Archive for March 2015


Read the report: Deloitte actually doesn’t blame migrants for increased corruption

26.03.2015

Deloitte has published a report on the increasing corruption in Australia and New Zealand, which Fairfax’s Stuff website reported on today.
   Its opening paragraph: ‘An increase in bribery and corruption tarnishing New Zealand’s ethical image may be due to an influx of migrants from countries where such practices are normal.’
   The problem: I’m struggling to find any such link in Deloitte’s report.
   The article paraphrases Deloitte’s Ian Tuke perhaps to justify that opening paragraph: ‘Tuke said one working theory explaining the rise was the influx of migrants from countries such as China, which are in the red zone on Transparency International’s index of perceived corruption,’ but otherwise, the report makes no such connection.
   The real culprit, based on my own reading of the report, is the lack of knowledge by Australians and New Zealanders over what is acceptable under our laws.
   Yet again I see the Chinese become a far bigger target of blame than the source suggests, when we should be cleaning our own doorstep first.
   The Deloitte report acknowledges that there is indeed a high level of corruption in China, Indonesia, India and other countries, making this a big warning for those of us who choose to extend our businesses there. It’s not migration to New Zealand that’s an issue: it’s our choosing to go into these countries with our own operations.
   It would be foolhardy, however, for an article in the business section to tell Kiwis to stop exporting.
   But equally foolhardy is shifting the blame for a problem that New Zealand really needs to tackle—and which we are more than capable of tackling.
   The fact is: if we Kiwis were so clean, we’d uphold our own standards, regardless of what foreign practices were. Our political leaders also wouldn’t confuse the issue with, say, what happened at Oravida.
   When faced with a choice of paying a kickback or not in the mid-2000s when dealing in eastern Europe, our people chose to stay clean—and we lost a lot of money in the process.
   To me they did the right thing, and I credit less my own intervention and more the culture we had instilled.
   Hong Kong cleaned up its act in the 1970s with the ICAC, and I have said for decades (since the Labour asset sales of the 1980s) that New Zealand would do well in following such an example. Why haven’t we?
   Perhaps if we stopped shifting the blame and followed the recommendations in the Deloitte report, including shifting corporate cultures and instigating more rigorous checks, we can restore our top ranking in those Transparency International reports. But this has to be our choice, not a case where we are blaming migrants, for which there is little support in this very reasonable report.

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Posted in business, China, culture, Hong Kong, India, leadership, media, New Zealand, publishing | No Comments »


