How to Avoid LinkedIn Email Spam Attack

Who doesn’t want to grow their professional network? But do you find yourself in the clutches of LinkedIn email spam grab and don’t know how to extricate yourself?

Bloomberg has reported that some LinkedIn customers have filed a lawsuit alleging that LinkedIn hacked e-mail addresses. The existing users have no way to stop the process, the plaintiffs said according to the story. One user said that LinkedIn contacted more than 3,000 people including those copied in on e-mail messages. Another estimated that LinkedIn used as many as 200 names and e-mail addresses of his contacts—including those of several old girlfriends he had forgotten to delete—inviting them to connect with him on the site. Oops!

LinkedIn InviteIt gets worse. LA Times story recounts a retired FBI agent and private investigator’s clients including those the Agent/PI had investigated—basically everyone in the address book—received an email.

How is that possible? The NY Times piece said: “Instead of asking you to opt in by checking off which specific contacts you want to invite, LinkedIn requires you to opt out by unchecking the “select all” button. If you are not careful, hundreds of invitations can go out — no second thoughts or cooling-off period provided.”

Sound confusing? It is probably meant to be.

However, in response to the lawsuit, Blake Lawit, Senior Director, Litigation at LinkedIn, issued a denial: “We do not access your email account without your permission. Claims that we “hack” or “break into” members’ accounts are false.” He further stated, “We never send messages or invitations to join LinkedIn on your behalf to anyone unless you have given us permission to do so.”

All the legalese and how, what, and when LinkedIn does what it does aside, the question as to how to revoke the permission granted to LinkedIn remained essentially unanswered for me. As the NY Times piece confirmed, “Regardless of the claims in the lawsuit, there is no doubt that LinkedIn makes it awfully easy for you to send an invitation to connect to everyone you have ever e-mailed and much harder to revoke that permission.”

As a matter of fact, I have not been able to find out how to revoke permission in LinkedIn. However, here is what I found out if you have a Gmail account. Google allows you to share information from your Google Account with third-party websites without revealing your username and password. You can revoke this access as follows:

    1. To manage your connected apps on your desktop, sign in to the Google Accounts homepage
    2. Click on Security at the top of the page
    3. Click on View all in the Account permissions box.
    4. You’ll see a list of the third-party sites you selected to always approve for Google authentication. If you see something on there that you don’t use anymore, you should click to Revoke Access.

When I followed these steps, I did find that LinkedIn was permitted! After clicking the “Revoke Access” button, I am hoping that it cuts off any third-party access to my address book.

If nothing is listed, you will see a message saying: “You haven’t granted any apps or websites access to your Google Account.”

More information about sharing your data with other sites can be found at:

Happy professional networking without accidental spam!


Wrong-Headed Cure for Reducing Healthcare Costs

As the debate about how to reduce healthcare costs rages on, Jeffrey Singer, a general surgeon in Phoenix and Cato Institute adjunct scholar, has published an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal. “The Man Who Was Treated for $17,000 Less” chronicles how the surgeon “saved” the patient, with a low-cost indemnity type of health insurance policy, $17,000 by pretending that he was uninsured, self-pay. It is a wrong-headed cure for reducing healthcare costs.

healthcare - head in the sandDr. Singer concludes among other things that it is the third-party payment system that interferes with true price competition, so market clearing prices can’t develop. He goes on to chastise Obamacare for expanding the role of the third party and practically eliminating the role of the patient in the delivery of health care.

On the face of it, Dr. Singer’s arguments to diminish the role of third-party payers seem compelling. After all, by bypassing the insurance company the patient paid only $3,000 when he was asked to pay $20,000 upfront. But that’s like saying, “I saved $17,000 by not buying a Rolex I didn’t need.” Based on the examination of assumptions and facts, I contend that Dr. Singer’s arguments are hollow and his conclusions are erroneous.

By Dr. Singer’s own admission, the true price for the procedure was $3,000, and at that price “none of the providers was losing money on my patient.” Why on earth then the providers and the hospital felt compelled to mark up the price to $23,000 for this unsuspecting patient? Could it have something to do with the fact that the insurance policy had no provider-network requirements or preferred-hospital requirements?

These absurd markups saw the light of day, when Medicare released hospital billing data and outpatient services data this summer. As reported in The Arizona Republic, for every $4 charged to Medicare, Arizona hospitals collected $1 from the federal health program for those 65 and older. My own analysis showed that New Jersey had a markup of 6.2 times and the prices were marked up by 5.4 times on average in California relative to what Medicare actually paid.

Contrary to the statements made by the hospitals and providers claiming that charges don’t matter because Medicare doesn’t actually pay them, Dr. Singer’s example clearly shows that anyone without the enormous purchasing power of Medicare or a third party behind them is highly susceptible to these astronomical charges. In other words, Dr. Singer justifies the role of third parties with his own example.

