Archive for the ‘business’ category


This was the natural outcome of greed, in the forms of monopoly power and sensationalist media

11.01.2021

I did indeed write in the wake of January 6, and the lengthy op–ed appears in Lucire, quoting Emily Ratajkowski, Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden. I didn’t take any pleasure in what happened Stateside and Ratajkowski actually inspired the post after a Twitter contact of mine quoted her. This was after President Donald Trump was taken off Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
   The points I make there are probably familiar to any of you, my blog readers, pointing at the dangers of tech monopolies, the double standards that they’ve employed, and the likely scenario of how the pendulum could swing the other way on a whim because another group is flavour of the month. We’ve seen how the US has swung one way and the other depending on the prevailing winds, and Facebook’s and Twitter’s positions, not to mention Amazon’s and Google’s, seem reactionary and insincere when they have had their terms and conditions in place for some time.
   Today, I was interested to see Chancellor Dr Angela Merkel, referred to by not a few as the leader of the free world, concerned at the developments, as was President López Obrador of México. ‘German Chancellor Angela Merkel objected to the decisions, saying on Monday that lawmakers should set the rules governing free speech and not private technology companies,’ reported Bloomberg, adding, ‘Europe is increasingly pushing back against the growing influence of big technology companies. The EU is currently in the process of setting up regulation that could give the bloc power to split up platforms if they don’t comply with rules.’
   The former quotation wasn’t precisely my point but the latter is certainly linked. These tech giants are the creation of the US, by both Democratic and Republican lawmakers, and their institutions, every bit as Trump was a creation of the US media, from Fox to MSNBC.
   They are natural outcomes of where things wind up when monopoly power is allowed to gather and laws against it are circumvented or unenforced; and what happens when news networks sell spectacle over substance in order to hold your attention. One can only hope these are corrected for the sake of all, not just one side of the political spectrum, since freedom—actual freedom—depends on them, at least until we gain the civility and education to regulate ourselves, the Confucian ideal. Everything about this situation suggests we are nowhere near being capable, and I wonder if homo sapiens will get there or whether we’ll need to evolve into another species before we do.

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NewTumbl takes things seriously

05.01.2021

I have to say I’m impressed with NewTumbl as they responded to my Tweets about potential censorship and post moderation.
   I think they will allow me to share a few points.
   First, they took me seriously. The fact they even bothered to look into it is well beyond what Yahoo, Amazon, Facebook and Google would normally do, and I’m talking about Yahoo in 1999. They also answered every point I made, rather than gloss over or ignore some. Out of their thousands or myriads of users, they were actually good enough to deal with me one on one.
   Secondly, they assure me there’s no censorship of the kind I suspected but think a temporary bug could have been behind Mbii’s inability to see my posts. They will delete illegal content, and that is the extent of it.
   Thirdly, if I may be so bold as to say this one, my understanding of the posts’ levels is correct and those moderators who objected to my content are incorrect.
   I won’t reveal more than that as some of the content refers to future actions.
   I’ve said I could put a toe in the water again over at NewTumbl, and, ‘I really appreciate you taking this seriously and certainly it all helps encourage me to return.’
   Being honest and up front really helps.
   The one thing preventing me from heading back in a flash is I’ve become rather used to adding to the gallery here. We’ll see: I felt it was ‘No way, José’ a month ago (although I always maintained a “never say never” position—I mean, it’s not Google Plus) and now it’s more ‘The jury is out.’ At the least I might pop by more regularly to see what’s in my feed.

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A sure way to lose customers: upload their private information to Facebook

03.01.2021

I’m still blocked from seeing my advertising preferences on Facebook on the desktop, the only place where you can edit them, something that has plagued them for years and which they’re unlikely to fix. I commonly say that Facebook’s databases are ‘shot to hell,’ which I’ve believed for many years, and this is another example of it.
   I can, however, see who has uploaded a list containing my private information to Facebook, and this ignominious bunch includes Amazon, Spotify (several subsidiaries), numerous American politicians, and others. I’ve never dealt with Spotify, or the politicians, so goodness knows how they have a list with my details, but to know they’ve been further propagated on to such an inhumane platform is disappointing.
   I signed up to one New Zealand company’s list at the end of December and already they’ve done the same.
   This is a sure way for me to ask to cut off contact with you and demand my details be removed. It’s also a sure way to earn a block of your Facebook page, if you have one.


