Jack Yan
Global  |  Leadership  |  Experience  |  Media  |  Videos
Blog  |  Contact
 
  You can’t beat Wellington. Follow me on Mastodon Follow me on Twitter Check out my Instagram account Follow me on Drivetribe Follow me on Tumblr Follow me on Linkedin Follow me on Weibo Join my page on Facebook Follow me on Pinterest Subscribe to my blog’s RSS feed  

 

Share this page




Quick links


Surf to the online edition of Lucire





Add feeds



Get this blog via email
Enter your Email


Powered by FeedBlitz

Enter your email address:


Delivered by FeedBurner



 

The Persuader

My personal blog, started in 2006.



21.01.2018

Twitter’s shadow-banning: not just in the US, as Kiwis get caught up, too


Anthony Quintano/Creative Commons

We’ve had years of Google and Facebook acting like arses, but it’s disappointing to see Twitter give us more and more causes for concern.
   In 2017, we saw them change their terms and conditions so speaking power to truth is no longer a requirement. You can’t help but think that the decision to accommodate the US president is part of that: there is a policy within Twitter that President Trump is immune to their terms and conditions, and can Tweet with impunity what you and I would get kicked off for doing. We also saw Twitter, which is scrambling to show the US government that it is doing something about alleged Russian interference, kick off a privately developed bot that helped identify fake accounts. You’d think that if Twitter were sincere about identifying fake accounts, it would embrace such technology.
   One of my regular blog readers, Karen Tolfree, very kindly linked me a report from Hannity (which another friend later informed me was first revealed on Breitbart) which showed Twitter staff caught on video admitting to shadow-banning either because they disagreed with the user’s politics (with an admission that Twitter is 90 per cent US Democrat-leaning) or because of US government pressure (when discussing Julian Assange’s account).
   What was the old saying? I might not always agree with your politics but I will always defend to the hilt your right to express your views.
   Therefore, I mightn’t be President Trump’s biggest fan but those who support him, and do so within the same rules that I’m governed by on Twitter (e.g. not resorting to hate speech or attacking any individual or group), must have the same right to free speech as I should.
   I do not wish them to be silenced because many of them have good reasons for their beliefs, and if I don’t see them in my feed then how will I understand them? I don’t wish to live in a bubble (meanwhile, Facebook and Google want you to; Facebook’s “crowdsourcing” its ranking of media sources is going to make things far worse—have a look at Duck Duck Go founder Gabriel Weinberg’s series of Tweets at the end of this post).
   Because you never know if Twitter’s shadow-banning is going to go after you, since, like Facebook’s false malware accusations, they could be indiscriminate.
   In fact, two New Zealanders were shadow-banned over the last week: one with stated left-leaning views (Paul Le Comte), another (Cate Owen) who hasn’t put her political leanings into her bio, and who was shadow-banned for reasons unknown. It’s not just conservatives these guys go after, and neither was told just which Tweet netted them this “punishment”.
   I think it’s generally agreed that we have passed peak Twitter just as we have passed peak Facebook, but as it’s one of the original, mid-2000s social media services I still use, I’m disappointed that I can’t feel as happy being on there as I once did. After all, our presence is effectively our endorsement, and do we really endorse this sort of censorship against people because of either their politics, governmental pressure or reasons unknown? Twitter paints itself as a place where we can speak freely, provided we do so within certain rules, and the dick moves over the last 12 months make me wonder if it’s heading in the same direction as Google (tax-avoiding, hacking, lying about advertising tracking, allegedly pressuring think-tanks to fire someone over their viewpoints, biasing results in its own favour) and Facebook (forced downloads using the excuse of malware detection, kicking off drag queens and kings, tracking people after they have opted out, potential database issues that kick people off for days, endless bots and general ineffectiveness in removing them, lying about user numbers). Twitter always had bots and trolls, but we’re seeing what goes on inside nowadays, and it ain’t pretty.
   In 2018, we know Twitter is not a place for free speech, where rules apply differently depending on who you are, and where the identification of bots is not a priority.
   And even though we’ve had some happy news already this year (e.g. the prospect of Baby Clarcinda in five months’ time), these influential websites, whose actions and policies do affect us all, are “doing it all wrong”.


Filed under: business, internet, media, New Zealand, politics, technology, USA—Jack Yan @ 09.53

17.01.2018

Mozy driver could have been behind 100–200 BSODs since the Windows 10 Creators fall update was installed

A post shared by Jack Yan 甄爵恩 (@jack.yan) on

Two very helpful people—bwv848 at Bleeping Computer and Sumit Dhiman at Microsoft—have taken me through the steps to figure out what was going on with my Windows 10 desktop computer, on which I’ve had between 100 and 200 BSODs since the Windows 10 Creators fall update arrived.
   Windows claimed that the error was a DRIVER_IRQL_NOT_LESS_OR_EQUAL in tcpip.sys, but we know that that wasn’t the cause of the crash.
   They had both got to the point where the Driver Verifier had to be run again. On the first attempt, the process had identified an Avira driver, although after removing and reinstalling the anti-virus program, the crashes continued. I had found other dodgy things in the Event Viewer, but solving them didn’t get rid of the BSODs.
   Now that I’m back from holiday—and with Windows 10 crashing one more time and costing me more work that hadn’t been backed up—I gave Driver Verifier one more go.
   I had been averse to it because of the crashes that resulted from it, and had a sense it would tell me the same thing it had in December.
   True to form, Windows wouldn’t even load and it BSODed during the boot. But this time, running Windbg on the dump file revealed something called mobk.sys (Mozy Change Monitor Filter Driver), part of a program called Mozy.
   I’ve never heard of Mozy, but it appears to be a back-up program. Checking my driver, it dates from April 2010 and was installed in 2012—around the time I bought the computer.
   It could well have been installed by me as part of a bundle, or by PB (the retailer).
   Mozy wasn’t helpful. They have a forum, but when you sign up to use it, you get to a page where they want to charge you US$109 for one of their plans. Personally, if I was making software, I’d want reports from people like me. It’s not as though the question was complex: I wanted to know if it made sense to delete the offending driver in safe mode, or maybe download a trial version of their program, then remove it, in the hope that the driver would be overwritten and deleted. It’s only been a couple of hours since I Tweeted them, so I don’t expect any replies till tomorrow.
   Rather than wait, I popped into safe mode and deleted mobk.sys from the system32\drivers folder.
   These errors are deeply frustrating and in direct contrast to the stability that my Imacs have exhibited. Even though I’ve tired of OS X, at least I wasn’t losing work because of three to six BSODs per day.
   The advice I can give to others is to create a system restore point, then run the Driver Verifier, and repeat the two processes until a culprit has been identified.
   There are a few silver linings to this: I got rid of certain software which might have been insecure, and the random resets were quite handy in “clearing” the PC sometimes when I was doing work on it remotely.
   I wonder what had changed in Windows between the spring and fall Creators updates that generated this very serious problem. I haven’t seen Windows crash this often since a dying laptop, on Vista, needed a fresh OS installation (it now runs Ubuntu). I’m still of the mind that Microsoft shipped a lemon, given that I’ve had no end of problems with this OS since it launched, from inconsistent behaviour (Windows 10 would originally be different each time it booted up, from Cortana settings to which keyboard it believed I was using), to very difficult updates (Anniversary took 11 attempts on this PC and never made it on to my laptop even after 40 attempts; it only updated to Creators because all other updates would fail).
   While I can understand that there was no way either Mozy or Microsoft could have checked on a 2010 driver for compatibility, and there are so many configurations of Windows out there, there’s still no escaping that Windows 10 could have shipped with fewer bugs. Happily, as it turned out, the troubleshooting procedures may have worked, even if things wound up taking a month.
   I’ll blog again if I’m wrong about Mozy.

PS.: After 24-plus hours with no crashes, I got another one, with the same message. Following my own advice, I ran the driver verifier again. Windbg pointed this time to Oracle Virtualbox. I intentionally ran an older version of this because since 2015, no newer version would work due to its hardening feature. Faced with no choice but to update, it had the same error which, finally, I traced to Mactype. This was the error, for those searching:

The virtual machine ‘Windows XP’ has terminated unexpectedly during startup with exit code -1073741819 (0xc0000005). More details may be available in ‘C:\Users\User\VirtualBox VMs\Windows XP\Logs\VBoxHardening.log’.

Result Code:
E_FAIL (0x80004005)
Component:
MachineWrap
Interface:
IMachine {85cd948e-a71f-4289-281e-0ca7ad48cd89}

The key is to insert these three lines into Mactype.ini:

[UnloadDll]
VirtualBox.exe
VBoxSvc.exe

   The error also picked up that there were McAfee drivers left behind from what should have been a full removal. I ran mcpr.exe, found in a thread with the ever-helpful Peter (exbrit on the McAfee forums). Mcpr.exe did not remove the three drivers, so I took them out manually (despite this going against expert advice): mfeclnrk.sys, mfencbdc.sys and mfencrk.sys. There was also a driver from Malwarebytes, which I downloaded after expert advice in the wake of the damage done by Facebook and its forced download in 2016. Malwarebytes had to be removed with a program called mb-clean as it didn’t show up in the Windows 10 programs’ list.
   One important point: when the system restored itself after the latest crash, it appeared the old mobk.sys reinstalled itself into system32\drivers. I removed it again in safe mode. I’ve since created multiple restore points so hopefully none of the now-removed drivers resurface to cause problems again.
   I am very happy that I’m running the latest Virtualbox, too, since posting in 2015 resulted in no solid leads. It’s why I’m posting all of this stuff, in the hope others find it useful.—JY


Filed under: technology, USA—Jack Yan @ 01.13

14.01.2018

Zuckerberg wants to fix Facebook: too little, too late


WTF: welcome to Facebook. (Creative Commons photograph.)

Mark Zuckerberg’s promise to fix Facebook in 2018 is, in my opinion, too little, too late.
   However, since I ceased updating my Facebook profile last month, I’ve come across many people who tell me the only reason they stay on it is to keep in touch with family and friends, so Zuckerberg’s intention to refocus his site on that is the right thing to do. He’s also right to admit that Facebook has made ‘errors enforcing our policies and preventing misuse of our tools.’
   Interestingly, Facebook’s stock has fallen since his announcement, wiping milliards off Zuckerberg’s own fortune. Investors are likely nervous that this refocusing will hurt brands who pay to advertise on the platform, who might now reconsider using it. It’s a decidedly short-term outlook based on short-term memory, but that’s Wall Street for you. Come to think of it, that’s humanity for you.
   But let’s look at this a bit more dispassionately. Despite my no longer updating Facebook, I’m continuing to get a lot of friend requests. And those requests are coming from bots. Facebook hasn’t fixed its bot problem—far from it. This reached epidemic levels in 2014, and it’s continued in 2018—four years and one US presidential election later. As discussed earlier on this blog, Facebook has been found to have lied about user numbers: it claims more people in certain demographics than there are people. If its stock was to fall, that should have done it. But nothing happened: investors are keen to maintain delusions if it helps their interests. But it needs to be fixed.
   If Zuckerberg is sincere, Facebook also needs to fix its endless databasing issues and to come clean on its bogus malware warnings, forcing people to download “scanners” that are hidden on their computers. This should have hit the tech media but no one seems to have the guts to report on it. That’s not a huge deal, I suppose, since it has meant tens of thousands have come to my blog instead, but again, that was a big red flag that, if reported, should have had investors worried. And that needs to be fixed.
   Others I’ve discussed this with inform me that Facebook needs to do a far better job of removing porn, including kiddie porn, and if it weren’t for a lot of pressure, it tends to leave bullying and sexist comments up as well.
   All these things should have been sending signals to the investor community a long time ago, and as we’ve discussed at Medinge Group for many years, companies would be more accurately valued if we examined their value to humanity, and measuring the ingredients of branding and relationships with people. Sooner or later, the truth will out, and finance will follow what brand already knew. Facebook’s record on this front, especially when you consider how we at Medinge value brands and a company’s promise-keeping, has been astonishingly poor. People do not trust Facebook, and in my book: no trust means poor brand equity.
   But the notion that businesses will suddenly desert Facebook is an interesting one to me, because, frankly, Facebook has been a lousy referrer of traffic, and has been for years. We have little financial incentive to remain on the site for some of our ventures.
   Those of us with functioning memories will remember when Facebook killed the sharing from our fan pages by 90 per cent overnight some years ago. The aim was to get us to pay for sharing, and for many businesses, that worked.
   But it meant users who wanted to hear from these brands no longer did, and I believe that’s where the one of the first declines began.
   People support brands for many reasons but I’m willing to bet that their respective advertising budgets isn’t one of them. They follow them for their values and what they represent. Or they follow them for their products and services. Those who couldn’t afford to advertise, or opted to spend outside social media, lost a link with those users. And I believe users lost one of their reasons for remaining on Facebook, because their favourite brands were no longer showing up in their news feeds.
   (Instagram, incidentally, has the opposite problem: thanks to Facebook’s suspect profiling, users are being bombarded with promotions from companies they are not fans of; Instagram’s claim that they rely on Facebook’s ad preferences, and Facebook’s claim that you can opt out of these, are also highly questionable. I get that people should be shown ads from companies they could become fans of; but why annoy them to this extent? Instagram also tracks the IP where you are surfing from, and ignores the geographical location you freely give either Instagram or Facebook for advertising purposes.)
   What then surfaced in news feeds? Since Facebook became Digg, namely a repository of links (something I also said many years ago, long before the term ‘fake news’ was coined), feeds became littered with news articles (real and bogus) and people began to be “bubbled”, seeing things that supported their own world-views, because Facebook’s profiling sent those things to them. As T. S. Eliot once wrote, ‘Nothing pleases people more than to go on thinking what they have always thought, and at the same time imagine that they are thinking something new and daring: it combines the advantage of security and the delight of adventure.’
   This, as Facebook has discovered, was dangerous to democracy and entire groups of people—people have died because of it—and thinking people questioned whether there was much value staying on the site.
   From memory, and speaking for myself, Facebook probably had the balance of personal, brand and news right in 2010.
   But I doubt that even if Facebook were to go back to something like the turn of the decade, it will entice me back. It’s a thing of the past, something that might have been fun once, like Myspace. It didn’t take long to wean me off that.
   Even Zuckerberg notes that technology should decentralize and democratize, and that big tech has failed people on this front. I can foresee an attempt to decentralize Facebook, but with a caveat: they’ll want to continue gathering data on us as part of the deal. It’ll be an interesting gamble to take, unless it’s willing to give up its biggest asset: its claim to understanding individual profiles, even if many of its accounts aren’t human.
   To me, the brand is tarnished. Every measure we have at Medinge Group suggests to me Facebook is a poor corporate citizen, and it’s going to take not just a turnaround in database stability or the enforcement of T&Cs, but a whole reconsideration of its raison d’être to serve the masses. Honesty and transparency can save it—two things that I haven’t seen Facebook exhibit much of in the 10-plus years I have used it.


Filed under: branding, business, internet, marketing, technology, USA—Jack Yan @ 11.21

03.01.2018

It took a little longer, but Autocade reaches 12 million views

It’s a little disappointing to note that Autocade has taken slightly longer to reach 12 million page views: it ticked over to its new milestone earlier today. I really had hoped that we’d get there before 2017 was out, but it was not to be.
   Part of it might have been the slower rate of models being put up—life’s been busy, and a site that earns a fairly small amount of money compared to our other businesses doesn’t warrant as much time. But 100 models have gone up since June 2017, when Autocade reached its 11 million milestone, with the 3,600th model the Nissan Rasheen (and no, I didn’t plan this one—it’s quite an oddball vehicle).
   So here’s the running tally as I’ve been keeping on this blog, for really no reason other than pedantry.

March 2008: launch
April 2011: 1,000,000 (three years for first million)
March 2012: 2,000,000 (11 months for second million)
May 2013: 3,000,000 (14 months for third million)
January 2014: 4,000,000 (eight months for fourth million)
September 2014: 5,000,000 (eight months for fifth million)
May 2015: 6,000,000 (eight months for sixth million)
October 2015: 7,000,000 (five months for seventh million)
March 2016: 8,000,000 (five months for eighth million)
August 2016: 9,000,000 (five months for ninth million)
February 2017: 10,000,000 (six months for tenth million)
June 2017: 11,000,000 (four months for eleventh million)
January 2018: 12,000,000 (seven months for twelfth million)

   It’s a shame that the four-month time-frame needed to reach 11 million could be an anomaly rather than part of a trend.
   I also wonder whether the odd PHP error—we have had quite a few since we began hosting at AWS—has impacted on search-engine rankings. However, server management has become far, far more complex over the last couple of decades, and the controls I see at AWS mean nothing to me as someone outside the computing industry. The help pages may as well be in Serbian. The notion that software gets easier to use and the expectation that this level of computing would become democratized have not come to pass, certainly not over the last 10 years. It seems the industry wants to sew things up for itself, and the last thing needed are amateurs like me getting into the nuts and bolts. I’m not Facebook or Google: I can’t afford heaps of employees to look after this stuff. (Or, in Google’s case, maybe a couple here and there.)
   Incidentally, I may begin removing the sharing links under each headline soon. I’m concerned about the standard Facebook ‘like’ button tracking readers, and there are Po.st links under ‘Share this page’ to the top left of this page (if browsing via desktop) if you want to show Facebook friends something from here. Po.st does have its own cookies (linked to a company called Radium One), but it’s far easier to opt out of those through their site. I’m unconvinced that anyone can opt out of Facebook’s data collection.


Filed under: cars, culture, design, internet, publishing, USA—Jack Yan @ 11.21

30.12.2017

The perfect storm: there’s a spike in users being told by Facebook they have malware today

Many years ago, I was locked out of Facebook for 69 hours. It was completely a Facebook database problem, but in those days, they just locked you out without any explanation. It happened on a Friday. I believed I would not get back in till Facebook staff got back to work on Monday—and I was right. This is a company that seems to close down for the weekend, and the important techs don’t get back till afterwards. It also doesn’t understand the concept of time zones, as six years ago, Facebook walls stopped working on the 1st of each month in every time zone ahead of Pacific Standard Time.
   As it’s the weekend before the Gregorian New Year, Facebook’s probably closed again, so if their databases mess up, you could be stuck till Monday. Maybe later.
   Except these days, I believe they run another con altogether, as I explained in 2016.
   The theory: they now shift the blame to their users, by saying their computers are infected with malware, and forcing a malware scanner download on us. No one knows what this scanner actually does, but I know first-hand that it wrecks your real anti-virus program. I know first-hand that when Facebook and its scanner providers (which once included Kaspersky) are questioned on it, they clam up or they delete comments. I also know for a fact that others can log in to their Facebook accounts on the same “infected” PCs. All this is in earlier posts.
   Some affected users over the last few years have said that they could wait this out, and three days seem to be the standard period (though some were out for a month). That sounds awfully close to 69 hours, which I was out for in 2014.
   If word got out that their databases were this fragile, their share price would tumble.
   In a year when Apple has had to apologize for short battery life on their Iphones, and sexual predators in Hollywood got outed, maybe we could finish off 2017 with Facebook having to apologize for lying to its users about just what this scanner does. Because we also know that people who have legitimate malware scanners—including ones supplied by Facebook’s “partners”—have usually reported their PCs were clean.
   Today is the day of the perfect storm: if there is a big database outage at Facebook, it’s the weekend, and no one is around to fix it. For whatever reason, thousands of people have been receiving Facebook’s malware-scan message, telling them their computers are infected: today has seen the biggest spike ever in users getting this, beginning 14 hours ago.
   In my two years following this bug, I haven’t noticed any real common thread between affected users.
   With Facebook’s old bug, where walls stopped working on the 1st of each month, there was a particularly noticeable rise in reports on Getsatisfaction when 2011 ticked over to 2012—probably because no one was at work at Facebook to switch 2011 over to 2012. (I wonder if it had to be done manually. It honestly wouldn’t surprise me.)
   While some of this is admittedly guesswork, because none of the companies involved are saying a thing, there are just too many coincidences.
   Let’s sum up again.

• When certain Facebook accounts died three to four years ago, you were locked out, and this took roughly three days to fix (in my case, I got hit at a weekend, so nothing happened till Monday after a Friday bug). These bugs were account-specific.
• On January 1, 2012, Facebook walls around the world stopped working and would not show any entries from the new day—till it became January 1, 2012 in California, 21 hours behind the first group of people affected. It seems there is some manual tinkering that needs to go on with Facebook.
• Today, Facebook accuses people of having malware on their systems and demands they download a scanner. Yet we also know that others can log in to their Facebook accounts on the same “infected” machines. Conclusion: those computers are probably not infected as the lock-outs are account-specific. If it’s account-specific, then that leads me to believe it’s a database relating to that person.
• When people refuse to download Facebook’s scanner, many of their accounts come back online after—you guessed it—three days. Ergo, they were probably never infected: Facebook lied to them.
• Those that do download the scanner cannot find it in their installed programs’ lists. Neither Facebook nor their scanner partners have ever come clean about what this program actually does or why it needs to reside in a hidden directory on Windows.
• It is December 30, 2017, and it’s a weekend, and there’s a spike in users getting this warning. It began, noticeably, 14 hours ago. It’s very hard to believe so many got infected at the same time by the same bug: even a regular virus, or the real malware that gets spread through Facebook, doesn’t have this pattern. It all points back to something happening on Facebook. My reckoning is that this won’t be fixed till January 1, 2018 or afterwards.
• Facebook is the home of fake accounts—it’s very easy to find bots and spammers. Logically, if resources are used to host the bots, then that means fewer resources for the rest of us, and potential database problems.

   If you are stuck, I recommend you read the postscripts and relevant comments to my earlier posts: here and here.


Filed under: internet, technology, USA—Jack Yan @ 13.04


Happy 40th birthday to The Professionals

‘Anarchy, acts of terror, crimes against the public. To combat it I’ve got special men: experts from the army, the police, from every service. These are the professionals.’

   Forty years ago, ITV began airing one of the UK’s most iconic TV series.
   There’s more at Dave Matthews’ The Authorised Guide to the Professionals, to which I contributed many years ago (yes, I am a fan).
   While there are many quality shows today, The Professionals still holds up reasonably well in terms of action, music, lighting and cinematography (especially if you see the series as restored on Network’s latest set of DVDs), though some of the plots are lacking and there are a lot of outdated 1970s’ attitudes to gender equality and race.
   If you keep that in mind—that it is a product of its era—it’s still an enjoyable show, in part because of my own sense of nostalgia (has it really been forty years?). And the second and third seasons are still, in my opinion, Brian Clemens’ finest hour.


Filed under: culture, TV, UK—Jack Yan @ 12.16

28.12.2017

Developer creates a tool to expose bigoted, fake Twitter accounts; Twitter bans it

