Big Brother is watching travelers — here’s what you can do about it

Written by admin on October 7, 2008 – 2:42 pm -

A group of Canadian human-rights advocates and computer security researchers has discovered a huge surveillance program in China that may be tracking your phone calls. It’s just the latest in a series of computer-security breaches that may affect travelers.

The system tracks text messages sent by subscribers of Tom-Skype, a joint venture between a Chinese wireless operator and eBay, the Web auctioneer that owns Skype an online phone and text messaging service. It monitors and archives certain Internet text conversations that may or may not include politically incorrect words.

This has focused increased attention on the Chinese government’s Internet monitoring, which created controversy this summer during the Olympic Games in Beijing. It’s estimated that 30,000 or more Chinese Internet “police” were monitoring online traffic, Web sites and blogs for offensive content.

The Chinese may be more overt when it comes to censorship. But no one should be complacent that someone might not be intercepting your calls or emails. More than one divorce complainant has produced reams of emails and .wav files and told it to the judge.

This doesn’t happen in the usual divorce case. But when big bucks are at stake, don’t think a private detective doesn’t have a battalion of computer savvy types who can break into your email account more quickly than you can log on. Some of these geeks probably aren’t even shaving. Welcome to the new generation of kids who can type more quickly than they can write.

Computer security causes many people to have second thoughts. As one who does nearly all transactions on-line, including banking, shopping, booking air tickets and hotel rooms, my credit card may very well be at risk — not to mention my credit worthiness.

Here are some rules consumers should consider following:

- Use one credit card for all of your on-line purchases.
- Change your password frequently and steer away from using your birthday or the name of your first-born son.
- Frequently access the recent transactions of that specific credit card. This can be done either on-line or by telephone.
- If you’re traveling, contact the issuing bank and advise them of your itinerary.
- Be sure to have a four digit pin code in order to withdraw money from an ATM. Change the code after each trip.

Back to the initial point, never send an email with information that could ruin you or your business and certainly don’t do it over a public unsecured WiFi connecton. There’s a reason companies set up encrypted Intranet communications systems. And even they’re not infallible.

Being able to speak to friends and family, not to mention business associates is a terrific tool and Skype claims it’s secure and customers shouldn’t worry. But in the event you’re having a tryst or something more, find a different way to communicate and say nothing that can be misinterpreted.

Come to think of it, that’s probably a rule we should all take to heart.

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

It’s only money — but it’s more than most people will ever see

Written by admin on October 3, 2008 – 2:44 pm -

The Hotel Prince de Galles in Paris, refuge to the very rich and famous, has been sold. And it wasn’t for pennies.

Molinaro Koger announced the company arranged the financing for the purchase of the hotel on behalf of the Musallam family, who for the past 16 years, has owned the leasehold on the hotel located in Paris’ “golden triangle” at 33 Avenue George V, Paris, 75008.

Ali Baheri, managing director of MK’s Middle East operations and Ed Blum, managing director of MK’s Capital Markets Group, negotiated the transaction. “Our acquisition of the freehold lease demonstrates our commitment to the property as well as Paris,” said Sheik Ibrahim Mussallam.

The acquisition price was a mere €141 million and the group is planning to spend €80 million renovating the property. Some may be feeling the current economic turmoil, but this group clearly isn’t.

Ali Baheri said, “We continue to see a lot of activity from our Middle Eastern clients and with Molinaro Koger’s vast range of advisory services including brokerage and financing, we are pleased to be able to assist our clients diversify their financial holdings across Europe, Asia and North America.”

The Hotel Prince de Galles is operated by Starwood Hotels as part of its Luxury Collection brand. Built in 1928, it has 138 guest rooms, 30 suites, a restaurant, bar and meeting rooms. If you want hot and cold room service, don’t worry. Your wish is the hotel’s command.

The legendary hotel is one of Paris’ great Art Deco properties, complete with gold leaf chandeliers and marble floors. In 2004 and 2005 it was named on Condé Nast Traveler’s Gold Lists.

Prices for the “new” hotel rooms have yet to be announced. But if you have to ask, you can’t afford to stay there. The adage that the rich get richer while the “poor” take a hit couldn’t be more true in this case.

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris.

Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Cell phones on planes, the approaching reality

Written by admin on October 1, 2008 – 2:44 pm -

Today’s technology is enabling people to use cell phones from planes. Is everyone thrilled over the thought? I’m certain some travelers will be delighted in the event of an emergency. But, they may not be as happy when they receive their bills that may resemble the national debt. One of the last refuges from ring tones is undoubtedly coming to an end.

Ryanair is the first no frills airline to enable in-flight calling. Ten planes are already equipped. When the service launches, fourteen planes will allow passengers to make calls and send text messages from cruising altitudes. But there will be limitations on the number of people who will be able to “communicate” simultaneously.

The watchdog group Ofcom states it is talking to all concerned parties to clarify what steps can be taken to ensure consumers understand the costs of making calls from on board an aircraft.

Unfortunately, Ofcom can only regulate planes registered in the EU. The group is fast to say the use of mobile phones on passenger aircraft has “raised concerns about passenger welfare and the potential for discomfort, antisocial behavior and ‘air rage’ on board.”

As a frequent flyer, I welcome having access to WiFi on long haul trips. But the last thing I want to hear is someone else’s conversation. Invariably, people who use their cell phones as extensions of their personal and professional lives tend to speak more loudly than others.

I know what my response would be if I were seated next to a non-stop talker. At the very least, I’d ask him or her to find another place from which to make calls. Some passengers would. Then there are others who’d shoot a dirty stare and continue talking. Should earphones and microphones be mandatory?

What would you do?

There are so many options to contemplate and some of them aren’t in the least bit polite. And it’s against FAA regulations to either make a quick exit when you’re at cruising altitude much less push another passenger.

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |