MINOT, N.D. — TGIF, my friends, and welcome to another Friday mailbag.
How are things for you as we slowly, with much political and social rancor, inch our society back toward something approaching normal?
The other day I paid $0.27 per gallon for gasoline. No joke!
I had a discount -- I do that More Rewards thing from Cashwise Foods -- but still. I felt like I was living in another era. As one social media friend pointed out to me, the tax on a gallon of gasoline is $0.41 per gallon.
But enough about me. Let's get to your feedback. Remember, if you'd like to participate, email your comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. I can't fit everything into the column, but I do try to respond to every message.
What gets published may be edited for clarity and brevity.
A.Z. writes: The Care19 app is touted as private because of a random scrambled number, but the app is being put on Apple and Google phones. So we are to trust these harvesters of data will not put two and two together and know way too much about us? Probable scenario near the end of May, someone who went bar hopping will become positive. Their Care19 app identifies all the bars they have been happily hopping. Now what? Will they "cross-data" and contact and expose they know who is who or will they put out an amber alert for all potential alkies who mighta-coulda crossed paths with the unknown Care19 App number?
The Care19 App was developed by ProudCrowd LLC, a Fargo-based company founded by Tim Brookins, who is also a software engineer at Microsoft's Fargo campus.
Gov. Doug Burgum, who founded the software company that was eventually bought by Microsoft and turned into that Fargo campus, has been touting Care19 pretty vigorously. One of the governor's guidelines for re-opening businesses this month has been using the app.
In theory, it's not a terrible idea. You put the app on your phone, and then as you travel about it records where you've gone and stores the data in a database associating it with a random identifier. You can then give permission later for authorities to access that data should you become infected with COVID-19.
The state of North Dakota has a contract with ProudCrowd, one not to exceed $9,500 in payments, compensating the company for software licensing and server space.
I'm not sure that behemoths like Apple and Google are going to care much about this data. If you're already using one of their phones (or, in Google's case, a phone with the company's software on it), I'm not sure Care19 would give them any data about your movements they don't already have.
As for the Care19 app itself, I haven't been using it myself, but it hasn't exactly been getting rave reviews. On the GooglePlay store, it has an abysmal 2-star rating, with many reviewers saying it doesn't work well.
"The only place the app consistently logs is where I work, and it doesn't log that until I come back to work after lunch around 1 pm," one reviewer wrote. "Today I went to 3 different stores and it didn't log any of them, those are the most important locations to be logged."
"I have had this ap (sic) downloaded for a week and it has only captured visits to my office," another wrote. "I went to Target and Walmart both for at least one hour during this time."
The app seems to be performing only slightly better for Apple users, where it has a 2.9-star rating. Many reviewers there are complaining of the same problems Android users are having.
"I have been using the app for about a month now. The map keeps saving locations I haven't been to or is just incorrect," one reviewer wrote.
Again, the app isn't a bad concept, and I'm not sure it's any more a threat to your privacy than other technologies you're already using. It's certainly not costing the taxpayers much of anything. But is working in a way that's useful?
At least, based on the online reviews, I'm not so sure. If authorities can't trust that the app has accurately recorded a given user's travel history, what's the point?
Curt writes: Hi Rob - I used to enjoy reading your Say Anything Blog on Facebook and learning about your point-of-view on current issues. Unfortunately, the InForum Facebook page now prevents me from reading your blog unless I sign up for a subscription. It uses a "pop up" to tell me all Covid-19 stories are free and tries to force me to register to see your blog. I understand all newspapers are dealing with serious financial stress due to changes in readership and delivery methods, but to monetize a blog in this way is a sure means to kill it off.
I've been getting a lot of emails like this, and Curt's message is pretty representative of the gripe.
For nearly 17 years, I've produced content on the website I founded, SayAnythingBlog.com, and it was accessible for everyone. All I ever asked is you maybe look at some ads.
I now produce content for Forum Communications Co. I am an employee. The posts on the blogs continued to be free to access, but recently we made a change. The blog posts are now just previews of the content I create for FCC.
In the past, FCC has also given its content away for free online, generating revenues with advertising. That business model, unfortunately, is not working anymore. We need to go back to the newspaper industry's older model, which is one in which subscribers pay to access the content.
I wish we didn't have to do that, but companies like FCC won't survive if we don't. The market for print ads was shrinking dramatically even before the COVID-19 pandemic. It has pretty much evaporated in the last couple of months. Meanwhile, while digital ads are an effective way to market, we have to compete for those dollars with behemoths like Facebook and Google.
What we need is for people who enjoy our content to pay our very low and very reasonable $10-per-month subscription for it. Thankfully, that's working out well so far. The subscriber data I've seen shows robust growth. Still, we're in a footrace to replace vanishing revenue from our old business model with subscription dollars from the paywall.
And we'll win it, in the end, because the content we produce is both compelling and necessary.
Curt says the paywall will "kill off" the blog. The truth is, the paywall is the only way it will survive.
If you like my content, and if you like any of the other content FCC creators provide, then please help us keep going by paying for it.
Carolyn writes: I don't agree with you much, Rob, but I've always respected your point of view until I found out you support hate speech. I can't believe it.
Carolyn is referring to my column earlier this week about a situation in Grand Forks where some dim bulbs clambered on top of their home and yelled "white power."
I don't at all condone doing that sort of thing. It's annoying, for one thing. No neighbor wants to hear you up on your roof, braying inanities at the clouds. It's hateful, for another.
My problem was that this incident was characterized by local law enforcement as a hate crime.
Speech is not a crime, however much we may dislike the content, but even setting First Amendment principles aside for a moment, where do the cops get off classifying something as a crime when they made no arrests? When no charges were filed?
The local cops made the classification for the FBI's crime reporting database. That's data used by local and national policymakers to craft law and order policy. It's important to be able to rely on the numbers in that database. If we're inflating the numbers because local cops have taken it upon themselves to designate some (idiotic) speech as a "crime," how reliable is the database?
I don't support hate speech. Call me old fashioned, but I believe you can detest what someone has to say while still defending their right to say it.
We have far more to fear from cops acting as the speech police, even just from a statistical standpoint.
To comment on this article, visit www.sayanythingblog.com
Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at email@example.com.