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Saturday, December 20, 2014

How governments monitor the public via Twitter

Governments around the world are stepping up their requests for Twitter user account information and content removal. Year-over-year data provided by Twitter indicates a 36.28 percent increase in global governmental information requests for the first half of 2013. Moreover, in the United States alone, 1,319 user accounts were publicly targeted for information by Uncle Sam between Jan. 1 and June 30 of 2013. Of these requests, 10 percent were made without valid legal process per Twitter.

government spying

The data released by Twitter does not include all information requests. According to Reuters, “The report did not include secret information requests within the United Sates authorized under the Patriot Act...” If similar laws exist internationally, then it is possible an undisclosed amount of additional information requests exist outside of public knowledge. Such requests make it difficult for individuals to invoke their constitutional rights because they would never know if they have been potentially violated. 

In an effort to improve transparency, Twitter and other corporations are seeking to make the volume of secret requests more transparent per The Guardian. However, until those intents are met, a more complete picture of government requests will remain unknown. Currently, of the two kinds of government requests Twitter reviews, China has the largest amount of inaccessible reports, but the U.S. accounts for the largest number of publicly disclosed requests.

A similar rise in government requests is also evident in data released by Google. More specifically, in the second half of 2012, Google had close to 2,400 content removal requests compared to around 1,000 in the second half of 2010. Of the court ordered and executive requests, 39 percent have been related to defamation and 18 percent were privacy and security related. Of the remaining 43 percent, 14 percent were classified as “other” and 1 percent had no specified reason.

In some cases, the public also have the ability to request information from the government via the 1966 Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act of 1974. For example, the Legal Information Institute states, “The Privacy Act of 1974 (5 U.S.C. § 552a) protects personal information held by the federal government by preventing unauthorized disclosures of such information. Individuals also have the right to review such information...” Whether or not disclosure requirements are trumped by other laws such as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or FISA is largely a matter of internal bureaucracy to decide and therefore a matter of trust.   

Government requests for information and content removal force corporations such as Twitter to walk a fine line. On the one hand, they have an obligation to do their part in protecting the rights of people and government. However, they also have to be reasonable and fair in determining whether or not such requests should be granted if there is no legal basis for it. Moreover, should Twitter or any other social media firm find themselves in the cross-hairs of a whistle blower case, privacy lawsuit or other public relations calamity, their performance as for-profit entities is at risk.

Image: Asrafil/OpenClipArt; US-PD

Friday, December 19, 2014

How to check your pay stub to make sure you're getting paid correctly

By Andrew Fujii

Pay Stub
Double check paystub math to ensure correct withholding and payment
One of the most important things to do every pay period, is to check the paystub you are given. Often times, employees happily accept their check and cash it without a second thought. Unfortunately this means that you are naively putting all of your faith into your employer. While a good majority of employers are trustworthy and have the right processes in place to prevent payroll errors, there can still be discrepancies as to what you should be making.

Looking at a pay stub can be a little confusing. There are numbers everywhere and abbreviations for a lot of other things. Let’s start from the top of the check and work our way down so that there is a clear understanding of what you can expect to see on your check.

The Header

The header of your pay stub is pretty straightforward. Generally this will show your place of employment including its address. If the address differs from the address you work at, this is probably the corporate location where human resources manages the payroll.

The header should also include the company that processes your pay employer’s payroll. Take note of this in case you ever witness an error on your pay stub. The payroll processing company is one of the main sources of errors. However, you should always get in touch with your employer’s human resources department prior to reaching out to the payroll company.

The header will also include the check number. This is typically listed fairly prominently and should be kept for your records. Finally, the header also includes the pay period, listing the period start and end date, as well as the pay date.

Earning Section

Moving down your pay stub, we come to the earnings section. This is of utmost importance to you as it tells you your earnings for the pay period. One of the first numbers usually listed is the gross pay. This is the overall amount you earned from your employer prior to deductions being taken out.

If you are an hourly employee, it will also have the hours/units you’ve worked at a regular pay and if applicable, any overtime or holiday pay. As an hourly worker this is where you want to check how much you earned. It is vital to keep track of the hours you work within the pay period so that you can match it up to the hours worked during the period. The gross pay should equal your rate multiplied by the hours you worked within the period.

If you have worked overtime, this figure will also be listed along with the hours of overtime you accumulated. If your overtime wages don’t seem correct, you should get in touch with your manager or human resource department. If they refuse to assist you with remedying the situation, you should get in touch with an attorney that specializes in overtime wages such as Vethan Law Firm in Texas.


In the same area as your gross pay, will be an itemized list of all of your withholdings. This is the portion of your check that is taken out for taxes and other government withholdings.

