Archive for November 2017


YouTube under fire for child exploitation videos—with ‘three unpaid volunteers’ monitoring reports

28.11.2017

The Murdoch Press has rightly kept its pressure up on Google, with a cover story in The Times, ‘Adverts fund paedophile habits’ on November 24 (the online version, behind a paywall, is here).
   Say what you will about its proprietor, but Murdochs have been happy to go after the misdeeds of Google: the earlier one I’ve cited on this blog was when Google was found to have hacked Iphones in 2012.
   This time, YouTube is under fire for videos of children that were attracting comments from pædophiles, forcing the company to switch off comments, but it’s already lost advertising from Mars, Cadbury, Adidas, Deutsche Bank, Diageo, HP, and Lidl.
   Buzzfeed has discovered even more disturbing content involving children, including from accounts that have earned YouTube’s verified symbol. Be prepared if you choose to click through: even the descriptions of the images are deeply unsettling.
   Buzzfeed noted:

On Tuesday afternoon, BuzzFeed News contacted YouTube regarding a number of verified accounts — each with millions of subscribers — with hundreds of disturbing videos showing children in distress. As of Wednesday morning, all the videos provided by BuzzFeed News, as well as the accounts, were suspended for violating YouTube’s rules …
   Many of the offending channels were even verified by YouTube — a process that the company says was done automatically as recently as 2016 …
   Before YouTube removed them, these live-action child exploitation videos were rampant and easy to find. What’s more, they were allegedly on YouTube’s radar: Matan Uziel — a producer and activist who leads Real Women, Real Stories (a platform for women to recount personal stories of trauma, including rape, sexual assault, and sex trafficking) and who provided BuzzFeed News with more than 20 examples of such videos — told BuzzFeed News that he tried multiple times to bring the videos to YouTube’s attention and that no substantive action was taken.
   On September 22, Uziel sent an email to YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki and three other Google employees (as well as FBI agents) expressing his concern about “tens of thousands of videos available on YouTube that we know are crafted to serve as eye candy for perverted, creepy adults, online predators to indulge in their child fantasies.” According to the email, which was reviewed by BuzzFeed News, Uziel included multiple screenshots of disturbing videos. Uziel also told BuzzFeed News he addressed the concerns about the videos early this fall in a Google Hangout with two Google communications staffers from the United Kingdom, and that Google expressed desire to address the situation. A YouTube spokesperson said that the company has no record of the September 22nd email but told BuzzFeed News that Uziel did email on September 13th with screenshots of offending videos. The company says it removed every video escalated by Uziel.

   I’m believe Uziel more, and I even believe that the 20 examples he provided to Buzzfeed were among the ones he escalated to Google. Unless he discovered them since, why would he show them to Buzzfeed while claiming that Google had been ineffective? Both The Times and Buzzfeed claim some of these abusive videos have each netted millions of views—and substantial sums for their creators.
   And people wonder why we don’t continue to operate a video channel there, instead opting for Vimeo (for my personal account) and Dailymotion (for Lucire).
   I don’t claim either is immune from this, but they seem to want to deal with harmful content more readily, principally because they’re not subject to the culture at Google and at Facebook, which appears to be: do nothing till you get into trouble publicly.
   LaQuisha St Redfern shared this link with me from The New York Times from a former Facebook employee, Sandy Parakilos, which can be summarized:

Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, mentioned in an October interview with Axios that one of the ways the company uncovered Russian propaganda ads was by identifying that they had been purchased in rubles. Given how easy this was, it seems clear the discovery could have come much sooner than it did — a year after the election. But apparently Facebook took the same approach to this investigation as the one I observed during my tenure: react only when the press or regulators make something an issue, and avoid any changes that would hurt the business of collecting and selling data.

   This behaviour is completely in line with my own experience with the two firms. Google, long-time readers may recall, libelled our websites for a week in 2013 by claiming they had malware. It was alleged that there were only two people overseeing the malware warnings, something which has since been disproved by a colleague of mine who was in Google’s employ at the time.
   However, The Times alleges that YouTube monitoring of reported videos is in the hands of ‘just three unpaid volunteers’, hence they remained online.
   I have some sympathy for YouTube given the volume of video that’s uploaded every second, making the site impossible to police by humans.
   However, given how much the company earns off people—their advertising arm rakes in tens of thousands of millions a year—three unpaid volunteers is grossly negligent. If certain states’ attorneys-general had more balls, like the EU does, this could be something to investigate.
   There’s also not much excuse that a company with Google’s resources didn’t put more people on the job to create algorithms to get rid of this content.
   Once rid, Google needs to ensure that owners who are caught up with false positives have a real appeals’ process—not the dismal, ineffective one they had in place for Blogger in the late 2000s that, again, was only remedied on a case-by-case basis after a Reuter journalist had his blog removed. That can be done with human employees who can take an impartial look at things—not ones who are brainwashed into thinking that Google’s bots can never err, which is a viewpoint that many of Google’s forum volunteers possess, and are consequently blinded.
   Facebook’s inability to shut down fake accounts—I have alerted them to an ‘epidemic’ in 2014—has been dealt with elsewhere, and now it’s biting them in the wake of President Trump’s election.
   These businesses, which pay little tax, are clearly abusing their privilege. Since the mid-2000s, Google hasn’t been what I would consider a responsible corporate citizen, and I don’t think Facebook has ever been.

