At Their Mercy
- Our email providers have the power to take control of all of our accounts at any time, and the *only* way to stop them is to self-host your email.
Forgot password considered harmful
- The first time I went to receive a COVID test, the authorities took away my passport while I was there. Then they told me to sign something saying I'd received an information handout. I told them I hadn't received it, and they told me to sign anyway because they would give it to me upstairs. They never did.
- Most of us - myself included - rarely or never read terms of service. When I do read them, I almost always find that they grant a corporation the right to ban me at any time for no reason, even from a paid service without refund, if not worse things. And I sign it anyway because I know they probably won't and people I need to deal with require me to use the service.
- Paying for things with a card usually involves giving a website or store access to all the money in our account, and we just hope they don't abuse it.
And they do! For example, at the St Nicholas Express Deli in New York City, I placed a few items on the counter and the clerk told me they would cost $5.60 (he didn't mention the 4% extra for paying with non-cash, but I knew about that from the poster). I gave him my card and he charged me $6.24. I didn't notice until I got home and read the receipt.
Here's the deli
At another grocery store in NYC (I'd name it but I don't remember), I was secretly charged an extra 5 cent "bottle deposit" which I had no idea about until I got home.
It's very common for price tags in grocery stores to just be mislabeled, although I assume this is usually unintentional. I also bought a loaf of bread that had a tag *on the loaf* saying $2.29 but in the checkout it was $2.69. That time I noticed it on the screen, but I was too exhausted to do anything about it.
- Any web service, even ones that store your money, can arbitrarily revoke your access under claims of "suspicious activity" and your only hope is an "appeal process". This happened to my husband multiple times with Amazon (he never got his $50 back), and happened to both of us with Paypal and Instacart (which is a garbage service you shouldn't use until they decide to pay their own damn workers instead of guilt tripping you for tips).
- Renting an apartment in the mainstream rent system usually involves leaving an extra month's worth of rent with your landlord, in the hope of getting it back when you leave - but that's up to your landlord. It also usually involves paying a non-refundable fee *just to apply*, and many landlords will happily take that money and just ghost you.
We live at the mercy of every institution we interact with, and it's disgustingly undignified.
Solutions to many of these are easy to imagine and even to implement. Websites could allow you to provide a key to encrypt password reset emails (SourceHut does!), or to disable such emails. Online banking could have been designed such that you generate a one-time code that only allows withdrawing a certain amount and enter that in an online store. That would be a little more difficult to implement for in-person payments, but trivial for online payments. Cryptocurrency offers another solution to the money problems.
If we want a world where we don't have to live at the mercy of every institution we interact with, we need to do the same thing one has to do to enact any kind of large-scale change: every little thing we can. One step was writing this article. Another was writing my article on the problem with password reset emails, and then acting on it by giving my website the option to disable them (before removing the account system). There's a lot of things you can do too. One of them is sharing this article.
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