Archive for October 2018


Life inside Google—an ex-Googler airs the dirty laundry

19.10.2018

In amongst all the political fallout of the National Party this week—what I’m dubbing (and hashtagging) ‘caught in the Rossfire’—was a series (well, over 100) Tweets from Morgan Knutson, a designer who once worked for Google. Unlike most Googlers, especially the cult-like ones who refuse to help when you point out a fault with Google, Knutson decided he would be candid and talk about his experience. And it isn’t pretty. Start here:

Or, if you prefer, head to the Twitter page itself, or this Threader thread.
   As anyone who follows this blog knows, I’ve long suspected things to be pretty unhealthy within Google, and it turns out that it’s even worse than I expected.
   A few take-outs: (a) some of the people who work there have no technical or design experience (explains a lot); (b) there’s a load of internal politics; (c) the culture is horrible but money buys a lot of silence.
   Knutson claims to have received a lot of positive feedback, some in private messaging. His Tweets on the aftermath:

   This, I thought, summed it up better than I could, even though I’ve had a lot more space to do it:

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Don’t group Chinese New Zealanders into one faceless bunch

18.10.2018

Some visiting Australian friends have said that they are finding New Zealand politics as interesting as their own, although I don’t think this was meant as a compliment.
   Those of us in New Zealand had a few days of House of Cards-lite intrigue, in that it was stirred up by a conservative whip, in an attempt to take down his party leader. Except it was so much more condensed than the machinations of Francis Urquhart, and, if you were Chinese, Indian or Filipino, in the words of Taika Waititi, it was ‘racist AF’.
   Two of my Tweets garnered hundreds of likes each, which generally doesn’t happen to me, but I am taking that as reinforcing something I truly believe: that most New Zealanders aren’t racist, and that we despise injustices and treating someone differently because of their ethnicity.
   Botany MP Jami-Lee Ross and opposition leader Simon Bridges’ phone call, where the former stated that two Chinese MPs were worth more than two Indian ones, drew plenty of thoughts from both communities, where we felt we were treated as numbers, or a political funding source, with none of us actually getting into a National Cabinet (or the Shadow Cabinet) since Pansy Wong was ousted last decade—making you feel that had other Cabinet ministers been held to the same standard, they would have been gone as well. Here was my first Tweet on the subject:

   While Bridges was quick to apologize to Maureen Pugh MP, whom he insulted in the leaked phone call:

   There’s the inevitable look back through the history of Chinese New Zealanders, who have largely been humiliated since the gold-mining days by earlier generations, and the Poll Tax, for which an apology came decades after during the previous Labour government.
   And the scandal also inspired Tze Ming Mok to write an excellent op-ed for The New Zealand Herald, which I highly recommend here. It’s one of the most intelligent ones on the subject.

   She’s absolutely right: those of us with few connections to the People’s Republic of China don’t like being grouped in among them, or treated as though we’re part of the Chinese Communist Party apparatus.
   Her research showed that roughly half of Chinese New Zealanders were born on the mainland, and that the group itself is incredibly diverse. My father’s family fled in 1949 and I was raised in a fairly staunch anti-communist household, images of Sun Yat Sen and the ROC flag emblazoned on my paternal grandfather’s drinking glasses. My mother, despite being born in Hong Kong, grew up behind the Bamboo Curtain and survived the famine, and didn’t have an awful lot of positive things to say about her experiences there, eventually making her way out to her birthplace during her tertiary studies.
   Tze Ming writes:

This chilling effect is harming Chinese people in New Zealand. Many people cannot differentiate Chinese people from the actions of the CCP (I mean hey, many people can’t tell a Chinese from a Korean), but this is made worse when hardly any authorities on the topic will address the issue openly. Concerns can only erupt as xenophobia against the Chinese and “Asian” population …
   CCP-linked politicians parroting Xi Jinping and promoting Beijing’s Belt & Road priorities don’t speak for at least half of us.

   ‘At least’ is right. My father was born in the mainland where 反共 was a catch-cry in his young adult life. I’m willing to bet there’s an entire, older Chinese-born generation that thinks the same.
   She continues:

It’s endlessly irritating and insulting that both Labour and National have lazily assigned Chinese communities as the fiefdoms of politicians openly backed by the Chinese government.

