Serko Travel’s Default Genders

I just signed up to a corporate Serko Travel account. Title and Gender were mandatory fields. There were no gender-neutral options (like Mx). And, every time I chose a Title, they chose a default Gender for me.

Here’s what Serko sets as your default gender, based on your title:

data-defaultmale option
true Admiral
true Baron
false Baroness
true Bishop
true Brother
true Captain
true Colonel
true Commander
false Dame
true Dr
true Earl
true Father
true General
true His Excellency
true Hon
false Hon Dame
true Hon Dr
true Hon Jus
true Hon Prof
true Hon Sen
true Hon Sir
true Judge
false Lady
true Lieutenant
true Lord
false Madam
true Major
true Master
false Miss
true Mr
false Mrs
false Ms
true Pastor
true Prof
true Rabbi
true Reverend
true Rt Hon
true Sen Hon
true Senator
true Sergeant
true Sir
false Sister
true Viscount
false Viscountess

Yes, that truly is “data-defaultmale”.

We focus on terrorism far too much

“it is irresponsible for public officials and regulators to give in to political and emotional pressures and spend public and social resources on measures that save few lives when the same resources, used otherwise, might save many”

Mueller and Stewart, Evaluating Counterterrorism Spending, http://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/articles/mueller-stewart-journal-economic-perspectives-summer-2014.pdf

If we spent as much money on vehicular safety as we did on terrorism-related safety, would we save more lives?

IETF approves .onion as ‘special purpose domain’

Today I blogged about the Internet Engineering Task Force’s (IETF’s) registration of Tor’s “.onion” as a special-purpose domain, and what that means for Tor hidden services and HTTPS certificates, over at Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA), in collaboration with EFA’s Executive Officer Jon Lawrence.

Australia’s Inhuman Actions Towards Migrants

“Prime Minister Tony Abbott has overseen a ruthlessly effective effort to stop boats packed with migrants, many of them refugees, from reaching Australia’s shores. His policies have been inhumane, of dubious legality and strikingly at odds with the country’s tradition of welcoming people fleeing persecution and war.

Since 2013, Australia has deployed its navy to turn back boats with migrants, including asylum seekers, before they could get close to its shores. Military personnel force vessels carrying people from Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Eritrea and other conflict-roiled nations toward Indonesia, where most of the journeys begin. A boat captain recently reported that Australian authorities paid him $30,000 to turn back. If true, that account, which the Australian government has not disputed, would represent a violation of international laws designed to prevent human smuggling and protect asylum seekers.

Those who have not been turned back are held at detention centers run by private contractors on nearby islands, including the tiny nation of Nauru. A report this week by an Australian Senate committee portrayed the Nauru center as a purgatory where children are sexually abused, guards give detainees marijuana in exchange for sex and some asylum seekers are so desperate that they stitch their lips shut in an act of protest. Instead of stopping the abuses, the Australian government has sought to hide them from the world.”

Australia’s Brutal Treatment of Migrants, New York Times, 3 September  2015 http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/03/opinion/australias-brutal-treatment-of-migrants.html

“For those who’ve come across the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share…”

Australian National Anthem (Second Verse)

Treating People Like Monsters

“But maybe if they didn’t treat us like monsters, we wouldn’t be monsters.
I want us to try living like people for awhile, see how that goes.”

Stone Hunger, N. K. Jemisin, Clarkesworld Magazine, July 2014.

When we treat people like outcasts, we inspire our fellow human beings to behave in certain ways.

It takes a lot of strength to fight this sort of consistent, insidious condemnation.

I didn’t have that strength in the past. It was easier to simply avoid the risk of condemnation.

Perhaps I do now.
Perhaps I can live like people do, rather than hiding.
Let’s see how that goes, at least for awhile…

Looking for Tenants: Attempted Fraud

I’ve been on both sides of some dodgy accommodation application processes: excluded from renting a room for being in a same-sex relationship, dropping out of an intrusive application process, and looking for a tenant for a room.

In 2014, I had a supposed tenant attempt to defraud me of personal details, in particular, my PayPal email address. They had already stolen someone’s identity to make the rental application. I assume they planned to use my details as part of further identity theft and/or fraud.

This kind of fraud is pretty common: my applicant was “on a cruise ship”, so they could “only email”. They couldn’t call, or inspect the room. They were happy with the “photos on the site of the house”, but wanted the exact address. (More potential identity theft!) They seemed to have no idea it was an apartment.

The person provided pictures of “herself”, but the two pictures didn’t seem to be of the same person. They were also a very poor resolution and quality – not what you’d expect of contemporary holiday snaps. The same photo(s) were also used on a LinkedIn profile and on various dating sites, under various names. Google reverse image search is an essential tool for discovering this kind of fraud.

The scammer then used a name and email from a Facebook profile with a different picture. (I think the Facebook profile had been hacked.) Again, Googling email addresses and names uncovered this rather quickly.

The scammer wanted to pay for several months’ rent upfront to secure the room. This is really weird, but a terribly attractive offer when you’re sick of looking for tenants. (And, I have to admit, I felt sympathetic for their “difficult” situation.) They almost got some account details from me, because they said they wanted to pay thousands of dollars upfront.

