Archive for April 2018


Ford to stop selling passenger cars in the US and Canada, save for Mustang and Focus Active

26.04.2018


The Ford Focus Active: by the turn of the decade, this will be the only four-door passenger car Ford will sell in the US and Canada

In a surprise move, Ford has announced that it will cease selling passenger cars in the US and Canada by the early 2020s, excepting the Mustang and the Focus Active.
   The announcement was actually for ‘North America’ but as Ford of México does a reasonable trade on Figos and Fiestas, it’s hard to see the policy be uniform right across the continent.
   It’s a cost-cutting exercise, designed to save $25,500 million in five years, and trucks and SUVs simply make more money for them. Small cars mean small profits. In fact, car sales lag those of the F-series, Escape and Explorer in the US. Shares have risen on the news.
   That means Americans and Canadians will say goodbye to the Fiesta, Fusion (the four-door sedan counterpart to the Mondeo) and Taurus, the last of which is already superseded in China. If you liked the cooking RS and STs, then too bad. Lincolns are losing money for Ford, too, so maybe the Continental will vanish—given the Fusion is history, the MKZ will follow. That doesn’t leave much in the Lincoln line-up.
   My initial reaction was that the economies of scale would worsen: if you’re not developing for a global market, will development costs be successfully amortized in the same period? We have, however, seen the Japanese do reasonably well with products strictly for the North American market, e.g. certain Acuras and Hondas that are sold only in their neck of the woods. We also know most of the costs of the car are in the platform and architecture, and Ford has shown decent adaptability, particularly with the C519 Focus (the recently released Mk IV).
   Ford says the cuts will come from sales and marketing, engineering and product development, as well as material costs, manufacturing and IT, in that order, according to Automotive News.
   The fact that product development and engineering rank so highly there is worrying to me.
   They’re bandying the word efficiency about a lot, and that always has me worried. That’s the word you used to hear from corporate raiders like Slater Walker. Things can look efficient while they’re being weakened.
   CEO Jim Hackett says he’s feeding the healthy parts of the business, ‘and deal decisively with the parts that destroy value.’
   While it’s true that the crossover, SUV and truck markets are strong, as they are in many parts of the world, I can’t help but think that Ford isn’t preparing itself for tougher future scenarios.
   Energy crises can come unpredictably, for one. Ford was late to the downsizing game in the 1970s because it saw the dollar signs with big cars. By 1977, GM had stolen a real march on Ford. By the turn of the decade, Chrysler was back from the brink with fuel-efficient cars while Ford sailed into the red.
   Chrysler found itself too truck- and SUV-heavy with the recession of the late 2000s, and its entry-level nameplate Plymouth had already vanished, thanks to mismanagement by Daimler earlier in the century.
   While there’s not always a need for a full line—AMC taught us that extending yourself too far isn’t always wise—I wonder if Ford is leaving itself vulnerable.
   Crossovers like the Escape, which might outsell the Fusion, are being beaten in the market-place by the likes of the Toyota RAV4, so it’s not as though Ford is that strong in all the markets it wishes to remain in.
   GM, having pulled out of Europe and Russia, might be in better shape because of its position in China. Ford trails GM when it comes to its Chinese footprint, although it will remain in Europe.
   Ford’s Jim Farley says the company is looking at new types of vehicles that are spacious, versatile and economical, which hopefully will fill the gap should economic surprises surface. Because you need something cheap to hook buyers and get them to the brand. That’s not going to happen if Focus Active is the smallest car in the line-up.
   Ford is likely to have these on global platforms. But that signals to me a real need to remain strong in R&D. Failing that, Ford is looking to partner up with someone, and it may already have an idea who that is.
   I am speculating here, since I don’t have any figures outlining what proportion of revenue is devoted to that area.
   Nevertheless, this sounds like an appeasement of Wall Street.
   That leaves one concern over nameplates. Ford has successfully introduced nameplates over the years because the product was right: Cortina, Mustang, Escort, Capri, Fiesta and Focus among them. But it has also failed by killing nameplates and replacing them with ones that had no real goodwill, such as Five Hundred and Freestyle.
   Whatever Ford has in mind, I hope for their sake that the new product is compelling, as much as the Mustang and Fiesta were when they appeared on the market. Both emerged in the wake of economic recessions, with Ford innovating because it had to.
   In this century, Alan Mulally’s time at Ford had a measured, sensible approach, where you could understand the future. There are question marks over what Hackett has planned, and usually we have some clue what these new products will be four years out. All I know of is that the Ranger will make it to the US again, boosting truck sales, but that’s hardly an innovation. That’s just filling a market niche with familiar product.
   Will Ford do Brasil come up with something that can be sold in both North and South America? Perhaps the next-generation Ecosport?
   There are lessons in history that shouldn’t be ignored, and Ford has one of the most interesting pasts of any car maker. There is, however, a feeling from the announcement that this heralds a time of retrenchment, as its profits fall globally, and net income in the US rising for the first quarter in part due to a lower tax rate.
   Remember, Isuzu also once thought it was a good idea to stop selling passenger cars and focus on SUVs and trucks. And they’re no longer around in North America.