   That’s true, too. In 2014 I was approached by the National Party asking how best to target the Chinese community. My response was to treat us the same as any other New Zealanders. I’m not sure whether the advice was taken on board, as within months I was invited to a Chinese restaurant for a $100-a-head dinner to be in the presence of the Rt Hon John Key, a fund-raiser that was aimed at ethnic Chinese people resident here. It certainly didn’t feel that I was being treated like my white or brown neighbours.
   The other point Tze Ming touches on, and one which I have written about myself, is the use of the term Asian in New Zealand.
   Let me sum it up from my time here, beginning in 1976, and how I saw the terms being used by others:

1970s: ‘Chinese’ meant those people running the groceries and takeaways. Hard working. Good at maths. Not good at politics or being noticed, and Petone borough mayor George Gee was just an anomaly.

1990s: ‘Asian’ became a point of negativity, fuelled by Winston ‘Two Wongs don’t make a white’ Peters. He basically meant Chinese. It’s not a term we claimed at the time, and while some have since tried to reclaim it for themselves to represent the oriental communities (and some, like super-lawyer Mai Chen, have claimed it and rightly extended it to all of Asia), it’s used when non-Chinese people whine about us. It’s why ‘My best friend is Asian’ is racist in more than one way.

2010s: ‘Chinese’ means not just the United Front and the Confucius Institute (which has little to do with Confucius, incidentally), but that all Chinese New Zealanders are part of a diaspora with ties to the PRC. And we’re moneyed, apparently, so much that we’ve been accused of buying up properties based on a list of ‘Chinese-sounding names’ by Labour in a xenophobic mood. I’ve been asked plenty of times this decade whether I have contacts in Beijing or Shanghai. If you’re born in Hong Kong before July 1, 1997, you were British (well, in a post-Windrush apartheid sense anyway), and unlikely to have any connections behind the Bamboo Curtain, but you’ve already been singled out by race.

   Now, I don’t want to put a dampener on any Chinese New Zealander who does have ties back to the mainland and the CCP. We share a history and a heritage, and since I wasn’t the one who had any experience of the hardships my parents and grandparents suffered, I don’t have any deep-seated hatred festering away. My father visited the old country in 2003 and put all that behind him, too. A republic is better than the imperial families that had been in charge before, and if I’ve any historical power to dislike, I’d be better off focusing on them. So in some respects, there is “unity” insofar as I’ll stick up for someone of my own race if they’re the subject of a racist attack. I’ll write about Chinese people and businesses without the derision that others do (e.g. here’s an article on the MG GS SUV that doesn’t go down the Yellow Peril route). But we’re not automatons doing Beijing’s bidding.
   I’ll lazily take Tze Ming’s conclusion in the Herald:

We deserve better than to be trapped between knee-jerk racists and Xi Jinping Thought. Abandoning us to this fate is racism too.

   I haven’t even begun to address the blatant sexual harassment that has since emerged as a result of the scandal, but others are far better placed to speak on that.

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Posted in China, culture, Hong Kong, India, media, New Zealand, politics | 1 Comment »


The Facebook and Twitter purge: you can violate policies by doing nothing

16.10.2018

I’m not familiar with The Anti-Media, but New Zealand-based lawyer Darius Shahtahmasebi, who contributed to the site, notes that it was caught up in the Facebook and Twitter purge last week.
   The Anti-Media, he notes, had 2·17 million Facebook followers. ‘Supposedly, Facebook wants you to believe that 2.17 million people voluntarily signed up to our page just to receive all the spam content that we put out there (sounds realistic),’ he wrote in RT.
   After Facebook removed the page, Twitter followed suit and suspended their account.
   Not only that, Shahtahmasebi notes that Anti-Media team members had their Twitter accounts purged as well. Its editor in chief received this message: ‘CareyWedler has been suspended for violating the Twitter Rules. Specifically, for:’. That was it. She’s none the wiser on what violation had been committed.
   But here are the real kickers: their social manager had access to 30 accounts, and Twitter was able to coordinate the suspension of 29 of them, while their chief creative officer had his removed, including accounts he had never used. The Anti-Media Radio account suffered a similar fate, Twitter claiming it was due to ‘multiple or repeat violations of the Twitter rules’—and it had no Tweets.
   Shahtahmasebi has his theories on what was behind all of this. It does give my theories over the years a lot of weight: namely that Facebook targets individuals and its “rules” are applied with no reference to actual stated policies. Essentially, the company lies. Twitter has been digging itself more deeply into a hole of late, and it’s very evident now, even if you didn’t want to admit it earlier, that it operates on the same lines. Google I have covered before, some might think ad nauseam.
   One of his conclusions: ‘There is nothing much that can be done unless enough people take a principled stand against such a severe level of censorship.’ In some cases, including one Tweeter I followed, it has been to vote with one’s feet, and leave these spaces to continue their descent without us.