When the media advocate racism to hide the real culprits behind bad driving

07.03.2015

This op–ed in the Fairfax Press smacks of typical yellow peril journalism that has come to typify what passes for some media coverage of late.
   Yes, some Chinese drivers are awful in their home country and they will bring those bad habits here. But I’d be interested to get some hard stats. For instance, Chris Roberts, CEO of the Tourism Industry Association, tells us that 5 per cent of accidents are caused by tourists, and 3 per cent of fatalities are caused by them. That has been the case for years. The only difference is the mix of tourists. We were never that concerned when Aussies, Brits and continental Europeans were causing that 3 per cent. All of a sudden, we are concerned when Chinese tourists are causing part of that 3 per cent.
   Roberts also notes that Australian tourists are the worst culprits when it comes to accidents here—no surprise, since more Aussies travel here.
   In the last three years, 240 were killed on our roads by drunk drivers. None were killed by a drunk visitor.
   So what a shame when a writer cannot uncover some basic facts and advocates ‘benevolent racism’, citing a book written by an American about Chinese drivers in China in support.
   I wouldn’t have a problem if we were up in arms in earlier years about all the accidents caused by tourists, and the media, especially talkback radio, were filled with calls to make sure the many Aussies and Brits were tested before they got behind the wheel of a rental car here.
   But to devote so much time and column inches now smacks of hypocrisy.
   There’s a difference between the everyday Chinese driver in China and a more educated tourist who has the means and smarts to go abroad—just as there is between an everyday Kiwi driver in New Zealand and those of us who opt to drive and travel in countries where they drive on the other side of the road. I’d be surprised if you told me you were as relaxed as you normally are in New Zealand when you drive abroad.
   I have done my own study on this—a tiny sample to be sure—where the incidents of bad driving in this country are—surprise, surprise—exactly in proportion to the racial mix. It is always troubling when we buy into a stereotype.
   You can easily argue that we drive more kilometres over a year in our country than a tourist might over a small period of time. However, I understand from my friend Nadine Isler, whose father is the expert in this area, that even when you factor this in, we Kiwis still fare poorly. The xenophobia, then, that I see in our country is disturbing, especially when it relates to the yellow peril.
   Many of my friends who visit here comment on the appalling behaviour of local drivers, and they notice a marked decline in the driving ability they witness after they arrive. As Dave Moore—also of the Fairfax Press, but a journalist who prefers to research and cite facts—has rightly pointed out, our road toll per capita is substantially higher than the UK’s. He has said so for years, consistently, warning us about our own low standards. This should tell you something about where we stand, and just how appalling the average Kiwi motorist is. As I say to British friends who bemoan their own driving standards: you need to kill another 1,400 Britons each year to get an idea of where New Zealand is. (I am using a mix of 2012 and 2013 figures for that number.)
   His solution, which also appeared on Fairfax’s Stuff website, has merit, but, of course, it forces us to take a long, hard look at ourselves—something we’re not happy doing when there is an easily identified group to blame. And blame, and blame.
   As I said in an earlier status update on Facebook: if we want to target the driving habits of tourists (and it is not a bad idea), then let’s get the 95 per cent of trouble-makers—Kiwis on Kiwi roads, and predominantly white—up to speed as well. If we are going to do any profiling of who the dangerous drivers are on our roads, it’s not Chinese tourists we should be concerned about.

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Posted in cars, China, culture, media, New Zealand | 5 Comments »


Found a Facebook bot? Facebook wants you to leave it as reporting option vanishes

06.03.2015

PS.: As of 11.28 a.m. GMT, eight hours after the post below, Facebook has put its normal reporting options back.—JY

Facebook appears to be giving up on the bot fight. As of today, you can no longer mark an account as a fake one: the closest option is to say that it is using a false name (an entirely different reason, in my opinion).
   Facebook also now doesn’t want to hear from you if that is the case. You are expected to advise the bot (!) of your concern, or block it (which isn’t very helpful if you are running groups).


   And I thought the 40-per-day limit was bad.
   On Twitter, it was pointed out to me that I shouldn’t care, because Facebook is smart enough to figure out which are bots.
   That’s actually not true: Facebook isn’t smart enough. Of the accounts I reported in the last month, Facebook allowed a handful to remain. When I urged them to look again, they then told me they had reconsidered and accepted that I was right. The accounts were then deleted.
   Basically, without human intervention, Facebook actually has no way—unless, I imagine, it spots a bot net using the same IP address—of knowing where to start.
   When you add this to the fact that Facebook uses click farms, it’s not a very rosy picture for anyone who needs to use the platform for marketing. You’re going to get fake likes and spam because of these bots and bot nets.
   Yet Facebook gets a lot of things right. They remain responsive on legal issues, in particular. I’d like to see them get this part right.
   Last year, the bot activity peaked in the last quarter of 2014, when I encountered my personal record of 277 per day. It’s been a several a day for most of 2015 but they are on the rise again.
   By reporting, hopefully the Facebook boffins can see the patterns of new bots (they do change their MOs from time to time) and guard against them for other users.
   We could, of course, allow the bots to spam and impersonate people (the latter is also on the rise, just in the last week, when two of my friends became victims) and Facebook can deal to them ex post facto, which I accept is one way with not too many down sides.
   Nevertheless, I think it’s irresponsible to ignore the bots, given that they affect all businesses. I also reckon we’re doing Facebook a favour by keeping its platform as clean as possible. If I were being selfish about it, I see real potential of them harming my own businesses with fake likes, undermining engagement. It’s part of modern life: if you work on Facebook, or any part of your business relies on Facebook, you should be concerned.
   In 2009, I saw Vox go down, at a time when bots overran the system. I can’t make a causal link because I don’t have enough inside knowledge, but I do know that in my last year on that platform, I could not post (or, rather, I had to wait days for a compose window rather than milliseconds). Others were encountering some interesting bugs, too: one user had to switch browsers just to use it.
   The symptoms are there: bots, fatigue over the platform, and now, a company that really can’t be arsed to hear from you when things are going south.
   One computer expert has told me that the Facebook set-up is far more robust than Vox ever was, and I accept that, but at the same time I don’t believe the regular outages over the last 12 months are a coincidence.
   Email is still surviving despite the fact that majority of messages are spam, so the “ignore them” camp has a point.
   But you know me: if people ignored all the bad stuff going on, we wouldn’t have known Google was lying to people over Ads Preferences Manager and snooping on Iphones. And, on a wider scale on the internet, no one would have heard of Edward Snowden or Glenn Greenwald, or, locally, Nicky Hager, the man who a Labour politician called a conspiracy theorist, before a later National politician called a conspiracy theorist. I’d rather keep the pressure up, even if the matter is minor.
   On that note, it’s time to work on a response to a proposed WCC traffic resolution. It might affect 14 households, but it’s still worth doing.