In theory, one of the positive things about social media should be the fact that a company has as much chance of succeeding as an individual. Another is that it shouldn’t matter who you are, you have the same opportunity to get your word out. No one should get special treatment.
   But, on Twitter, they’ve come out and said a few very disappointing things over 2017. First is that we’re not equal. President Donald Trump of the US may say odd things regularly, things that Twitter would kick you and me off for, but because it’s ‘newsworthy’, there’s an express policy to let him stay. (Believe me, I’d be equally unhappy if a US Democratic president, or anyone, behaved this way, which goes against basic netiquette. This is nothing to do with politics—as a centrist and swing voter I follow people on the left and the right.)
   There are numerous things wrong with Twitter’s position, not least who gets to decide what is newsworthy. Can someone working from Twitter in the US decide if a Tweet of mine is newsworthy in New Zealand? I’m unconvinced. One US news app thought Steven Joyce getting hit with a dildo was of greater significance to us than the death of Martin Crowe, for example.
   Secondly, one would have thought their country was founded on the notion that everyone is created equal, but clearly that’s not the case on Twitter. Maybe no one in charge there read their country’s Declaration of Independence (second paragraph, wasn’t it?), and hanker for the days of Empire again. There’s some truth, then, when Silicon Valley is accused of élitism.
   More recently, Twitter changed one of its rules. Formerly, it was, ‘We believe in freedom of expression and in speaking truth to power’; now, it’s a simpler ‘We believe in freedom of expression and open dialogue.’ I’ve had to read up on what truth to power means, and as far as I can discern, it is an American term with the meaning of ‘speaking out with your truth to those in power’. That seems a perfectly reasonable position: that if you are going to have a dialogue with someone (in power or otherwise), you should do so with integrity and honesty. To me, the alteration in wording suggests integrity and honesty aren’t needed, as long as the dialogue is open. Perhaps at odds with the author of this rule, I always thought Twitter was open anyway, if you did a public Tweet.
   Now I see that Twitter is effectively allowing bots, in the wake of it and Facebook being investigated for allowing bots that might have influenced their country’s presidential election.
   I’ve warned about Facebook bots reaching an epidemic level in 2014 and those who follow this blog know how frustrating it has been to have them removed, even in 2017. Facebook’s people tend not to recognize what any average netizen would, which suggests to me that they’re desperate to keep their user numbers artificially high—even after getting busted for lying about them, when researchers discovered there were actually fewer people in certain demographics than Facebook claimed it could reach. (That desperation, incidentally, could be the reason the company lies about malware detection on websites.)
   Twitter has had a bot problem from the start, as it’s very easy for someone to create an automated account. They tended not to bother me too much, as I followed back humans. However, now I read that some netizens developed a tool that would identify neo-Nazis, only to have Twitter ban it.
   Even under Twitter’s own rules, these accounts impersonate others, at the least by stealing profile photographs from real people. Yet according to journalist Yair Rosenberg in The New York Times today, who said he had received ‘the second-most abuse of any Jewish journalist on Twitter during the campaign cycle,’ Twitter, it seems, is fine with this.
   ‘These bigots are not content to harass Jews and other minorities on Twitter; they seek to assume their identities and then defame them.
   ‘The con goes like this: The impersonator lifts an online photo of a Jew, Muslim, African-American or other minority — typically one with clear identifying markers, like a yarmulke-clad Hasid or a woman in hijab. Using that picture as a Twitter avatar, the bigot then adds ethnic and progressive descriptors to the bio: “Jewish,” “Zionist,” “Muslim,” “enemy of the alt-right.”’
   The account would then send out bigoted Tweets in order to defame the group of people that their profile photo or name suggested they belonged to.
   A developer, Neal Chandra, created a tool to unmask neo-Nazis, and the program went on Twitter to alert people that their discussions had been interrupted by an impostor. However, these accounts began mass-reporting the bot, says Rosenberg, and Twitter ultimately took their side.
   This is exactly like Facebook refusing to remove bots and spammers, even after users have reported them. Chandra’s tool does the same thing in alerting people to fake accounts (which, like Facebook’s, steal someone’s image), albeit in automated fashion, yet again fake accounts have won.
   I find this particularly disturbing at a time when both companies are being questioned by their government: you’d think they would hold back on tools that actually helped them do their jobs and ensured their T&Cs were being complied with. This either speaks to Twitter’s and Facebook’s sheer arrogance, or their utter stupidity.
   These platforms will stand or fall by their stated ideals, and Twitter is genuinely failing its users with this latest.
   It really is like someone coming to a company saying, ‘I will solve one of your biggest problems, one that a lot of your customers complain the most about, free of charge,’ and being trespassed from the premises.
   I’ve quit updating my private Facebook wall (though others continue to tag me and I allow those on my wall), and I wonder if Twitter is next. I reckon we’ve passed peak Twitter, and going to 280 characters—something I was once told by a Twitter VP would never happen—seems like the sort of scrambling that went on at Altavista and Excite when they realized Google had them beat for search.
   I’ve defended this platform because I believe the charges levelled against it by some are unfair: it’s not filled with angry people who want to politicize and divide, if you choose to follow decent ones back. I don’t see much of that in my Tweetstream, and when I do, I might choose to ignore it or, in some cases, unfollow those accounts.
   But if Twitter continues to make dick moves with its policies and practices, then we may feel that our values no longer align with theirs.
   In 2017, Twitter only really worked properly for 11 minutes.
   There’s a lot of work in branding that shows that people choose to support brands that express their values, and that corporate social responsibility is one of the ways to make that connection. Twitter is going the right way in alienating users. Could it be the next one to go, as Mastodon picks up the slack? Sooner or later, one of the alternatives, services which let you keep your identity, something that users are getting increasingly concerned about, is going to get a critical mass of users, and both Twitter and Facebook should fear this.