While we’re on this subject, I notice Facebook claims:

Manage How Your Ads Are Personalized on Instagram
If you use Instagram, you can now choose whether to see personalized ads based on data from our partners. You make this choice in the Instagram app.

Actually, you can’t, so thanks for lying again.
   The only advertising settings available are ‘Ad Activity’ (which shows the advertisements I’ve recently interacted with, and that’s a blank list, natch), and ‘Ad Topic Preferences’ (where you can ask to see fewer ads on the topics of alcohol, parenting or pets). Unless Facebook has hidden them elsewhere on Instagram, this is more BS, just like how they claim they’ll block an account you’ve reported. (They used to, but haven’t done so for a long time, yet still claim they do.)

My friend Ian Ryder writes, ‘No lesser names than Steve Jobs (Apple), Bill Gates (Microsoft), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Kevin Systrom (Instagram) have all taken action to ensure the safety of their own families from some of the dangers technology has created in our society today.’ This is pretty telling, isn’t it?

Postscript, January 4: I was surprised to receive another email from the company.

   It does not appear to be their fault as their email system, from a company called hubspotemail.net, claims I have been removed, yet keeps sending. I won’t file a complaint as it’s obvious that Hubspot is unreliable.

Post-postscript, January 5: My lovely Amanda says these folks aren’t back to work till January 18, so they might not even know about the list being uploaded to Facebook. I should be interested to find out if that’s been automated by Hubspot—in which case anyone using it needs to be aware what it’s doing in their name, and whether it matches what they’re saying in their T&Cs.

Post-post-postscript, January 13: The company has responded even before they’ve gone back to work, and confirmed my details have now been removed. They took it really seriously, which I’m grateful for. The upload function was indeed automated, but they say that with the removal of my details, the Facebook list will also automatically update. Their T&Cs will also be updated, so I say good on them for being genuine and transparent.

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The US, where big business (and others) can lie with impunity

31.12.2020

One thing about not posting to NewTumbl is I’ve nowhere convenient to put quotations I’ve found. Maybe they have to go here as well. Back when I started this blog in 2006—15 years ago, since it was in January—I did make some very short posts, so it’s not out of keeping. (I realize the timestamp is in GMT, but it’s coming up to midday on January 1, 2021 here.)
   Here’s one from Robert Reich, and I think for the most part US readers will agree, regardless of their political stripes.

In 2008, Wall Street nearly destroyed the economy. The Street got bailed out while millions of Americans lost their jobs, savings, and homes. Yet not no major Wall Street executive ever went to jail.
   In more recent years, top executives of Purdue Pharmaceuticals, along with the Sackler family, knew the dangers of OxyContin but did nothing. Executives at Wells Fargo Bank pushed bank employees to defraud customers. Executives at Boeing hid the results of tests showing its 737 Max Jetliner was unsafe. Police chiefs across America looked the other way as police under their command repeatedly killed innocent Black Americans.
   Yet here, too, those responsible have got away with it.

   I did offer these quotations with little or no commentary at NewTumbl and Tumblr.
   What came up with the above was a Twitter exchange with a netizen in the US, and how some places still touted three- to four-day shipping times when I argued that it was obvious—especially if you had been looking at the COVID positivity rates that their government officials relied on—that these were BS. And that Amazon (revenue exceeding US$100 milliard in the fourth quarter of 2020) and Apple (profit at c. US$100 milliard for the 12 months ending September 30) might just be rich enough to hire an employee to do the calculations and correlate them with delays—we are not talking particularly complicated maths here, and we have had a lot of 2020 data to go on. But they would rather save a few bob and lie to consumers: it’s a choice they have made.
   The conclusion I sadly had to draw was that businesses there can lie with impunity, because they’ve observed that there are no real consequences. The famous examples are all too clear from Reich’s quotation, where the people get a raw deal—even losing their lives.