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Posted in business, cars, China, globalization, marketing, USA | 1 Comment »


Instagram videos of between 2′50″ and 7′03″: it can be done, but some are hidden

26.04.2018

As you saw in the previous post’s postscripts, it is possible to upload videos of longer than one minute to Instagram, but Instagram may or may not let the public see them. If you want people to see your videos for sure, then keep them to the standard minute. But if you want to chance it, so far my experience is 50–50, and there’s no correlation with length. Like all things Facebook, there is no consistency, and you are at the whim of the technology and its questionable database integrity. Here are the ones that have worked, the first at 2′50″, the second at 4′, the third at 3′51″, and the fourth at 7′03″ (this had to be uploaded twice as Facebook hid the first attempt).

PS., April 28, 12.37 a.m.: A few more tries and the odds of a video lasting longer than one minute being visible to other Instagram users are definitely 1:2. The latest is this, at 7′53″.
   Don’t be surprised if these record zero views on Instagram. I believe their stats only count full views, and no one’s going to sit watching a video there for that long unless it’s particularly compelling.

P.PS., May 4: I attempted a 9′03″ video. No joy. Instagram will allow the upload but the actual process takes an incredibly long time. The progress bar goes back a few times. Eventually it says there is an error. In theory, I think it’s possible, but right now I haven’t managed to exceed 7′53″.

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Posted in interests, internet, New Zealand, technology, USA, Wellington | 6 Comments »


You can post two-minute videos on Instagram, but no one will ever see them

25.04.2018

Updated in a follow-up post: click here.

Since Facebook bought Instagram, it’s been getting buggier, of course.
   I’ve complained about Instagram uploading a series of posts in a totally different order to what I had (which, on ANZAC Day, made it difficult for anyone to follow the story I was trying to tell on my account when the order is 2, 1, 5, 4, 3, 6, 7).
   Video (2) was an interesting one, because Instagram allowed me to post something that was 2 minutes, 6 seconds long, which it had never done before (or since).
   I thought it odd at the time but given that it was twice as long as normal, I didn’t complain. It allowed me to show more of the Air Force band performing ‘Au e ihu’ (Soldier’s Hymn).
   I did complain about one particular video featuring our national anthem which Instagram would say was loading, then on checking again, it would vanish. I made three attempts over a two-hour period before it “stuck” (video no. 3 in the sequence above). I had to wonder if Instagram was picking up the music and flagging it as a copyright violation: after all, YouTube flags static as copyright violations (hat tip to Retrorechercher).


Above: Instagram says these two are loading, but the one featuring our national anthem (the top one) kept vanishing. It never made it on to my account without three attempts.

   This morning, on checking the stats, I noticed that no one had viewed the longer video, and, after asking some friends on Twitter, learned that Instagram blocked anyone from seeing it. It’s like shadow-banning on Twitter: you can see your own stuff, but no one else can. Try it for yourself—here’s the link Instagram claims it’s at.



Look at the eighth post down. On my account (top), I can see it. When logged in as someone else (above), I can’t. Instagram’s version of shadow-banning?


Above: What my friend Happyfishmedia saw when clicking through to the link Instagram gave me.

   I can still play it straight from Instagram on the web and on my phone.
   You can give the MP4 a shot here (and note the URL, which is an Instagram one, and the duration). The thumbnail is here.
   However, I can’t embed the video the normal way, and any link that it lets me share results in a 404. It all feels very familiar, because this is the sort of bug that Facebook used to cook up, e.g. on days when you couldn’t post, like, comment or share, or tag yourself in a photograph.
   I might save the two-minute-long video separately in case there’s a way you can tell that it was edited inside Instagram.
   To sum up: Instagram will not load content in the same order you do (we already know this); it will permit much longer videos that exceed one minute, but if they let it through, no one will ever see it except you.
   We also know that Facebook will pump through any advertising on to Instagram, even in categories you have expressly asked not to be shown.
   There you have it, Instagram in 2018.