I agree with Dr. Singer that when patients are directly involved in their own healthcare decisions, they are more accountable. However, another major flaw in his argument is the utopian assumption that all patients have the medical and financial knowledge, cost and utilization data, the necessary time, wherewithal, and ability to analyze and negotiate every healthcare expense on literally thousands of diagnoses codes on the basis of quality, outcomes, and price. If Dr. Singer hadn’t gone to bat for this patient, could this patient have accomplished all of what Dr. Singer did on his behalf by himself in today’s system?

If we are truly going to bend the healthcare cost curve down, among other things we must first shine the light on incomprehensible, nationwide markups that have become the norm. As a start, maybe Dr. Singer can start by quoting to all patients regardless of their insurance status the price he actually accepted instead of the “more than enough” $2,500 list price.

If the hospitals and providers accepted and published what Medicare pays as the “standard” price, instead of marking it up 5-7 times, it would automatically diminish the role of third-party payers.  The payers will no longer have to play the game of chicken with the hospitals. And the unsuspecting patients—insured, underinsured, or uninsured—will no longer be caught in the crossfire.

NSA Leaks: Is Snowden a Hero or a Goat?

There is a lot of debate going on about the NSA leaks and whether Snowden is a patriot or a traitor. Is he a whistleblower or a self-righteous leaker?

Snowden’s coming-out party, while in Honk Kong, was chronicled by Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald in a couple of interviews published by The Guardian. Recently, The New York Times published a thrilling backstory about how that meeting came about in “How Laura Poitras Helped Snowden Spill His Secrets.

In his news conference on August 9, President Obama proposed restructuring the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to provide a privacy advocate. The Wall Street Journal characterized it as a “significant about-face” because just a few months ago he had defended the program saying, “I think on balance, we have established a process and a procedure that the American people should feel comfortable about.”

And today The Washington Post reported that the NSA broke privacy rules thousands of times per year according to an internal audit and based on documents provided earlier this summer to The Post by Snowden.

It is worth noting that the Fourth Amendment related to unreasonable searches and probable cause was introduced in Congress by James Madison in 1789, nearly a century before telephones and a couple of centuries before emails were invented.

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

The NSA was established by President Truman to continue U.S. efforts that had led to breaking German and Japanese codes in World War II. According to NSA, Executive Order 12333, originally issued 4 December 1981 (by President Reagan) charges NSA to “collect (including through clandestine means), process, analyze, produce, and disseminate signals intelligence information and data for foreign intelligence and counterintelligence purposes to support national and departmental missions,” according to its website.

I am all for transparency and restraints on vast government powers. However, here are my thoughts on the delicate balancing act:

  1. President Obama’s statement to make NSA’s surveillance program more transparent is used by many talking heads as an after-the-fact justification for Snowden’s actions. That is hardly an argument. By that twisted, self-fulfilling “logic,” one could easily justify the 9/11 attack because it generated a new normal through an incredible breadth and depth of introspection, arguments, reviews, reports, calls for reform, changes, new laws, and, of course, finger-pointing!
  2. There are millions of citizens with some level of security clearance. They probably come across some level of classified information every day. Imagine, even if a small percentage of them went Snowden on us and started leaking sensitive information because they objected to something or the other—especially after signing their life away to keep this information confidential in order to get the security clearance in the first place. It would make a mockery of the entire national security apparatus.
  3. The Washington Post acknowledged that when it came to the NSA incidents, “Most were unintended. Many involved failures of due diligence or violations of standard operating procedure.” I was actually impressed by the thoroughness of the internal audit. The NSA official is right in saying, “You look at a number in absolute terms that looks big, and when you look at it in relative terms, it looks a little different.” If we are going to look for perfection in any entity, government or otherwise, or in any person, we will continue to be disappointed. Feel free to raise your hand if you have never exceeded the speed limit.
  4. People often talk from both sides of their mouths. They want the government out of their lives until something happens in their own backyard and now they need help from the government. And then the government can’t act fast enough for them. They would be the first to do Monday-morning quarterbacking and harshly criticize the government if a terrorist plot were to be carried out. As President Reagan said, “Recession is when your neighbor loses his job. Depression is when you lose yours.”
  5. Edward Snowden: “I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things.” How is that working out?

Trade Snowden for Pussy Riot anyone?

Old News: The News Business is in Trouble!

News flash: The News business is in major trouble! (Okay, just kidding about this being a news flash.)

It was reported on Monday that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is buying the money-losing Washington Post and other newspapers for $250 million.

The Washington Post is not alone in this predicament as can be clearly seen with the troubles of NY Times, Gannett, and Tribune Company. After all, NY times just dumped the Boston Globe at a 93% loss after purchasing it for $1.1 Billion and selling it for $70 million.