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The Grundig parts’ cache time capsule

27.12.2020

When Dad was made redundant from Cory-Wright & Salmon, which had purchased his workplace, Turnbull & Jones, he bought all the Grundig equipment and accessories, thinking that he would find it useful. And for a while he did. The odd one he cannibalized, while the parts were used and adapted. Cory-Wright wound up contracting him for all the servicing of Grundig office equipment—principally dictating machines—and actually wound up hiring three people after they realized all the things Dad actually did there.
   He was quite happy to go to work for himself, as he picked up contracts with other firms as well. Some were companies who had gone to him at Turnbull & Jones anyway, and upon being told he had been let go, sought him out. But in the long run Grundig proved to be a fraction of what he wound up fixing, and it was the Japanese brands that I usually saw at home in his workshop, along with Philips (and no, the Japanese brands were not more reliable). Like many hard workers with a customer base, he did far better in self-employment than he did as an employee.
   Which brings me to this post. You could say this cache of Grundig parts is part of my inheritance, but what to do with it? The trouble with being in New Zealand is that there’s no Ebay—we’re told to use the Australian one if we wished to sell, except none of the postal options apply—and outside these shores no one’s heard of Trade Me.
   I’d like to sell the bits though I haven’t done an inventory yet. That was one of my favourite things when I visited Dad at Turnbull & Jones: he kept an inventory of all the items in his room and I used to make new ones as a fun activity. I marvelled at the new packaging that Grundig introduced, and this probably got me in to German graphic design.
   Here’s one item for starters: the wall box (die Wanddose) for the central dictation system (Central-Diktat-Anlage), Typ 593. I have at least five of them, boxed. This was opened for the first time when I took the photo, between 40 and 50 years after it was packaged. That’s the original rubber band as it left the factory in Germany. Some have already been opened. I’ve microphones, foot controls, complete machines. Suggestions are welcome, especially if someone might find it all useful. Those mics are going for €12 on Ebay in Germany, and mine are new. If anyone out there ever wondered, ‘Is there a lost cache of Grundig parts out there?’ then I have your answer.


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Facebook leaves up over 95 per cent of hate speech; ‘embarrassing to work here,’ says ex-staffer

16.12.2020

Buzzfeed’s article, on departing Facebook staff who write ‘badge posts’, wasn’t a surprise; what was a greater surprise was just how long it took for such news to surface.
   Badge posts are traditional farewell notes at Facebook, and not everyone has had rosy things to say. One wrote, ‘With so many internal forces propping up the production of hateful and violent content, the task of stopping hate and violence on Facebook starts to feel even more sisyphean than it already is … It also makes it embarrassing to work here’ (original emphasis).
   Buzzfeed noted, ‘More stunning, they estimated using the company’s own figures that, even with artificial intelligence and third-party moderators, the company was “deleting less than 5% of all of the hate speech posted to Facebook,”’ a claim that Facebook disputes, despite its points having already been addressed in the badge post:

   The rest is worth reading here.
   Meanwhile, this Twitter thread from Cory Doctorow, sums up a lot of my feelings and has supporting links, and it is where I found the above. Highlights:

   I realize US conservatives feel they are hard done by with Facebook, but I know plenty of liberals who feel the same, and who’ve had posts censored. Even if Silicon Valley leans left, Facebook’s management doesn’t, so I’d go so far as to say right-wing views get more airtime there than left-wing (actually, also right-wing by anyone else’s standards) ones. On Facebook itself, during the few times I visit, I actually see very few conservatives who have complained of having their posts deleted or censored.
   That isn’t a reason to shut it down or to break it up, but misinformation, regardless of whom it supports is. Inciting genocide is. Allowing posts to remain that influence someone to commit murder is. Facebook has proved over 15 years-plus that it has no desire to do the right thing, in which case it may well be time for others to step in to do it for them.

