner Jackass of the year) which forbids the delivery of messages that could save lives, even in domestic abuse situations or disaster areas where there are no other means to get the message out.
Gotenna held a fundraiser that was to deliver up to 300 Gotenna devices to Puerto Rico to form a critical backbone for emergency communications. As discussed above, Puerto Rico has had a 100% operational text to 911 (#Text911) service for about ten years able to receive emergency sms text messages. While Gotenna never truly supplied these devices, in spite of the fundraiser being fully funded in November of 2017, there are many 3rd party Gotenna devices in Puerto Rico. The only thing that stops the “hundreds of thousands of people in the central mountainous regions” from being able to get an emergency text and gps message out to first responders is Gotenna’s adamant refusal to consider another text message relay service (like, e.g., Broadband hint hint) that allows delivery of 911 text messages.
Incredulously, and I mean this seriously strains the bounds of all reason, Gotenna also provides a Gotenna Pro device for first responders and LEOs… however, the Gotenna Pro model is WHOLLY incompatible with the Gotenna Mesh device survivors are likely to have!!! they literally CANNOT talk to one another- so the only people who’s literal only job is to get these messages (first responders, LEOs, and 911) will NEVER get the “emergency” Gotenna message or Gotenna “emergency SOS” beacon (R).
This was painfully evident at Burning Man 2018, when a woman with 3rd degree burns sent a Gotenna emergency message asking for help and the Gotenna network dutifully ignored her request and refused to deliver the message to the fully operational Washoe County text 911 service. The burnt woman eventually wandered into the desert, in shock, in 107F degree temperatures to seek help the old fashioned way.
I let them know about this “feature” … oddly, for a “communications company,” Gotenna doesn’t appear to use Twitter, Instagram, Email, Phone, Text Messages, or website forum. Somehow my posts and accounts were accidentally suspended and deleted for a thousand years. They know. They just don’t care. I wrote to congratulate them on their #3 spot in this year’s Jackasses In Tech Awards (JITA 2018) but haven’t heard back from them… No comment?
I wish I could say this was the first time Gotenna had ghosted people… But it gets SO MUCH better. In spite of taking at least $4000 from a charity meant to provide an emergency communications backbone of GOtenna devices in the hardest hit regions of Puerto Rico for relief efforts (LAST YEAR IN NOVEMBER) … of the 300 that were to be delivered… barely 80 were… and of those 300, LESS THAN 16 were made available to the public. Was it all GoTenna’s fault? No. Hence, they share this title (Jackass of the Year for JITA 2018) with Javier Malave @JavierMBJG d\b\a variously with noncompetes and ndas with Amazon, PR Reconnects, Starting Point, UPR Eship Network, PR Science and Trust… a serial entrepreneur (with a history in fashion design). But is Gotenna, a partner in the fundraiser, and the beneficiary of all the goodwill and virtue signalling (no less than 5 links appear to GoTenna’s websites and social media presences adorn the fundraiser page). Gotenna, as a recipient of MILLIONS of US taxpayer dollars cast shade for the corruption, fraud, and obfuscation of the partnership of joint tortfeasors. The end result is the same, there is no emergency backup network for “hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans” in the hardest hit areas – as the fundraiser called for. I don’t even know what the fuck the millions in taxpayer funds went to, but apparently not to installing any of these emergency backup units in Puerto Rico?
They know. They just don’t care. And most people are too polite to call them on this bullshit – because we are a society that sweeps abuse under the rug and we look away for mere pennies on the dollar- even when the lives of the most vulnerable in our society are on the line.
4. Beartooth Mesh Network – Jeff Jones, CEO
In spite of the name and their marketing, Beartooth never quite got mesh networking to actually work, so they simply gave up and do not offer this feature although they still market these features. In spite of taking millions of dollars in taxpayer money, they refuse to open themselves up to any public oversight, any universal compatibility with other mesh or radio products, refuse to release any source code or even a public audit, and refuse to commit to defending the spirit of the First Amendment guarantees of Free Speech, or private association, let alone the Fourth Amendment guarantees of securities of our letters, communications, and locations from prying governmental eyes. Beartooth isn’t alone in this regard, as Gotenna is situated exactly the same (having received millions of taxpayer funds and governmental contracts) yet wholly refusing to make any such commitments to protect customer privacy.