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


Why the love? Google tracks you when location services are off; Facebook allegedly listens in on conversations

23.11.2017


Above: We boarded the Norwegian Jewel yesterday—then my other half got a cruise-themed video on YouTube.

Hat tip to Punkscience for this one.
   My other half and I noted that her YouTube gave her a cruise-themed video from 2013 after we boarded the Norwegian Jewel yesterday for a visit. Punkscience found this article in The Guardian (originally reported by Quartz), where Google admitted that it had been tracking Android users even when their location services were turned off. The company said it would cease to do so this month.
   It’s just like Google getting busted (by me) on ignoring users’ opt-outs from customized ads, something it allegedly ceased to do when the NAI confronted them with my findings.
   It’s just like Google getting busted by the Murdoch Press on hacking Iphones that had the ‘Do not track’ preference switched on, something it coincidentally ceased to do when The Wall Street Journal published its story.
   There is no difference between these three incidents in 2011, 2012 and 2017. Google will breach your privacy settings: a leopard does not change its spots.
   Now you know why I bought my cellphone from a Chinese vendor.
   Speaking of big tech firms breaching your privacy, Ian56 found this link.
   It’s why I refuse to download the Facebook app—and here’s one experiment that suggests Facebook listens in on your conversations through it.
   A couple, with no cats, decided they would talk about cat food within earshot of their phone. They claim they had not searched for the term or posted about it on social media. Soon after, Facebook began serving them cat food ads.

   We already know that Facebook collects advertising preferences on users even when they have switched off their ad customization, just like at Google between 2009 and 2011.
   Now it appears they will gather that information by any means necessary.
   This may be only one experiment, so we can’t claim it’s absolute proof, and we can’t rule out coincidence, but everything else about Facebook’s desperation to get user preferences and inflate its user numbers makes me believe that the company is doing this.
   Facebook claims it can do that when you approve their app to be loaded on your phone, so the company has protected itself far better than Google on this.
   Personally, I access Facebook through Firefox and cannot understand why one would need the app. If there is a speed advantage, is it worth it?
   This sort of stuff has been going on for years—much of it documented on this blog—so it beggars belief that these firms are still so well regarded by the public in brand surveys. I’m not sure that in the real world we would approve of firms that plant a human spy inside your home to monitor your every word to report back to their superiors, so why do we love firms that do this to us digitally? I mean, I never heard that the KGB or Stasi were among the most-loved brands in their countries of origin.

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Posted in business, internet, technology, USA | No Comments »


Google is telling fibs again when it says it’s dealing with “fake news” sites: more proof

19.11.2017


Above: Good news, Newsroom and The Spinoff are there in Google News.

Further to my blog post last night, I decided to look at Google News to see who had the latest on our PM, Jacinda Ardern. Feeding in her name, the above is the results’ page.
   I had thought that I had never seen Newsroom, which I make a point of checking out ahead of corporate, foreign-owned media such as Stuff and The New Zealand Herald, on Google News, but it turns out that I was wrong: its articles do appear. That’s a positive.
   But scroll down this page and see what else does.


Above: Bad news: Google News is quite happy to have “fake news” content mills in its index, something that would never have happened 10 years ago.

   I have said in the past that Google News has itself to blame for allowing, into its index, illegitimate websites that have no journalistic integrity. I think this screen shot proves it.
   The last two sources: 10,000 Couples and Insider Car News—the latter, in fact, so fake that it doesn’t even use the ASCII letters for its name (it’s Іnsіdеr Cаr Nеws), which is a common spammers’ trick—have made it into Google News. Neither is legit, and the latter has “content mill” writ large in its title. Surely an experienced editor at Google News would have seen this.
   Once upon a time, Google News would never have allowed such sites into this part of its index, and it was strict on checking what would make it. Evidently there is no standard now.
   If you want to look at “fake news”, here is a wonderful example: it’s not just on Facebook.
   No wonder some legitimate, well regarded websites are suffering all over the world. If this is representative of Google’s effort at shutting down fake-news operators, as it has claimed it is doing, then it is a dismal failure. Google, perhaps like Facebook, does not seem interested in dealing with fakes at all. In fact, it’s quite happy to shut legitimate sites down and accuse them of malware.
   It reinforces my point that we need alternatives right now to save the internet from itself. The trouble is whether the internet community is going to bother, or if we’re happy being sheeple.

