“People were up in arms,” she wrote. “Some people threw their things down and walked out. Others were yelling at employees.”
As pranks go, it’s fairly low-grade. But Target has a problem. Staff at the store in Campbell, a small city just south of San Jose, were all but powerless to stop it due to how the PA system is designed.
And it’s not an isolated incident. According to local media, it’s at least the fourth time this prank has happened since April. In one instance, a store had to be evacuated.
So what’s going on? Are mischievous staff causing trouble? Have Target’s systems been hacked?
‘Control of the intercom’
Well not quite – but the cause is interesting, and yet another example of how systems are left with vulnerabilities by creators who never imagined people might have malicious intent.
An email obtained by the BBC, sent by company bosses to Target store managers across the US on Friday afternoon, outlines a weakness in the store’s PA system being used to carry out the prank.
I’ve removed a key detail for obvious reasons.
“Non-Target team members are attempting to access the intercom system by calling stores and requesting to be connected to line [xxxx],” it reads.
“If connected, callers have control of the intercom until they hang up.
“We are actively working to limit intercom access to the Guest Services phone only. In the meantime, inform all operators to not connect any calls to line [xxxx].”
So in other words, if you ring up Target and ask to be put through to a certain extension, you’re suddenly live on the PA system for as long as you like.
Hardly the hack of the century, granted, but a reminder that there are people out there that will find even the most obscure vulnerabilities and exploit them.
Target’s spokeswoman Molly Snyder would not confirm the authenticity of the email, but told the BBC: “We are actively reviewing the situation with the team to better understand what happened and are taking steps to help ensure this doesn’t happen again.
“Because this is an active investigation, I’m unable to share additional details, but we want our guests to know that we take this very seriously.”
Target should be acutely aware of weak systems. The retailer was at the centre of a huge hack attack storm last year.
Some 40m shoppers had their banking details stolen, and the company ended up paying out $10m (£6.5m) in compensation.
There is little danger of any repercussions over this porn prank – just a few red faces. And perhaps some suddenly very inquisitive children.
Small businesses found a way to co-exist with their tech neighbors — offering bespoke services that would be hard to find elsewhere.
Christy McDanold thinks Amazon has had quite enough free publicity in local news coverage. So the Seattle bookstore owner calls the company by a different name: Voldemort.
“It’s been in the news, above the fold, for years,” McDanold says in a conversation at her bookstore, Secret Garden Books, in a neighborhood made trendy over the past few years partly by an influx of Amazon workers. She refers to the e-commerce giant as Harry Potter’s evil nemesis from that point on in our conversation.
Despite the obvious bad blood, it’s perhaps fitting for a woman who runs a thriving book store in the same city as Amazon to cast herself in the famous novels. Much like the series’ heroes, McDanold and many other Seattle retailers have seen their world turned upside down and lived to tell the tale.
For the city’s longstanding family-run businesses, Amazon’s rise isn’t just a story of of change and survival. It’s also one of neighbors. As in the rest of the country, Seattle’s retail scene was greatly affected by the growing popularity of online shopping. The iconic strip of boutiques outside the University of Washington here, known as “The Ave,” has been replaced by a lengthy row of mostly food joints. Bookstores throughout the region shuttered as Amazon and other online retailers ascended. And Amazon’s physical presence added to the population of wealthy workers originally from out of state.
Those tech-oriented workers live cheek-by-jowl with everyone else, leading to a delicate relationship between shopkeeper and customer. “Everybody knows somebody who works there,” says McDanold, who bought her sunlit, general-interest bookstore in 1995. The store first opened its doors in 1977, meaning McDanold has run it longer than the previous two owners combined.
Retailers all say they’ve used a combination of elbow grease and business smarts to stay open. Rule number one seems to be, “Don’t try to compete with Amazon.” Rule number two? Find new ways to compete. Successful retailers now provide services on top of their wares, cultivate loyalty and offer specialized products that can’t be found online. Whether it’s an in-person fitting for a bridal veil, a personalized book recommendation from a cat-loving shopkeeper or custom Italian shoes designed for the Ballard neighborhood, the offerings are all charming and bespoke.
Some Seattle retailers sell wares through their websites or online, but others don’t. All rely on the local, personal feel of their stores to get by.
“A machine can’t replace me,” says Jamie Lutton, co-owner of Twice Sold Tales in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. The store is about a mile up Denny Way from Amazon’s Seattle headquarters, which is situated among condos and office towers in the South Lake Union neighborhood.
Watched by a fluffy marmalade cat lounging on the counter, Lutton explains her business model while sorting dozens of used books she’s just been handed by a regular customer. She’s organizing by value, using a memorized system. When she’s done, she pencils a price on each book’s inside front cover, never once consulting a computer.
What Lutton offers her customers — other than access to roaming kittens and colossal book stacks — is delightfully obscure book knowledge. She’s memorized the plots of 500 books and has fostered serious readers with her recommendations, she says.
Lutton laments Amazon’s Kindle readers and e-books displacing bookstores, and sees herself as a poor pastor in a small church of book-lovers. The Internet is like a megachurch, she says. “You’re still going to Jesus, but you’re not getting fed.”
Nonetheless, she loves being able to use Amazon’s technology along with her own knowledge to find a great product. Proving she can use a computer, she pulls up a description of an annotated copy of the 1961 children’s classic “The Phantom Tollbooth,” a version that relates how the author, Norton Juster, and illustrator, Jules Feiffer, met in a boardinghouse.