5. Sonim devices – Bob Plaschke, CEO
Sonim offers some really solid hardened phone devices (e.g. Sonim Xp8) for first responders where they market the really cool ability to connect modular accessories to the phone to enable additional features…. like Beartooth “mesh” networking, P25 digital radio, ?infrared camera? and the like. However, in spite of marketing this feature and extolling the benefits, no such modular addons are available, no pricing, no availability is forthcoming and all attempts to get more information fall on deaf ears. The sick part is that they are charging first responders (taxpayers) $199 for a phone charger for the XP8 and XP5s model devices which don’t seem to offer any special features like being inherently safe or non-incendiary. So they are compromising the safety of our first-responders while robbing them of precious budgets that could be used for other safety equipment that actually works as advertised. Sonim does not seem to want to clarify if this charger even offers quick charging, or if it’s merely delivering a paltry 1 amp of charge to the device. And they ?disabled? FM / Weather radio reception?
6. Verizon –
Wouldn’t it be nice if people’s cell phones could receive emergency alerts even when towers are down? It could decidedly be the difference between life and death if we could provide weather updates to hurricane survivors without celltowers or wifi. Many phones come with an FM radio chip (and when connected to a headset or aux cable) could receive weather/emergency updates even when all other communications means are inoperable – except that Verizon (and other carriers in a bid to get data for streamed music?) forced many phone manufacturers to lock and/or disable this FM radio feature – forcing it to lay dormant in the phones. Why would an American company forcefully disable measures for Americans to receive emergency information? Thankfully, the NextRadio app can force the FM radio chip to unlock in many devices.
7. Samsung –
In pursuit of sexy glass backed phones that totally don’t have a propensity to shatter, Samsung and others have done away with favored customer features like a removable and replaceable battery – features that are very useful in disaster scenarios. But massive respect for their efforts (unlike Apple) at working with NextRadio to provide emergency backup FM and weather radio on the only devices survivors often have on them when they flee a disaster area.
8. Apple –
While FM radio chips are locked in iphones up to the 6S, the Next Radio app was able to bypass this lock and use the FM radio receiver chip to enable survivors to receive emergency alerts and weather updates. Apparently, in the newer devices, this feature has been “bravely” removed altogether along with the headphone jack which allowed a quick way for survivors to attach headphones or an aux cable to serve as an antenna.
9. FCC – Ajit Pai – @FCC @AjitPaiFCC
While the FCC steadily erodes privacy and consumer protections – and lashes out at states who seek to provide net neutrality and privacy protections, claiming they violate the dormant commerce clause and infringe on the FCC’s sole federal jurisdiction and enumeration of powers, the FCC and Ajit Pai are content to let state and local authorities drag their feet on #text911 services and telecom providers actively lobby and use their powers to disable FM radio chips.
This PSAP readiness report is PISS POOR… shitbirds in these gray jurisdictions refuse to effect text 911 with the due haste required of a 911 system. And NO ONE is holding them accountable. Lives could be saved. Sometimes you can’t always keep a voice connection to 911. Deaf, domestic violence, natural disasters, … get your A game on PSAPS. Props to Puerto Rico, Indiana, Maine, LA, NH, VT, CONN, NJ.
10. USCG ❤ Prepa
While millions of taxpayer funds have been spent erecting backup solar power on every single structure on Coast Guard bases in Puerto Rico, government lawyers and “top negotiators” allowed a contract with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa) that actually forbids the US Coast Guard from making any use of the solar power devices. So, for example, after hurricanes Irma and Maria destroyed the electrical grid, the Coast Guard was contractually obligated to let these thousands of solar panels sit idle, feeding power into a wholly non-existent electrical grid – wasting power that could have been employed for operational readiness, for servicemembers and their families, to save lives, or to avoid wasting countless millions of dollars on scarce diesel or gasoline supplies to keep generators running. USCG had the temerity to discipline local commanding officers who sought to adapt, improvise, and overcome to harness this power – all while survivors died by the thousands. “Unsung success” just doesn’t give me confidence that this is being worked on or resolved. I’ll respectfully concur with Admiral McRaven in his no-bullshit, frank “embarassment” assessment. Something is wrong when Commanders and Captains are keelhauled for trying to save lives and ensure operational readiness in the face of the worst natural disaster in cinclant in a hundred years.
11. While there were many other jackasses and shitbirds in the tech world this year, these were my favorites.