Filed under: business, culture, internet, social responsibility, technology, USA—Jack Yan @ 13.12


Even before the exposés, I never used Über

I really don’t know why anyone would use Über.
   All the sexism and misogyny aside, I actually don’t know how anyone could use it.
   For example, on my phone, I installed it (before I learned about their totally inappropriate behaviour), tried to log in, and the app would tell me I have used too many log-in attempts. Well, if one is too many (and no, I didn’t get my password wrong) then that’s fine. I don’t need to use it.
   Today my other half wondered just how bad the app was. Unlike me, she has a locally bought Android phone, so it has some Google software on it.
   After signing up, and unlike me she was able to log in, the app said she needed to update her Google services.
   She actually set up a Google account and a Gmail (you all know how I feel about this), so now her phone is spied on by a horribly invasive company. She didn’t want anything to do with Google, but she is now linked to them, and her phone is tracked by them in her Google account. (We’ll soon be deleting all the Google stuff off it as it really has no utility.)
   Still no go. She gets in but the app insists we live next door. You simply cannot feed in our address.
   A Visa card has already been added to her account. As far as she knows, she has never done this.
   We tried to add in an address in Tawa but it wouldn’t stick (despite it appearing in the pull-down menu). I tried to correct our address, and it plotted a route to Paraparaumu. Again, one that neither of us had ever added.
   My suspicion is that the Visa card is our neighbour’s and that we could probably steal rides off that pretty easily. Not that we ever would: we like our neighbours. I also believe the route to Paraparaumu could be one she fed in.
   Basically, Über has an app that is deeply invasive and doesn’t actually work, pays their drivers badly, and has a sexist and misogynist work culture. Do they have any redeeming qualities?
   If we’re not driving, then we’re all for superior public transport and professional taxi drivers. I see that as a good thing.


Filed under: culture, internet, technology, USA, Wellington—Jack Yan @ 10.57

16.12.2017

Endorsing Laurie Foon for Southern Ward

While I no longer live in the Southern Ward in Wellington, I know whom I would vote for if I still did. It’s after a lot of thought, given how strong the candidates are—I count several of them as my friends. One stands out.
   I have known Laurie Foon for 20 years this year and have watched her genuinely take an interest in our city. This isn’t just political hype: two decades ago, she warned us about the Inner City Bypass and how it wouldn’t actually solve our traffic problems; her former business, Starfish, was internationally known for its real commitment to the environment and sustainability (its Willis Street store walked the talk with its materials and lighting); and as the Sustainable Business Network’s Wellington regional manager, she’s advised other companies on how to be environmentally friendly (she’s recently received a Kiwibank Local Hero Award for her efforts).
   In 1997, when I interviewed Laurie for Lucire’s first feature, she had enough foresight to say yes to a web publication, at a time when few others saw that value. (This is in a pre-Google world.) It’s important for our local politicians to be ahead of the curve—yet so many voters have opted to look firmly in a rear-view mirror when it comes to politics, fixated on re-creating the “good old days”. If I vote, I vote for our future, and Laurie really can make a difference in council—as she has been doing in our community for the past two decades and more, issue after issue. She’s forward-looking, and she can help make our city carbon neutral, waste-free, and socially responsible. It’s a wholehearted endorsement for Laurie to make good things happen.


Filed under: culture, New Zealand, politics, social responsibility, Wellington—Jack Yan @ 11.43

