Archive for the ‘business’ category


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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Posted in business, internet, marketing, New Zealand, technology, USA | 2 Comments »


The latest round of Facebook lies

26.10.2019

I believe one of the Democrat-leaning newspapers in the US compiles a list of lies by Donald Trump. I really think we should be doing one for Facebook, as it would make for impressive reading, though it would also take some time to compile.
   Founder Mark Zuckerberg claimed he talked to media from ‘across the spectrum’, but as The Intercept’s Jon Schwarz and Sam Biddle discovered, this is another lie: Zuckerberg cultivates relationships with US conservatives, not their liberals, based on the duo’s checks.

   This adds fuel to the fire that Zuckerberg dreads US senator Elizabeth Warren getting into the White House, and has said so, and we know the buck really stops with him when it comes to Facebook’s activities. Facebook even pulled Sen. Warren’s ads from their platform briefly: so much for impersonal algorithms, ‘We’re just a platform,’ and free speech. We also know from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s questioning of the Facebook founder that he claims he passes the buck on what media are considered legit to a conservative group, something he’ll have sanctioned, so be prepared to see Facebook reflect his (and Trump-supporting, Facebook board member Peter Thiel’s) right-wing political views.
   As Schwarz and Biddle also note, Facebook’s VP for US public policy is a George W. Bush aide and a board member for the former president’s museum.
   Jack Morse at Mashable, meanwhile, reported that Zuckerberg is attempting historical revisionism on why he started Facebook. Retconning might work with comic books but less so in real life. Apparently, instead of the truth—a website which scraped photos of students and asked people to rate who was hotter—Facebook is now something created to give people a voice after the Iraq war in 2003.
   Sorry, Mark, we know you didn’t have such noble intentions, regardless of what they eventually became.
   It’s an insult to all those entrepreneurs who actually did start businesses or ventures with noble intent or socially responsible purposes.
   Frankly, sticking to the truth, and saying you discovered the power of connecting people, is a far more compelling story.
   Except, of course, Facebook no longer connects people. It divides people by validating their own biases, including less savoury viewpoints. It stokes outrage because that’s worth more clicks and time spent on its site. At worst, it’s a tool used for genocide. It’s a shame Facebook refuses to acknowledge the Pandora’s box it has opened, because its top management has no desire to do a thing about it. And as such it loses my respect even further. Don’t want the likes of Warren calling for breaking your company up? The solution is actually quite simple, but you all have become too rich and too establishment to want to break things.
   I actually had to write this in my op–ed for Lucire’s 22nd anniversary last week: ‘In this respect, we see our mission as the opposite of social media: we want to bring people together, not usher them into silos and echo chambers.’ The narrative Facebook wishes to spin, like so many in its past, is an easily seen-through joke.

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Facebook: no change, business as usual

24.10.2019

I would have loved to have seen this go to trial, but Facebook and the plaintiffs—a group of advertising agencies alleging they had been swindled by the social network—settled.
   Excerpted from The Hollywood Reporter, ‘The suit accused Facebook of acknowledging miscalculations in metrics upon press reports, but still not taking responsibility for the breadth of the problem. “The average viewership metrics were not inflated by only 60%-80%; they were inflated by some 150 to 900%,” stated an amended complaint.’
   Facebook denies this and settled for US$40 million, which is really pocket change for the multi-milliard-dollar company. Just the price of doing business.
   Remember, Facebook has been shown to have lied about the number of people it can reach (it now admits that its population estimates have no basis in, well, the population), so I’m not surprised it lies about the number of people who watch their videos. And remember their platform has a lot of bots—I still have several thousand reported on Instagram that have yet to be touched—and Facebook itself isn’t exactly clean.
   Every time they get called out, there are a few noises, but nothing ever really happens.
   This exchange between Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Mark Zuckerberg is a further indication that nothing will ever happen at Facebook to make things right—there’s no will from top management for that to happen. There’s too much to be lost with monetization opportunities for questionable services to be shut down, while Facebook is all too happy to close ones that don’t make money (e.g. the old ‘View as’ feature). The divisions and “fake news” will continue, the tools used by all the wrong people.
   It’s your choice whether you want to be part of this.

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Posted in business, culture, internet, politics, TV, USA | 1 Comment »


Who is changing Facebook links to affiliate ones?

14.09.2019

I know someone else has come across this before, since there’s a page on it here.
   The very same thing has begun happening on Autocade, whenever the Facebook link is clicked. I’d love to blame Facebook, but I don’t believe it’s them.
   I’ve contacted Sovrn (formerly Viglinks) as the discussion board participants identify them, but ShopStyle may know as it’s their API being used.
   Here’s what I asked ShopStyle tonight, but if anyone has an idea, I’d love to hear it.

