Archive for April 2013


New leadership could help Google break through its adversarial, user-hating approach

15.04.2013

There have been quite a few tech posts here of late, but there are a few points that can be drawn. The first was how deceptive some brands can be for people who would rather not peel back the top layer to see what lies beneath. Even when the media expose their wrongdoings—as the Murdoch Press did with Google’s spying through Iphones—the general consensus might remain unchanged. Google has a major cultural issue: when I tell them that something’s wrong with their system, their approaches are one of two: the first is to argue that you are wrong and they are right, no matter what the evidence is; the other is to bury their head in the sand because the “official” explanations are exhausted. If they take their head out, they realize the Emperor has no clothes. Google is where Microsoft was accused of being in the 1990s, when it almost missed the boat when it came to the World Wide Web: a firm that didn’t take in outside feedback, getting more and more out of touch with reality. When your volunteers and fans start behaving badly on the support forums, long before I ever had an issue with Google deleting my friend Vincent’s blog, and you tolerate it, then something’s wrong.
   It can be contrasted to a related discussion I’ve had at McAfee, which seems to begin with the notion that the customer is right, and they have a chance to improve their product. Granted, McAfee’s programs can be buggy, but at least they admit that there are different configurations and there’s a chance that they’re wrong. This thread that I started, querying an issue with its SiteAdvisor product, wasn’t met with cynicism. Hayton, in particular, has stayed with this issue for days, investigating and digging so that I can have a better experience with McAfee’s product. He’s identified an ad network that we used that leaves something to be desired. Now we have a chance to improve our products, too, and we’re going to phase out those particular ads once our OpenX server is cleared by Google (which could take months).
   Companies, organizations, and even cities would do well learning from the latter example. If you know the other side is a rational, decent person—and at some point in your adult life, you will have developed this instinct—then admitting that you’ve got something to learn, something to improve upon, is a useful opportunity to make things better. Paying a bit of attention and working with a customer, audience member or constituent helps both sides improve.
   It seems obvious to most of us, though it remains a distant target for the house of G. It may take new leadership to inspire and ensure a cultural change, otherwise it’s just business—or, in some cases, politics—as usual.

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Webmaster sees Google blacklist his site for two months

13.04.2013

No matter how bad you think you’ve got it, some poor bugger has it worse. One webmaster, Steven Don, has had Google claim that he has anywhere between nine and fourteen trojans on his website, but he has none. The Google Safe Browsing page claims nine trojans presently, but can’t say which domains he has supposedly infected.
   If you read through the page, like our own Nigel Dunn, he’s no amateur at this stuff.
   He has rebuilt the sites from scratch, and compared the files he has with the ones on the server, and there are no differences. Yet Google refuses to acknowledge that his site is clean after two months.
   The only things he cannot vouch for himself are the Google Analytics and Google Adsense codes, and the Google Plus One button. And that makes me wonder about Google Adsense once again.

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Posted in business, internet, technology, USA | 2 Comments »


Be stress-free

13.04.2013

If you feel stressed out, Nivea comes to the rescue with this great new product. I can see it being a huge hit. Good on the Germans for their innovation. (Photographed by Snjezana Bobič and first published on her Facebook.)

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Posted in humour | 1 Comment »


