Trouble On The Road Ahead?

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astro_rob's picture
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Not sure which forum to place this topic in, somehow this one seemed appropo. This past weekend, I discovered that all of the local Goodwills have been told to no longer accept computers and their peripherals. This means all of it... monitors, printers, the whole smack. Not even software. The reasons I was given had to do with identity theft (reasonable) and the PATRIOT act (unreasonable). Somehow, when I tried to delve deeper into this, the manager must have assumed I was a moron and kept going back and forth between the two reasons (Keep in mind, I carry a copy of the US Constitution in my Palm).

Now, one of our local news channels (FOX 30) is going to run a piece that says that buying used computers might be illegal.

I know that the crowd here is a reasonable bunch. The problem is, many computer owners are just average folk. With many areas clamping down on computer disposal (some states are either looking at or have already instituted recycling fees), chances are pretty good that when it comes time to dispose of that Whizpopper P-166 (or perhaps a choice G3 B&W... naw, Mac users aren't like that), they will cloak it in the trash. With more thrift stores refusing to take them, with news outlets painting the selling of used hardware as a black market, and with many areas no longer accepting curbside pickup (or even recycling), it seems possible (possible, not necessarily probable) that the day could come when we, Nerdkind if you will, might run out of resources.

More insidious, though, is the possibility that families that might not be able to afford even a basic systems will be denied the possibility of obtaining them second hand. This is good news for Dell, eMachines, Gateway and, yes, Apple. It's bad news for working class families that would like to have access to the Internet.

That this could happen frightens me. What next, state registration of computers? Oops, shouldn't have said that...

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Dr. Webster's picture
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There is nothing, I repeat, n

There is nothing, I repeat, nothing illegal about selling used hardware. The only part that might be illegal about selling a used computer is if software is left on it. But with a blank hard drive, software licenses don't apply. If the Patriot act or whatever says it's illegal to sell a used computer, then it's just as illegal to sell a used car.

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doug-doug the mighty's picture
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Errrrr... sort of....

Part of what that is all about is that many of the donated machines in the past were from people who did not know any better when it cam to cleaning things up. A low-level format and writting zeros solves that problem. The problem Goodwill is trying to avoid is liability for identity theft. Use of HIPAA, USA PATRIOT, and even Sarbanes-Oxley are just excuses for them as opposed to dealing with the issue itself.

If it can be demonstrated that the machine has no hard drive, they should have no problem taking it. Otherwise, here in Jax, you have two alternatives:
1. There is a computer recycler located just north of the stadium. They take pretty much everything. Depending on what it is depends on who pays who how much. (I will post their website tomorrow - it is on my desk at work.) their focus is to take what should not go to the landfills - all electronica.
2. Up by me, near Blanding and Wells, there is a place called Cash Converters. They buy anything usable and resell it, kind of like a pawn shop. They take computers without a problem, provided it is working. They have some good stuff, all kinds of toys.

For your working systems, you could do option 2. Otherwise, you could just post the items for sale on this site. Also post over at the barracks (http://www.68kmla.net/), that crowd is usually a better fit for the older machines. Their horders focus more on what you have whereas here the slant is more towards the Gx stuff than not.

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astro_rob's picture
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Good Point, Doug...

There are a number of other places in J'ville that I know of as well (including the numerous fleamarkets... like the one fellow selling the suspiciously new looking laptops from a $20 folding table...). There is also PC Liquidators on Phillips (US 1). But my concern stretches beyond here. I'm sure that "we", the komputerenkind, will manage. However, my concern is a domino effect of sorts. First, Goodwill does it, then other thrift stores follow suit, followed by pawn shops, etc, all in the name of "legalities". A few years back, I did some volunteer work at the Veterans Thrift Store, just helping to get the computers they brought in wiped, cleaned-up, and running. The store's owners told me, though, that the computers were a very tiny part of the business, and that the real money in the whole thrift store business was in the clothing and furniture. As a result, I helped them to institute some low pricing guidelines on all the systems they sold; compact Macs for $5 to $15, Mac II's for $10, 486's for $5, so forth.

And they sold. Like hotcakes.

