Archive for November 2019


Facebook takes away user control over their own advertising preferences

15.11.2019

Facebook’s advertising preferences are getting more useless by the day. Even a company as dodgy as Google has managed to keep its preference page working.
   Over the years I’ve been telling people that they can delete their interests from Facebook if they’re uncomfortable with the targeting, since Facebook gathers these interests even when you have opted out of targeted ads. Now, you can’t. If you’re on the desktop, Facebook just won’t show them to you. You can have this window open for hours for nothing to appear (and yes, I have tried regularly).

   Maybe you don’t have any, Jack? You just said you deleted them. Fact: I do have them, except they are only visible on the cellphone—and as usual they’re not that accurate. However, on the cellphone, these cannot be deleted or edited in any way.

   I also have a set of different ones if I export my Facebook data, but that’s another story.
   And remember when I said I opted out of alcohol ads, yet I still see plenty, especially from Heineken, which has even uploaded my email and private information to Facebook without my permission, and refuses to respond? (I may have to get the Privacy Commissioner to intervene again.) Facebook does say that opting out doesn’t necessarily work. In which case, you have to wonder why on earth the feature is there—regardless of what you toggle, Facebook does what it wants. Even Google doesn’t get this bad.
   Remember: Facebook offers you features, but they don’t necessarily work.
   And advertisers: Facebook’s audience estimates, by their own admission, have no bearing on the real population, and there is no third-party auditing. Even if you tailor your promotions, there’s no guarantee they’re even reaching the people you want. My interests are certainly incorrect—not that I can do anything about it so you don’t waste your money. Now multiply that by hundreds of millions of users.

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Big Tech and advertising: the con is being revealed

13.11.2019

People are waking up to the fact that online advertising isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.
   Last month, Bob Hoffman’s excellent The Ad Contrarian newsletter noted, ‘I believe the marketing industry has pissed away hundreds of billions of dollars on digital fairy tales and ad fraud over the past 10 years (in fact, I’m writing a book about it.) If I am right, and if the article in question is correct, we are in the midst of a business delusion unmatched in all of history.’ He linked to an article by Jesse Frederik and Mauritz Martin (also sent to me by another colleague), entitled ‘The new dot com bubble is here: it’s called online advertising’ in The Correspondent. In it, they cast doubt over the effectiveness of online ads, hidden behind buzzwords and the selection effect. If I understand the latter correctly, it means that people who are already predisposed to your offering are more likely to click on your ads, so the ads aren’t actually netting you new audiences.
   Here’s the example Frederik and Martin give:

Picture this. Luigi’s Pizzeria hires three teenagers to hand out coupons to passersby. After a few weeks of flyering, one of the three turns out to be a marketing genius. Customers keep showing up with coupons distributed by this particular kid. The other two can’t make any sense of it: how does he do it? When they ask him, he explains: “I stand in the waiting area of the pizzeria.”

   The summary is that despite these companies claiming there’s a correlation between advertising with them and some result, the truth is that no one actually knows.
   And the con is being perpetuated by the biggest names in the business.
   As Hoffman noted at the end of October:

A few decades ago the advertising industry decided they couldn’t trust the numbers they were being given by media. The result was the rise of third-party research, ratings, and auditing organizations.
   But there are still a few companies that refuse to allow independent, third-party auditing of their numbers.

   No surprises there. I’ve already talked about Facebook’s audience estimates having no relationship with the actual population, so we know they’re bogus.
   And, I imagine, they partly get away with it because of their scale. One result of the American economic orthodoxy these days is that monopolies are welcome—it’s the neoliberal school of thinking. Now, I went through law school being taught the Commerce Act 1986 and the Trade Practices Act 1974 over in Australia, and some US antitrust legislation. I was given all the economic arguments on why monopolies are bad, including the starvation of innovation in their sector.
   Roger McNamee put me right there in Zucked, essentially informing me that what I learned isn’t current practice in the US. And that is worrisome at the least.
   It does mean, in places like Europe which haven’t bought into this model, and who still have balls (as well as evidence), they’re happy to go after Google over their monopoly. And since our anti-monopoly legislation is still intact, and one hopes that we don’t suddenly change tack (since I know the Commerce Act is under review), we should fight those monopoly effects that Big Tech has in our country.
   What happens to monopolies? Well, if past behaviour is any indication, they can get broken up. Sen. Elizabeth Warren is simply recounting American history when she suggests that that’s what Facebook, Google and Amazon should endure. There was a time when Republicans and Democrats would have been united on this prospect, given the trusts that gave rise to their Sherman Act in 1890, protecting the public from market failures like these. Even a generation ago, they’d never have allowed companies to get this influential.
   Also a generation ago, we wouldn’t swallow the BS an advertising platform gave us without something to back it up. Right now, it seems we don’t have anything—and the industry is beginning to cry foul.