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Searching for Murray Smith

09.12.2020

Earlier today Strangers, the 1978 TV series created by Murray Smith, came to mind. Smith created and wrote many episodes of one of my favourite TV series, The Paradise Club (which to this day has no DVD release due to the music rights), and penned an entertaining miniseries Frederick Forsyth Presents (the first time that I noticed one Elizabeth Hurley) and a novel I bought when I first spotted it, The Devil’s Juggler. He also wrote one of my favourite Dempsey and Makepeace episodes, ‘Wheel Man’, which had quite a few of the hallmarks of some of his other work, including fairly likeable underworld figures, which came into play with The Paradise Club.
   Yet there’s precious little about Smith online. His Wikipedia entry is essentially a version of his IMDB credits with some embellishments, for instance. It doesn’t even record his real name.
   Don’t worry, it’s not another dig at Wikipedia, but once again it’s a reflection of how things aren’t permanent on the web, a subject I’ve touched on before after reading a blog entry from my friend Richard MacManus. And that we humans do have to rely on our own memories over what’s on the ’net still: the World Wide Web is not the solution to storing all human knowledge, or, at least, not the solution to accessing it.
   It’s easy to refer to the disappearance of Geocities and the like, and the Internet Archive can only save so much. And in this case, I remember clearly searching for Murray Smith on Altavista in the 1990s, because I was interested in what he was up to. (He died in 2003.) I came across a legal prospectus of something he was proposing to do, and because it was a legal document, it gave his actual name.
   Murray Smith was his screen name, and I gather from an article in The Independent quoting Smith and his friend Frederick Forsyth, he went by Murray, but the family name was definitely Murray-Smith. Back in those days, there was a good chance that if it was online, it was real: it took too much effort to make a website for anyone to bother doing fake news. My gut says it was George David Murray-Smith or something along those lines, but there’s no record of that prospectus online any more, or of the company that he and Forsyth set up together to make Frederick Forsyth Presents, which I assume from some online entries was IFS Productions Ltd. Some websites’ claim that his name was Charles Maurice Smith is incorrect.
   Looking today, there are a couple of UK gazette entries for George David Murray Smith (no hyphen) in the armed forces, including the SAS in the 1970s, which suggest I am right.
   Even in the age of the web, the advantage still lies with those of us who have good memories who can recall facts that are lost. I’ve often suggested on this blog that we cannot fully trust technology, and that there’s no guarantee that even the official bodies, like the UK Companies’ Office, will have complete, accessible records. The computer is a leveller, but not a complete one.

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Why con?

07.12.2020

During the course of the 2010s, I came across two con artists. One thing that united them was they were men. But they could not have been more different: one was rather elaborate and was the subject of a Panorama documentary; the other was a rank amateur and, at least in the situation we were in, never fooled us.
   I won’t name them as I’ve no wish to add to their notoriety, but here’s the real kicker: both had the means to do well legitimately if they each followed through honestly.
   The first one was clever enough to rope in people from very different parts, essentially setting up a publishing operation. But it was a swindle, and people were left in debt and jobless.
   However, if it had been legit, it would have actually done quite well, and if the con artist’s aim was money, then he would have made some, over a long period, which would have sustained him and his lifestyle.
   The second was not clever but came to a business partner of mine with a proposal to become a shareholder. We heard him out, he proposed an amount, and we drafted a cast-iron contract that could see him get a return on his investment, and protect the original principal. The money never came, of course, and we weren’t going to alter the share register without it. He might have hoped that we would.
   Again, he would have got something from it. Maybe not as good a return as property but better than the bank.
   The first is now serving time at Her Majesty’s pleasure after things caught up with him and he was extradited to where he had executed an earlier con; the second, after having had his face in the Sunday Star–Times, was last heard from in Australia where he conned his own relatives. He’s wanted by the police here.
   I don’t know where the gratification is here. And rationally, leaving honesty and morals aside (as they do), wouldn’t it be better making money regularly than swindling for a quick fix that nets you less? Is it down to laziness, making them less desirous to follow through?
   On the first case, I did have the occasion to speak to one lawyer pursuing him. I asked him about my case, since my financial loss was relatively small compared to the others taken in (namely a FedEx bill that a friend of mine helped me get a decent discount on because of her job). Where’s the con? I was told that it might not have been apparent as the con artist’s MO was to draw different strands, sometimes having them result in something, and sometimes not.
   Whatever the technique, it failed him anyway.
   And what a waste of all that energy to create something that not only looked legit (as in the TV series Hustle) but could have functioned legitimately with so many good people involved.
   That did make the 2010s rather better than the 2000s when the shady characters included a pædophile (who, to my knowledge, is also doing time), a sociopath, a forger, and a US fashion label that conned a big shipment’s payment out of us. I doubt I’d be famous enough to warrant a biography but they would make interesting stories!

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With Facebook, the dots are really easy to join, so why haven’t more done so?

