Article 43

 

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Welcome

Welcome to article43.com - a memorial to the layed off workers of (PRE SBC MERGER) AT&T, and the disappearing MIDDLE CLASS citizens of America.  It is NOT endorsed or affiliated with AT&T or the CWA in any way.

This sticky post was written the day we appeared on the internet in 2004.

In addition to INFORMATION, resources and opinion for former AT&T workers DEALING WITH the EFFECTS OF LAYOFF and looking for meaningful employment, some articles here are meant to bring into awareness the LARGER PICTURE of corporate dominance of the UNITED STATES’ political and economic policies which brazenly DISREGARDS, disrespects and EXPLOITS worker, citizen and HUMAN RIGHTS under masks like FREE TRADE and the PATRIOT ACT - resulting in a return to a society of very rich and very poor dominated by a few very rich and powerful - whose voices are anything but - for the people. If left UNCHALLENGED, the self-serving interests of those in control may result in the end of DEMOCRACY, the end of the middle class, irreversible ENVIRONMENTAL damage to the planet, and widespread global poverty brought on by exploitation and supression of the voices of common people EVERYWHERE, while the United States turns into a REINCARNATION of the ROMAN EMPIRE.  Author Thom Hartmann shares some history and outlines some basic steps to return our country to “The People” in his two articles TEN STEPS TO RETURN TO DEMOCRACY and SAVING THE MIDDLE CLASS. I support CERNIG’S idea for a new POLITICAL MOVEMENT - if not a revolution to cleanse our country of the filth ruling it - as we EVOLVE into a GLOBAL community - assuming we learn the THE LESSONS OF OUR TIME and don’t DESTROY CIVILIZATION first.

Everything here can be viewed anonymously.  Inserting or commenting on articles requires a free user account (for former AT&T employees with a real, non throw-away, email address.) Requests to the new user registration page are redirected to BLOGGED DOT COM’S site because most new signups I get are from COMMENT SPAMMERS and their ilk, so if you want to contribute, contact me through email, phone, or some other way.

There’s no third-party scripts here like privacy-eroding WEB COUNTERS, hidden datamining widgets like Pay-Pal donation boxes, or AMAZON DOT COM tracking stuff.  The RSS feeds are pulled by the server, and have no relation to anything you may be doing here.  Standard Apache WEB LOGS of info like IP, and pages visited are rotated every few days, and used internally to check the web server’s performance.  Logs of suspicious activity may be shared with law enforcement, or other ISPs, to deal with troublemakers.  Nothing here is for sale, and donations are not solicited.

If you get an email that claims to be from somebody here that’s anything but a request to post your article, or report suspicious activity (like logs sent to an ISP to report an attack) - it’s SPAM. I do not, and will not - ever - join the junk mail sender community. There are no mechanisms to prevent anyone from forging anyone elses email address in a “from” or “reply-to” mail header. For those of us whose email addresses are fraudently used, the best we can do is filter out NDR REPORTS.

Per U.S.C. COPYRIGHT LAW - TITLE 17, SECTION 107, this not-for-profit site may reproduce copyrighted material not specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Such articles will either have a web link to the source, home page, and/or show credit to the author.  If yours is here and you have a problem with that, send me an EMAIL, and I’ll take it off. Stuff I wrote carries a CREATIVE COMMONS LICENSE permitting non-commercial sharing. In addition, this site’s owner forbids insertion and injecting data of any kind - especially advertisements - into ours by any person or entity.  Should you see a commercial ad that looks like it’s from here, please report it by sending me a tcpdump and/or screenshot in an EMAIL, then READ UP about how the PARTNERING OF INTERNET SERVICE PROVIDERS and companies like NEBUAD are DESTROYING INTERNET PRIVACY

Resumes of layed off AT&T workers are posted for free HERE.

Information on the Pension Class Action Lawsuit against AT&T is HERE.  More pension-related articles are HERE.

Links to some Telecom companies’ career pages are HERE.

Click HERE to learn a little about Article 43 and why I loathe the CWA.
Click HERE or HERE to learn what the CWA did when given a chance to do the right thing.
Click HERE for a glimpse of undemocratic and hypocritical CWA practices.
Click HERE for an article on Corporate Unionism.
Click HERE for an article of AFL-CIO’s undemocratic history.

If you’re looking for telco nostalgia, you won’t find it here.  Check out THE CENTRAL OFFICE, BELL SYSTEM MEMORIAL, MUSEUM OF COMMUNICATIONS, TELEPHONE TRIBUTE, and THE READING WORKS websites instead.

This site can disappear anytime if I run out of money to pay for luxuries like food, health care, or internet service.

Discernment of truth is left to the reader - whose encouraged to seek as much information as possible, from as many different sources as possible - and pass them through his/her own filters - before believing anything.

...the Devil is just one man with a plan, but evil, true evil, is a collaboration of men…
- Fox Mulder, X Files

No matter how big the lie; repeat it often enough and the masses will regard it as the truth.
- John F. Kennedy

Today my country, your country and the Earth face a corporate holocaust against human and Earthly rights. I call their efforts a holocaust because when giant corporations wield human rights backed by constitutions and the law (and therefore enforced by police, the courts, and armed forces) and sanctioned by cultural norms, the rights of people, other species and the Earth are annihilated.
- Richard L. Grossman

Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.
- Albert Einstein

He who is not angry when there is just cause for anger is immoral. Why? Because anger looks to the good of justice. And if you can live amid injustice without anger, you are immoral as well as unjust.
- Aquinas

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.
- Bishop Desmond Tutu

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
- Martin Luther King Jr

Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.
- Benjamin Franklin

If we do not hang together, we will surely hang separately.
- Benjamin Franklin

We must be prepared to make heroic sacrifices for the cause of peace that we make ungrudgingly for the cause of war.
- Albert Einstein

Solidarity has always been key to political and economic advance by working families, and it is key to mastering the politics of globalization.
- Thomas Palley

Update 8/11/07 - As we head into the next depression, fueled by selfish corporate greed, and a corrupt, SOCIOPATHIC US government, MIKE WHITNEY has a solution that makes a lot of sense to me:

The impending credit crisis cant be avoided, but it could be mitigated by taking radical steps to soften the blow. Emergency changes to the federal tax code could put more money in the hands of maxed-out consumers and keep the economy sputtering along while efforts are made to curtail the ruinous trade deficit. We should eliminate the Social Security tax for any couple making under $60, 000 per year and restore the 1953 tax-brackets for Americans highest earners so that the upper 1%-- who have benefited the most from the years of prosperity---will be required to pay 93% of all earnings above the first $1 million income. At the same time, corporate profits should be taxed at a flat 35%, while capital gains should be locked in at 35%. No loopholes. No exceptions.