Lorie Shaull/Creative Commons Attribution–Share Alike 2·0

Regardless of your political stripes, Sen. Elizabeth Warren calling for the break-up of Big Tech made sense as recently as a generation ago.

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The 1970s: when TV shows were New

12.11.2019

As a child of the 1970s, I was exposed to this English word: new. Now, before you say that that isn’t anything special, for some reason, in the ’70s, there was an obsession with newness. It wasn’t like the news (by this I mean the plural of new) of Amsterdam or Zealand, but an adjective that was adapted to really emphasize that you should pay attention and consume, consume, consume.
   Perhaps the earliest exposure was a Tomica model I had: the Blue Whale Crown. The base plate and box read ‘Toyota New Crown’. Even as a child, I wondered: what happens to the old Crown models? And what happens to this Crown model when a new new Crown comes out? It didn’t matter: Toyota wanted us to live in the present and bask in the newness, and back in the early 1970s, this Crown certainly looked like nothing that had come from Toyota prior, or since. It was almost saying, ‘Yes, we know it looks weird, but hey, it’s “new”, so that means it’s good!’
   The real car flopped (relatively speaking; they still shifted plenty given top Japanese managers still needed transportation), and it was the last generation of Crown to be sold in the US, but to me it remains iconic, even if it is garish. After a mere three years on sale, very short even by Japanese standards, its ‘New’ successor emerged in 1974 with all the idiosyncrasies gone. Conservatism ruled in this segment, at least till fairly recently. The old toys hung round, still ‘new’, so even if your parents bought you one in 1975 or 1976, you could still relish the adjective.
   It wasn’t a case of Japlish. It was all over television as well. When we emigrated here, the Anglophone television introduced me to The New Dick Van Dyke Show. Never mind that I had never seen the old Dick van Dyke show at this point. This was the white-haired man doing the New Zealand Fire Service PSAs. Everyone knew him. And why was it The New? Because we needed to be told that despite the same network in its home country (CBS), Dick van Dyke wasn’t playing Rob Petrie, but a new character altogether. Please don’t take this as a continuation of the previous one.




Here are the News: The New Dick Van Dyke Show; The New Perry Mason; and The New Avengers.

   Van Dyke, in his autobiography, recounts a fan coming up to him berating him for leaving Laura (Mary Tyler Moore’s character from the earlier The Dick Van Dyke Show), so it’s not as though the qualifier worked; goodness knows how the same fan would have computed The Mary Tyler Moore Show, on the same night as The New Dick Van Dyke Show. Maybe that was proof that Rob had left Laura or vice versa and they were forging ahead with their separate lives.
   The New Dick Van Dyke Show wasn’t alone. A couple of years later, there was The New Perry Mason (1973), starring Monte Markham in the title role (though no one ever called him ‘New’). The Fred Steiner theme was nowhere to be heard. I’ve seen a few of these, and they are pretty good in a 1970s sort of way—which is to say more exterior filming and more flash cars (product placement was growing) on the back lot and on location. To make it more confusing, when Perry Mason returned in a bunch of TV movies in the 1980s, starting with Perry Mason Returns, it wasn’t Markham, but original actor Raymond Burr once more. You see, it wasn’t The New Perry Mason Returns.
   The New Perry Mason starred a different actor, so I can comprehend its Newness, and at least the presence of another actor underscored this. It didn’t do that well, which is probably why hardly anyone remembers it. Probably more people remember Markham as the Seven Million Dollar Man. I’m not kidding.
   One that I do remember extremely well was The New Avengers, in 1976. Again, given when I was born, I had no exposure to The Avengers, but The New Avengers was a favourite of mine then, and I bought the DVDs when I saw them decades later. Unlike the other two series, this was a direct continuation, though it wasn’t explained just how John Steed returned to Earth after Tara King blasted them both into space when they had their Endgame in 1969; but we do know they enjoyed Laurent Perrier champagne when they got back. It’s a third definition of new as far as the TV shows were concerned, with the same motive: if you want to be seen as in, hip and groovy, come watch the new.
   Perhaps more obscure were one-off TV movies: Halloween with the New Addams Family (1977), which had the same cast (grandmother aside, as actress Blossom Rock was ill), and where the new serves no useful purpose other than attempting to sell us on newness where there is none; and The New Maverick (1978), which sees the return of James Garner as Bret and Jack Kelly as Bart, though there’s no sign of Roger Moore as Beau (presumably too busy being James Bond) and Robert Colbert as Brent, but it did introduce a first cousin once removed called Ben Maverick (Charles Frank). I imagine Ben is the new Maverick, and a short-lived TV series, Young Maverick, did appear afterwards.
   No one really did much more New shows after this—it seemed to be a 1970s phenomenon. With one exception: CI5: the New Professionals in the 1990s, an attempt to recapture the glory days of The Professionals but winding up more like episodes of Bugs. There, new sort of meant old, reminding us that some of the writing and directing was out of step with late 1990s’ audience expectations; and, with the greatest of respect, showed that certain parties were past their prime. By then, we had had seven episodes of Bodyguards, which perhaps showed how a modern-day Professionals might be. All that needed was to be “laddified” for the FHM audience, at least in theory, and certainly, after 9-11, there may have been some scope for an élite, globally coordinated, anti-terrorist squad (which is what The New Professionals suggests the fictional CI5 unit morphed into, probably to accommodate its backers and the South African location filming in some episodes). But in 1998, there was less of an appetite for revival shows, especially when the top-rated series were ER and Friends, and the Americans were a year away from The Sopranos. Britain, meanwhile, was gripped with the tension of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and the FHM lads were more that catered for by Babes in the Wood.