Then I moved away, and the policies changed. But they're still cheap.

I'm just a big believer in access for all, and inexpensive computers are a big step in the right direction. I don't want to see that happen.

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eeun's picture
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Re: Errrrr... sort of....

doug-doug the mighty wrote:

The problem Goodwill is trying to avoid is liability for identity theft.

That's my take on it too, and to save themselves from that potential liability, everyone suffers - especially the ones who can't afford a new computer. I don't blame Goodwill for covering themselves, but I don't like the events or policies that have led to it.

I bought a Pentium I at a local Value Village a couple years ago, and it had an incredible amount of information on it from the previous owners. I was tempted to phone them and let them know, politely, just how lucky they were that it was me that got their computer, and not some nutjob.

Of course, the responsibility should be soley on the donor to remove personal information. You wouldn't give away a filing cabinet without first removing all your personal documents, but that's exactly what people do when they donate their computers without clearing the hard drive.

To add to Doug Doug's list, there's also the Freecycle style of offering your old equipment to others, free of charge and no strings attached.

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astro_rob's picture
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Bigger Things

My concern is that this could lead to some misconceptions in the general public. There's an old adage, "the world does not operate on reality, but on our perception of reality" (a frequent theme in my writing, in fact). We're seeing a little portion of it here; someone in the local management team at Goodwill made a decision, painted it with an excuse, and put it out to the store/department managers. They tell this to enough donors, and it goes from there.
You're right, though, that it's the donor's place to wipe the machine beforehand. But, having had an experience working in this area, I can tell you that none of the people I met in these stores were computer savvy enough to do it. Now, through misconceptions, one of the biggest sources for all things secondhand is getting out of computers.
Misconceptions are very powerful things. Look at the bill presented by Senators Shumer and Lautenberg to regulate amateur rocketry because of fears that they can be used as terrorist weapons. Or any of the myriad other laws still in the lawbooks in many areas that were written based upon misconceptions. I don't think it will get that far, but I hope you see where I'm coming from.
If it does, I'll just remember what Steve Jobs said; "It's better to be a pirate than to be in the navy."

Arrrrgh, mateys...

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doug-doug the mighty's picture
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STOP!

CITIZEN LITTLE, YOU ARE COMMITTING THOUGHT CRIMES! YOU WILL IMMEDIATELY CEASE AND DESIST WITH THIS WRONG THINKING. WRONG THINKING WILL BE PUNISHED.

WAR IS PEACE .
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY .
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH .

BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU.

INGSOC

--a message from the Ministry of Truth

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Reverend Darkness's picture
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Giving away computers....

First, let me commend eeun for mentioning Freecycle. I run the group for my county, and have not only benefitted by recieving, but also benifitted by cleaning out a portion of my garage and giving it away.

Second... Goodwill and whatever other organizations that are going to limit or prohibit used computer sales or donations are doing so to protect themselves against liability for identity theft. They do this because the bigwigs making the rules are ignorant of the law. Astro_Rob is right that if they keep touting "Patriot Act" as the reason, then it will start seeping into the collective unconscious that it's the governments fault that they can't get a cheap computer at Salvation Army any more.

Being a recent victim of identity theft, I can tell you that it's easier to do by digging through dumpsters than by looking at a used computer.

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Goodwill sued by MS

Some time ago Goodwill was sued by Microsloth (and lost) for selling peecees with windoze on the hard drives.

The Goodwills around here test to see if the computer boots, and if it does they sell it.
If it won't boot they trash it.
Macs can be sold, but they still throw in a peecee once in a while because they don't have a clue what they are doing.

Sounds like the Goodwill's lawyers have them running scared on the patriot crap.......

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Illegal? Huh.

http://www.goodwillnwohio.com/donortips.html

Notable Item:

Quote:

3. Keep the operating system intact. It is required by law to leave the operating system and current license loaded on a donated computer. And, since charitable organizations usually cannot purchase and license new operating systems, the legal transfer can go a long way.