Congress should initiate a program of incentives for reopening American factories and provide generous sufbsidies to rebuild US manufacturing. The emphasis should be on reestablishing a competitive market for US exports while developing the new technologies which will address the imminent problems of environmental degradation, global warming, peak oil, overpopulation, resource scarcity, disease and food production. Off-shoring of American jobs should be penalized by tariffs levied against the offending industries.

The oil and natural gas industries should be nationalized with the profits earmarked for vocational training, free college tuition, universal health care and improvements to then nations infrastructure.

Posted by Admin on 09/05/04 •

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Monday, January 15, 2018

Finlands Universal Basic Income Trial

image: inequality

What We Can Learn From Finlands Basic Income Experiment

By Tim Ward
Futurism
July 26, 2017

Finland’s Failed Experiment?

Universal basic income (UBI) is a hot topic in the world today. So far, however, very few experiments have been conducted to ascertain precisely how best to implement such a system. For that reason, a small-scale UBI experiment in Finland has drawn much attention as one of the few real-world examples we have of how UBI could work.

The trial BEGAN earlier this year and is being managed by Kela, the national social-insurance institute. Kela selected 2,000 Finns between the ages of 25 and 58, each of whom was receiving some form of unemployment benefits, to receive 560 (about $645) per month.

In theory, this project would give the world new insights into the logistics and consequences of introducing a UBI system. However, the trial has been riddled with issues and mistakes from the start due to improper planning and a troubled political environment, and now, it is little more than a lesson of how not to run a UBI experiment.

Among the most serious errors was a slashing of the sample size to just one-fifth the number suggested in the original proposition. This extremely small dataset is not enough to be scientifically viable.

Additionally, the trial kicked off during a period of economic turmoil in Finland. The country’s economy had suffered three recessions since 2008, and this state-sponsored UBI project was launched in a time of economic austerity.

Although the results of the project, which will be announced in 2019, may give us some insights into the viability of future UBI programs, even those who designed the Finnish experiment are skeptical of its validity. Olli Kangas, Kelas coordinator for the program, TOLD THE ECONOMIST that it was currently in a state of neglect, comparing politicians’ actions to “small boys with toy cars who become bored and move on.”

A Worldwide Question

Universal basic income has been proposed as a solution to two issues that are currently shaking society: poverty and the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) into the jobs sector. In an INTERVIEW WITH THE GUARDIAN, Stephen Hawking warned that the latter will cause “job destruction deep into the middle classes,” and ELON MUSK HAS ASSERTED that there will be fewer and fewer jobs that “a robot cannot do better” as the technology develops.

The idea of a UBI system is to automatically award every citizen with a state-sponsored wage, which could then be augmented by further work. This would provide those displaced by robotic systems with a way to support themselves on the most basic level.

Although Finland’s lackluster experiment remains the largest state-sponsored experiment to date, various governments are considering conducting their own UBI trials.

India, the world’s largest democratic country, has endorsed the system claiming in a report that it is “basically the way forward” - and is now considering the best way to introduce it to its populous. The state of Hawaii, which also recently accepted the terms of the Paris Agreement despite Donald Trump’s federal withdrawal, has also announced on Reddit that they will “begin evaluating universal basic income.”

The system is not without its skeptics, however. Experts question who would provide the money to fund such projects, asserting that a universal basic income of $10,000 a year per person could add approximately $3 trillion to national spending in the U.S.

Individuals such as Mark Cuban and Robert Gordon, an economist at Northwestern University, have suggested that we should optimize existing benefits systems. Gordon told the MIT Technology Review that his idea is to make ԓbenefits more generous to reach a reasonable minimum, expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, and greatly expand preschool care for children who grow up in poverty.

We won’t know for sure how effective a UBI could be until someone actually implements an experiment large enough to provide meaningful data, and right now, Finland doesnt appear to be that entity.

SOURCE

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Money for nothing: is Finland’s universal basic income trial too good to be true?

Europe’s first national experiment in giving citizens free cash has attracted huge media attention. But one year in, what does this project really hope to prove?

By Jon Henley in Helsinki
January 12, 2018

One year on from its launch, the world remains fascinated by Finland’s groundbreaking universal basic income trial: Europe’s first national, government-backed experiment in giving citizens free cash.

In January 2017, the Nordic nation began paying a random but mandatory sample of 2,000 unemployed people aged 25 to 58 a monthly L560 (475). There is no obligation either to seek or accept employment during the two years the trial lasts, and any who do take a job will continue to receive the same amount.

With the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and Bernie Sanders all proponents of a universal basic income (UBI) model, Finnish officials and participants have been inundated with media requests from around the globe. One participant who hoped to start his own business with the help of the unconditional monthly payment complained that, after speaking to 140 TV crews and reporters from as far afield as Japan and Korea, he has simply not been able to find the time.

But amid this unprecedented media attention, the experts who devised the scheme are concerned it is being misrepresented. “It’s not really what people are portraying it as,” said Markus Kanerva, an applied social and behavioural sciences specialist working in the prime ministers office in Helsinki.

“A full-scale universal income trial would need to study different target groups, not just the unemployed. It would have to test different basic income levels, look at local factors. This is really about seeing how a basic unconditional income affects the employment of unemployed people.”

While UBI tends often to be associated with progressive politics, Finland’s trial was launched - at a cost of around 20m ($17.7m) - by a centre-right, austerity-focused government interested primarily in spending less on social security and bringing down Finland’s stubborn 8%-plus unemployment rate. It has a very clear purpose: to see whether an unconditional income might incentivise people to take up paid work.

Authorities believe it will shed light on whether unemployed Finns, as experts believe, are put off taking up a job by the fear that a higher marginal tax rate may leave them worse off. Many are also deterred by having to reapply for benefits after every casual or short-term contract.

“It’s partly about removing disincentives,” explained Marjukka Turunen, who heads the legal unit at Finland’s social security agency, Kela, which is running the experiment. Kanerva describes the trial as an experiment in “smoothing out the system.”

To maintain privacy and avoid bias, Kela is not contacting any of the 2,000 participants for the duration of the two-year trial. A handful have given interviews to journalists (several have said they feel less stressed thanks to the scheme), but no official conclusions are yet being drawn from these anecdotal experiences.

According to Kanerva, however, the core data the government is seeking on whether, and how, the job take-up of the 2,000 unemployed people in the trial differs from a 175,000-strong control group - will be robust, and usable in future economic modelling when it is published in 2019.

Unintended benefits

The idea of UBI had been circulating in left-of-centre political circles in Finland since the 1980s, mainly as a way to combat the economic and social consequences of falling industrial employment by freeing all from students to the elderly; stay-at-home parents to the unemployed - to make meaningful contributions to society by, for example, volunteering.

