Archive for January 2018


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

21.01.2018


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”.

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Posted in business, internet, media, New Zealand, politics, technology, USA | No Comments »


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

17.01.2018

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

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Posted in technology, USA | 1 Comment »


Zuckerberg wants to fix Facebook: too little, too late

14.01.2018


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.

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Posted in branding, business, internet, marketing, technology, USA | 10 Comments »


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

03.01.2018

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.

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Posted in cars, culture, design, internet, publishing, USA | No Comments »