15.12.2017

Being an optimist for a better post-Google, post-Facebook era

Interesting to get this perspective on ‘Big Tech’ from The Guardian, on how it’s become tempting to blame the big Silicon Valley players for some of the problems we have today. The angle Moira Weigel takes is that there needs to be more democracy in the system, where workers need to unite and respecting those who shape the technologies that are being used.
   I want to add a few far simpler thoughts.
   At the turn of the century, our branding profession was under assault from No Logo and others, showing that certain brands were not what they were cracked up to be. Medinge Group was formed in part because we, as practitioners, saw nothing wrong with branding per se, and that the tools could be used for good. Not everyone was Enron or Nike. There are Patagonia and Dilmah. That led to the original brand manifesto, on what branding should accomplish. (I was generously given credit for authoring this at one point, but I was simply the person who put the thoughts of my colleagues into eight points. In fact, we collectively gathered our ideas into eight groups, so I can’t even take credit for the fact there are eight points.)
   In 2017, we may look at Über’s sexism or Facebook’s willingness to accept and distribute malware-laden ads, and charge tech with damaging the fabric of society. Those who dislike President Trump in the US want someone to blame, and Facebook’s and Google’s contributions to their election in 2016 are a matter of record. But it’s not that online advertising is a bad thing. Or that social media are bad things. The issue is that the players aren’t socially responsible: none of them exist for any other purpose than to make their owners and shareholders rich, and the odd concession to not doing evil doesn’t really make up for the list of misdeeds that these firms add to. Many of them have been recorded over the years on this very blog.
   Much of what we have been working toward at Medinge is showing that socially responsible organizations actually do better, because they find accord with their consumers, who want to do business or engage with those who share their values; and, as Nicholas Ind has been showing in his latest book, Branding Inside Out, these players are more harmonious internally. In the case of Stella McCartney, sticking to socially responsible values earns her brand a premium—and she’s one of the wealthiest fashion designers in the world.
   I just can’t see some of the big tech players acting the same way. Google doesn’t pay much tax, for instance, and the misuse of Adwords aside, there are allegations that it hasn’t done enough to combat child exploitation and it has not been a fair player when it comes to rewarding and acknowledging media outlets that break the news, instead siding with corporate media. Google may have open-source projects out there, but its behaviour is old-school corporatism these days, a far cry from its first five years when even I would have said they were one of the good guys.
   Facebook’s problems are too numerous to list, though I attempted to do so here, but it can be summed up as: a company that will do nothing unless it faces embarrassment from enough people in a position of power. We’ve seen it tolerate kiddie porn and sexual harassment, giving both a “pass” when reported.
   Yet, for all that they make, it would be reasonable to expect that they put more people on the job in places where it mattered. The notion that three volunteers monitor complaints of child exploitation videos at YouTube is ridiculous but, for anyone who has complained about removing offensive content online, instantly believable; why there were not more is open to question. Anyone who has ventured on to a Google forum to complain about a Google product will also know that inaction is the norm there, unless you happen to get to someone senior and caring enough. Similarly, increasing resources toward monitoring advertising, and ensuring that complaints are properly dealt with would be helpful.
   Google’s failure to remove content mills from its News is contributing to “fake news”, yet its method of combatting that appears to be taking people away from legitimate media and ranking corporate players more highly.
   None of these are the actions of companies that want to do right by netizens.
   As Weigel notes, there’s a cost to abandoning Facebook and Google. But equally there are opportunities if these firms cannot provide the sort of moral, socially responsible leadership modern audiences demand. In my opinion, they do not actually command brand loyalty—a key ingredient of brand equity—if true alternatives existed.
   Duck Duck Go might only have a fraction of the traffic Google gets in search, but despite a good mission its results aren’t always as good, and its search index is smaller. But we probably should look to it as a real alternative to search, knowing that our support can help it grow and attract more investment. There is room for a rival to Google News that allows legitimate media and takes reports of fake news sites more seriously. If social media are democratizing—and there are signs that they are, certainly with some of the writings by Doc Searls and Richard MacManus—then there is room for people to form their own social networks that are decentralized, and where we hold the keys to our identity, able to take them wherever we please (Hubzilla is a prime example; you can read more about its protocol here). The internet can be a place which serves society.
   It might all come back to education; in fact, we might even say Confucius was right. If you’re smart enough, you’ll see a positive resource and decide that it would not be in the best interests of society to debase it. Civility and respect should be the order of the day. If these tools hadn’t been used by the privileged few to line their pockets at the expense of the many—or, for that matter, the democratic processes of their nations—wouldn’t we be in a better place? They capitalized on divisions in society (and even deepened them), when there is far more for all of us to gain if we looked to unity. Why should we allow the concentration of power (and wealth) to rest at the top of tech’s food chain? Right now, all I see of Google and Facebook’s brands are faceless, impersonal and detached giants, with no human accountability, humming on algorithms that are broken, and in Facebook’s case, potentially having databases that have been built on so much, that it doesn’t function properly any more. Yet they could have been so much more to society.
   Not possible to unseat such big players? We might have thought once that Altavista would remain the world’s biggest website; who knew Google would topple it in such a short time? But closer to home, and speaking for myself, I see The Spinoff and Newsroom as two news media brands that engender far greater trust than Fairfax’s Stuff or The New Zealand Herald. I am more likely to click on a link on Twitter if I see it is to one of the newer sites. They, too, have challenged the status quo in a short space of time, something which I didn’t believe would be possible a decade ago when a couple of people proposed that I create a locally owned alternative.
   We don’t say email is bad because there is spam. We accept that the good outweighs the bad and, for the most part, we have succeeded in building filters that get rid of the unwanted. We don’t say the web is bad because it has allowed piracy or pornography; its legitimate uses far outweigh its shady ones. But we should be supporting, or trying to find, new ways to advertise, innovate and network (socially or otherwise). Right now, I’m willing to bet that the next big thing (and it might not even be one player, but a multitude of individuals working in unison) is one where its values are so clear and transparent that they inspire us to live our full potential. I remain an optimist when it comes to human potential, if we set our sights on making something better.


Next Page »