I do not know your company, but the Facebook link on one of my sites (http://autocade.net) is being altered to https://api.shopstyle.com/action/apiVisitRetailer?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fautocade.net&pid=uid7424-7742368-93&pdata=k0jgi6bfn30122110msza whenever someone clicks on it, and they wind up at https://www.facebook.com/marketplace/deals/?ref=affiliate_external&referral_story_type=daily_deals_rakuten.
   When I go into the source code on our server, the link is correct. The change is happening elsewhere, and I can’t figure out where. From the link and UID I’ve given you, are you able to tell? We do run ads and a Disqus plug-in on our site, as well as a Po.st sharer, if these help narrow down the possibilities.
   I’m sure you’d want to kill the account of whomever is misusing ShopStyle’s APIs to earn referrals.

   Here’s the page I wind up on when I click the link. It has no useful content.

   I’ll report back if I discover more, as there may be a dodgy ad network out there, or Disqus or Po.st aren’t as honest as they used to be. Disqus is clunky anyway, and once we reach a certain payment threshold, we may remove it from all our sites. Autocade was the one place where comments were really good, so it’ll be a shame to lose it.

PS.: After looking through the inspector, it appears to be Disqus, using Viglinks. One has to turn off affiliate links in the Disqus set-up.

P.PS.: Both ShopStyle and Sovrn were really helpful—ShopStyle’s Rasheka even went so far as to include screenshots and links.

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Google My Business: first-hand reports suggest it’s a terrible idea

23.08.2019

One more Google My Business post for now, since no one has commented on my earlier post.
   As suspected, there are no safeguards for piling:

We had a 20 year old girl post a lengthy negative review on our Google Business Page because we wouldn’t ship her a replacement product for free. As a result, she proceeded to have 16 other people leave 1 star reviews in rapid fire succession on our page. I’m talking within minutes. We have sent cease and desist orders, we have consulted attorneys, we have contacted Google. The fake reviews are still up. The only way we finally got some control over the situation was to mark the page as “Closed”. If you do that it removes the ability to review. The whole situation and fact that one person can damage your brand so easily, and so quickly with no support from Google for days on end is totally ridiculous.

   If things don’t work, you’ll have to file support requests, but I’ve been there with Google, and that’s a hiding to nothing. It was 10 years ago this year when I discovered just how deceitful and dishonest Google is. Here’s one experience with Google My Business in the cache (the original is long gone; emphasis in original):

Google My Business a total joke. Worst customer service experience I’ve had in a long time.
Having issues with Google My Business? You are not alone, not in the slightest. I can tell from all the posts on this forum as well as from personal experience that there is no ‘customer support’, just a bunch of people that answer the phone to tell you that they can’t do anything.
   Our business listing suddenly disappeared and was replaced with the name of one of the employees. So I click on a few help pages and find a support line to which they are supposed to call me. I get the call, it connects, I say hello, then they hang up … What a great start.
   I call again, and finally get somebody I can barely understand who apparently doesn’t know anything about anything, and can’t actually do anything either. I’d kill for a job where I can just tell everyone who calls me that nothing can be done, and then hang up on them. The great part is feedback is only available AFTER the call, so if they hang up on you, you can’t leave any feedback so they can’t get in trouble.
   So I tell this lady my issues, and she says she’ll look into them, then I get hung up on again.
   The next day I get an email with NO SUBJECT, that looks very spammy but lo and behold it’s actually a legit email from Google My Business. The geniuses over there don’t understand what my question is and want me to clarify.
   What do they want me to clarify? They apparently looked at our website, and because one of the employees name is on the website, then the deletion of our listing and replacement with just an employee name and nothing else is justified.
   Get this, in order to fix it, they want me to DELETE our staff page on the website. Make sense to you? Not to me either.
   So I call them again. I get hung up on just after I gave them my email, again. Call back AGAIN and finally talk to another ESL guy who I can at least mostly understand. He goes on to tell me he is also powerless, but if I want I can talk to his supervisor, who ‘can’t do anything either sorry’. Our business listing ‘won’t be on the google’ for ‘several weeks’ because I made the HUGE mistake of trying to correct our suite number to match USPS standard formatting. Oh, and I made the cardinal sin of updating our profile to show that, as a medical clinic, we don’t do deliveries. I’m so sorry Google, I really am. I didn’t know you wanted us to falsely advertise our services and get sued. I’ll never do it again so can you please restore our listing?
   Oh, by the way, I opted to hold for the supervisor and got hung up on again.
   I think we should just give up, Google has made it pretty clear how much of a priority their customers are. For my part I’m pulling the $2k adwords we’re doing every month. Probably a pittance in Google’s eyes but hey, it’s all I can do to protest their pisspoor service.
   Good luck everyone!
   Wow. Just wow.