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Posted in business, internet, USA | No Comments »


In the ‘I told you so’ file: Google Plus could be stripped for parts, says Quartz

03.03.2015

Quartz reckons Google Plus is going to be stripped for parts: it’s going the way of Google Wave and Google Buzz.
   I was consistent from the start about Google Plus, unlike a good part of the tech press, which drank the Google Kool-Aid and talked about how it would be a Facebook-killer.
   The logic was never there to begin with. If Google organized the internet, and Facebook organized your friends, then what on earth was Google Plus for?
   I have an account and I even like the user interface, despite my misgivings about Google.
   But I never saw a real purpose for it. Mine tends to be used to post warnings about Google, because I enjoy irony. On occasion it didn’t even work.
   I have friends who are Plus fans, because they have built up decent followings and have, I presume, more intimate discussions on there than one would have on Facebook, which, if you are like me, has friends from all walks of life. Personally, I prefer seeing different viewpoints so I can learn about how others think—I’m seldom dismissive of thoughts that disagree with my own unless that person has proved to waste my time with content-less drivel on too many occasions—so I never really had a need to build up a new bunch of folks who might share a narrower range of interests with me.
   However, for me, my Google Plus activity never even exceeded my Myspace activity. And these days, Myspace is in the crapper again, introducing a YouTube player that plays songs that have no relationship to the ones you choose. It has ceased to be a viable platform despite a very good interface and music library at the time of its second coming. After epic fails on the part of Myspace to play the correct music, I gave up on it, and I haven’t been back for a long time.
   Google Plus never did a thing for me, and now I see from the Quartz article that Google is changing its narrative again.
   ‘For us, Google Plus was always two things, a stream and a social layer. The stream has a passionate community of users, but the second goal was larger for us. We’re at a point where things like photos and communications are very important, we’re reorganizing around that. Hangouts will still exist,’ said Android boss Sundar Pichai.
   Apparently it was meant to be a “social layer” from the start. You could argue that this isn’t entirely inaccurate, if you read Google’s launch blog post about Plus. However, there’s every sign it was meant to be a Facebook rival, and that’s what the tech press took from Google at the time. It was even called ‘Googbook’ internally. It was just like Microsoft Internet Explorer, trying to take on Netscape. Except Internet Explorer actually did much better in getting market share.
   The failure of Plus—sure, I could be premature, because Quartz‘s article is careful not to make this a dead cert—cements Gordon Kelly’s view that Google and Microsoft have swapped places to some extent. Microsoft is acting like an upstart, while Google is defending old businesses, resting on its laurels. Kelly also says:

   Google’s pillars of ads and search have become its Windows and Office. Both are being chipped away by more targeted advertising within social media and the compartmentalisation of an apps-based world. Your details and desires are on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram more than in your Google search requests and we increasingly go to specific apps (eg weather) rather than web searching for it.
   The knock-on effect: Adsense is declining and Google’s search market share is currently at its lowest point in seven years. Like Microsoft had done with Windows and Office, Google understandably still tightly holds onto the duo as its primary revenue pillars but the future implies only further slow decline with no obvious escape route.
   Furthermore Google appears to be making another old Microsoft error: deprioritizing mobile.