At first glance, this may seem like a knee-jerk, impulsive purchase by Jeff Bezos. Be assured that it’s neither a toy nor a trophy purchase for Bezos. He has been on an unmistakable path to transform Amazon from a passive, online retailer to become the content king. He has deftly made inroads into content production, publishing, distribution, storage/retention, and cloud services infrastructure.

With that trajectory in mind, the purchase of the Post seems like a logical extension to own highly reputable and brand-name content—especially at a throw-away price.

What exactly Bezos has in mind remains to be seen. An educated guess will be that he will imbed and find other channels to distribute the content while working some reverse synergies to help Amazon.

As the AP has reported, Bezos has always emphasized that “It’s all about the long term.” He doesn’t have a magic formula for turning the Post around. He does has deep enough pockets to wait until he can figure it out and do it semi-profitably. As with the Kindle, he may adopt the strategy that it is merely a means to an end and not something that has to generate a ton of profits.

All in all, it looks like a smart move, but we may have to wait a few years to see how it actually plays out. If Bezos is successful, however, it could transform the media landscape. It could trigger major journalistic purchases by other titans like Google and Microsoft.

Bezos’s would be a one-of-a-kind strategy that may or may not be replicated easily by others though.

Gangnam Style: Superstar Teachers and Suicidal Kids

The field of education is abuzz about “The $4 Million Teacher” piece in The Wall Street Journal. Sort of.

Amanda Ripley, in a WSJ piece plugging her upcoming book, states that South Korea’s students rank among the best in the world and its top teachers can make a fortune. She wonders whether the U.S. can learn from this “academic superpower” with a 93% high-school graduation rate. She credits tutoring services offering after-hours classes (“hagwons”) in every subject for a fee, where private tutors now outnumber schoolteachers for the success.

To me, it’s like asking to reform high school drama departments using Brad Pitt as an exemplar. Mr. Kim, the featured four million dollar man, is hardly a teacher. He is a smart and accomplished businessman capitalizing on the intense desire for rote learning in a broken public education system driven by desperate parents. This is precisely the kind of misguided hero worship (e.g. Google) I have railed against in earlier posts.

There are major contradictions in the WSJ article too. On one hand it says, “To create such trust, Mr. Kim suggests paying public-school teachers significantly more money according to their performance—as hagwons do.” On the other, it admits to a ruthless meritocracy for hagwons teachers in which “their pay is based on their performance, and most of them work long hours and earn less than public school teachers.”

To put it in the right context, let’s consider this. According to the CIA’s World Factbook, South Korea is a country that is slightly larger than Indiana, but has a population of nearly 49 million. Mother’s mean age at first birth is 29.6—nearly 5 years older than in the U.S. South Korea spends 5.1% of GDP on education expenses compared to 5.4% for the U.S.

And there is a darker side to this rat race. In all likelihood the competition is incredibly intense and the peer pressure absolutely brutal. “Eight out of 10 South Korean parents say they feel financial pressure from hagwon tuition costs. Still, most keep paying the fees, convinced that the more they pay, the more their children will learn,” says Ms. Ripley.

A Yahoo! Finance article by Naomi Rovnick says, “The country has the highest suicide rate in the OECD and the fourth-lowest fertility rate.” Ms. Rovnick also cites a BBC article which quotes child psychologist Kang-ee Hong: “From the beginning of childhood, the importance of money and achievement are emphasised by their parents, so they feel that unless you are successful in school grades and a good job, good prestigious college, you’re not successful, and the parents behave as if ‘you’re not my child’.”

Now, you are scaring me if the parents’ obsession with money and status is driving young people to suicide. I guess you have to be careful what you wish for. Besides, is this hagwons system making South Korean kids smarter? “That is a surprisingly hard question to answer,” says Ms. Ripley. “The most affluent kids can afford one-on-one tutoring with the most popular instructors, while others attend inferior hagwons with huge class sizes and less reliable instruction—or after-hours sessions offered free by their public schools.”

Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton, both of whom I had the pleasure of meeting in April, have written that “The logic behind what works at top performers, why it works, and what will work elsewhere is barely unraveled, resulting in mindless imitation.”

Bottom Line: Blind copying of so-called best practices in vacuum without properly understanding the logic, culture, context, or implications often leads to disastrous consequences.

Hiring at Google: GPAs are worthless!

Same old, same old. In a recent interview with NY Times, Laszlo Bock of Google was uncharacteristically frank with his self-assessment about hiring at Google. He basically admitted that GPAs are worthless and brainteasers are a complete waste of time.

hiringThe prevailing notion for success, particularly fueled by successful tech companies, has been that you interview the smartest kids on earth—based on 4.0 GPAs from top colleges and universities­, you hire them based on some irrelevant questions that make the interviewer feel really smart (e.g., how many golf balls would fit in an airplane), and then you lavish them with a dining room that used to be run by the Grateful Dead’s former chef, café stations to eat free food, snack rooms stocked with goodies, game rooms with video games, foosball, pool, and ping-pong tables.