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Autocade hits 14,000,000 page views, and we start a YouTube channel

13.10.2018


Above: Behind the scenes of the Škoda Karoq road test for Autocade.

I hadn’t kept track of Autocade’s statistics for a while, and was pleasantly surprised to see it had crossed 14,000,000 page views (in fact, it’s on 14,140,072 at the time of writing). Using some basic mathematics, and assuming it hit 13,000,000 on May 20, it’s likely that the site reached the new million in late September.
   The site hadn’t been updated much over the last few months, with the last update of any note happening in early September. A few more models were added today.
   Since I’ve kept track of the traffic, here’s how that’s progressed:

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)
May 2018: 13,000,000 (four months for thirteenth million)
September 2018: 14,000,000 (four months for fourteenth million)

   In May, the site was on 3,665 models; now it’s on 3,755.
   As the increase in models has been pretty small, there’s been a real growth in traffic, and it’s the third four-month million-view growth period since the site’s inception.
   We’re definitely putting in more crossovers and SUVs lately, and that’s almost a shame given how similar each one is.
   With my good friend Stuart Cowley, we’re extending Autocade into video segments, and here’s our first attempt. It’s not perfect, and we have spotted a few faults, but we hope to improve on things with the second one.

   If you’re interested, you can subscribe to the Autocade YouTube channel here. Of course, given my concerns about Google, the video also appears at Lucire’s Dailymotion channel. Once we get a few more under our belt and refine the formula, we’ll do a proper release.
   And, as I close this post, just over 10 minutes since the start, we’re on 14,140,271.

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Posted in business, cars, internet, media, New Zealand, publishing, technology, Wellington | No Comments »


Facebook’s censorship purge is a joke

13.10.2018

Facebook has continued its purge of pages and individual accounts, and proudly proclaimed, ‘Today, we’re removing 559 Pages and 251 accounts that have consistently broken our rules against spam and coordinated inauthentic behavior’.
   Long-time readers of this blog will know why I think this is a massive joke.
   If I can find 277 bots and fake accounts in one evening in 2014 (and that wasn’t an outlier) and Facebook says they had to take action in a public statement on a grand total of 251, then Facebook doesn’t have any clue of how bad its problem is.
   Even though I barely use Facebook, I found around 50 fakes yesterday, and I’m just one person. How many of those fakes are still up, I have no idea, but I can bet you they weren’t part of the 251 purge.
   Let’s face it, Facebook loves the fakes. They count them as they help exaggerate their claims of user numbers, and those have been proven to be BS last year. They even use them when people pay for likes via Facebook itself, again a long proven fact.
   Those 277 bots in 2014 were coordinated, and the most recent ones I found (largely based in Asia, especially Myanmar) were also coordinated.
   We know Facebook targets accounts, including to plant software on users’ computers, and the reasons given have no foundation in fact.
   Those 251 were political, given the theme of the purges this week, as Facebook, along with Google, play censor. They’ve no time for independent voices, while big corporations survive. So much for the web being the leveller, which we once hoped in the 1990s, as the big players work among themselves to do whatever they can to cement their view of the world.

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Google censors at every level—it’s just what they do

