Jussie Smollett -- What Went Uber Wrong with the Plan

Jussie Smollett - photo credit:
By Sister Circle Live 
Jussie Smollett -- What Went Uber Wrong with the Plan
by Susan Basko, esq.


Other writers: If you are going to "borrow" my writing or research, at least give me credit.  I do original research and -- heck, you ought to try that, too.

The latest twist in the Jussie Smollett street attack story is that he paid his two body-building friends, Chicagoans Nigerian brothers Abel and Ola Osundairo, $3500 to stage the mugging.  (Allegedly, someone emailed in to remind me to write allegedly.)

What went wrong with the plan?

1. The story seemed fishy from the beginning for a whole roster of reasons, including that Chicago is not MAGA country, but rather, is a sanctuary city and longtime Democratic stronghold.  Then there was the fact it was an icy cold Chicago night and people were not out strolling about.  Surveillance video had to be searched to find even two people out and about.  Then there was the oddball fact that Jussie Smollett still had his Subway sandwich after being attacked and tossed around.  Subway sandwiches are excellent, but in case of a violent tussle, are likely to be dropped and lost.  All in all, the story came rang up as not likely fully true.  

2. The attack took place - or was staged -- just below a street surveillance camera.  And then it turned out the camera was actually facing the opposite direction. This was the first big snag in the plan; the video evidence was nonexistent.

3. Chicago police located two potential attackers on surveillance video and then, according to at least one news report, used the Uber ride-sharing app to identify one of them.  Uber requires those who join its app to allow the company to have access to the phone's locations, pictures, files, phone calls, texts, contacts lists, etc.  All the CPD had to do was issue a subpoena or warrant to Uber and they could obtain not only the name of the man using the account, but his financial data, airline ticket jpgs and itineraries which were likely stored on the phone, photos, a location history, and tons of other information likely contained on the phone that the user had given Uber permission to access upon joining Uber.  Scary?  The permissions required are why I have not joined Uber; I was shocked when I recently read the permissions list.

Here are screen shots of the Uber app permissions that appeared on a version of the app that recently appeared.  The app gives written notice that "Updates to Uber may automatically add additional capabilities within each group."  In other words, these capabilities may be expanded each time an app update occurs.  Some apps update automatically, and others require a click or permission.  Very rarely would anyone seek out or read what permissions are being given to the app on an update.


This first screen full of permissions gives Uber permission to know the identity of the user, find accounts on the phone, add or remove accounts, read the contact card, read the person's contacts, and find the person's approximate and precise locations.


This second set of permissions gives the Uber app the abilitiy to receive text messages on the user's phone, read the user's text messages, and send text messages from the user's phone.  Uber is also given permission to directly call phone numbers, presumably using your phone or possibly using your phone contacts to make phone calls.  Uber is also given permission to modify or delete contents of the user's SD card.  The SD card is where you may have stored pictures, files, tickets and receipts, songs and videos, games, etc. 


This third set of permissions allows Uber to use the user's camera to take pictures and videos! It also allows Uber to obtain the user's WiFi connection information, which would show which WiFi systems have been available to your phone and which you have logged into.  This would be a way of tracking the Uber user's movements and activities, as well as a way to be able to find out more information, such as what was done on any of those WiFi systems.  Included in this set of permissions is that Uber can read the phone status and identity and the Device ID and phone call information.   You're just calling for a car ride, not joining the CIA, remember.




This fourth set of Uber app permissions overlaps with the third screen.  Here, Uber lists as "Other" a set of "New" permissions.  Uber can: Draw over other apps (I am not sure exactly what this means, but it does not sound good), prevent phone from sleeping, connect and disconnect from WiFi, read Google service configuration, control vibration, pair with bluetooth devices, change your audio settings, use accounts on the device (sounds like it can buy things on your Amazon account? or what?), view network connections, and have full network access.

Basically, when you give Uber all these permissions, you are employing Uber to spy on you, your contacts, your locations, phone calls, your audio, and all your files.

It sounds like with the two Nigerian-Chicagoan brothers, the Chicago Police Department were able to track them via the Uber app.  One day, the men in the grainy photo were unidentified and barely recognizable.  Soon thereafter, Chicago police knew their names, their address, knew when they had flown to Nigeria and when they were coming back.  Police were waiting at O'Hare Airport for them upon their return.

What's the upshot here?  Does Uber need all this information and all these capabilities to arrange for someone to give you a ride?  Likely, it needs some of these capabilities.  Having some of these permissions probably makes Uber riders and drivers safer or at least they can be held accountable easier if they do something bad.  After all, with Uber, you are getting into a car with an unlicensed stranger and that driver is allowing random people off the street into their car.  The Uber app permissions make both the driver and riders more known and less random.   The knowability probably makes the whole enterprise a bit safer for all involved.

The downside is you are giving Uber the right to act as a surveillance machine upon the intimate details of your life that are contained in your phone.  Upon considering this list of permissions, I could not get myself to click, "I accept."   I decided that if I cannot walk or take a bus or train, I will call a taxi or a friend, if one is nearby.  Many times, I am in places where taxis are scarce.  My lack of Uber has meant such things as walking with groceries in the rain or walking a distance to where I knew there was a cab stand.  It's not convenient and I long to use a ride sharing service, if one were respectful of my privacy.

