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Reporter’s Notebook: Don’t speak

Monday, June 4, 2018 by Austin Monitor

Once more, away from the breach… For decades, those who work with digital data have learned to encrypt it in defense against potential breaches. Unfortunately, according to Khalil Shalabi, Austin Energy vice president of strategy, technology and markets, data protection is not always consistent. At the May 23 meeting of the Austin Energy Utility Oversight Committee, he pointed to Atlanta, where in March of this year the utility system was breached and “they were not able to bill for water for about six weeks.” Shalabi assured committee members that protecting against a breach is as simple as having a consistent process framework that all employees abide by. “We at Austin Energy follow those frameworks,” he said. Still, he insisted that it is important to be aware of why one should be vigilant with the outlined security practices. “(Austin Energy has) all the billing and customer data. That’s some of the most confidential data that we carry,” he explained. The federal Department of Defense came to Austin Energy to review its systems, Shalabi noted, and because “we have strengthened our vulnerability practices … most of them said our posture was good.” In fact, Shalabi said, “For the most part, we were leading the industry when it came to our practices.” Council Member Jimmy Flannigan expressed his thanks for their continual, behind-the-scenes prevention efforts and said, “We hope we never have to hear about the things that you’ve done.”

GOAT ghosts… Locally grown scooter-sharing company GOAT bleated out news of its official launch in Austin on May 24. But even though it has the city’s official approval, don’t expect to see any of GOAT’s free-range electric scooters whipping down a bike lane near you anytime soon. The Austin Monitor first noticed the company’s app didn’t reveal an impressive amount of available scooters soon after the company’s announcement. Pretty quickly, no scooters appeared at all for several days. GOAT CEO Michael Schramm assured us that that was because the zippy things proved so popular that riders were renting them just as fast as previous users deactivated them. One week after the announcement, however, the app simply opens up to a splash page that proclaims, “Austin, we are coming. GOAT isn’t available yet, but don’t worry, it will be soon.” In a compelling profile published on Sunday, our esteemed Austin American-Statesman colleague Ben Wear pulls back the curtain on a DIY operation that clearly has its eye on scoring a slice of the same venture capital that has helped rival scooter group Bird attain a $1 billion valuation. GOAT’s splashy debut – featuring a fancy website, professional photos and a slick promo video – landed the company in the pages of The Seattle Times, TechCrunch and Mashable, among others. We just wonder if investors will appreciate a company that is so far much, much better at marketing than mobility.

Cap Remap reax… On the first official day of Cap Remap, Austin’s transit agency took a few knocks on Twitter, but for a system that moves tens of thousands of people even on Sunday, the level of social media outrage over the changes appeared to be fairly minimal. Capital Metro’s official Twitter account handled a few complaints and concerns from riders, including one fellow who questioned why he had been waiting north of 30 minutes for one of the new high-frequency buses promised by Cap Remap. Turns out, the particular route he was riding did not, in fact, benefit from a frequency boost. Another rider also urgently asked why her fare had shot up to $3.75. Turns out, that was due to inaccurate information peddled by the Google Maps app she was using to plan her trip. Yet another rider accused Cap Remap of ruining his routine of riding the No. 18 from far-East Austin into Downtown. The agency’s account responded with information that indicated his new commute will require just a single transfer at a stop where he can choose from among a number of frequent buses that will ultimately drop him off closer than his former bus stop. Those cases aside, several critics also raised less easily dispatched complaints, such as the wholesale relocation of much of the No. 5 route and the reliance on transfers to move riders through the more gridlike network. Warned one upset rider, “Wait until Monday. I would not want to be working customer service at CapMetro. Nor would I want to be whoever planned this mess. They should start sending out resumes now.”

This week’s Reporter’s Notebook comes from the notebooks of Caleb Pritchard and Jessi Devenyns.

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