McDanold, who compared Amazon to he-who-shall-not-be-named of the Harry Potter universe, runs Secret Garden Books in Ballard on the strength of her community ties and a revitalized neighborhood chamber of commerce, of which she is a vice president. People in the area recognize her, she says.
“I’ll be at the grocery store, and people say, ‘Do you have this book?'”
That personal touch
Clothing stores have also been hit by online retail. Shoe store owner Maggie Burns says people come into her Ballard neighborhood shop to do that most hated of customer behaviors — “showrooming.” That’s when a customer looks around to see exactly what product they’d like, even trying it on, but then leaves to buy it online.
That behavior encouraged Burns to specialize the already tailored offerings at her store, Re-Soul. Formerly a product developer for Seattle-based Nordstrom, Burns used her connections in Italy to import custom shoes. They can’t be bought on Amazon.
“You have to be different than others,” Burns explains.
Similarly, Glenda Curdy says her custom bridal veils sell quite well from her store, Unique Bridal Boutique, in Seattle suburb Burien, where she also does haircuts. She closes up her shop each year in October and goes to Europe.
“Amazon can’t do what I do,” she says.
Many shopkeepers count Amazon employees as their customers. “It’s always a double-edged sword,” says Burns.
McDanold agrees, saying it takes a few years for people to “connect the dots” and realize how their purchasing habits affect their community’s shops. She invokes Joni Mitchell’s nostalgic classic “Big Yellow Taxi,” a song that laments the paving of paradise for a parking lot.
Even so, a few Amazon customers make a point of saying they’re in her bookstore. “Sometimes they say, ‘I work there, but I shop here.'”
When you want to buy or sell something used online, your first thought might be to use Craigslist. After all, it’s the site that brought the newspaper classifieds into the digital world and today has nearly 40 million new listings every month.
Of course, using Craigslist does have valid concerns. You might deal with a buyer or seller who tries to cheat you with bad payment or an item that’s different than what was listed. There are many stories of people going to meet a buyer or seller only to get robbed — or worse. That’s why it’s essential to meet in a public place and let someone know where you’re going. Or, it might be smart to bring them along, too.
Fortunately, Craigslist isn’t the only game in town. Here are three sites that fix Craigslist’s biggest problems.
A safer Craigslist
If safety is your primary concern, then OfferUp is where you should start. It created the innovative TruYou system to verify the identity of buyers and sellers.
The TruYou system works with the site’s app for Android and Apple gadgets. It lets you scan your ID so the website can verify your identity for other users on the site. Items sold by TruYou-verified sellers have a blue highlight.
There’s also a rating system, so buyers and sellers can let the rest of the community know what they thought about a particular transaction. Was your item described accurately? Was the other person friendly? This is the place to let everyone know what to expect.
Buying is really easy with OfferUp. If you like something, just click on it to be taken to the item page. From there, you can make an offer. You’ll see the price the owner is asking for next to the item, but you might be able to talk them down. If the seller accepts your offer, you can set up a time and place to meet up and get your stuff.
Selling is simple, too. Using the app, you can take a picture of the item you want to sell, add details like your asking price, and then upload it. The whole process is done in no time.
Buy and sell ‘like-new’ clothes from brands you love
Used clothes aren’t something you’d normally want to buy online — especially from Craigslist. You never know where they’ve been or what condition they’re really in.
ThredUp aims to change that. The site has a strict set of Quality Standards for all clothes it accepts. It employs a team of fashion experts to go through all the clothes and approve them for sale.
Clothing is not all you can save money on, though. You can also find accessories, from all sorts of shoes to purses and handbags on the site. That’s where you can really save the big bucks. Imagine getting a ‘looks just as good as new’ Coach bag for a huge discount. You can save money on clothes for your kids and grandkids, too.
If you have nice clothes you want to get rid of before updating your wardrobe, you can sell them on the site, too. ThredUp depends on people like you to collect its inventory. It’s easy to send in your old stuff to make a little extra cash.
Find garage sales near you
One of the best places to get used items is garage sales. Not only can you physically examine the item, you can do some haggling to get a better price.
You just need to find a good garage sale, and that’s where GSALR.com comes in. Just enter your location in the search box to see garage sales going on in your area on a Google Map. Then click on the red location flags for more details like time and location of the sale, or scroll through the listings on the right side of the page.
If you don’t care about travel distance, you can browse the listings or sift through photos by clicking “List” or “Photos” at the top of the page.
Need to narrow your search and filter your results? Click on “Search Filters,” located at the top left of the page, and enter a new location, the day of a sale, or enter keywords to look for a certain item like furniture or antiques.
Once you’ve found sales near you, you can add to a favorites list by clicking the favorite button. When you’re done adding favorites, click “View Route & Directions” to get directions.
If you’re in the mood for selling, you can add your own garage sale to the site.
Bonus: Get tons of free valuable stuff people are giving away
What do you do if you have used items you can’t sell? Don’t just throw it in the trash; give them away on Freecycle.
Freecycle is a non-profit that lets you post your unwanted items to give away. It’s kind of like Craigslist — but only with free stuff.
To get started, create a free account and post the items you want to get rid of. Be sure to include a full description. Photos help, too.
On the flip side, if you’re in the market for something in particular, you can post a want ad and see if anyone responds. Or, just cruise the site and see what kind of free stuff you can get. I mean, who doesn’t love free stuff?
When I looked in my area, there was a range of items, from television sets and moving boxes to desktop computers, children’s clothing, plants, and fitness equipment.
On the Kim Komando Show, the nation’s largest weekend radio talk show, Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today’s digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com. Kim also posts breaking tech news 24/7 at News.Komando.com.