Appealing both to the left (who believe it can cut poverty and inequality) and, more recently, to the right (as a possible way to a leaner, less bureaucratic welfare system), UBI looks all the more attractive amid warnings that automation could threaten up to a third of current jobs in the west within 20 years. Other basic income schemes are now being tested from Ontario to rural Kenya, and Glasgow to Barcelona.

But there is little consensus so far on what UBI should look like in practice, or even on the questions that need to be answered first: which model to adopt, what level of payment, how to combine UBI fairly with other social security benefits, and how the tax and pension system should treat it.

For UBI purists, the fact that the monthly Finnish payment roughly equivalent to basic unemployment benefit - is going to a strictly limited group, and is not enough to live on, disqualifies the Finnish scheme. But while it may not reveal as much as a broader trial would have, the schemes designers are confident it will shed new light on several key social policy issues.

For example, Kela hopes additional data that is being collected as part of the trial from healthcare records will provide useful information on whether the security of a guaranteed unconditional income, paid in advance so beneficiaries can budget for it, might have a positive impact on anxiety, prescription drug consumption or doctor’s visits.

One participant has said she is less anxious because she no longer has to worry over calls from the job centre offering a job she can’t accept because she is caring for her elderly parents, Turunen said. “We may be able to see from the trial data whether it has had unintended benefits - such as reduced medical costs.”

The trial data may also allow the government to spend less on bureaucracy by simplifying Finland’s complex social security system - currently, it offers more than 40 different means-tested benefits - which is struggling to cope with a 21st-century labour market of part timers, short-term contracts and start-ups.

The benefit system is simply “not suited to modern working patterns,” Turunen said. “We have too many benefits. People don’t understand what they’re entitled to or how they can get it. Even experts don’t understand. For example, it’s very hard to be in the benefit system in Finland if you are self-employed - you have to prove your income time and time and time again.”

Perhaps most significantly, “the trial marks a real breakthrough for field experiments,” according to Kanerva. Rolled out in record time and after a brief, one-line pledge in the governments platform, it had to function alongside all existing social security laws and clear numerous legal obstacles - including Finland’s constitution, which requires all citizens to be treated equally.

“It was a huge effort to get it over the line,” Turunen said. “The government was determined it must be based on specific legislation - most experiments are not and that it had to launch in January last year ... It was quite a task.”

The Finnish experiment’s design and objectives mean it should perhaps not really be seen as a full-blown UBI trial at all, cautioned Kanerva: People think we’re launching universal basic income. Were not. W’֒re just trialling one kind of model, with one income level and one target group.

But as experts around the world increasingly debate how a bold but ill-defined concept might actually work in practice, the Finnish experiment will at least “produce meaningful results - albeit in a limited field,” according to Kanerva. In an area where convictions are often more abundant than facts, It has forced people to talk specifics.

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 01/15/18 •
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Session Replay Scripts

pc-eye.jpg alt:images: snoppy pc

This is the first post in our “No Boundaries” series, in which we reveal how third-party scripts on websites have been extracting personal information in increasingly intrusive ways. [0]

By Steven Englehardt, Gunes Acar, and Arvind Narayanan
Freedom To Tinker
November 15, 1017

Update: we’ve released our data the list of sites with session-replay scripts, and the sites where we’ve confirmed recording by third parties.

You may know that most websites have third-party analytics scripts that record which pages you visit and the searches you make.  But lately, more and more sites use “session replay” scripts. These scripts record your keystrokes, mouse movements, and scrolling behavior, along with the entire contents of the pages you visit, and send them to third-party servers. Unlike typical analytics services that provide aggregate statistics, these scripts are intended for the recording and playback of individual browsing sessions, as if someone is looking over your shoulder.

The stated purpose of this data collection includes gathering insights into how users interact with websites and discovering broken or confusing pages. However the extent of data collected by these services far exceeds user expectations [1]; text typed into forms is collected before the user submits the form, and precise mouse movements are saved, all without any visual indication to the user. This data can’t reasonably be expected to be kept anonymous. In fact, some companies allow publishers to explicitly link recordings to a users real identity.

For this study we analyzed seven of the top session replay companies (based on their relative popularity in our measurements [2]). The services studied are Yandex, FullStory, Hotjar, UserReplay, Smartlook, Clicktale, and SessionCam. We found these services in use on 482 of the Alexa top 50,000 sites.

See HERE or HERE.

What can go wrong? In short, a lot.

Collection of page content by third-party replay scripts may cause sensitive information such as medical conditions, credit card details and other personal information displayed on a page to leak to the third-party as part of the recording. This may expose users to identity theft, online scams, and other unwanted behavior. The same is true for the collection of user inputs during checkout and registration processes.

The replay services offer a combination of manual and automatic redaction tools that allow publishers to exclude sensitive information from recordings. However, in order for leaks to be avoided, publishers would need to diligently check and scrub all pages which display or accept user information. For dynamically generated sites, this process would involve inspecting the underlying web applications server-side code. Further, this process would need to be repeated every time a site is updated or the web application that powers the site is changed.

A thorough redaction process is actually a requirement for several of the recording services, which explicitly forbid the collection of user data. This negates the core premise of these session replay scripts, who market themselves as plug and play. For example, Hotjar’s homepage advertises: Set up Hotjar with one scriptin a matter of seconds and Smartlooks sign-up procedure features their scripttag next to a timer with the tagline every minute you lose is a lot of video.

To better understand the effectiveness of these redaction practices, we set up test pages and installed replay scripts from six of the seven companies [3]. From the results of these tests, as well as an analysis of a number of live sites, we highlight four types of vulnerabilities below:

1. Passwords are included in session recordings. All of the services studied attempt to prevent password leaks by automatically excluding password input fields from recordings. However, mobile-friendly login boxes that use text inputs to store unmasked passwords are not redacted by this rule, unless the publisher manually adds redaction tags to exclude them. We found at least one website where the password entered into a registration form leaked to SessionCam, even if the form is never submitted.

2. Sensitive user inputs are redacted in a partial and imperfect way. As users interact with a site they will provide sensitive data during account creation, while making a purchase, or while searching the site. Session recording scripts can use keystroke or input element loggers to collect this data.