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Posted in business, culture, internet, media, New Zealand, politics | 5 Comments »


Saving the internet from itself—Sir Tim Berners-Lee sees the same dangers

18.11.2017


Above: The Intercept is well respected, yet Google cozying up to corporate media meant its traffic has suffered, according to Alternet.

There’s a select group of countries where media outlets are losing traffic, all because Facebook is experimenting with moving all news items out of the news feed and on to a separate page.
   Facebook knows that personal sharing is down 25 and 29 per cent year-on-year for the last two years, and wants to encourage people to stay by highlighting the personal updates. (It probably helped back in the day when everything you entered into Facebook had to begin with your name, followed by ‘is’.) In Slovakia, Serbia, Sri Lanka and three other countries, media have reported a 60 to 80 per cent fall in user engagement via Facebook, leading to a drop in traffic.
   We’ve never been big on Facebook as a commercial tool for our publications, and if this is the way of the future, then it’s just as well that our traffic hasn’t been reliant on them.
   A 60–80 per cent drop in engagement is nothing: earlier this decade, we saw a 90 per cent drop in reach with Lucire’s Facebook page. One day we were doing thousands, the next day we were doing hundreds. It never got back up to that level unless we had something go viral (which, thankfully, happens often enough for us to keep posting).
   Facebook purposely broke the algorithm for pages because page owners would then be forced to pay for shares, and as Facebook is full of fake accounts, many of whom go liking pages, then the more you pay, the less real engagement your page is going to get.
   We felt that if a company could be this dishonest, it really wasn’t worth putting money into it.
   It’s a dangerous platform for any publisher to depend on, and I’m feeling like we made the right decision.
   Also, we had a Facebook group for Lucire long before Facebook pages were invented, and as any of you know, when the latter emerged there was hardly any difference between the two. We felt it highly disloyal to ask our group members to decamp to a page, so we didn’t. Eventually we ceased updating the group.
   We all know that sites like Facebook have propagated “fake news”, including fictional news items designed as click-bait conceived by people who have no interest in, say, the outcome of the US presidential election. Macedonian teenagers created headlines to dupe Trump supporters, with one claiming that his friend can earn thousands per month from them when they click through to his website, full of Google Doubleclick ads.
   The Guardian reports that paid items haven’t suffered the drop, which tells me that if you’re in the fake-news business, you could do quite well from Facebook in certain places. In fact, we know in 2016 they were paying Facebook for ads.
   Conversely, if you are credible media, then maybe you really shouldn’t be seen on that platform if you want to protect your brand.
   Facebook says it has no plans to roll out the “split feed” globally, but then Facebook says a lot of things, while it does the exact opposite.
   Both Facebook and Google claim they are shutting down these accounts, but I know from first-hand experience that Facebook is lousy at identifying fakes, even when they have been reported by people like me and Holly Jahangiri. Each of us can probably find you a dozen fakes in about two minutes, fakes that we’ve reported to Facebook and which they have done nothing about. I’ve already said that in one night in 2014, I found 277 fake accounts—and that wasn’t an outlier. I suspect Facebook has similar problems identifying fake-news fan pages.
   Everyday people are losing out: independent media are suffering—except for the golden opportunity Facebook has presented the fake-news business.

This leads me on to Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s latest, where he is no longer as optimistic about his invention, the World Wide Web.
   ‘I’m still an optimist, but an optimist standing at the top of the hill with a nasty storm blowing in my face, hanging on to a fence,’ he told The Guardian.
   The newspaper notes, ‘The spread of misinformation and propaganda online has exploded partly because of the way the advertising systems of large digital platforms such as Google or Facebook have been designed to hold people’s attention.’
   Sir Tim continued, ‘The system is failing. The way ad revenue works with clickbait is not fulfilling the goal of helping humanity promote truth and democracy. So I am concerned.’
   He’s also concerned with the US government’s moves to roll back ’net neutrality, which means big companies will have a greater say online and independent, diverse voices won’t. The ISPs will throttle websites that they don’t like, and we know this is going to favour the big players: AT&T already blocked Skype on the Iphone so it could make more money from phone calls.
   We’ve seen Google’s ad code manipulated first-hand where malware was served, leading to Google making false accusations against us and hurting our publications’ traffic for over a year afterwards.
   The ad industry is finding ways to combat this problem, but with Google the biggest player in this space, can we trust them?
   We also know that Google has been siding with corporate media for years—and to heck with the independent media who may have either broken the news or created something far more in-depth. I’ve seen this first-hand, where something like Stuff is favoured over us. That wasn’t the case at Google, say, six or seven years ago: if you have merit, they’ll send the traffic your way.
   Again, this doesn’t benefit everyday people if low-quality sites—even one-person blogs—have been permitted into Google News.
   Google claims it is fighting “fake news”, but it seems like it’s an excuse to shut down more independent media in favour of the corporates.