29.11.2020

Bob Hoffman always has great stuff from the advertising world, especially on Facebook. My criticisms have come from the user’s perspective and the very obvious BS Facebook peddles, while Bob reads the US press and combines it with a professional’s knowledge.
   In his latest newsletter, it’s a familiar tale: Facebook realized misinformation had greater engagement, something we’ve known for years, but it seems this hasn’t sunk in yet, so it has to keep doing tests. (Doing tests is a great way to delay action, as they can cry, ‘We need more data.’) Bob’s words (emphasis removed, since I don’t believe in italicizing a quote that’s already in quotation marks):

Facebook ran an experiment in which they changed their algorithm to demote the “bad for the world” posts. According to the [New York] Times, “In early tests, the new algorithm successfully reduced the visibility of objectionable content. But it also lowered the number of times users opened Facebook…” Did Facebook implement this good-for-the-world change in its algorithm? Don’t make me laugh.

   Meanwhile, Facebook was caught overcharging. Pretty sure we’ve been here, too, when it overstated the number of people it could reach and allegedly inflating its metrics. Bob sums it up just as I have done on so many occasions but with more colour.

As I’ve said forever, anyone who believes anything that comes out of the mouths of these creeps is a fool. The astounding thing is that the pathetic marketing and ad industry “leadership” – and clueless advertisers – continue to put up with this horseshit.

   These jokers have been treating users with contempt for 16 years, so why are all these “professionals” still siding with them in light of all this evidence? I used this site a lot, too, as you’ll see from my old posts, but pretty early on I called Zuckerberg ‘arrogant’ and began noticing just how terribly the technology worked. Then I began noticing that every press statement it made was empty, especially when it would say one thing, then do the exact opposite. I’m sure this was at the start of the 2010s. I know a handful of people who get it, but we remain in the minority. Aren’t the dots really easy to join here?
   I’ve a feeling we’ll remember all those who continue to advocate for Facebook as late as 2020—and how lacking in insight they must be.

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Medinge Group at Dutch Design Week: the contribution from Aotearoa New Zealand

19.10.2020

My partner Amanda and I are part of Medinge’s presence at Dutch Design Week this year.
   Since Medinge couldn’t celebrate our 20th anniversary due to COVID-19, some of our Dutch members, helped by many others, took the opportunity to get us into the event, which is virtual this year.
   We had done a lot of work on Generation Co earlier in 2020, thanks to a load of Zoom meetings and emails. This takes things even further, but builds on it.
   The programme can be found here, and is titled ‘Putting the Planet First: a New Orientation’.
   The description: ‘Instead of thinking about the 3Ps—your challenge is to adopt a new perspective. Always put Planet first. Then people. Then profit.’
   After signing up for free, you can head into our virtual rooms.
   From the page: ‘Only 21/10/2020, 10:00–13:00 lectures and livestreams from members of the Medinge Think Tank: a group of brand experts and visionaries from around the world whose purpose is to influence business to become more humane and conscious in order to help humanity progress and prosper. With international speakers who have worked on these rights and bring in the perspective from indigenous people who co-exist with the rivers.’
   On Tuesday the 21st at 10 a.m. CET is Amanda’s presentation on the Whanganui River, which was given the rights of a legal person in legislation enacted in March 2017.
   Amanda worked at the Office of Treaty Settlements at the time, so this is really her talk. I just set the laptop on the table, with a microphone generously lent to me by my friend Brenda Wallace. Then I edited it in video-editing software with all the skill of an amateur.
   But that’s the year of COVID-19 for you.
   The way the talk came about was in discussion in 2019 with my colleagues at Medinge Group. The concept of legal rights on natural resources and indigenous rights came up, as did the case of the Whanganui River, which is known beyond our shores.
   They had no idea Amanda worked on it, and proudly I mentioned her role.
   From then on she was part of the programme, and it all came together last Friday.
   In the talk, you’ll see me on a much lower chair than her, propped up by a bag of rice that slowly sags as the recording wears on.
   There’s only so much furniture at her Dad’s studio but it was the most comfortable place we could think of for the filming.
   More important are the contents of her talk, which I thoroughly recommend. She worked really hard on the responses over a few weeks to make sure it was thoroughly rigorous.
   It’s followed by a talk from my good friend and colleague Sudhir John Horo. Pop over, it’s going to be a really eventful day in virtual Eindhoven.

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