The rest of the article makes a good read.
   If Facebook is becoming a thing of the past, and Google is rethinking Plus, then the latter half of the decade could be very interesting in terms of what new websites might take up our time.

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


Remember back when we wrote status updates on Facebook?

01.03.2015

I said things along these lines for a while: there’s Facebook fatigue, Facebook is the new Digg, etc. Based on who I am seeing leave Facebook lately, there’s increasingly more truth to this. I scrolled down my own wall earlier today to find a bunch of links to other stuff. If you’re wanting to know what I am up to, you’re better off messaging me and asking: ‘What are you up to?’ It’s refreshingly old-fashioned, kind of like when we had pen pals, carefully selecting the right stamps to go with personal correspondence.
   I don’t think there’s any one cause to this. I was writing about Facebook fatigue long before Edward Snowden made us all worry about NSA snooping. (Interestingly, a caption of mine on Instagram changed yesterday: a chunk from the middle of the sentence vanished along with my hashtags. It makes you wonder: even though I don’t suspect spooks, I do think Google Android and the apps are dodgy, and we all know the former sends plenty of data to the authorities.) But the fact is telling all your friends about what you are doing is tiresome. It’s not even that necessary.
   It’s not that you’ve become a less fascinating person, but it’s very much like my experience with blogging. Why haven’t I blogged about the nitty-gritty of branding and its theories lately? Largely because my viewpoints on how it all works haven’t changed a great deal in the last decade. Yes, we are applying those principles to a different world, and social media have altered the considerations behind them, but the underlying premise remains the same. This blog isn’t like your television where you have been able to watch, over the years, La femme Nikita, The Point of No Return, Nikita and Nikita. I haven’t been recast, you see, so there’s not that much point for me to retell some of the ideas I haven’t changed my mind on.
   And while every now and then I will waste your time by treading over the same ground (e.g. there is a very high probability I will have another whinge about Google), it’s my contrarian side creeping up, as if to say, ‘Wake up! Why is this brand, proven to be so dodgy, still doing so damned well in the surveys each year? What are you seeing that I am not in the face of all this evidence?’ And it’s only healthy that some of us play the contrarian.
   But when it comes to your real life, just what exactly changes? It’s not income-dependent, either. If you were Sir Richard Branson, for instance, I bet there are only so many times you want to tell people you are vacationing with celebrities on your own personal island. Now, if I suddenly had a personal island, that might just appear as my next status update. But not Sir Richard.
   As I type this on a Sunday during which I’ve had to work (deadlines loom) there wasn’t that much about the last 24 hours that was that interesting. Some relatives came by, and that doesn’t really seem to merit a status update. My work was very interesting, but confidential, so that doesn’t merit a status update. What does? Links about Leonard Nimoy do, of course, as well as that realization that all this time he had been wearing a gold and white outfit on the original series of Star Trek.
   As with my first days on Twitter, nearly a decade ago, I question whether anyone wishes to read about my culinary skills and the fact I made chicken drumsticks tonight; and while I did Instagram the roast chicken I made for New Year’s Eve I really didn’t think it was an æsthetically pleasing roast chicken, as far as roast chickens go. Our own lives are just that: they might well be good and at this point, my friends already know about mine. Write any more about it and it becomes a rerun.
   Facebook became Facebook really with the start of the recession. Many of us were on it before, especially if you were at Harvard during its nascent stage, but for me, recessions meant looking for new opportunities. One might as well explore this new website and this whole “social networking” lark to see where it would take us. Other than a brief pick-up with the release of Timeline, I wonder if we have now explored every nook and cranny of this same-again site, just as we have done with various Google properties. The only thing that would now make either more interesting is being able to see the nightly transmissions of personal data to the NSA writ large on the welcome page.
   If Facebook becomes a thing of the past, and of course it will, just as Altavista has, it will be due to the freedom we have on the internet. We might just have grown tired of retelling our stories. Which, to me, means the next big thing online will even be more exciting. We might just stop selling ourselves, becoming the fodder of Facebook and Google. We might even make some cool stuff of our own. Or we might even find a little bit of joy writing about our thoughts long-form, just as I have done.

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