We spotted this a long time ago, but it’s finally hit Alternet, which some of my friends read. If your politics aren’t in line with theirs, then you might think this was a good thing. ‘Good on Google to shut down the fake news,’ you might say. However, it’s just as likely to shut down a site that does support your politics, for exactly the same reasons.
   I’m not going to make a judgement about Alternet’s validity here, but I will quote Don Hazen, Alternet’s executive editor: ‘We were getting slammed by Google’s new algorithm intended to fight “fake news.” We were losing millions of monthly visitors, and so was much of the progressive news media. Lost readership goes directly to the bottom line.’
   Millions. Now, we aren’t in the million-per-month club ourselves, but you’d think that if you were netting yourselves that many readers, you must have some credibility.
   Hazen notes that The Nation, Media Matters, The Intercept, and Salon—all respected media names—have been caught.
   Finally, someone at a much bigger website than the ones we run has written, ‘The more we dig, the more we learn about Google’s cozy relationship with corporate media and traditional forms of journalism. It appears that Google has pushed popular, high-traffic progressive websites to the margins and embraced corporate media, a move that seriously questions its fairness. Some speculate Google is trying to protect itself from critics of fake news at the expense of the valid independent outlets.’
   It’s not news, since we’ve had this happen to us for years, but it shows that Google is expanding its programme more and more, and some big names are being dragged down. I may feel vindicated on not relying on Facebook, but the fact is Google is a gatekeeper for our publication, and it’s in our interests to see it serve news fairly. Right now, it doesn’t.
   The danger is we are going to have an internet where corporate and fake-news agenda, both driven by profit, prevail.
   And that’s a big, big reason for us, as netizens, to be finding solutions to step away from large, Silicon Valley websites that yield far too much power. We might also support those government agencies who are investigating them and their use of our private information. And we should support those websites that are mapping news or offer an alternative search engine.
   As to social networking, we’ve long passed peak Facebook, and one friend suggests that since everything democratizes, maybe social networking sites will, too? In line with Doc Searls’s thoughts, we might be the ones who have a say on how our private information is to be used.
   There are opportunities out there for ethical players whose brands need a real nudge from us when they’re ready for prime-time. Medinge Group has been saying this since the turn of the century: that consumers will want to frequent businesses that have ethical principles, in part to reflect their own values. Millennials, we think, will particularly demand this. An advertising system that’s better than Google’s, a search engine that deals with news in a meritorious fashion, and social networking that’s better than Facebook’s, all driven by merit and quality, would be a massive draw for me right now—and they could even save the internet from itself.

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Posted in branding, culture, internet, media, New Zealand, politics, social responsibility, technology, USA | 3 Comments »


Are you close to quitting social media?

14.11.2017


Above: Just another regular day on Facebook: find more bots, report them, Facebook does nothing.

A friend asked today, for an article he is penning, whether we were close to quitting social media on his Facebook (I realize the irony). Here was my reply (links and styling added). What are your thoughts? Are the big social media sites coming to an end? We’ve definitely passed peak Facebook. Peak Twitter has been and gone, too, given that the platform now entertains 280 characters and has effectively said people who abuse its terms and conditions can stay if they’re newsworthy.