How brands fool us

13.04.2013

The Google experience over the last week—and I can say ‘week’ because there were still a few browsers showing blocks yesterday—reminds me of how brands can be resilient.
   First, I know it’s hard for most people to believe that Google is so incompetent—or even downright corrupt, when it came to its bypassing Safari users’ preferences and using Doubleclick to do it (but we already know how Doubleclick bypassed every browser a couple of years ago). People rely on Google, Google Docs, Google Image Search, or any of its other products. But there’s something to be said for a well communicated slogan, ‘Don’t be evil.’ Those who work in computing, or those who have experienced the negative side of the company, know otherwise. But, to most people, guys like me documenting the bad side are shit-stirrers—until they begin experiencing the same.
   Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s OK for a small publication to get blacklisted, or people tracked on the internet despite their requests not to be. But I don’t think we can let these companies off quite so easily, because there is something rotten in a lot of its conduct.
   By the same token, maybe it doesn’t matter that we can’t easily buy a regularly priced orange juice from a New Zealand-owned company in our own supermarkets. Most, if not all, of that sector is owned by the Japanese or the Americans. We haven’t encouraged domestic enterprises to be global players, excepting the obvious ones such as Fonterra.
   However, most people don’t notice it, because brands have shielded it. The ones we buy most started in this country, by the Apple and Pear Marketing Board.
   And like the National Bank, which hasn’t been New Zealand-owned for decades, people are happy to believe they are local. It was only when the National Bank changed its name to ANZ, the parent company, that some consumers balked and left—even though it was owned and run by ANZ for the good part of the past decade.
   Or we like to think that Holden is Australian when a good part of the range is designed and built in Korea by what used to be Daewoo—and brand that died out here in 2003. Holden hasn’t been Australian since the 1930s, when it became part of GM—an American company. However, for years it had the slogan, ‘Australia’s own car,’ but even the 48-215, the ur-Holden, was American-financed and developed along Oldsmobile lines.
   Similarly, Lemon & Paeroa has been, for a generation, American.
   Maybe it’s my own biases here, but I like seeing a strong New Zealand, with strong, Kiwi-owned firms having the nous and the strength to take on the big players at a global level.
   We can out-think the competition, so while we might not have the finances, we often have the know-how, that can grow if we are given the right opportunities and the right exposure. And, as we’ve seen, the right brands that can enter other markets and be aspirational, whether they play on their country of origin or not.
   Stripping away one of the layers when it comes to ownership might get us thinking about which are the locally owned firms—and which ones we want to support if we, too, agree that our own lot are better and should be stronger.
   And when it came to Google, it’s important to know that it has it in for the little guy. It’s less responsive, and it will fence with you until you can bring a bigger party to the table who might risk damaging its informal, well maintained and largely illusionary corporate motto.
   We only had Blogger doing the right thing when we piggy-backed off John Hempton having his blog unjustifiably deleted by Google, and the bad press it got via Reuter’s Felix Salmon on that occasion.
   We only had Google’s Ads Preferences Manager doing the right thing when we had the Network Advertising Initiative involved.
   Google only stopped tracking Iphone users using a hack via Doubleclick (I would classify it malware, thank you) on Safari when the Murdoch Press busted it.
   That’s the hat-trick right there. Something about the culture needs to change. It’s obviously not transparent.
   I don’t know what had Google lift the boycott after six days but we know it cleans itself up considerably more quickly when it has accidentally blacklisted The New York Times or its own YouTube. One thought I had is that the notion that Google re-evaluates your site in five hours is false. Even on the last analysis it did after I resubmitted Lucire took at least 16 hours, and that the whole matter took six days.
   But it should be a matter of concern for small businesses, especially in a country with a lot of SMEs, because Google will ride rough-shod over them based on its own faulty analyses. Reality shows that it happens, and when it does happen, you haven’t much recourse—unless you can find a lever to give it really bad publicity.
   We weren’t far off from issuing a press statement, and the one-week mark was the trigger. Others might not be so patient.
   If we had done that, I wonder if it would help people see more of the reality.
   Or should we support other search engines such as Duck Duck Go instead, and help the little guy out-think the big guys? Should there be a Kiwi search engine that actually doesn’t do evil?
   Or do we need to grow or work with some bigger firms here to prevent us being bullied by Google’s, and others’, incompetence?

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Posted in branding, business, culture, internet, marketing, media, New Zealand, publishing, USA | 5 Comments »


Google: nothing was wrong since April 6, so the planet just imagined those last six days

11.04.2013

Here’s Google’s Webmaster Tools this morning.
   Apparently, now it says there has been nothing wrong at the Lucire website since April 6. Which is what we’ve been saying for six days.
   Gee, we all must have imagined those attack warnings for the last six days. Google’s record now shows they never happened. As it’s Google, it must be right.

   I suspect Google has its units wrong again. I remember Blogger’s two-day review turned out taking six months, so two days there meant two quarters. I understand that Google’s malware bot supposedly does a review in five hours, but maybe they confused that with five days.

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Google, hacks, privacy breaches, and ad codes: there’s a pattern emerging here

11.04.2013

In all my recent posts, I’ve stopped short of saying that Google hacked us, but that the code inserted had Google’s name all over it.
   But if Google was party to or had profited from hacking, then it wouldn’t be the first time, right?
   Remember when Google hacked the Safari browser to track Iphone users?
   That time, it used a trick inside its Doubleclick ad code to fool the Safari browser, so that it provided tracking data back to Google and related ad networks, even when users had opted out of being tracked.
   But we all know about how opting out does not mean opting out when it comes to Google. We know how Google did not respect your privacy when it came to advertising in the case that was exposed on this blog in 2011, and lied about what its Ads Preferences Manager’s opt-out feature did.
   The warning signs were all there in the early 2010s, and if any code should be classed as malicious, it’s Doubleclick’s. I bet Google’s malware bots never picked up those as being malicious in 2012 when they were sending Apple Iphone data back to the company.
   Despite all this, a lot of people still believe that Google’s culture is ‘Don’t be evil.’ The way I see it: it takes quite a bit of effort to engage in these techniques.

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Posted in business, culture, internet, technology, USA | 3 Comments »


Of course Google’s Chrome blocks this site, too, over false accusations

11.04.2013

This is from my good friend Alexandru Dutulescu. Where I come from, this is libellous, since it is, well, a load of bollocks. In the delusions of Googleland, presumably, this is an innocent computer error. I can’t believe how often Google gets away with this stuff just by fooling people and telling them their motto is ‘Don’t be evil.’

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Day six of the Google boycott: if The New York Times isn’t safe from blacklisting, then how can we be?