PS., April 25, 1.19 a.m. GMT: I’ve just tried a 2 minute 50 second video, and it appears it is visible. For how long, I don’t know. Check it out here, or, if the embed’s visible below, have a look.

P.PS., 1.59 a.m. GMT: Looks like four minutes is fine, too. While the first one is still invisible, it does appear Instagram has lifted the one-minute limit, and that’s not something I can find documented anywhere. Still, I’m grateful, because it makes far more sense to show two- to four-minute vids.

P.P.PS., 8.54 a.m. GMT: Just tried one at seven minutes, and it’s hidden. Seems Instagram is very inconsistent on what it shows and what it doesn’t. Link is here (it won’t work) and the MP4 is here.

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Posted in interests, internet, New Zealand, Wellington | 2 Comments »


UK picks on independent Tweeters, falsely calls them Russian bots and trolls

23.04.2018

If you were one of the people caught up with ‘The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!’ and a selection of Cold War paranoia resurrected by politicians and the media, then surely recent news would make you start to think that this was a fake-news narrative?
   Ian56 on Twitter was recently named by the UK Government as a Russian bot, and Twitter temporarily suspended his account.
   He recently fronted up to the Murdoch Press’s Sky News, which a bot actually couldn’t.
   To be a Russian bot, you need to be (a) Russian and (b) a bot. The clue’s in the title.

   If the British Government would like to understand what a bot looks like, I can log in to my Facebook and send them a dozen to investigate. They are remarkably easy to find.
   It would be easy to identify bots on Twitter, but Twitter doesn’t like getting shown up. But Ian56 has never been caught up in that, because he’s human.
   His only “crime”, as far as I can see, is thinking for himself. Then he used his right to free speech to share those thoughts.
   He’s also British, and proud of his country—which is why he calls out what he sees are lies by his own government.
   And if there is hyperbole on his Twitter account, the ones which the Sky News talking heads tried to zing him with, it’s no worse than what you see on there every day by private citizens. If that’s all they could find out of Ian56’s 157,000 Tweets, then he’s actually doing better than the rest of us.
   We seem to be reaching an era where the establishment is upset that people have the right to free speech, but that is what all this technology has offered: democratization of communication. Something that certain media talking heads seem to get very offended by, too.
   Ian’s not alone, because Murdoch’s The Times is also peddling the Russian narrative and named a Finnish grandmother as a ‘Russian troll’ and part of a Russian disinformation machine.

   I’ve followed Citizen Halo for a long time, and she’s been perfectly open about her history. Her account was set up nine years ago, long before some of the Internet Research Agency’s social media activity was reported to have begun. She’s been anti-war since Vietnam, and her Tweets reflect that.
   While she sees no insult in being labelled Russian (she openly admits to some Russian ancestry) she takes exception at being called a troll, which she, again, isn’t. She also wasn’t ‘mobilised’ as The Times claims to spread news about the air strikes in Syria. She and Ian questioned the veracity of mainstream media views, and they certainly weren’t the only ones. They just happen to be very good at social media. That doesn’t make you part of a Russian disinformation machine.
   As a result of The Times’s article, Citizen Halo has gained a couple of thousand followers.
   Meanwhile, Craig Murray, who ‘went from being Britain’s youngest ambassador to being sacked for opposing the use of intelligence from torture’ also sees similar attacks in the UK, again through The Times.
   It headlined, ‘Apologists for Assad working in universities’. Murray adds:

Inside there was a further two page attack on named academics who have the temerity to ask for evidence of government claims over Syria, including distinguished Professors Tim Hayward, Paul McKeigue and Piers Robinson. The Times also attacked named journalists and bloggers and, to top it off, finished with a column alleging collusion between Scottish nationalists and the Russian state.

   The net goes wider, says Murray, with the BBC and The Guardian joining in the narrative. On Ian, Murray noted:

The government then issued a ridiculous press release branding decent people as “Russian bots” just for opposing British policy in Syria. In a piece of McCarthyism so macabre I cannot believe this is really happening, an apparently pleasant and normal man called Ian was grilled live on Murdoch’s Sky News, having been named by his own government as a Russian bot.