11.10.2018

As my final post on Google Plus, I posted the Murdoch Press article on how the company exposed user data between 2015 and 2018, choosing not to disclose it publicly for fear of regulatory scrutiny and damage to its reputation.
   How interesting to note that it has now been removed twice by the powers that be at Google. I have just posted it a third time.
   I wasn’t willing to put even the first time down to a bug. Google censors, and we know it censors.
   It’s particularly bad timing for a company, so fearful of its reputation being harmed, that reports of its willingness to appease Beijing through censorship are emerging in the same week. (Here’s another.)
   Breitbart has got in on the action, too, citing another leaked briefing, contradicting Google’s public statements that it is neutral. You can read the full briefing, entitled The Good Censor, at this Dropbox link provided by Breitbart.
   This isn’t a case of left versus right here—anyone who follows this blog knows that. Breitbart may be warning us about the latest censorship policy, but on the other side, Alternet has been hit, too. It strikes me that the US’s so-called “opponents” actually have many aligned interests, and their common enemy seems to be forces that attempt to suppress independent voices and individual thinking. We know of Google’s love of corporate media and big business, biasing results in favour of them and against independent media, regardless of merit.
   Part of me laments the demise of Google Plus since I’ve recorded many of Google’s misdeeds there over the years—the removal of ‘Don’t be evil’, refusing to come clean on its gender discrimination, the lack of monitoring of YouTube videos, shutting down critics in the US, and the abuse of monopoly powers, among others. That’s just a tiny handful of links between 2015 and 2018—covering the same period user data were compromised.
   One would have to have blinkers on not to see the pattern that has been forming for over a decade, much of which has been documented here.

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Google exposed private user data between 2015 and 2018

09.10.2018

Big Tech isn’t afraid of the law, but it is afraid of bad press that could affect its stock price. The Murdoch Press has, refreshingly, stayed on Google’s case, revealing that there had been another exposure of user data, allowing developers access to private information between 2015 and March 2018.
   The company sent a memo warning executives not to disclose this, fearing ‘regulatory interest’.
   The access was available via Google Plus, which the company says it will permanently close.
   In 2011 I predicted Plus would be a flop, while tech journalists salivated at the prospect, calling it, among other things, a Facebook killer. A few years later, you couldn’t find much support among the tech press, but no one admitting they were wrong.
   I had warned regularly on this blog of privacy holes that I had found on Google, with inexplicable mystery parties among my Circles or on Google Buzz, as well as strange entries in my Google account. I’ve talked often about what I discovered with Google’s ad preferences (something it got away with for up to two years), but I’ve also found YouTube and search history settings turned on without my consent. Murdochs had revealed Google hacked Iphones, which led to a lawsuit. To learn that Google has had a privacy problem, one that it let slip for three years, does not surprise me one bit.

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Twitter stutters and other Big Tech misadventures

07.10.2018

I think the signs of a departure from Twitter are all there. Certainly on a cellphone there’s little point to it any more. As of last week, this began happening.

   That last sentence refers only to the fact that Twitter is the only website on the planet where the keyboard is incompatible. (Thanks to Andrew McPherson for troubleshooting this with me.) Other sites are buggy, too: earlier today I couldn’t delete something from Instagram (being owned by Facebook means all the usual Facebook databasing problems are creeping in), and one video required four upload attempts before it would be visible to others:

I couldn’t reply on the Facebook website to a direct message (clicking in the usual typing field does nothing, and typing does nothing) except in image form, so I sent my friend this:

   Earlier this year, many friends began experiencing trouble with their Facebook comments: the cursor would jump back to the beginning of text fields, pushing the first few characters they typed to the end. Others are complaining of bugs more and more often—reminds me of where I was four or five years ago. And we all now know about Facebook bots, four years after I warned of an ‘epidemic’.
   It’s as I always expected: those of us who use these sites more heavily encounter the bugs sooner. Vox was the same: I left a year before Six Apart closed it down, and the bugs I encountered could never be fixed. I’m actually going through a similar battle with Amazon presently, blog post to come.
   Now, since Mastodon and others work perfectly fine, and there’s no end of trouble to Big Tech, it’s inevitable that we jump ship, isn’t it?

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The easy-to-spot signs of the social media racist

