Swipely, cool but scary?

So there’s this rather cool new service that says they will find and give you special deals to the stores and merchants you use already. The way they do it is to examine your credit card bills and help you find deals. They say:

With Swipely, you can earn automatic cash back rewards at the best local places Boston has to offer. There are no coupons to cut, vouchers to buy or loyalty cards to forget – with Swipely you earn valuable rewards on every purchase with the credit or debit cards you already have, automatically. Best of all, Swipely is free!

Sounds great, but you know how they do it? You have to give them your credit card info and login to the credit card company web site, so they can look at your charges. They say it is very secure:

Swipely downloads transactions to give you rewards via our banking technology partner using a secure, read-only connection trusted by more than 5,000 banks and 26 million consumers. Swipely uses 256-bit SSL EV bank-grade encryption and SAS 70 Type II secure data centers.

I am pretty promiscuous when it comes to this kind of thing (for example, I’ve been using Mint.com for a while now) but still this one creeps me out just a little bit. What do you say?

New Jersey election fraud? Or coverup? Or just human error?

Andrew Appel is one of the best known academics studying and commenting on elections and computer science and technology related to elections. He wrote a really interesting report, “New Jersey Elections Coverup“, going into great detail about a specific incident during the June 2011 New Jersey primary election where the reported outcome of a particular race was demonstrated to be incorrect.

It was a small election and so they could literally get affidavits from voters to prove this. Mr. Apple was hired as an expert (apparently he does a lot of this, which for me colors his words to some extent) to help investigate what might have happened. The report tells a compelling story.

If you are one of those who wonders whether election fraud happens or can easily happen, this report will interest you. It also adds weight to the conventional wisdom among security and computer experts a physical paper ballot, marked by the voter, and scanned by a computer is really the best and perhaps only way to ensure fair elections.

Phone spam, charities and trust

In the New York Times, an editorial talks about a study that reveals rampant abuses in certain charitable causes (or organizations passing themselves as such)

“The public has rightly shown its empathy with wounded and troubled war veterans, contributing hundreds of millions of dollars to private charities that claim to have the veterans’ best interests at heart. A new study details rampant abuses of the money flow.” (from New York Times)

The study referenced is from a very reputable outfit, Charity Watch.

I haven’t done a careful comparison, as the names of charities that call my house have many very similar sounding names. But my experience in dealing with them on the phone has been almost uniformly unpleasant: strange hard-sell tactics, rudeness, accusations and so on. I had my suspicions and this new study kind of corroborates them.