The Guardian published the government line without question.
   It does appear that in 2018, all you need to do is think independently and exercise your right to free speech for the UK Government and the media to sell a conspiracy theory.
   That, if anything, begins weakening the official narrative.
   Like most people, I do take in some of the news that I get fed. Yet this activity is having the opposite effect of what the establishment wants, forcing tenuous links usually associated with gossip sites and tabloids. If you had trust in these institutions before, you may now rightly be questioning why.

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Posted in culture, internet, media, politics, publishing, TV, UK | No Comments »


Zuckerberg was either wilfully ignorant or lied during his testimony about ad data collection

17.04.2018

Either Mark Zuckerberg is woefully ignorant of what happens at his company or he lied during his testimony to US lawmakers last week.
   As reported by Chris Griffith in the Murdoch Press, Zuckerberg said, ‘Anyone can turn off and opt out of any data collection for ads, whether they use our services or not.’
   Actually, you can’t. As proven many times on this blog.
   If you’d like to read that earlier post, here it is.
   This is still going on in 2018, and confirmed by others.
   I can’t speak for shadow profiles because I am a Facebook user.
   Summary: Facebook will ignore opt-outs done on its own site and at industry sites, and compile ad preferences on you. Been saying it, and proving it, for years.

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Cambridge Analytica is merely Facebook’s ‘smaller, less ambitious sibling’

14.04.2018

Beyond all that had gone on with AIQ and Cambridge Analytica, a lot more has come out about Facebook’s practices, things that I always suspected they do, for why else would they collect data on you even after you opted out?
   Now, Sam Biddle at The Intercept has written a piece that demonstrates that whatever Cambridge Analytica did, Facebook itself does far, far more, and not just to 87 million people, but all of its users (that’s either 2,000 million if you believe Facebook’s figures, or around half that if you believe my theories), using its FBLearner Flow program.
   Biddle writes (link in original):

This isn’t Facebook showing you Chevy ads because you’ve been reading about Ford all week — old hat in the online marketing world — rather Facebook using facts of your life to predict that in the near future, you’re going to get sick of your car. Facebook’s name for this service: “loyalty prediction.”
   Spiritually, Facebook’s artificial intelligence advertising has a lot in common with political consultancy Cambridge Analytica’s controversial “psychographic” profiling of voters, which uses mundane consumer demographics (what you’re interested in, where you live) to predict political action. But unlike Cambridge Analytica and its peers, who must content themselves with whatever data they can extract from Facebook’s public interfaces, Facebook is sitting on the motherlode, with unfettered access to staggering databases of behavior and preferences. A 2016 ProPublica report found some 29,000 different criteria for each individual Facebook user …
   … Cambridge Analytica begins to resemble Facebook’s smaller, less ambitious sibling.

   As I’ve said many times, I’ve no problem with Facebook making money, or even using AI for that matter, as long as it does so honestly, and I would hope that people would take as a given that we expect that it does so ethically. If a user (like me) has opted out of ad preferences because I took the time many years ago to check my settings, and return to the page regularly to make sure Facebook hasn’t altered them (as it often does), then I expect them to be respected (my investigations show that they aren’t). Sure, show me ads to pay the bills, but not ones that are tied to preferences that you collect that I gave you no permission to collect. As far as I know, the ad networks we work with respect these rules if readers had opted out at aboutads.info and the EU equivalent.
   Regulating Facebook mightn’t be that bad an idea if there’s no punishment to these guys essentially breaking basic consumer laws (as I know them to be here) as well as the codes of conduct they sign up to with industry bodies in their country. As I said of Google in 2011: if the other 60-plus members of the Network Advertising Initiative can create cookies that respect the rules, why can’t Google? Here we are again, except the main player breaking the rules is Facebook, and the data they have on us is far more precise than some Google cookies.
   Coming back to Biddle’s story, he sums up the company as a ‘data wholesaler, period.’ The 29,000 criteria per user claim is very easy to believe for those of us who have popped into Facebook ad preferences and found thousands of items collected about us, even after opting out. We also know that the Facebook data download shows an entirely different set of preferences, which means either the ad preference page is lying or the download is lying. In either case, those preferences are being used, manipulated and sold.
   Transparency can help Facebook through this crisis, yet all we saw from CEO Mark Zuckerberg was more obfuscation and feigned ignorance at the Senate and Congress. This exchange last week between Rep. Anna Eshoo of Palo Alto and Zuckerberg was a good example:

   Eshoo: It was. Are you willing to change your business model in the interest of protecting individual privacy?
   Zuckerberg: Congresswoman, we have made and are continuing to make changes to reduce the amount of data …
   Eshoo: No, are you willing to change your business model in the interest of protecting individual privacy?
   Zuckerberg: Congresswoman, I’m not sure what that means.