Frankly, that's horsesh*t, so far as I'm aware. The only thing linking an operating system to a piece of hardware is the wording of the shrink wrap license. And I *seriously* doubt the non-transferability clauses they write into those are legally binding, as long as the license isn't duplicated. Further, there's nothing illegal about deleting the OS from a piece of hardware. It's perfectly acceptable legally to run a destructive low-level format on a system, rip off any Microsoft "Certificate of Authenticity" stickers, and donate the blank system to whoever you want to use or resell however they care to. It technically might be a violation of the shrink wrap Windows license if you continue to use the OS from the denuded system on another system you own, but *if* that were enforcable at all (and that's a big if) it's be *you* who'd be legally liable, not whoever you donated the blank system to.

Now of course the flip side of this is that Goodwill is going to have a problem selling a computer that doesn't boot, and said computer isn't going to be particularly useful to the hypothetical "working class family who would like to have access to the internet". Which would lead to this possibly related aside:

Microsoft lately has been trying for some time to cast a legal shadow on vendors who sell blank systems with no OS, or companies selling systems with Linux preinstalled. Their argument is that said systems almost always end up running pirated copies of Windows anyway, and thus they're nothing but an invitation to foul play. That's true enough, I suppose, but whether they like it or not the companies selling blank systems arn't responsible for what people do with them. Unless some particularly diabolical version of the INDUCE act passes there's nothing Microsoft can do about it other then make veiled threats.

I remember reading a bit ago how Microsoft and the BSA were leaning on charities to insist on getting legal software and OS licenses along with donated hardware, which of course is potentially a legal nightmare. (If a system is sold without the proper paperwork who's responsible? The charity, the purchaser, or the donator? All?) It wouldn't suprise me a bit if Microsoft has *also* been leaning on charities like Goodwill and insinuating that it's illegal to sell blank machines because they're an invitation to piracy, which would leave some peabrained lawyer to jump to the conclusion that just blanking the machines before selling them isn't acceptable either. (It would also require training people at their donation centers how to do it.)

Factor in the risk of being a vector for identiy theft, and I'm not suprised that they're thinking of just getting out of the business entirely.

Macintoshes in theory should be easier to deal with, since in spirit at least Apple attaches an operating license to every machine they sell, but there's still the problem of matching the model with the OS it was sold with, if the reseller wants to sell working units. (Unless you go out and buy it it's still piracy to install Panther on an OS-less thrift store iMac Rev. A. It only came with a "perpetual" MacOS 8.1 license.)

Frankly, that's where the "used" model for spreading computers to the masses starts to fall down. The hardware lasts longer then the software, and buying software for the old hardware ends up costing almost as much as getting new hardware with the software already on it. Now if people were willing to use free alternatives for their software we might be getting somewhere, but ironically the economically strapped people who would benefit most from free software are the least well equipped to use it. Getting onto the internet starting from a bare machine and a Linux CD isn't particularly difficult for someone who has a bit of computer experience under their hat, but for Joe Constructionworker who picks up a computer from the Goodwill for the cost of a pack of cigarettes that's a lot to ask. Not to mention that *if* he succeeds his kids will bi*ch about not being able to run the same games as their richer buddies. Which will make the kid get a pirated copy of Windows anyway, which will screw up the machine and force Joe to shell out for a new eMachine anyway. It's a vicious cycle.

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microsoft

yo ppl im jib im building a computer and i need to get help from microsoft adn i dont know the email address does any one know it i wont be on the forum for long so could u please email it to me ant thanks alot

astro_rob's picture
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Darn Good Point!

You brought up some very solid points there, my prehistoric friend. The whole idea of "computers for the masses" is indeed a difficult one, and now more than likely a dead-end. Further, and this is a point that I brought up as well in another forum, most of the people who buy them have anything but education in mind; running games, Internet access, et cetera. That said, most donated computers end up, again, donated or trashed; your average Joe Beercan gives a rat's a** about recycling.
From the Microsoft standpoint, they could stand to lose a lot of money if people could perpetually use older computers, so discouraging the sales of older machines is to their (and Apple's, too) benefit.
Besides, the dynamics of the Information Superhighway are changing. Old computers for connecting to the outside world are less likely to happen. There was an article in "The Economist" that talked about the so-called "digital divide", the technology gap between the developed world and the developing world. The main point of the article was this; supplying these people with lowcost computers wasn't the answer. For them, it was the more important to have better communications via handheld phones, and the modern ones have Internet capability as well. I can foresee this happening among lower wage earners here as well. Why shell out money for even a used computer when you can get a cell phone that will do most of it? And for games, just buy a game system.
While the education aspect will be minimal, the fuss to your average low-income worker isn't worth the price of a desktop computer. Your children can always use the library. Besides, a PC tower leaves unsightly bulges in your pockets.