All of the companies studied offer some mitigation through automated redaction, but the coverage offered varies greatly by provider. UserReplay and SessionCam replace all user input with an equivalent length masking text, while FullStory, Hotjar, and Smartlook exclude specific input fields by type. We summarize the redaction of other fields in the table below.

image:replay

Automated redaction is imperfect; fields are redacted by input element type or heuristics, which may not always match the implementation used by publishers. For example, FullStory redacts credit card fields with the `autocomplete` attribute set to `cc-number`, but will collect any credit card numbers included in forms without this attribute.

image:replay

To supplement automated redaction, several of the session recording companies, including Smartlook, Yandex, FullStory, SessionCam, and Hotjar allow sites to further specify inputs elements to be excluded from the recording. To effectively deploy these mitigations a publisher will need to actively audit every input element to determine if it contains personal data. This is complicated, error prone and costly, especially as a site or the underlying web application code changes over time. For instance, the financial service site fidelity.com has several redaction rules for Clicktale that involve nested tables and child elements referenced by their index. In the next section we further explore these challenges.

A safer approach would be to mask or redact all inputs by default, as is done by UserReplay and SessionCam, and allow whitelisting of known-safe values. Even fully masked inputs provide imperfect protection. For example, the masking used by UserReplay and Smartlook leaks the length of the user’s password

3. Manual redaction of personally identifying information displayed on a page is a fundamentally insecure model. In addition to collecting user inputs, the session recording companies also collect rendered page content. Unlike user input recording, none of the companies appear to provide automated redaction of displayed content by default; all displayed content in our tests ended up leaking.

Instead, session recording companies expect sites to manually label all personally identifying information included in a rendered page. Sensitive user data has a number of avenues to end up in recordings, and small leaks over several pages can lead to a large accumulation of personal data in a single session recording.

For recordings to be completely free of personal information, a sites web application developers would need to work with the site’s marketing and analytics teams to iteratively scrub personally identifying information from recordings as its discovered. Any change to the site design, such as a change in the class attribute of an element containing sensitive information or a decision to load private data into a different type of element requires a review of the redaction rules.

As a case study, we examine the pharmacy section of Walgreens.com, which embeds FullStory. Walgreens makes extensive use of manual redaction for both displayed and input data. Despite this, we find that sensitive information including medical conditions and prescriptions are leaked to FullStory alongside the names of users.

We do not present the above examples to point fingers at a certain website. Instead, we aim to show that the redaction process can fail even for a large publisher with a strong, legal incentive to protect user data. We observed similar personal information leaks on other websites, including on the checkout pages of Lenovo [5]. Sites with less resources or less expertise are even more likely to fail.

4. Recording services may fail to protect user data. Recording services increase the exposure to data breaches, as personal data will inevitably end up in recordings. These services must handle recording data with the same security practices with which a publisher would be expected to handle user data.

We provide a specific example of how recording services can fail to do so. Once a session recording is complete, publishers can review it using a dashboard provided by the recording service. The publisher dashboards for Yandex, Hotjar, and Smartlook all deliver playbacks within an HTTP page, even for recordings which take place on HTTPS pages. This allows an active man-in-the-middle to injecting a scriptinto the playback page and extract all of the recording data. Worse yet, Yandex and Hotjar deliver the publisher page content over HTTP - data that was previously protected by HTTPS is now vulnerable to passive network surveillance.

The vulnerabilities we highlight above are inherent to full-page session recording. That’s not to say the specific examples can’t be fixed indeed, the publishers we examined can patch their leaks of user data and passwords. The recording services can all use HTTPS during playbacks. But as long as the security of user data relies on publishers fully redacting their sites, these underlying vulnerabilities will continue to exist.

Does tracking protection help?

Two commonly used ad-blocking lists EasyList and EasyPrivacy do not block FullStory, Smartlook, or UserReplay scripts. EasyPrivacy has filter rules that block Yandex, Hotjar, ClickTale and SessionCam.

At least one of the five companies we studied (UserReplay) allows publishers to disable data collection from users who have Do Not Track (DNT) set in their browsers. We scanned the configuration settings of the Alexa top 1 million publishers using UserReplay on their homepages, and found that none of them chose to honor the DNT signal.

Improving user experience is a critical task for publishers. However it shouldn’t come at the expense of user privacy.

End notes:

[0] We use the term exfiltrate in this series to refer to the third-party data collection that we study. The term leakageђ is sometimes used, but we eschew it, because it suggests an accidental collection resulting from a bug. Rather, our research suggests that while not necessarily malicious, the collection of sensitive personal data by the third parties that we study is inherent in their operation and is well known to most if not all of these entities. Further, there is an element of furtiveness; these data flows are not public knowledge and neither publishers nor third parties are transparent about them.

[1] A recent analysis of the company Navistone, completed by Hill and Mattu for Gizmodo, explores how data collection prior to form submission exceeds user expectations. In this study, we show how analytics companies collect far more user data with minimal disclosure to the user. In fact, some services suggest the first party sites simply include a disclaimer in their sites privacy policy or terms of service.

[2] We used OpenWPM to crawl the Alexa top 50,000 sites, visiting the homepage and 5 additional internal pages on each site. We use a two-step approach to detect analytics services which collect page content.

First, we inject a unique value into the HTML of the page and search for evidence of that value being sent to a third party in the page traffic. To detect values that may be encoded or hashed we use a detection methodology similar to previous work on email tracking. After filtering out leak recipients, we isolate pages on which at least one third party receives a large amount of data during the visit, but for which we do not detect a unique ID. On these sites, we perform a follow-up crawl which injects a 200KB chunk of data into the page and check if we observe a corresponding bump in the size of the data sent to the third party.

We found 482 sites on which either the unique marker was leaked to a collection endpoint from one of the services or on which we observed a data collection increase roughly equivalent to the compressed length of the injected chunk. We believe this value is a lower bound since many of the recording services offer the ability to sample page visits, which is compounded by our two-step methodology.

[3] One company (Clicktale) was excluded because we were unable to make the practical arrangements to analyze script’s functionality at scale.

[4] FullStory’s terms and conditions explicitly classify health or medical information, or any other information covered by HIPAA as sensitive data and asks customers to not provide any Sensitive Data to FullStory.

[5] Lenovo.com is another example of a site which leaks user data in session recordings.

[6] We used the default scripts available to new accounts for 5 of the 6 providers. For UserReplay, we used a scripttaken from a live site and verified that the configuration options match the most common options found on the web.

SOURCE

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Website operators are in the dark about privacy violations by third-party scripts

By Arvind Narayanan
Freedom To Tinker
January 12, 2018

Recently we revealed that session replayӔ scripts on websites record everything you do, like someone looking over your shoulder, and send it to third-party servers. This en-masse data exfiltration inevitably scoops up sensitive, personal information in real time, as you type it. We released the data behind our findings, including a list of 8,000 sites on which we observed session-replay scripts recording user data.

As one case study of these 8,000 sites, we found health conditions and prescription data being exfiltrated from walgreens.com. These are considered Protected Health Information under HIPAA. The number of affected sites is immense; contacting all of them and quantifying the severity of the privacy problems is beyond our means. We encourage you to check out our data release and hold your favorite websites accountable.