[Name omitted], here’s my take on it.
   I’m cutting back on Facebook for a number of reasons. The first is that this site doesn’t work. There are too many bugs, too many times when I cannot like, post or comment. Facebook has bragged about forcing people to download malware scanners (I can provide links) that have nothing to do with malware being on the user’s systems. I wrote this up on [m]y blog and tens of thousands have read it. While that’s not millions of users, that’s still a lot. And I think the reality is that millions are affected.
   Besides, Facebook has lied about its user numbers. As a business I can’t really support it. I have businesses I am involved in here where I don’t have a 100 per cent ownership, so those still spend. But when Facebook claims more people in certain demographics—millions more than in government censuses—then that is a worry.
   That leads me on to another point: bots. This place is full of them. I used to see more bots in my group queues than humans. I report them. In probably 40 per cent of cases, Facebook does nothing about them. So even for my businesses I wonder if there is any point posting here if I am getting a bot audience. My group numbers are shrinking in some cases, so I’m not alone in wanting out of this platform.
   And what more is there to share? I used to share photos but, frankly, I no longer can be arsed. I have Instagram for that, and that’s sufficient for me. My life is interesting but those who need to know already know. I will have seen them IRL. Just like the old days. There aren’t many things I want to update people on because my views on them haven’t changed hugely. Facebook is my Digg anyway, and has been for years. And if they carry out their promise to move news articles off the main feed (as they have done in some countries), then there’s no point sharing those either. You know statistically personal sharing is down 25 and 29 per cent year on year for the last few years, so we are not alone.
   Twitter I have read your concerns about, but to me it’s the better platform for having a chat, but there I am incensed that there is a double standard. Politicians can stay and abuse people because Twitter says they’re newsworthy. Everything is newsworthy to someone. They should not be the arbiters of that. While I haven’t seen the level of outrage (must be the people I follow) that you wrote about a few weeks ago—if anything I find it better now than in 2013–14—it has become less interesting as a place to be. All platforms, as I might have said earlier, deterioriate: remember how good email was before spammers? Or YouTube without brain-dead comments? Or, for that matter, any online newspaper? They attract a class of non-thinkers after a while, immovable when it comes to rational dialogue. We cannot level the blame solely at social media, it is society. You quit this, then there is no reason not to quit Stuff, for example: poor writing, no editing, and the comments, oh the comments! Or life in general: you and I wouldn’t walk into a redneck bar and talk diversity to the locals. Therefore we wouldn’t frequent certain places on the ’net. It isn’t just social media we would avoid overall: there are millions of sites that we just wouldn’t venture to, and we have to ask where we would draw the line. And maybe, then, these platforms do have a place—but we watch our privacy settings, and we don’t look at the main feed.
   I have been advancing the idea of going back to long-form blogging anyway. You control who comments. You determine who you converse with. And if they made it through your post, then that took more intelligence than getting through a Stuff article, so at least you’re cutting out a certain type of person. Maybe the past is the future. We’re not hiding with those blogs, but we are setting the bar where we want it—and that might just deal with the problems you’ve observed in social media.
   There are sites like Blogcozy, a blogging platform inspired by the old Vox (before Six Apart shut it down). I’m on there a lot, I have a nice following of a few dozen trusted people, and it blends the best of both worlds: long-form writing with social networking, posts shared only with those I choose in my settings.
   In the 14 years I’ve blogged—a lot less than you—I’ve had decent comments, so maybe it is time to fire up our own platforms more and get eyeballs on our own work.

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Posted in business, culture, internet, technology, USA | No Comments »


Wikipedia corrects serious error after 12 years

05.11.2017

Well done, Wikipedia, you got something right. It only took you 12 years.
   Nick, who appears to be a senior editor at the site, fixed up the complete fabrication that a user called ApolloBoy entered about the ‘Ford CE14 platform’ in 2005, after I wrote a pretty scathing piece on Drivetribe about Wikipedia’s inadequacies, in part based on an earlier blog post I wrote here.
   I am grateful to Nick who I expect saw my story.
   However, errors still abound, and as I pointed out in Drivetribe, another user called Pmeisel, who appears to have been an automotive industry professional, said back in February 2005 there was a real confusion between development codes and platforms on Wikipedia.
   While Nick has largely fixed the problem—he has noted that it was the European Ford Escort of 1990 and its derivatives that CE14 should refer to, and not much earlier American cars—there remains the lesser one that there is still no such thing as a ‘Ford CE14 platform’, just as there is no such thing as a ‘Ford C170 platform’, and so on.
   Ford did not use these codes to refer to platforms, they used them to refer to specific models.
   Let’s see if the Wikiality of this page will at least begin to disappear from the ’net, 12 years after ApolloBoy made up some crap and allowed it to propagate to the extent that some people regard it as fact.
   I have enquired into Wikipedia from time to time, enough to know it is full of mistakes. But the errors do seem to happen far more often in the Anglophone one. Perhaps those of us who speak English are more willing to commit fictions to publication. Goodness knows we have seen an example in print, too. Does this culture lend us to being far less precise with a poorer concern for the truth—and does that in turn lead to the ease with which “fake news” winds up in our media?

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Posted in cars, culture, internet, publishing | 4 Comments »