   I found a lot of similar reviews, and those who promote it in a more positive light appear to be SEO specialists. How convenient.
   I might leave it for now since I’ll never see these My Business boxes, and I just hope that if we do get piled on, they’ll have fixed the bug that prevents us from deleting listings.

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I want to remove a My Business location, but Google won’t let me

23.08.2019

I really should not have wasted my time with Google, as My Business (see yesterday’s post) reminded me just why I don’t use the site—it’s not only the privacy issues, but the fact that things don’t work as advertised, which has always been the case with Google.
   You’ve already seen that it’s impossible for me to add my business’s address to Google My Business. That’s not a huge surprise, since the last time I had Google Earth, they didn’t even know that the White House was at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC—and that was version 5 of their software. If these folks don’t even know where their own president is, I can’t expect them to deal with Tawa.
   However, we do have an address in Manhattan, so I attempted to add that. After all, it seemed I was verified, or at least close to being verified, so why not get around the existing entry’s non-verification (as it goes through the process of sending a postcard, and, frankly, no one at the office can be bothered—they feel about Google much the same way as I).
   There was no difference: Google still wanted to send a postcard, so I thought I should delete the entry.
   Well, you can’t. There isn’t anything in the documentation that says it’s this hard. Following their own instructions, I delete the location, and nothing happens.


Seems simple enough: Google says I should select ‘Remove location’.


Google wants me to confirm. I click ‘Remove’.


Like a lot of US Big Tech, they make it appear that they’re busy doing something …


… when in fact, nothing is being done.

   Maybe I should go in and edit it, as perhaps Google can’t deal with three businesses called Lucire.
   Good luck with that. I click on the entry and just get taken to a page where I am asked to select an account. I only have one, so I click on it three times, and I get taken back to the My Business home page with the four locations on it.


Clicking on the last entry goes to this page. Click my email address three times, and you’ll go back to the start.

   And ad infinitum. You can attempt to do this as many times as you like, but it is impossible to delete a location, contrary to what Google claims, it is impossible to edit some locations, contrary to what Google claims.
   It’s no wonder the Dashboard was so full of discrepancies because, like Facebook, like Twitter, like Amazon, their databases are probably shot to hell, and nothing works as they say they do. I may be a layman on such subjects but it appears the more they add, the more the house of cards collapses.
   I suspect some of these errors are intentional—we know Google intentionally programs in more pages so they can claim increased page-views to their site (e.g. if you click on an image in the Google image search, they take you to an intermediate page first—10 years ago, they took you straight to the page)—so by offering a website that is SNAFU, you’re forced to increase the page-view count. (Of course, if we do holding pages and forwarding pages to our sites, Google penalizes us.) When such obvious inefficiencies are introduced, you know that the reasons aren’t all kosher.
   So there you are: even if you wanted to delete an entry (and I was sorely tempted to yesterday), Google won’t let you.
   Google: deceitful and useless. And a total waste of time. I’m so glad I don’t use this site in any real way—apart from the time it sucked over the last 24 hours.

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Has Google My Business ever given you business?

22.08.2019

I had a call from a nice gentleman working for Google called Shabhaz today. No, he wasn’t about to tell me that I wasn’t on the ‘first page of Google’: he worked for Google My Business, where they want to verify businesses and suck them into the ecosystem, complete with dashboard and social features.
   I’ve always ignored the postcards that come and the one time my curiosity was piqued, the blasted site didn’t work anyway. I can’t remember the specifics now, but I recall my usual reaction: ‘What Google says and what Google does are entirely different things.’ You come to expect it from US Big Tech.
   I suppose if you ignore it for enough years, the Big G phones you.
   I proceeded to tell Shabhaz all the reasons I hated (actually, that’s not strong enough a word) his firm, but kept repeating, ‘I’m not angry at you, only at your employer.’ And words to the effect of, ‘A man has to make a living, so I don’t have a problem that you work for them, but this is a firm with highly dubious ethics.’
   He did say, ‘If I had that experience, I’d hate them, too,’ and I had to correct him and expand on the stories: ‘It’s not just about my experience—it’s all the things Google does that violate our privacy, not just mine, but everyone’s.’
   Nevertheless, you can’t stay angry at a guy who has had nothing to do with his bosses’ incompetence, greed, avarice and tax avoidance, and is only trying to collect a pay cheque, so I agreed to help him out.
   Of course, it didn’t work as planned, as updating the address leads to this:

   The house has only been there since 1972, and Google Earth has it, but then we all know that Google Earth operates in some kind of parallel universe—parallel to even Google My Business, it seems. One day, I suspect Google will catch up with houses built in the 1970s.
   But seriously, with three businesses all linked to my email address (Heaven knows how) I wonder if anyone has ever got any business through Google My Business.
   I’ve been on Linkedin longer than most people I know and I’ve never received any work enquiries from it.
   And I’ve yet to have anyone tell me that they found my business through Google, so I’m tempted to delete the listings for Jack Yan & Associates and Lucire from the My Business dashboard.
   The thing is, I don’t want to read your reviews about my businesses on Google. I don’t want to risk getting piled on by unethical actors, which totally can happen in this day and age. If you want to reach us, there’s a good contact form with all the addresses on our sites.
   So what’s the prognosis out there? Since I actually don’t use the site except as a last resort, and have little desire to, your experience far outweighs mine.