What is the legality of police using information gathered by the Uber app, when the Uber user has given the app permission to gather all that information?  If the police serve a subpoena or warrant upon Uber, it seems likely the Uber user has no standing to object to the subpoena and would probably not even be given notice of the subpoena.  Might the police require Uber to commandeer the phone and, for example, require Uber to give the location of the phone, and likely of the phone owner, since most people carry their phones with them?  Might police require Uber to use the phone camera to show the people or the place where they are located?  Might police require Uber to use the phone as a listening device?  Or would Uber be required to only give the information it would have otherwise obtained in the normal course of its business operations?

Conversely, are there privacy laws that prohibit an app from gathering excess information?  Right now, as far as I know, the legal standard is that the app must get permission from the users to gather or use information.  However, app permissions are always a take-it-or-leave-it proposition -- either you agree to allow the app to do what it does or you do not use the app.  A user cannot opt in or out of the various permissions.  And, as seen above, the app can automatically add on more capabilities with each update.

All these are legal questions that have yet to be explored, as far as I know.   Right now, awareness is the key.  If you are agreeing to turn your phone into a complete surveillance device that can be used against you, then at least be aware you are doing that.


Film Distribution Expenses - Budget for them


Film Distribution Expenses - Budget for them
by Susan Basko, esq.

It is that time of year when "everyone" is pitching show and movie ideas, meeting up with their production staffs, and trying to get a film project rolling.  It's an annual holiday-like season for filmmakers when there is much chatter and lots of coffee.

Let's look at a list:

Pre-production
Production
Post-production
and -- and -- what comes next?

That's right -- Distribution.  Distribution should be the end goal of most productions, but it is most likely to be left off the budgets.  Today, a tiny handful of filmmakers will distribute their films in theaters, The rest will distribute their films online, as VOD, on Youtube, Itunes, Amazon, and other such sites.  Some will sell or rent DVDs, though that method is cumbersome when online streaming is possible  Never skip and never underestimate the distribution budget, because, even in this age of online distribution, the expenses can be quite high.  Without a distribution budget, you cannot get distribution, unless you enter into a usurious distribution contract where you will never see a dime.

Here are some things that should be in your Distribution budget for when a movie is going to be distributed such places as Itunes, Amazon, and other such places, or sold as DVDs.  There are probably other things that should be in the budget, but these are the basics:
  • Errors and Omissions insurance 
  • Closed Captions
  • Encoding 
  • Trailer, Greenband trailer, teasers
  • Photos - stills, set pics, posed cast and crew
  • Art for online sales, art for DVD if that will be a method of distribution
  • DVD authoring and dupes, if DVDs will be a method of distribution
  • Posters
  • Sales sheets
  • Website with press materials, trailer, jpg photos, cast and crew list, etc
  • Someone to run social media accounts
  • Someone to respond to email queries
  • Marketing strategy plan and expenses for that
  • Festival entries
  • Travel to festivals
  • Ads in local or free online weeklies, industry websites or papers, etc.




Jussie Smollett -- Where the Attack Took Place

Subway Sandwich Shop by McClurg Court, Chicago
Jussie Smollett - Where the Attack Took Place
by Susan Basko, esq.

Actor Jussie Smollett recently reported being attacked on a Chicago street near his apartment.  There has been some confusion among people as to the location and situation.  As a Chicagoan who has been on those streets thousands of times, I shall explain with pictures taken off Google maps.

The Loews Hotel Chicago also has apartments, called the North Water Apartments.  Apartment residents can enter from the hotel lobby, the apartment entrance around the side, or the lower level parking garage that goes out onto the 300 block of East Lower North Water Street.

East Lower North Water Street. That street name may sound confusing.  When the hotel was built, it was designed with an upper and lower street level, like the nearby buildings.  The lower level is not actually underground, but appears to be because it has a roof over it.  It is at normal street level.  This lower level is used for an entrance to a parking lot, for delivery vehicles, etc.   The upper level is at the created upper street level and is the "fancy" level. This two-level development scheme started long ago with the Tribune Tower on North Michigan Avenue, and then was extended going East toward Lake Michigan with the University of Chicago Gleacher Center and NBC Tower.  When the Loews Hotel and North Water Apartments were built east of Columbus Drive, those were also built with two street levels.  The North Water Apartments are built over a street created for this purpose, which is called New Street, possibly because they were making a new street.

The upper street levels are fancy, open to sunlight, decorated with plants and flowers, but also open to extreme winds and cold in the winter and blistering hot in the summer.  The lower street level is dark, lit by street lights, and can be choked with car exhaust.  The lower street levels provide some protection from the strong winds and cold that are on the upper levels. How strong are the winds?  A few times a year, local news stations feature videos of people being blown over or nearly swept away by the winds.  Chicago is nicknamed "the windy city," an apt name.

If one is walking outside, to get from the upper levels down to the lower or street levels requires walking down a steep staircase.  I am not aware of any other way of going from the upper to lower levels, such as a ramp or elevator.  In the rain and snow, these staircases are slippery.