The first itemized deduction should be from the federal government, sometimes abbreviated as “Fed Tax”, “FT”, or “FWT”. There are usually two columns after the itemized list that specify if “this period” and “year to date”. The first column, “this period” shows how much federal tax was withheld within this pay stubs particular pay period. The “year to date” column shows an accumulation of the federal taxes withheld over the course of the financial year.

State and local income taxes will also be incorporated into this itemized list. Again, this is often abbreviated as “St Tax”, “ST”, or “SWT”. The taxes are based on where you live.

Once you’ve examined past the standard government deductions, you may also see an area for voluntary deductions. These available provided that your company offers voluntary deductions. For example, if your employer offers you health or life insurance, it will be deducted here. Additionally, if your company offers a retirement plan such as a 401K, the deduction you specified will be listed here.

In short, keep track of your hours worked, compare that to your paystub, verify your deductions, and keep the pay stub for your records. Doing say will help to ensure that you are getting paid correctly.

About the author: Andrew Fujii is a marketing professional with expertise in digital/web and content marketing. He is also a copywriter for multiple agencies producing copy for blogs, articles, websites, product packaging, mobile apps, and more.

 License: Bugshideout, US-PD 

Financial news: December 19, 2014

Fox: The CFPB is suing Sprint Corp. for unauthorized cell-phone customer charges
CNN: Re-gifting is socially acceptable to over 75% of Americans per Amex survey data
NYT: Numerous smartphone retail apps are anti-Amazon per app-producer
Zero Hedge: Rising bond yields in emerging markets is an equity investment risk
Bloomberg: Leveraged loan blacklist rules allow a closed multi-billion dollar financial market
Conference Board: U.S. Leading Economic Index for Nov. up .6% to 105.5
MW: Section 179 2014 $500K business expensing limit approved by Senate
BI: SF Bay area woman suspected of breaking into startups found via dating app
AP: Sony's yield to hacker threats will cost $160M in lost revenue & production costs
CNBC: Oil producers are not cooperating over production cuts in order to keep market share
Reuters: Legally mandated investment protections may risk undermining free trade agreements

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Blackberry offering iPhone users a big pay-out to switch to the Passport

By  Alex Viall

Blackberry Passport
The Blackberry Passport has a functional keyboard
Just as the Nokia 3210 once dominated the pockets of people all around the world, the iPhone is now sitting happy amidst some of the best-selling phones in the world. Back when Nokias were big though, the hardware and software was updated less frequently and it was easier for them to stay at the top of the game. Once smartphones made an appearance, and once Apple and HTC made their break through, Nokia struggled to retain its place as one of the world’s greatest mobile phone manufacturers.

Blackberry is having similar problems. While other companies have chosen to adapt their phones to be all but fully touch screen, Blackberry retains its miniature keyboard (yes, the one that makes your thumbs feel fat), and a pokey little screen. It seems Blackberry simply isn’t keeping up with the times, and its tactics betray its struggle.

Cold hard cash

If someone told you that, if you bought a holiday to Disneyland Paris, they would reimburse you for your devalued holiday to DisneyWorld Florida, I imagine you’d soon tell them where to go. But all the same, that seems to be what Blackberry is offering iPhone and Android users – if you buy their new Blackberry Passport, they will take your current smart phone and reimburse you, up to $550, depending on how well you’ve looked after it.

Blackberry sent out an open letter prior to this tactic asking Blackberry users to remain loyal, a letter that perhaps betrayed some desperation. John Chen, Blackberry’s CEO said ‘there’s something to be said for the old adage – if it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it.’ Sadly for John, it seems he wasn’t aware that just because something isn’t broken doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.

It is quite a bleak outlook really, for a phone that perhaps deserves a little more credit than its company is perhaps giving it. After all, these aren’t the tactics of someone that is fully confident in their product. That isn’t to say, however, that this isn’t a good deal.

Making the swap

The new Blackberry Passport isn’t a bad phone, and a cash offering for an old phone, although crude, isn’t such a bad deal. Effectively you can swap in your old phone, and get a significant reduction on the price of a brand new one. With a payback of $550, a new Blackberry Passport would only cost you $49 in the US.

With a wider screen (and potentially smaller keyboard than before), the Passport is, for lack of a better word, unique. And perhaps its marketing campaign is quite apt in that respect. It looks a little awkward and it doesn’t really look like something you want, but once you’ve done it, it might very well have been the right choice for you. With Android app capability, the Passport looks past the Blackberry’s comparatively bleak app shop and the BB hub is quite good at keeping you organised. Ultimately you just have to decide if this unusual deal and square smartphone are for you.

About the author: Alex Viall is the Director for London’s leading IT support companies for SME’s – Mustard IT.

Image: Maurizio Pesce, "Blackberry Passport", CC BY  2.0