On a related note, this also made me wonder about competence.

   I’ve never given my permission to be in the Yellow Pages. And the fact that Lucire does screen printing is news to me. Who makes up this bullshit and tries to pass it off as authoritative?
   A Tweet to them is so far unanswered, so I may get in touch with them to have this listing removed. This one I can answer: since I’ve never been in the Yellow Pages, I can say, hand on heart, that I’ve never had any business from them. By the looks of it, they’ll never send me anything relevant anyway.

In summary, today’s thought about Google:

PS.: Yellow has deleted our entry (done within hours of my complaint).

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


Facebook is getting away with it again—even though it knew about Cambridge Analytica

25.07.2019

Thanks to my friend Bill Shepherd, I’ve now subscribed to The Ad Contrarian newsletter. Bob Hoffman is one of the few who gets it when it comes to how insignificant the FTC’s Facebook fine is.
   Five (American) billion (American) dollars sounds like a lot to you and me, but considering Facebook’s stock rose on the news, they’ve more than covered the fine on the rise alone.
   Bob writes: ‘The travesty of this settlement guarantees that no tech company CEO will take consumer privacy or data security seriously. Nothing will change till someone either has to pay personally or go to jail. Paying insignificant fines with corporate money is now an officially established cost of doing business in techland and—who knows?—a jolly good way to boost share prices.’
   There’s something very messed up about this scenario, particularly as some of the US’s authorities are constantly being shown up by the EU (over Google’s monopoly actions) and the UK’s Damian Collins, MP (over the questions being asked of Facebook—unlike US politicians’, his aren’t toothless).
   The US SEC, meanwhile, has released its report on Facebook, showing that Facebook knew what was happening with Cambridge Analytica in 2015–16, and that the company willingly sold user data to the firm. SEC’s Stephanie Avakian noted, ‘As alleged in our complaint, Facebook presented the risk of misuse of user data as hypothetical when they knew user data had in fact been misused.’ You can read the entire action as filed by the SEC here.

In its quarterly and annual reports filed between January 28, 2016 and March 16, 2018 (the “relevant period”), Facebook did not disclose that a researcher had, in violation of the company’s policies, transferred data relating to approximately 30 million Facebook users to Cambridge Analytica. Instead, Facebook misleadingly presented the potential for misuse of user data as merely a hypothetical investment risk. Moreover, when asked by reporters in 2017 about its investigation into the Cambridge Analytica matter, Facebook falsely claimed the company found no evidence of wrongdoing, thereby reinforcing the misleading statements in its periodic filings.

   As I have been hashtagging, #Facebooklies. This is standard practice for the firm, as has been evidenced countless times for over a decade. The settlement: US$100 million. Pocket change.

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Surely, it can’t be this hard

25.07.2019

Is it just me, or are companies getting more stupid by the day?

July 25, 2019

Marshall Freeman Collections (NZ) Ltd.
PO Box 302-218
NHPC
Auckland

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am in receipt of your letter dated the 19th inst.
   If you are indeed an extension of Plumbquick’s credit control department, you should check with them about their procedures.
   You may wish to ask the following.

   (a) When booking the job, did your client take down my credit card number?
   (b) Did your client advise me that if the invoice was not paid that they would charge that credit card?
   (c) Did I offer your client’s plumbers payment on completion of the job on the day but they said it would be sorted out with their accounts’ department, especially if they already had my credit card on file?
   (d) Did your client send out their invoice dated May 21, 2019 with a due date of May 21, 2019, which would result in my reasonably expecting that (b) would take place?

   Now, since I am not in possession of a time machine, and considering I received the invoice on May 25, 2019, all four questions above should be answered in the affirmative.
   Your client needs to be advised to, first, contact the customer themselves (well before July 19, incidentally), secondly, follow their own procedures, and thirdly, not provide a credit controller with a fiction about a late payment. I have no desire to affect excellent credit that I have spent decades building because of another party’s negligence.
   I trust this clears this matter up.

Yours faithfully,

   In case you’re wondering, my credit card has been charged.
   I also highly recommend Bernie and Pipe Dream Plumbing in Tawa.

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