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A couple of days before it became official: thoughts on PSA and FCA linking up

01.11.2019


Companies in FCA’s and PSA’s histories did once produce the Plymouth Horizon, so historically there is some precedent to a trans-Atlantic arrangement—not to mention the type 220 and 179 minivans and the commercial vehicles currently in PSA’s and Fiat’s ranges.

This is a few days old, but it’s nice to know that these hurriedly written thoughts on a private Facebook group reflected what I read a day later in the automotive press.

   Copied and pasted from the above (and yes, I know it should be e-208):

I read that as well, Jonathan. Elkann would be chairman and Tavares the CEO. I guess Fiat had to move on from talking with Renault while they have their internal squabbles. While some praise Marchionne, I thought it was foolish to let the less profitable marques suffer as he did—the global economy doesn’t stay buoyant all the time and at some point not everyone will want a hotted-up Alfa or Maserati. Especially as there seems to be no cohesive platform strategy. I think Fiat realizes the shambles it’s actually in despite what the share price says. There is some sense to have PSA platforms underpin a lot of Fiats (let’s face it, very little of the Fiat range is on a Fiat platform—there are GM, Mitsubishi, Mazda, Ford and PSA bits—and the old Grande Punto platform can only go so far), but the more premium marques will still have to have unique platforms.
   Fiat really needs to do some rationalization of its own before approaching others but my sense is that it’s gone too far down this road and has no investment in either next-generation B- (Jeep Renegade) or C-platforms (Giulietta) where a lot of European sales will still lie. Its only real prize here is Jeep.
   Tavares will be able to slash a great deal and Europe could look good quite quickly, but I doubt anyone has any focus on the US side of things other than Jeep. PSA has some limited experience in South America but it won’t be able to integrate that as easily. And neither has any real strength in China despite being early entrants, with, again, Jeep being the exception. (Peugeot, DS and Citroën are struggling in China.)
   He had claimed that PSA was looking at some sort of alternative retail model for the US, but it also seemed a bit far off.
   If this happens, I think Tavares will “do a Talbot” on anything Fiat-related in Europe, eventually killing the Fiat marque (with maybe just a 208e-based 500 remaining), and keep Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Jeep. Chrysler will remain with the Pacifica, Dodge might still have the Durango, but everything else would get the chop unless they consider bringing in a rebadged 508. Ram and Fiat Profissional will stay as separate entities. Fiat do Brasil will get some PSA tech. Then there might be some logic to what is left but I still feel Fiat has to get itself in order first.

   On reflection, maybe I was a little harsh on Sergio, as ignoring the mass-market brands has left FCA, with a portfolio of specialist and premium ones, a reasonably good fit for an organization that has the opposite set of strengths.
   One question remains: which is the cheap brand, the Plymouth, here? You can’t always go premium: sooner or later, economies weaken and people will want something entry-level. There may be wisdom to retaining Fiat in some shape or form. One more 108 variant can’t hurt …

Anyone notice a pattern here? That any company that owns Jeep eventually diminishes its own brand. Willys, Kaiser, AMC, Chrysler, and Fiat are either dead or no longer the forces they once were. Renault managed a controlling interest in AMC with 46·4 per cent in 1982, but that was bought by Chrysler five years later. At some stage, we must tire of these massive vehicles, and already there’s a suggestion that, in the US at least, nonconformist younger buyers are eyeing up sedans. Great if you’re Nissan in the US (and China), not so much if you’re Ford.

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