Fingerprints, Trust, and Europcar

September 18, 2007

Last week on the way to an AstroGrid meeting in Cambridge I picked up a hire car at Stansted Airport and was asked for my fingerprint. Sorry. Correction. I was told I must give my fingerprint. No choice here. Apparently in an experimental scheme with Essex Police, ALL the hire car companies at Stansted were doing this; and Europcar have now rolled it out across the UK. I am surprised I haven’t heard more fuss. The BBC website discussed this back in November, and there has a small amount of blogging on it, e.g. here.

As usual on this kind of issue, I had two conflicting instincts. Thought-1 was “This is awful. The police state is creeping up on us. The People must rise up !”. Thought-2 was “Lets not be Canute here. Like Scott McNeally said, you have no privacy, get used to it.” Not sure which thought wins.

But internal curiosity welled up. Thought-3 was “Why is this so mentally confusing ? What’s really going on ?”. I suddenly remembered how back in the early 80s a Polish friend would explain that where she came from one person in every five was a policeman or police informer, and how this eroded society from the inside. Its about trust, and its about power. OK, so I am an innocent man, so I have “nothing to fear”. Giving my fingerprint is a good thing. This is clearly true as long as you trust the government. Well right now to be honest, by and large, I do. But if I was in the USA, I would be much more nervous.

But … why should I trust Europcar ??????

When I asked the right questions, they offered me the choice of blacking out my print when I returned the car. So I did. But this choice was not offered until I asked. And the pictures I see on the web suggest that most sites are automatically digitising the print rather than saving it on a piece of card, so this option has no safe meaning.

Maybe I should write to the CEO of Europcar and ask if he would please provide me his fingerprint for my records ? After all he is an innocent man, so he has nothing to fear. And I would promise to not doing anything with this information unless I suspected Europcar of a crime of some kind….

Triki Galaxiki

June 30, 2007

I was just browsing the New Scientist Space Blog, and found a post about a new web-enterprise called Galaxiki. (Galaxy Wiki, geddit ?) It says it is “a fictional online galaxy created, maintained and owned by its Community”. It boasts that you can join free, and it has a kinda community pitch… but it looks like a business to me.

You zoom in on a grid and end up picking your very own star .. and then gee whizz, you can buy the star and edit its properties !! Of course, being a community thing, you can pay anything you like .. as long as it’s at least 5 euros….

So in some ways its like an updated version of that scam where you sell someone a star and give them a certificate, except the star isn’t even real ! You just make it up.

On the other hand, its not really like one of those old scams, as the guy who designed and built all this has worked really hard. Its a lovely toy. If it was painted clearly as a money making business, I would be completely happy with it. I just feel uncomfortable when you can’t quite tell whether this is a business with a cynical “open community” veneer, or an intrinsically open thing with a business veneer.

But maybe I am being a daft old purist lefty. This is C21. Its ok to make money. Hey, we all have Google ads on our blogs, don’t we ? Errr.. not me actually. I am not against making money. I just don’t like all that clutter. Adverts just add noise and confusion to life. How is a chap supposed to see past the ten thousand things ?

On one page, it says “this is not a research tool”. Dead right. I picked a star at random and got TAH357. Nobody has bought it yet and it has no lifeforms. Apparently – big sigh – its a “yellow giant class star”. Aint no such animal folks.