Weblog entry #47 for dkg

NYC public services require Microsoft software
Posted by dkg on Mon 4 May 2009 at 23:46
Tags:
Providing city services only to users of specific proprietary software is bad public policy.

I just discovered that New York City's 2009 Summer Youth Employment Program requires Internet Explorer in order to apply online.

Even downloading the pdf version of the application to print out from the site is impossible under non-IE browsers because the actual pdf link is wrapped in some IE-only javascript. And even if you could download the PDF directly, any additional "online information to help you select a SYEP provider" is inaccessible for the same reason.

I just called 311 and filed an official complaint against the NYC Dept. of Youth and Community Development (DYCD), who sponsor the program.

I also called the number on the application page (1-800-246-4646), and spoke with "Karen" from the DYCD, who explained that the site was a New York City web site, and that it had been created by DoITT (the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications) at the request of the DYCD, but that the DYCD didn't program it directly. She seemed to misunderstand the tech behind the situation, saying "we can't bring it to a higher level (like Firefox) because then it wouldn't work for everyone". I was happy that she understood that Firefox was a concern here, but the point is not to build the site "higher" to Firefox, but to use standard technology that all browsers can access for a public site.

Karen also seemed to think the situation was acceptable because the city youth "can always use IE on local public library computers" to access the site. Note that the applications involve submitting very detailed information (SSN, health insurance, family income, criminal record, selective service registration #, etc), which are things that i would personally be unwilling to submit over a shared public computer if i had any other choice. Furthermore, this crappy implementation decision encourages the NYPL to continue to spend limited resources on proprietary software to an out-of-state monopolist to run their computer labs, which is money that could be better spent locally (or even spent on books or something similarly quaint and library-like).

I'm frustrated. This is 2009. The application process for public services here should not require any proprietary technology, but it uses it gratuitously. This excludes legitimate citizens, and encourages Microsoft in its ongoing pursuit of monopoly status. Both of these are bad things.

I submitted feedback on the DYCD customer survey web site, and submitted two 150-word-limited(!) complaints to Commissioner Mulgrav of the DYCD and Commissioner Cosgrave of DoITT.

I'm sure they'd be interested in hearing from other people about this. Is this kind of proprietary lock-in what we should expect from a Mayor who cuts budgets city-wide except for IT? Where is all that money going? What is the city getting out of it?

 

Comments on this Entry

Posted by dkg (216.254.xx.xx) on Tue 5 May 2009 at 00:29
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Someone just wrote me via e-mail:
I'm helping with some technology work for two different political campaigns in NYC at the moment, using Free Software. I was shocked to find out that if you are running for any political office in NYC, in order to be eligible for public matching funds from the Campaign Finance Board, your campaign must have at least one computer running Windows so you can run the proprietary software tool built by the Campaign Finance Board. that tool, C-Smart is given "for free" to all campaigns (a perfect example of the wrong side of "Free as in..." )

All of the most sensitive data from all campaigns (if you're not a billionaire financing your own campaign outside the public finance laws) in NYC must be stored on a machine running the most insecure OS possible.

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Posted by etbe (115.130.xx.xx) on Tue 5 May 2009 at 04:10
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http://etbe.coker.com.au/2009/04/06/democracy-is-microsoft-compat ible/

To register a political party the Australian Electoral Commission requires that the membership list be "Microsoft compatible". While this isn't as bad from a practical perspective, it is really bad for the AEC to list a company by name.

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Posted by Anonymous (75.27.xx.xx) on Tue 5 May 2009 at 05:00
You need to run IE as well in Illinois to file for unemployment. Thank god they still have the old automated phone service, it makes sitting on the phone for 45 minutes so much fun. Even better is when it comes time to certify your unemployment every 2 weeks by phone, as you have to keep calling in over and over because either the rest of Illinois uses Linux or they haven't heard of the Internet yet, I am sure it is the latter.

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Posted by Anonymous (202.80.xx.xx) on Tue 5 May 2009 at 06:46
It would also be a nice idea to put this across to the folks who run <http://reporter.mozilla.org/>;

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Posted by dkg (216.254.xx.xx) on Tue 5 May 2009 at 14:24
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I reported the site directly from the iceweasel menu with Help|Report Broken Web Site.... Is that the same thing? I confess i can't seem to get any useful info out of the reporter.mozilla.org web UI.

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Posted by Anonymous (76.8.xx.xx) on Tue 5 May 2009 at 16:12
lpalacios@doitt.nyc.gov for financial disclosure

Good Luck getting DoITT to change anything.

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Posted by Anonymous (216.224.xx.xx) on Tue 5 May 2009 at 19:24
Do any of your local TV stations have a "Call us for action" type local investigative reporting section? This sounds like the kind of story those folks would love to get their teeth into--Unfeeling Government Bureaucrats versus Da Yoot of America! Nothing like having a local news crew visit your office (and then your home) to spark some immediate action. Good luck getting the policy, and the website, changed.

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Posted by Anonymous (98.116.xx.xx) on Wed 16 Jun 2010 at 14:04
It was very hard fo me to apply without the proper Microsoft software and also issues of Summer youth staffs .They should be trained on how to treat the children registering for summer .Some of the workers and director at Italian League are very unprofessional .they make negative comments about the partcipants and they are short tempered

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Posted by Anonymous (98.116.xx.xx) on Wed 16 Jun 2010 at 14:07
It was very hard for me to apply without the proper Microsoft software and also issues of Summer youth staffs and their conduct .They should be trained on how to treat the children registering for summer and also remenber they will be without a job without the summer youth program.People shoul;d be grateful to have a job in that economy .Some of the workers and director at Italian League in brooklyn are very unprofessional .they make negative comments about the partcipants and they are short tempered.Maybe they feel that the population that they are dealing with do not deserve respect.

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