Student data exfiltration on Gradescope

As one example, a pair of researchers at UC San Diego read our study and then noticed that Gradescope, a website they used for grading assignments, embeds FullStory, one of the session replay scripts we analyzed. We investigated, and sure enough, we found that student names and emails, student grades, and instructor comments on students were being sent to FullStoryגs servers. This is considered Student Data under FERPA (US educational privacy law). Ironically, Princetons own Information Security course was also affected. We notified Gradescope of our findings, and they removed FullStory from their website within a few hours.

You might wonder how the companiesҒ privacy policies square with our finding. As best as we can tell, Gradescopes Terms of Service actually permit this data exfiltration [1], which is a telling comment about the ineffectiveness of Terms of Service as a way of regulating privacy.

FullStoryҒs Terms are a different matter, and include a clause stating: Customer agrees that it will not provide any Sensitive Data to FullStory.Ӕ We argued previously that this repudiation of responsibility by session-replay scripts puts website operators in an impossible position, because preventing data leaks might require re-engineering the site substantially, negating the core value proposition of these services, which is drag-and-drop deployment. Interestingly, Gradescopes CEO told us that they were not aware of this requirement in FullStoryҒs Terms, that the clause had not existed when they first signed up for FullStory, and that they (Gradescope) had not been notified when the Terms changed. [2]

Web publishers kept in the dark

Of the four websites we highlighted in our previous post and this one (Bonobos, Walgreens, Lenovo, and Gradescope), three have removed the third-party scripts in question (all except Lenovo). As far as we can tell, no publisher (website operator) was aware of the exfiltration of sensitive data on their own sites until our study. Further, as mentioned above, Gradescope was unaware of key provisions in FullStorys Terms of Service. This is a pattern weҒve noticed over and over again in our six years of doing web privacy research.

Worse, in many cases the publisher has no direct relationship with the offending third-party script. In Part 2 of our study we examined two third-party scripts which exploit a vulnerability in browsers built-in password managers to exfiltrate user identities. One web developer was unable to determine how the scriptwas loaded and asked us for help. We pointed out that their site loaded an ad network (media-clic.com), which in turn loaded themoneytizer.com, which finally loaded the offending scriptfrom Audience Insights. These chains of redirects are ubiquitous on the web, and might involve half a dozen third parties. On some websites the majority of third parties have no direct relationship with the publisher.

Most of the advertising and analytics industry is premised on keeping not just users but also website operators in the dark about privacy violations. Indeed, the effort required by website operators to fully audit third parties would negate much of the benefit of offloading tasks to them. The ad tech industry creates a tremendous negative externality in terms of the privacy cost to users.

Can we turn the tables?

The silver lining is that if we can explain to web developers what third parties are doing on their sites, and empower them to take control, that might be one of the most effective ways to improve web privacy. But any such endeavor should keep in mind that web publishers everywhere are on tight budgets and may not have much privacy expertise.

To make things concrete, here’s a proposal for how to achieve this kind of impact:

Create a 1-pager summarizing the bare minimum that website operators need to know about web security, privacy, and third parties, with pointers to more information.

Create a tailored privacy report for each website based on data that is already publicly available through various sources including our own data releases.

Build open-source tools for website operators to scan their own sites [3]. Ideally, the tool should make recommendations for privacy-protecting changes based on the known behavior of third parties.

Reach out to website operators to provide information and help make changes. This step doesn’t scale, but is crucial.

If you’re interested in working with us on this, wed love to hear from you!

Endnotes

We are grateful to UCSD researchers Dimitar Bounov and Sorin Lerner for bringing the vulnerabilities on Gradescope.com to our attention.

[1] Gradescope’s terms of use state: “By submitting Student Data to Gradescope, you consent to allow Gradescope to provide access to Student Data to its employees and to certain third party service providers which have a legitimate need to access such information in connection with their responsibilities in providing the Service.”

[2] The Wayback Machine does not archive FullStory’s Terms page far enough back in time for us to independently verify Gradescope’s statement, nor does FullStory appear in ToSBack, the EFFs terms-of-service tracker.

[3] Privacyscore.org is one example of a nascent attempt at such a tool.

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Posted by Elvis on 01/15/18 •
Section Privacy And Rights • Section Broadband Privacy
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Friday, January 05, 2018

Drugs Du Jour

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LSD in the 60s; ecstasy in the 80s; smart drugs today: how we get high reflects the desires and fears of our times

By Cody Delistraty
January 4, 2018

Few peoples VIEWS ON DRUGS have changed so starkly as those of Aldous Huxley. Born in 1894 to a high-society English family, Huxley witnessed the early 20th-century “war on drugs,” when two extremely popular narcotics were banned within years of one another: cocaine, which had been sold by the German pharmaceutical company Merck as a treatment for morphine addiction; and heroin, which had been sold for the same purpose by the German pharmaceutical company Bayer.

The timing of these twin bans was not coincidental. Ahead of the First World War, politicians and newspapers had created a hysteria surrounding the “dope fiends” whose use of cocaine, heroin and certain amphetamines allegedly showed that they had been “enslaved” by the German invention, as noted in Thom Metzer’s book “The Birth of Heroin and the Demonization of the Dope Fiend (1998).”

As the rhetoric of eugenics flourished during the interwar years both from the mouth of Adolf Hitler and from Huxley’s older brother, Julian, the first director of the Paris-based UNESCO and a notorious eugenicist, Aldous Huxley imagined the use of drugs by government entities as a nefarious means of dictatorial control. In Brave New World (1932), the fictitious drug soma is doled out to the populace as a means to keep them dumbly happy and sated (All the advantages of Christianity and alcohol; none of their defects, Huxley wrote), and the book makes multiple mentions of mescaline (which at that point he had not tried but clearly did not approve of), which renders his character Linda stupid and prone to vomiting.

“The dictatorships of tomorrow will deprive men of their freedom, but will give them in exchange a happiness none the less real, as a subjective experience, for being chemically induced,” Huxley later wrote in The Saturday Evening Post. The pursuit of happiness is one of the traditional rights of man; unfortunately, the achievement of happiness may turn out to be incompatible with another of man’s rights - liberty. Hard drugs were inherently tied up with politics in Huxley’s early years, and to be a proponent of cocaine or heroin was, in many ways, to be aligned with Nazi Germany in the eyes of politicians and leading newspapers.

But then, on Christmas Eve 1955 - 23 years after the publication of Brave New World - Huxley took his first dose of LSD and everything changed. He loved it. It inspired him to writeHeaven and Hell (1956), and he introduced the drug to Timothy Leary, a vocal political advocate for the therapeutic benefits of mind-altering drugs. Eventually, Huxley would align himself with Leary’s hippie politics - in ideological opposition to Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign and the Vietnam War - in large part = due to his now-positive experience with such drugs.