11.04.2013

It’s day six on the Google blacklist for Lucire. And no, we still don’t know what they are talking about. StopBadware doesn’t know what they are talking about. Our web guys and all our team in different parts of the world don’t know what they are talking about.
   Today, I decided to venture to the Google forums. Google forums are generally not a good place to go to, based on my experience with Blogger, but I came across a really helpful guy called Joe (a.k.a. Redleg x3), a level 12 participant, who has gone some way to redeeming them.
   I told Joe the same story. He begins writing, ‘First I think you really need an explanation from Google, I can see why your site was flagged originally but do not understand why Google did not clear it today.’
   Exactly. But what was fascinating was that when he checked through a private version of aw-snap.info, which helps you see what malware spiders see, he found the old Google Adsense code the hackers injected.
   This very code has been absent from our servers since Saturday, otherwise we would never have received the all-clear from StopBadware.org. We also don’t use a caching service any more (we used to use Cloudflare). But, if Google saw what Joe did, then it means Google’s own bot can’t load fresh files. It loads cached ones, which means it keeps red-flagging stuff that isn’t there.
   If you read between the lines of what Joe wrote, then it’s clear that Google relies on out-of-date data for its malware bot. He checked the infected site and the file that caused all the problems has gone. And we know the hacks are gone from our system. It’s totally in line with what we were told by Anirban Banerjee of Stopthehacker.com on the errors that Google makes, too. I can only conclude that it’s acceptable for Google to publish libel about your site while relying on outdated information—information that it gathered for a few hours six days ago, which has no relevance today.
   We still don’t know if things are sorted yet. We know this has been a devilishly frustrating experience, and damaging to our reputation and our finances. Yet we also know Google will just shrug its shoulders and do a Bart Simpson: ‘I didn’t do it.’ It’ll get blamed on the computer, which is terribly convenient. It’ll also blame covering up my Google Plus status criticizing them on the computer.
   It looks like we are not alone. I’ve been reading of The New York Times and The Guardian getting red-flagged. Google even decided to blacklist YouTube at one point this year (given where I think the hackers’ code comes from, I am not surprised a Google property is malicious). The difference is that the big guys are more noticeable, so Google whitelists them more quickly. Our situation actually mirrored what happened at ZDNet, except they got cleared within hours (even though we fixed our problem within hours). The little guy, the honest business person, the legitimate blogger, the independent online store-owner—we’re in for a much harsher ride.
   With Google supplying its corrupted data to other security programs like Eset as well as browsers such as Chrome and Firefox, then putting all your eggs in one basket is terribly dangerous, as we have seen. More so if that organization has no real oversight and your complaints are silenced. And as we have seen, Google will go to great lengths to preserve its advantages in the online advertising market.

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Posted in business, internet, media, publishing, technology, USA | 3 Comments »


Chrome continues to block sites although Stop Badware clears them

09.04.2013

I’m pleased to note that the Stop Badware people have manually analysed jackyan.com, lucire.com and autocade.net, and cleared all sites at 8.01, 8.01 and 10.01 a.m. GMT respectively.
   Google, however, is still showing this to Chrome users as at 9.10 a.m. if they visit the Lucire website:

   I am not surprised.
   This has come at a cost, with our clients enquiring and one sending this:

All because Google can’t get its systems right, and is happy to ruin the reputations of online publications, despite being notified countless times over the last four days that it has messed up.
   Incidentally, I put up a status about this at Lucire’s Google Plus page yesterday. Interestingly, Google Plus would not share it with anyone who followed us. It makes it harder to believe that the errors are completely down to automated systems.

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How Google can get it wrong: an expert on malware gives advice

09.04.2013

Frustrated with ongoing Google’s false accusations over our websites, I joined the Stop Badware community today (Badware Busters), and got some sensible advice from a Dr Anirban Banerjee of www.stopthehacker.com.
   He had checked what Google was on about, and noted that it was still making the same accusations it did on Saturday—when we know that we had already removed the hack that day.
   I told him this, and he replied:

One policy that a customer followed since Google was just not letting them off the blacklist inspite of cleaning the server, DB, etc.. was to “suspend/remove” all ad code pointing to the mother pipe (your main server in your case) – get the request for reviews pushed in asap, get the sites off the blacklist (since Google did not see any openx ads, nothing to analyze, hence the sites were let off within 5 hours) – then put the ads back again.
   They used a simple grep command to strip out the ad code, and then restored the pages and code from a relatively fresh backup once the blockages were lifted.
   I know this is kind of hack-ish – but sometimes inspite of all the meticulous cleaning that people do – automated system will flag sites.

   In other words, Google can cock up. This time, it did. So you basically need to fool Google, get your site off the blacklist, and put things back to normal afterwards.
   Or: there may be a drunk driver swerving left and right at the wheel of the Google truck, so it’s your job to make sure that you build a nice road in front for them, rather than insist that they clean up their act and stay on the road.
   Mind you, the last time Google claimed to analyse something in two days, it took six months—here’s hoping we’re back online before then. It’s getting embarrassing telling clients what had happened, especially as most drink the Google Kool-Aid and believe the firm can do no wrong. Peel back only one layer, and you can see plenty that goes wrong.
   It’s not fair, but what can you do against the Google juggernaut when so many people rely on it, especially Chrome users who are getting the false red flags more than anyone else?

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Posted in business, internet, publishing, technology, USA | 5 Comments »