   In other words, they want to preserve their business model and keep things exactly as they are, even if they are probably in violation of a 2011 US FTC decree.
   The BBC World Service News had carried the hearings but, as far as I know, little made it on to the nightly TV here.
   This is either down to the natural news cycle: when Christopher Wylie blew the whistle on Cambridge Analytica in The Observer, it was major news, and subsequent follow-ups haven’t piqued the news editors’ interest in the same way. Or, the media were only outraged as it connected to Trump and Brexit, and now that we know it’s exponentially more widespread, it doesn’t matter as much.
   There’s still hope that the social network can be a force for good, if Zuckerberg and co. are actually sincere about it. If Facebook has this technology, why employ it for evil? That may sound a naïve question, but if you genuinely were there to better humankind (and not rate your female Harvard classmates on their looks) and you were sitting on a motherlode of user data, wouldn’t you ensure that the platform were used to create greater harmony between people rather than sow discord and spur murder? Wouldn’t you refrain from bragging that you have the ability to influence elections? The fact that Facebook doesn’t, and continues to see us as units to be milked in the matrix, should worry us a great deal more than an 87 million-user data breach.

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Posted in business, internet, marketing, media, politics, technology, UK, USA | No Comments »


Turned alcohol ads off in Facebook? Did you honestly think they’d respect that?

10.04.2018

Steve Wozniak has quit Facebook, and apparently was surprised at the advertising preferences that the company had built up on him. Like me, Woz had been deleting the ad preferences and advertisers one at a time. Now, if Woz is surprised, then it shows you how serious it is. As I noted in my last post, Facebook even lies about those: on the public ad preferences page it might show none, in the big Facebook data dump it shows some. I believe it might even lie to advertisers about our activity.
   Here’s something else I can tell you first-hand. When you see ads on Instagram, a Facebook subsidiary, they claim that the preferences are controlled within Facebook.
   Inside the ad preferences, all alcohol ads are turned off. Guess what appeared in my Instagram? An ad for Heineken.
   Unless Heineken has launched a non-alcoholic beer under that brand, then Facebook has lied once again.



Facebook’s ad preferences mean nothing. I saw a beer ad in Instagram, then checked my Facebook ad preferences, which Instagram claims control what ads I see. That’s a load of old bollocks (i.e. business as usual at Facebook Inc.).

   And remember, throughout all of this, I had already opted out of ad customization on another Facebook page, so there’s no reason for Facebook to compile anything on me. Yet, regardless of that setting, it will compile and compile. It will even repopulate, with thousands of preferences, freshly deleted pages.
   Now we know that there’s a possibility, if you weren’t clued up about your privacy settings, that these preferences were sold to others. The latest revelation is that CubeYou had sold user data also gathered under the guise of ‘academic research’. Remember, Facebook knew about the Cambridge Analytica leak in 2015 and sought to bury the story. The new CubeYou story proves that that was not isolated. But then, if you go back through what I have been writing in this blog for a good part of this decade, you really wouldn’t be surprised about any of this. In fact, you can probably make an educated guess and say that this was normal practice at Facebook: have money, will sell. Even President Duterte of the Philippines benefited from these practices, with 1·2 million Filipinos’ data harvested, and the list goes on. In New Zealand, Facebook has said that up to 63,714 Kiwis’ profiles were harvested. And now, it appears there’s even a link with US businessman Peter Thiel, who gained New Zealand residency after spending less than 1 per cent of the time required here, and whose companies, as defence contractors, have received millions of dollars of New Zealand taxpayer funds.
   Thanks to Facebook, governments have a lot on us, something Edward Snowden has been saying for years. The difference in the 2000s and 2010s is, thanks to digital narcissism, we’re the ones willingly providing this information, while Facebook milks it for all it’s worth, before its enriched CEO pretends to play victim, and his people try to use legal means to shut down the negative media stories.

PS., April 14: If you thought the above was isolated, you’d be quite wrong:

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Posted in business, internet, marketing, media, New Zealand, politics, technology, USA | 4 Comments »