Personal Technology: ‘Hotel Infections’

I am still amazed at how poor the service industry is concerning technology. Cavalier, even.

They may take care trying not to poison you, and put those annoying notes about helping the environment by not cleaning your towels unless you drop them on the floor (what kind of person doesn’t hang up their towels on the rail provided?) and those silly bits of paper across a toilet bowel designed to inform you that someone has a) cleaned the toilet, b) gone to the trouble of putting a piece of paper across your toilet bowl without necessarily having cleaned the toilet or c) declared the toilet bowel a crime scene.

But they do not care about infecting you with other kinds of virus.

Case in point. I was in the Philippines recently to look at preparations for an automated e-voting election in May.

My first interaction with technology was to visit the Manila Pavilion Hotel’s business center.
And it wasn’t a good omen: no antivirus software on their computers.

Windows is smart enough these days to tell you this, but it is just a little flashing icon along thousands of others, but I had little choice than to insert my USB drive into the available slot and hold my breath.

I tried not to read too much into the absence of protection for the hotel’s hardware and its guests’ data. It might not, I decided, tell us much about the potential for disaster in an election that is supposed to be largely electronic, but the staff’s attitude might.

When I told the only person on duty in the pokey little three-computer room that her PCs were not running antivirus, she nodded.

“Yes,” she said flatly, as if to say that was a luxury this US$120 a night hotel couldn’t afford.

I decided to at least try and be helpful by pointing out the obvious.

“It might be worth installing some, you know. Nowadays they’re free,” I said, adding, given that she showed no sign of having moved from her seat since the Marcos Administration:
“And they don’t take much maintenance.”

For my trouble she let fly, still seated, with one of those dismissive smiles that made it clear that wasn’t about to happen and, more importantly, my input wasn’t welcome.

I left and headed back to my room to see what damage had been wrought on my little thumb drive.

Unsurprisingly, it was infected with the Slogod.F worm that is described as “dangerous and self-propagates over a network connection”. A nasty little thing that is not exactly new: it’s been around since at least 2007. In other words, it doesn’t look like this particular computer had antivirus running on it for a while.

Not the end of the world for me: if you’ve got antivirus running on your computer you can easily check any external drive you plug in and run a scan on it before you let it do anything (this should be the first thing you do unless you know exactly where it’s been.)

But a hotel should not allow this kind of thing. Or indeed, any self-respecting establishment that provides computers for customer use.

If you want me to get started, I find this kind of thing reflective of a deeper problem with the hotel industry: lots of money is spent on the fittings flashy things — this one had a lobby upgrade, but the rooms were rooted in the 1970s, complete with carpets you would not want to walk barefoot on — but not on the things that matter.

Guests spend their time in their rooms, not in the lobby, so why not spend money there first?

The same is increasingly true of technology. Everyone now travels with their cellphone and probably a netbook or laptop.

But Wi-Fi is usually atrocious, or expensive (or both) and heaven help anyone trying to buy a local SIM card in the hotel to avoid ruinous roaming fees. Atop that, printing documents in the business center are something like $1 a page — meaning that printing a 20-page document costs the equivalent of a hardback book.

And then to get infected with a virus as well?

Not quite the holiday experience I was looking for, frankly.

So, hotels and other establishments, get your IT acts together and make part of our stay a lot more pleasant, or we won’t come back.

Oh, and the automated election? I’m sure that’ll go swimmingly. But my USB drive stays in my pocket.

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