02.10.2018

As Twitter (and other social media) descend, what’s been interesting is seeing how many of us Kiwis aren’t being terribly original. No, I don’t exactly mean Dr Don Brash thinking that he can import US-style division into New Zealand wholesale without understanding the underlying forces that helped Donald Trump secure their presidency (in which case such attempts here will fail), but I do mean how later Tweeters hunt for keywords and arguments to defend institutionalized racism, sexism, and other unsavoury -isms, then use imported techniques because they saw on television that they worked overseas.
   I recall one not long ago who was evidently looking out for white male privilege, with some pretty standard Tweets prepared and an odd refusal to address fundamental questions—that sort of thing. There’s little point getting into a debate with nobodies who troll, and it’s all too obvious how they emerge on your radar.
   Once upon a time social media didn’t have these types, but then once upon a time, email didn’t have spammers. It’s the natural development of technology that humans tend to mess up pretty decent inventions. But, like spam, we find ways of dealing with it.
   Race was one that came up over the weekend. Now, if you’re against racism, it would stand to reason that busting false stereotypes would be something that you’d savour. Ditto if you’re battling sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc.
   I’ve mentioned some of these before, e.g. ‘Asian drivers’ somehow being terrors on our roads, something that statistics don’t bear out. (Or, for that matter, the total lack of truth about ‘women drivers’, who are statistically safer than men.) Among tourists, we’ve established Australians and Germans are the two most dangerous groups. Food has been one that’s been on our minds lately, since my other half managed to find herself ill from eating at two occidental restaurants, and given the amount of research she’s done into the area, I’ll defer to her on the subject. Again it’s an area where I hear myths about Chinese food repeated ad nauseam.
   The thing is that busting stereotypes gives racists less to go on, less of a feeling of superiority, so they’ll begin countering. Women know full well when sexists attack, and racists follow the same pattern.
   A very funny chap sent two swear word-filled Tweets which—and this is the only interesting thing about them—were extracted fully right out of the racists’ playbook. I was only surprised that this was still going on in 2018, hence this blog post, since I thought these signs were so clear by now that no one would be daft enough to try them on.
   Their overriding message: dissing a western stereotype makes you a racist.
   Akin to the ‘I’m not the Nazi, you’re the Nazi’ Tweets and comments seen overseas, there was a suggestion that my lot was just as racist. Now, I don’t deny that any majority race in any country can be racist. It’s how I met one gentleman in Hong Kong who pointed out racism in a schoolbook that had a Filipina caricature—I reached out offering to help. Or calling out the treatment of Malays and Indians by certain business people among my own lot in Malaysia. When you’ve been the minority for most of your life, you can spot it, and you find it particularly tasteless when it’s perpetrated by your own race. (Thanks to #MeToo, it appears some men are getting better at calling out “locker-room talk”, too.)
   But this is a diversion meant to cloud the issues. The intent is to criticize the person (by their race) in order to devalue the argument they make, and not deal with the argument itself. They miss the irony of this and it actually validates your original point. If you can’t answer something civilly, then you haven’t answered it at all.
   In Tweet no. 2 (I wish I had taken a screen shot, as it has been deleted—I didn’t expect the cowardice) was a variation on ‘My best friend is Asian.’ This one was about his partner and stepchildren being Asian, and his own son, who is half-Asian, and how he considers himself Asian. Um, no, you’re not, not from the exhibited conduct, but it’s a feeble attempt to scramble to give his own position a status above yours. Again it’s not about addressing the argument (a classic move in social media), but about debasing the opposition. Another one to look out for.
   Now, if you really were to address this, wouldn’t your best friend being Asian, or having a child with Asian heritage, mean you have a stake in busting myths that could harm that person? That’s not something they really care about, even if it harms those supposedly closest to them. (And those of us in New Zealand have a negative history with the term ‘Asian’, so I doubt you’d actually use it in referencing your ‘best friend’. You’d actually know their heritage, whether it was Iraqi, Asiatic Russian, Japanese, Kazakh, or whatever.)
   Then there are the emotive overreactions, the falsely placed righteous moral indignation that this group is particularly good at. It’s to make you think (unconvincingly) that your statements have potentially offended not just the racist, but, shock, horror, all right-thinking people.
   Think about how a normal person would have reacted, and you have to conclude that no one jumps to uncontrollable shaking anger, the keyboarding equivalent of firing a gun as a result of road rage.
   There’ll be aspects of one or more of these in social media, and those who are combatting prejudice would do well to spot the signs.
   To me, these are signs of unstable characters, akin to an adult having a tantrum. Or they specifically fish for things to make them angry. Now, I don’t know how they dealt with their powerlessness ten years ago, but now they surf among us, hoping in vain to drag you to their level.
   So given they are still around, the local body elections next year are going to be interesting, because you don’t need the Dirty Politics crowd to coordinate it now: it’s a lot easier to provoke this dying group with fake news and let them run riot. On the other hand, it’s also a lot easier to spot them and see the conceit behind them.
   We’re a small enough country for most of us to know this by now anyway. Or so I hope.

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