In his novel Island (1962), Huxley֒s characters inhabit a utopia (rather than Brave New Worlds dystopia) and gain serenity and understanding by taking psychoactive drugs. Whereas in Brave New World drugs are a means of political control, in Island, they are ґmedicine.

What explains Huxley’s changed perspective from seeing drugs as an instrument of dictatorial control to a way to escape from political-cultural repression? Indeed, in the grander picture, why are drugs universally despised at one time, then embraced by intellectuals and cultural influencers at another? Why do we have an almost decadal vogue for one drug or another, with popular drugs such as cocaine all but disappearing only to pop up again decades later? Above all, how are drugs used to affirm or tear down cultural boundaries? The answers colour nearly every aspect of modern history.

Drug use offers a starkly efficient windowinto the cultures in which we live. Over the past century, popularity has shifted between certain drugs - from cocaine and heroin in the 1920s and 30s, to LSD and barbiturates in the 1950s and 60s, to ecstasy and (more) cocaine in the 1980s, to today’s cognitive - and productivity-enhancing drugs, such as Adderall, Modafinil and their more serious kin. If Huxley’s progression is to be followed, the drugs we take at a given time can largely be ascribed to an eras culture. We use - and invent - the drugs that suit our culture’s needs.

The drugs chosen to pattern our culture over the past century have simultaneously helped to define what each generation has most desired and found most lacking in itself. The drugs du jour thus point towards a cultural question that needs an answer, whether that’s a thirst for SPIRITUAL TRANSCENDENCE, or for productivity, fun, exceptionalism or freedom. In this way, the drugs we take act as a reflection of our deepest desires and our inadequacies, the very feelings that create the cultures in which we live.

To be clear, this historical investigation predominately concerns psychoactive drugs. It accounts for a large family of drugs embracing LSD, cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, barbiturates, anti-anxiety medications, opiates, Adderall and the like, but not anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen (Advil) or pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol). These pharmaceuticals are not drugs that alter one’s state of mind and are consequently of little use when making sociocultural analyses.

The drugs up for discussion also cut across boundaries of law (just because a drug is illegal does not preclude it from being central to a cultural moment) and class (a drug used by the lower class is no less culturally relevant than drugs favoured by the upper class, although the latter tend to be better recorded and retrospectively viewed as of greater cultural importance). Finally, the category of drugs under scrutiny cuts across therapeutic, medical and recreational usage.

To understand the way we create and popularise drugs to match the culture we have, consider cocaine. Readily available at the turn of the 20th century, cocaine was outlawed in 1920 with the passing of The Dangerous Drugs Act in the United Kingdom (and in 1922 in the United States under the Narcotic Drugs Import and Export Act). Cocaine’s initial popularity in the late-19th-century was in large part due to “its potent euphoric effects,” according to Stuart Walton, an intoxication theorist and author of Out of It: A Cultural History of Intoxication (2001). Cocaine, Walton told me, “helped potentiate a culture of resistance to Victorian norms, the abandonment of rigorous civility in favour of an emergent “anything goes” social libertarianism in the era of the Jugendstil, and the rise of social-democratic politics.”

Once Victorian moralism had been overcome, social libertarianism had vogued, and secularism had its sharp uptick in the period after the Second World War, cocaine generally fell out of style with white European-American culture. Until, that is, the 1980s, when cocaine had new cultural questions to answer. As Walton explained to me: Its return in the 1980s was predicated on precisely the opposite social tendency: iron conformism to the dictates of finance capital and stock-trading, which underscored the resurgence of entrepreneurial selfishness in the Reagan and Thatcher period.

Another instance of drugs answering cultural questions (or problems) concerns women who became addicted to barbiturates in 1950s suburban America. This was a population that faced a bleak, oppressive culture, now infamous through the works of Richard Yates and Betty Friedan. As Friedan wrote in The Feminine Mystique (1963), such women were expected to have no commitment outside the home and to find fulfilment only in sexual passivity, male domination, and nurturing maternal love. Frustrated, depressed, neurotic, they numbed themselves with barbiturates so as to fulfil norms there was as yet no licence to buck against. In Jacqueline Susann’s novel Valley of the Dolls (1966), the three female protagonists dangerously come to rely on stimulants, depressants and sleeping pills -their dolls - in order to cope with personal decisions and, especially, sociocultural boundaries.

But the solution provided by prescription drugs was not the hoped-for solve-all. When drugs are unable to fully answer the cultural questions at hand in this case, how suburban American women might escape the crippling dullness that so often characterised their lives - alternative drugs, often seemingly irrelevant to the situation at hand, tend to present themselves as potential solutions.

Judy Balaban began taking LSD in the 1950s when she was still in her 20s, under the supervision of a medical doctor. She had a seemingly perfect life: the daughter of the affluent and respected president of Paramount Pictures, Barney Balaban, she had two daughters, a sprawling home in Los Angeles, and a successful film-agent husband who represented and befriended Marlon Brando, Gregory Peck and Marilyn Monroe. She counted Grace Kelly as a close friend, and became a bridesmaid at her royal wedding in Monaco. It would have seemed crazy for her to admit it but, beneath it all, Balaban felt deeply dissatisfied with her life. Her equally privileged friends felt the same. Polly Bergen, Linda Lawson, Marion Marshall all actresses married to famous film agents or directors - complained of a similar, underlying dissatisfaction with life. 

With limited options for fulfilment, clear cultural expectations, and the dreary outlook of living life on antidepressants, Balaban, Bergen, Lawson and Marshall all began regimens of LSD therapy. Bergen told Balaban in Vanity Fair in 2010: “I wanted to be the person, not the persona.” LSD, Balaban wrote, afforded the possibility of a magic wand. It was a more effective answer drug -to the problems at hand than antidepressants had been. Many of Balabans culturally disenfranchised peers felt the same way: between 1950 and 1965, a reported 40,000 people were treated with LSD therapies. It was legal, but unregulated, and nearly everyone who tried it swore to its efficacy.

LSD spoke to unmet needs that affected not only suburban housewives, but also gay or sexually confused men too. The actor Cary Grant, who was housemates with the handsome Randolph Scott for several years and was married to five different women for an average of five years each (often while living with Scott), likewise found release through therapeutic LSD. Grant’s film career would have been destroyed had he been seen publicly as homosexual; like many of the suburban women of his time, he found that LSD afforded a much-needed escape valve, a way of sublimating sexual anguish. “I wanted to rid myself of all my hypocrisies” he said, somewhat subtly, in an interview in 1959. After going to more than a dozen LSD therapy sessions administered by his psychiatrist, Grant admitted, at last, “I am close to happiness.”