And voilà! That’s the tried and true formula for eternal success and a trillion dollar market cap.

And then some overeager reporter looking to write the next most-viewed story or some good-to-great consultant looking to write the next bestseller writes a one-size-fits-all, 20/20 hindsight piece based on “scrupulous research and extraordinary access.” The circumstantial evidence as to how Google is reinventing the world order becomes an urban legend and everyone rushes to buy foosball tables.

Nobody stops to think that Larry Page and Sergey Brin probably didn’t have Grateful Dead’s former chef making meals or that nobody wasted their time by asking dumb brainteasers. Hardly anybody remembers the huge part luck may have played repeatedly in their success. For one, they were quite fortunate that their offer to sell Google for less than $1 million, a year after founding, was turned down because the buyer thought the price was too high.

Now Google crunches “Big Data” only to find out that it’s not really a big deal after all. It analyzes tens of thousands of interviews to determine whether anyone there is particularly good at hiring only to find out that there is “zero relationship” and that it’s a “complete random mess.” What? You don’t say! Google rediscovers that structured behavioral interviews work well. Yeah? How else do you find out in a few hours about collaboration, interpersonal, or communication skills or the ability to deal with ambiguity, manage multiple priorities, adaptability, or decision-making?

It is amazing to me how the halo effect of random success becomes folklore. Next thing we may find out is that earth is not flat.

Google’s jobs page says: “We’re looking for smart, team-oriented people who can get things done.” Really? Last time I checked, nobody was looking for dumb, selfish people who drop the ball. “We’re also observing people working together in different groups and have found that the average team size of any group at Google is about six people.” No way! J. Richard Hackman, an expert in team dynamics, has written books about the optimal team size being six.

In all fairness, Bock freely admits in his WSJ interview that “it’s not stuff that the world has never seen before.” If only others would ignore.

Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman sums it up beautifully in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow: “The ultimate test of an explanation is whether it would have made the event predictable in advance. No story of Google’s unlikely success will meet that test, because no story can include the myriad of events that would have caused a different outcome. The human mind does not deal well with nonevents.”

Let’s start by treating the NY Times interview with Bock as a nonevent.

Everyone together now: The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Rediscovering Old Truths: A Tail Can’t Wag the Dog

The more things change, the more they stay the same. I am talking about employee satisfaction and engagement or lack thereof. A recent Gallup survey found that 70% of employees hate their jobs.

As I was sitting in an auto repair shop, I was pondering this: Although we have amazing technology now that can park and even drive cars, we still have CV joints, axles, and brake pads—all of which my car needed. By the way, constant velocity joints (aka CV joints) were first proposed by Robert Hooke in the 17th century to solve problems with previous joints that failed to maintain constant velocity during rotation. No doubt, the technology and materials in all of them have advanced beyond imagination, but the basics are still the same. That got me thinking.

Recently, there was a “revelatory” news story in the media. You know how everybody starts jumping up and down as if this is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

CNBC reported that just 30 percent of employees are engaged and inspired at work, according to Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace Report, which surveyed more than 150,000 full- and part-time workers during 2012. Gallup found that “indulging employees is no substitute for engaging them.”

Duh! The basic facts on employee motivation have been well known since 1968. They are based on one of the all-time classic Harvard Business Review articles titled One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?by Frederick Herzberg. His research showed that the set of factors that dissatisfy employees are very separate and distinct from the factors that create satisfaction. In other words, satisfaction and dissatisfaction are not the two sides of the same coin. And that is because two different needs of human beings are involved.

The growth or motivation factors that are intrinsic to the job are: achievement, recognition, the work itself, responsibility, and advancement. These factors are tied to the job content. The dissatisfaction-avoidance factors are extrinsic to the job and are found in the job environment. They include: company policy, supervision, interpersonal relationships, working conditions, salary, status, and security. If these hygiene factors, as Herzberg called them, are absent they create dissatisfaction, but they don’t necessarily motivate people just because they are present.

In corporate environments fixated on analyst ratings and on showcasing next quarterly earnings, do you really think many companies really care about the job content, let alone lose sleep over enriching it? OD (Organizational Design) has become as odious a word as HR.

Gallup said: “At the end of the day, an intrinsic connection to one’s work and one’s company is what truly drives performance, inspires discretionary effort, and improves wellbeing. If these basic needs are not fulfilled, then even the most extravagant perks will be little more than window dressing.”

In short, a tail can’t wag the dog! The only “revelation” in the news story was that we haven’t learned a whole lot since 1968.

In the next post I will talk about Google’s “revelation” about hiring.