The North Water Apartments are designed to attract corporate rentals for their workers and guests who will be in Chicago for stays too long for a hotel room and too short to justify renting a regular apartment or buying a house.  The building works with a furniture rental company, since many renters will be short term.  The North Water Apartments range from studios at over $2000 per month plus amenities fees plus furniture rental, to 2 and 3 bedroom apartments starting at over $4000 per month.  These apartments are considered good as corporate rentals; for wealthier law, medical, and MBA students from the nearby schools; for interns working in Chicago for a few months; and for those just arriving for a new job.

The North Water Apartments have spectacular views. Depending on which way the apartment faces, the views may be of Lake Michigan, the Chicago River, Navy Pier, the downtown skyline, or a city view.  The building has a pool, an outdoor space with shared barbecue grills, and a nook with a media center and digital fireplace.

When I first attended college, the school was a block from where the North Water Apartments are now.  Back then, our film school was in a building rented one on side to film production companies.  On the other side of the building was a water slip, an inlet of Lake Michigan, with boat slips for yachts and motorboats.  We students ate lunch at a cheap cafe down the block, which was the only eatery for many blocks around.  There were many empty lots with scrap shrubbery.  There were blocks lined with mysterious storefronts offering such things as reupholstery services, skateboards for sale, and fortune telling.  Over the years, an enormous amount of development has taken place in that area.  The building where I first learned to edit film is now home to a Target store and an assortment of upscale cafes and shops, with high end boats mooring on the south side.  There are many newer townhouses, highrises, pocket parks, restaurants, and stores.  Despite all this development and the apparently dense population now living in highrises, at night, the area has a feeling of being deserted and potentially unsafe.  In winter, winds rip through the plazas to create frigid wind chill temperatures.  In the summer, all that concrete turns the area into a baking oven.  By day, the area is flooded with tourists and suburbanites and sometimes, notorious teen mobs who ride the subway train to come wreak havoc.  It's an exciting area, but it is not cozy or homey or safe-feeling.  The area is upscale, but seems to draw those seeking to rob or assault or pickpocket or shoplift.  It's the sort of area where one could live a luxurious lifestyle, while constantly on guard for crime.  It's the kind of place where you don't keep a wallet in your back pocket and you wear your purse cross-body.

Let's look at some photos of the area.  All of these have been carefully selected off street view of Google maps.  They are used here in fair use for purposes of analysis.

When viewing the pictures, notice how easy it would be to stand on the upper level and watch someone walking on the lower level -- and then walk quickly down the stairs just in time to mug that person. Also notice the many nooks and crannies where a person could hide and wait to pounce out.


This first picture is of the Loews Hotel.  The North Water Apartments are part of this complex.  This picture is at the upper street level.  If you keep going ahead down this street, you come to the entrance for the North Water Apartments.


This is the street level entrance to the North Water Apartments.


This is the entrance to the North Water Apartments, with the circle drive in front of the entry.  In the distance, we can see one of the buildings that would be passed in going to the Subway shop.


This is the circle drive in front of the North Water Apartments.  In the back corner, you can see the staircase one would have to walk down to get to the lower street level.  This is why many people exit out onto the lower street level, which is dark and tunnel-like.



This is what it looks like on East Lower North Water Street.  One can enter or exit the hotel and apartments, walk down this street, and come out at regular street level of the surrounding streets.  That makes it a shortcut.  The roof above also protects it somewhat from the cold, rain, and snow.



This is the staircase at the end of East Lower North Water Street.  See the tall staircase one would have to climb to get from the upper level to the lower level.  Also note how standing on the staircase would give one a good view of the streets below.  Also note the hiding spaces provided by the staircase structure.


This map shows the route from the North Water Apartments, in the lower left corner, to the Subway restaurant in the upper right corner.  This is about a 5 minute walk, possibly 7 minutes if stopped by a traffic light.



This is a sky view looking from the East.  The pink dot is marked Loews Chicago. The Subway restaurant is on the ground floor of the tall darker bluish building to the right.


This is the reverse route -- looking from north to south.  The Subway is on the ground floor in the building on the lower left corner of the picture.  Walk north to the first street, which is Illinois Street.  Make a right turn and walk a short block to New Street.  At New Street, turn left and walk along New Street.  It is a long block along New Street up to North Water Street.  This is near the top center of this aerial view.  This is where the attack took place, from reports I have heard.


This is a sky view of the corner of New Street and East North Water, near where the attack happened.  At this corner is the street level entrance to the lower level of North Water Street.


 This is the street level at the intersection of New Street and East Lower and East Upper North Water Streets.  If one enters the lower street level, there is an entry to the hotel and apartments, as well as entrances to parking.  If one climbs the staircase seen to the left, this goes to the circle drive seen in earlier pictures and directly to the entrance of the North Water Apartments.  With these being the choices, it is obvious why one might choose the lower level, even though it is dark and tunnel-like.  From reports I have heard, the attack took place near this intersection.  It sounds, from timing on surveillance videos, that the attack was one minute long and took place out of view of the cameras that have been located thus far.