But sometimes, instead of people finding drugs to answer their cultural questions, cultural problems are manufactured to sell pre-existing drugs.

In the case of todays most popular drugs for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Ritalin and Adderall, their wide availability has led to a significant increase in ADHD diagnoses: between 2003 and 2011, there was a 43 per cent rise in the number of schoolchildren in the US diagnosed with ADHD. It’s unlikely that those eight years coincided with a massive spike in US schoolchildren manifesting ADHD: it is much more plausible that the presence of Ritalin and Adderall and their savvy marketing - grew in that period, leading to greater diagnosing.

[I]n the 21st century, diagnoses of depression have risen dramatically, as have those of post-traumatic stress disorder and attention hyperactivity disorder, writes Lauren Slater in Opening Skinner’s Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the 20th Century (2004). [I]ncidences of certain diagnoses rise and fall depending on public perception, but also the doctors who are giving these labels are still doing so with perhaps too little regard for the DSM [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders] criteria the field dictates.

That is to say, today’s drug-makers have helped to create a culture in which people are perceived to be less attentive and more depressed in order to sell drugs that might answer the very problems they’ve manufactured.

Similarly, hormone replacement therapy (HRT), deployed to ease discomfort during the menopause, and in which oestrogens and, sometimes, progesterone used to be injected to artificially boost a womans hormone levels, has since been expanded to include therapies for transgender people and also as an androgen replacement, in which male ageing can theoretically be delayed via hormone treatment. This desire to constantly expand the uses and necessity of drugs speaks to the way in which culture is created (and bolstered) by the drugs at hand.

Clearly, the causal motion swings both ways. Cultural questions can popularise certain drugs; but sometimes popular drugs end up creating our culture. From rav culture booming on the back of ecstasy to a culture of hyper-productivity piggybacking on drugs initially meant to help with cognitive and attention deficits, the symbiosis between chemical and culture is evident.

But while drugs can both answer cultural questions and create entirely new cultures, there is no simple explanation for why one happens rather than the other. If rave culture is created by ecstasy, does that mean ecstasy is also Ғanswering a cultural question; or was ecstasy simply there and rave culture blossomed around it? The line of causality is easily blurred.

A corollary can be found in the human sciences where it is extraordinarily difficult to categorise different types of people because, as soon as one starts ascribing properties to groups, people change and spill out of the parameters to which they were first assigned. The philosopher of science Ian Hacking coined the term for this: “the looping effect.” People
are moving targets because our investigations interact with them, and change them, Hacking wrote in the London Review of Books. ёAnd since they are changed, they are not quite the same kind of people as before.

This holds true for the relationship between drugs and culture as well. ґEvery time a drug is invented that interacts with the brains and minds of users, it changes the very object of the study: the people who are using, says Henry Cowles, assistant professor of the history of medicine at Yale. On this reading, the idea that drugs create culture is true, to an extent, but it is likewise true that cultures can shift and leave a vacuum of unresolved desires and questions that drugs are often able to fill.

Take the example of American housewives addicted to barbiturates and other drugs. The standard and aforementioned causal argument is that they were culturally repressed, had few freedoms, and so sought out the drugs as a way to overcome their anomie: LSD and later antidepressants were ґanswer drugs to the strict cultural codes, as well as a means to self-medicate emotional pain. But, Cowles argues, one might just as easily say that ґthese drugs were created with various sub-populations in mind and they end up making available a new kind of housewife or a new kind of working woman, who is medicated in order to enable this kind of lifestyle. In short, Cowles says: ґThe very image of the depressed housewife emerges only as a result of the possibility of medicating that.

Such an explanation puts drugs at the centre of the past century of cultural history for a simple reason: if drugs can create and underscore cultural limitations, then drugs and their makers can tailor-make entire socio-cultural demographics (eg, “the depressed housewife” or “the hedonistic, cocaine-snorting Wall Street trader). Crucially, this creation of cultural categories applies to everyone, meaning that even those not using the popularised drugs of a given era are beholden to their cultural effects. The causality is muddy, but what is clear is that it swings back and forth: drugs both ґanswer cultural questions and allow for cultures to be created around themselves.

“Looking at the culture of today, perhaps the biggest question answered by drugs are issues of focus and productivity - a consequence of the modern attention economy,”, as termed by the Nobel Prize-winning economist Herbert Alexander Simon.

The use of Modafinil intended for treating narcolepsy and misused to stay awake and work longer - and the abuse of other prolific, attention-deficit drugs such as Adderall and Ritalin for similar reasons reflects an attempt to answer these cultural questions. They’re widely used, too. In a Nature magazine survey in 2008, one in five people said theyґd tried cognitive-enhancing drugs at some stage in their lifetime. And according to an informal poll in The Tab in 2015, the highest rates of abuse occur at the most academic institutions: students at Oxford University abuse cognitive-enhancing drugs more than students at any other university in the United Kingdom.

“These cognitive-enhancing drugs help disguise the banality of work in a double sense,” says Walton. “They goad the user into a distractive state of high excitement, and simultaneously persuade him that it must be his success at work that allows him to feel so elated.”

In this way, modern drugs of choice not only keep people at work and make them more productive, they also permit them to stake more of their emotional worth and happiness on work, thereby reifying its importance and justifying the time and effort spent. These drugs answer the cultural prescription of more work and more productivity not just by allowing users to focus better and stay awake longer, but also by making them less miserable.

The flip side of the cultural productivity imperative is a demand for heightened convenience and ease of leisure in daily life (think of Uber, Deliveroo, etc) a desire that is sated by dubiously efficacious drug-like experiences such as Ғbinaural beats and other cognitive-altering sounds and ֑drugs that can be accessed easily via the internet. (In the case of binaural beats, one can listen to melodies that allegedly put the listener in ґnon-ordinary states of consciousness.) But if todayґs drugs mostly answer the cultural needs of the attention economy focus, productivity; leisure, convenience Ғ they also alter what it means to be oneself.

Critically, it is the way in which we now take drugs that shows the shift in the notion of the self. So-called magic-bullet drugs - one-off, limited-course drugs designed to treat highly targeted problems - have given way to maintenance drugs֖ eg, antidepressants and anti-anxiety pills that must be taken in perpetuity.

To be oneself is to be drugged. The future of drugs is likely an extension of this

“This is a big shift from the old model,” says Cowles. “It used to be: I am Henry. I am ill in some way. A pill can help me get back to being Henry, and then ‘ђm off it. Whereas now: “I am only Henry when I’m on my meds.” Between 1980, 2000, and now, the proportion of people on that kind of maintenance pill with no end in sight is just going to keep going up and up.