Tinker Ergo Sum,
Rob

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eeun's picture
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embedded systems

There's a move by AMD and others to create small embedded or closed systems for the 'third world' but I'm wondering if there aren't plans to introduce them here as well.
Link

They're hardly powerhouses, but they do the basics that most people need in a computer.

The value of this depends on whether you look at it as an opportunity to provide cheap, new computers for the masses; or as a way to profit from those people who legislation have slowly cut off from access to older used systems - whether by accident or intent. Optimist or Conspiracy Theorist: your call.

The latter doesn't seem to be logical, though, from my own experience. Everyone I've given an old computer to has upgraded to something new fairly quickly. An old computer is like a gateway drug...first one's free.

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Yo Jib...

Yo Jib, if you're having trouble finding an email address for Microsoft, it's probably because you're looking in an Apple/Macintosh specific forum. Aside from the fact that your comment is completely unrelated to the discussion at hand, and the fact that your inquiry is almost certainly not Macintosh related, I can appreciate your having difficulty in finding an email address for Microsoft. After all, Microsoft is one of the "smaller" companies in the technology field and, as such, probably do not have much of a web presence.

If I might offer a suggestion, you may wish to try a search on one of the various online search engines. Google is generally fairly decent at finding email addresses for obscure little software companies like Microsoft. Another alternative might be to try the new MSN Search engine which is offered by a similarly named company.

I don't imagine that you would be able to find someone outside of Applefritter that would know email addresses for Microsoft, as Microsoft is relatively unknown outside of the Macintosh community.

Sorry I wasn't much of a help, Jib. To be perfectly honest, I just wouldn't know where to find a Microsoft email address.

I'm sure that somebody here at Applefritter will have the answer you seek. Just be patient.

Good luck and all the best to the family.

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Inbedded Systems For The Masses...

Thanks for the link, Eeun. Systems like those hold much potential, though the idea has been around for a few years; good to see AMD giving it a shot, though, and maybe they can help to get the prices down on the market.
In the past 6 years, there have been two systems in particular aimed at that market, the I-Opener and the Aubrey. Sadly, both faltered in the market place. The case of the I-Opener's is really sad, since their plan of selling them at $99US is what nearly killed the company, at least 3Com is still around. Both were well engineered pieces, and I have to say that I rather like the Aubrey for design.
I would like to see little systems like this succeed in the market place, but somehow I suspect the powers-that-be won't let them. If we look at the two really big players on the Internet, Microsoft (software) and AOL (services), you can see a devil's deal of sorts. For as much as AOL loathes MS, the reality is that the bulk of the computers out there (at least in the Americas) run some form or another of Windows, and as such, they have to cater to that crowd. Conversly, Microsoft knows that AOL is the biggest ISP, and that when people want to go on the Internet, it is the first name they think of by default (including CDs in breakfast cereal and the occasional mass mailing has certainly helped in that regard). So it is in Bill's interest that Windows be capable of running AOL's software, even if it is noted for being buggy at times. Neither of these companies want competition. For AOL, this means buying them up; WebTV, for instance. For Microsoft, it means strong arm tactics of draconian proportions, even if some are very sophisticated bluffs.
However, both have an opportunity to win at the imbedded systems game, with MS having the lead with Windows CE. The only alternatives are Linux devices, but again the legion of lawyers that MS can summon scares many developers into getting in line... or getting out of the way.
It's definitely a conundrum, one that will change at some point, I'm sure. In the meantime, though, there will be engineers and perpetual hackers out there working away in their dorms, garages, basements or even offices, chipping away at the problem. The outcome will more than likely be very different from that we expect, but there will be change.

Tinker Ergo Sum,
Rob

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