But, as I searched online for the details they provided, the whole scam unravelled rather quickly.

I ended up reporting this scam to the real estate website, the State (well, Australian Capital Territory) and Federal Government Scam Watch websites, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Most of these sites took appropriate action quickly, except for Facebook, which seems to have a complaint threshold before a human gets involved.

(I hope) this is the end of my mini-series on accommodation search disasters.

Accommodation Applications: It Gets Weirder

Apart from being discriminated against for having a boyfriend (even if the discrimination was not strictly illegal), I’ve had some other strange experiences looking for accommodation.

I went through an accommodation application process earlier in 2015, which just got weirder and weirder.

Occupancy Application

An application for accommodation asked some intrusive personal questions. These questions would likely be illegal in my jurisdiction (the Australian Capital Territory, or ACT), were it not for the fact the landlord intended to live there. However, in the specific circumstances, the domestic accommodation exception to discrimination may not have applied, as the legislation says “lives and intends to continue to live on the premises”, and the place was empty on inspection. (I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice.) The landlord only disclosed their intention to live on the premises very late in the process, after repeated email exchanges. (At this point, it had become so weird, I was never going to move in there.)

I tried reporting these terms to the responsible ACT Government department, and they directed me to the ACT tenants union, which is understaffed, and takes phone messages for callbacks for 90 minutes per day. At that point, I got the impression that services addressing my concerns were underfunded, to say the least. So I gave up on that strategy for addressing my concerns.

Here are some of the actual questions, and my concerns:

Disability Pension yes/no
Rent Relief yes/no

3. DO YOU HAVE ANY DISABILITY AT ALL?
4. ARE YOU APPLYING FOR RENT ASSISTANCE?

These questions could be used to discriminate against persons with a disability, or on a low income. There is an assumption that people receiving government benefits don’t pay their rent on time. (Which may be generally accurate, but in my case, I had financial support available to pay rent and other essentials.) A non-discriminatory alternative is requiring a larger deposit, and/or larger rent payments in advance.

[List] Children

6 ARE YOU, SINGLE, MARRIED, DATING, HAVE CLOSE FRIEND?
7 WILL YOU HAVE OVERNIGHT VISITORS? Ie FAMILY/FRIEND?

13 WHAT IS YOUR AGE?
14 HAVE YOU BEEN TO COURT OR TRIBUNAL BEFORE?
15 WHAT IS YOUR ETHNIC BACKGROUND?
16 WHAT ARE YOU STUDYING/WORK?

After all these questions, the potential landlord has pretty much made a clean sweep of the grounds on which you are not permitted to discriminate in the ACT. This is quite alarming: Did they use the list from the Act to produce these questions? Or, do people instinctively discriminate based on certain criteria?

Terms and House Rules

Following the application form, the landlord sent me some terms and house rules. Here are some of the more interesting ones, again with commentary:

C. The Licensee has sought independent advice and attempted to negotiate terms prior to signing this agreement.

This clause is intended to avoid a contract of adhesion (standard form contract), where a tenant is placed in a “take it or leave it” position. Adhesion contracts can result in terms being invalidated due to unconscionability, or ambiguous terms being resolved in favour of the tenant. I am not a lawyer, but it appears like a pretty spurious term to me: unless there was actual independent advice and negotiation of terms, assenting to this term is essentially meaningless. (And, ironically, this term could even become the very thing it intends to prevent: an obvious “take it or leave it” term. If the occupant feels they have to lie about genuine negotiation to secure accommodation [or doesn’t know they’re lying, because they haven’t read the terms], then that’s not genuine negotiation.)

It’s as if they’ve read up on the rights tenants have in the ACT, and deliberately tried to revoke them via an occupancy agreement. This pattern continues:

E. The Licensee is to pay $ towards a holding deposit, before being issued with one entry key per occupant. The deposit amount does not include bond payment.

Holding deposits and key deposits are illegal for a residential tenancy, but not an occupancy.

K. The Licensee shall be given a reason for termination of occupancy. The reason may be a breach, or any trivial reason as the Licensor think fit.

This seems like a pretty weak term (“any trivial reason”), but may either be poorly expressed, or cover some legal eventuality. Again, reasons are required for a residential tenancy, but not an occupancy.

(viii) The Licensor will not compensate the licensee where premises become unsuitable for habitation.

Compensation is also required in some circumstances for a residential tenancy, but not an occupancy.

(v) Not interfere with the legal rights of others and not cause psychological harm to others on the premises

There’s a long and somewhat bizarre list of things not to do to other tenants under this one.

15. Overnight guests are to be introduced to all occupants. Any visitors who intend staying overnight more than 2 days are to apply for accommodation at the above premises. All visitors are to be approved before entry by the Licensor (see clause 11).

This clause seems reasonable, except for the pre-approval of visitors. This is impractical, unless, of course, the landlord is always present on the premises. (Which is how I finally obtained her disclosure that she perhaps intended to live there.)

All in all, I don’t really know what to say about this whole situation, except that I got out when it got weirder and weirder. (And I wish I hadn’t wasted as much time on it.) I feel bad for people who have assented to these kinds of intrusive questions and terms. There has to be a better way of protecting tenants than the current arrangements, or lack thereof.