Might maintenance drugs then be the first step in drug use that permits a post-human state? Although they don’t necessarily fundamentally change who we are as anyone who is on daily antidepressants or other neurological medications knows Җ there is a certain cloudy feeling or dullness that begins to redefine ones most basic experiences. To be oneself is to be drugged. The future of drugs is likely to be an extension of this.

Here, it is worth stepping back. Over the past century there has been an intimate interaction between culture and drugs, each informing the other, exemplifying the cultural directions in which humans have wanted to go - be it rebelling, submitting or moving entirely outside of all systems and constraints.  Taking a good look at what we want today’s drugs and the drugs of tomorrow to do provides an idea of the cultural questions we are looking to solve. “The traditional model of drugs that do something active to a passive user,” says Walton, “will very possibly be superseded by substances that empower the user to be something else entirely.”

Surely, this possibility will come to pass in some form or another in a relatively short time - drugs allowing a total escape from the self - and with it we will see the new crop of cultural questions that are being raised, and potentially answered, by drugs.

Patterns of drug use over the past century gives us a surprisingly accurate insight into wide swaths of cultural history, with everyone from Wall Street bankers and depressed housewives to college students and literary scions taking drugs that reflect their desires and answer their culture’s issues. But the drugs have always reflected a simpler, consistent truism. Sometimes we have wanted out of ourselves, sometimes we’ve wanted out of society, sometimes out of boredom or out of poverty; but always, whatever the case, we have wanted out. In the past, this desire was always temporary - to recharge our batteries, to find a space away from our experiences and the demands of living pressed upon us. However, more recently, drug use has become about finding a durable, lengthier, existential escape - a desire that is awfully close to self-obliteration.

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Posted by Elvis on 01/05/18 •
Section Spiritual Diversions
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Thursday, January 04, 2018

Talking About Suicide

image: man with no money

When one looses the will to struggle, and the capacity for hope, one is no longer living.
- Thanksgiving 2012

The association between suicide and unemployment is more important than the association with other socioeconomic measures. Although some potentially important confounders were not adjusted for, the findings support the idea that unemployment or lack of job security increases the risk of suicide and that social and economic policies that reduce unemployment will also reduce the rate of suicide.
- Suicide, deprivation, and unemployment: record linkage study

The PROSPECTS for the re-employment of older workers deteriorate sharply the longer they are unemployed . . . This is all the more reason to support the unemployed and depressed who threaten suicide.
- Thinking About Suicide

“People who commit suicide feel all alone, and that no one gives a damn. People who commit suicide just want someone to care.”
- Anonymous

Advice on Talking to Someone with Suicidal Thoughts from Someone Who’s Had Suicidal Thoughts

By Lydia Russo
American Foundation For Suicide Prevention
January 3, 2018

During the fall of 2009, each day began in the exact same way: I would be wide awake at 2:00 a.m., nervously shifting around in my bed. As the minutes ticked by and the windowgradually gave way to sunlight, I became increasingly consumed with fear. What was this terrifying thing that was happening to me and why couldn’t I do a thing to stop it?

According to my doctors, I was suffering from depression - a term I had used cavalierly throughout my entire life. Surely what I was experiencing could not be something as innocuous as depression?

While everyone’s EXPERIENCE WITH DEPRESSION is unique, mine went something like this: a July that didn’t feel quite right, an August defined by escalating fear, and then, as of Labor Day weekend, a two-and-a-half-month period of suicide-obsessed hell. I thought I was losing my mind.

I was 36 at the time, but I might as well have been five years old. I had gone from being a bubbly, high-functioning professional and loving family member and friend to a woman totally incapable of caring for herself. I had no appetite and would never eat more than a third of what was put in front of me. I put zero effort into my personal hygiene, my physical appearance, or my homes cleanliness. My whole body was shaky. I could not laugh or cry. My once strong voice had transformed into a raspy whisper; eventually, I stopped talking altogether. 

If you looked at the external appearance of my life at the time, none of this made any sense. I had a great job, a loving husband, supportive family and friends, and a clean bill of health following treatment for breast cancer. Yet during those months, the world I once knew ceased to exist. I found myself gone from that world, and never thought I would live to see it again.

If you have a loved one who is SUFFERING WITH suicidal thoughts, perhaps my experience will give you SOME IDEAS about how to provide the support they need.

First, from the time my suicidal thoughts took hold until the time my depression began to lift, most of my waking moments were spent contemplating ways to escape the pain. A huge part of my anxiety was living with thoughts of suicide, but not being brave enough to articulate them to my loved ones. I did not want to scare them, and it seemed an enormous burden to bring others into my frightening world. When my family eventually BROADENED THE TOPIC of suicide with me, they did so without mincing words, and it was an incredible relief. Please don’t be afraid to talk directly with someone you think may be contemplating suicide. It may be scary for you, but it is terrifying for your loved one to be alone with those thoughts.

Most of us with suicidal thoughts have a crippling fear that our life is on the verge of falling apart, and a loop of negativity is often playing on “repeat” in our minds. Encourage your loved one to express these thoughts out loud or in writing. The more your loved one addresses their fears head-on, the less power those fears will have over them. In fact, until I was able to clearly articulate the depths of my anxiety to my psychiatrist, I didn’t make an ounce of progress. Once my doctor recognized that anxiety was the dominant emotion of my depression, he treated it with the aggressiveness it required. This was a game-changer for me.

Next, and I know this is a tall task, but your unwavering confidence in your loved one’s recovery is essential. Please find the strength to look your loved one in the eye and say with confidence, over and over again, that they will get through this and that they will get back to their old selves. They likely will not believe you, but do not be deterred. Try saying things like, “I know you think you will never get through this. I know you think life will never be the same again. I know you think no one has ever experienced this pain and that no one can help you. But I am here to tell you your brain is playing tricks on you. You WILL get through this.”

Regardless of all your kindnesses and demonstrations of support, please know that your loved one may be terrified of losing you. I cannot underscore enough the importance of reassuring your loved one that you are not going to give up on them and that you will never leave. When I first told my mother about my suicidal thoughts, she said something that kept me going through my darkest moments: You will get through this. I will carry you on my back if that’s what it takes to get you through this.

When your loved one is depressed, they know that they are asking a tremendous amount of you and this probably makes them feel guilty. Depression often renders them incapable of feeling, much less expressing, love for you or anyone else in their lives, which compounds their guilt. Your loved one realizes they are pushing you away, and it likely breaks their heart. Please know that once their depression lifts, all of the love that was once there will come rushing back.

Finally, your loved one knows you cannot wave a magic wand and make it all go away, although they know you desperately wish you could. What matters most is that you simply walk with them through this valley, and that you never, never, never give up.

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Posted by Elvis on 01/04/18 •
Section Spiritual Diversions
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