Archive for the ‘business’ category


Carlos Ghosn redresses the balance

10.01.2020

It’s been fascinating to watch Carlos Ghosn’s press conference in Beirut, and subsequent interviews, confirming my own suspicions back in November 2018 (as Tweeted and blogged).

   Criticisms of Japan’s justice system don’t just come from Ghosn. There was Mark Karpeles, who endured 11 months awaiting trial in Japan. From the Asia Times:

But Karpeles didn’t confess. Prosecutors kept re-arresting him and denied his lawyer’s request for bail again and again. During his incarceration, he suffered mild frost-bite, malnutrition and sleep disorders and went slightly stir crazy. He finally won bail in July 2016.

and:

It didn’t surprise me that the police and prosecutors didn’t want to find the real criminal: I had seen it before in the 2002 Nick Baker drug smuggling case. In that case, Japanese prosecutors declined evidence from overseas police agencies that supported Briton Baker’s assertion that he had been framed by his traveling companion. Their aim in the case was simple: conviction.

   The criticism isn’t coming only from foreigners. Carlos Ghosn’s own lawyer in Japan, Takashi Takano, recalled on his blog:

「・・・残念ながら、この国では刑事被告人にとって公正な裁判など期待することはできない。裁判官は独立した司法官ではない。官僚組織の一部だ。日本のメディアは検察庁の広報機関に過ぎない。しかし、多くの日本人はそのことに気がついていない。あなたもそうだ。20年間日本の巨大企業の経営者として働いていながら、日本の司法の実態について何も知らなかったでしょ。」

「考えもしなかった。」

「逮捕されたら、すぐに保釈金を積んで釈放されると思っていた?」

「もちろん、そうだ。」

「英米でもヨーロッパでもそれが当たり前だ。20日間も拘束されるなんてテロリストぐらいでしょう。でもこの国は違う。テロリストも盗人も政治家もカリスマ経営者も、みんな逮捕されたら、23日間拘禁されて、毎日5時間も6時間も、ときには夜通しで、弁護人の立ち会いもなしに尋問を受け続ける。罪を自白しなかったら、そのあとも延々と拘禁され続ける。誰もその実態を知らない。みんな日本は人権が保障された文明国だと思い込んでいる。」

「・・・公正な裁判は期待できないな。」

   The Asia Times story has a translation, and you’re free to copy and paste into a translation service.
   As someone who follows the car industry, and holds business and law degrees, this case has fascinated me far more than any Instagram caption from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex—and it will also be interesting to see how Renault Nissan Mitsubishi deals with the fallout.

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History of the 2010s: a look back at the decade that was

02.01.2020

When I first wrote a satirical look back at the decade, which ran on this blog in December 2009 (on the old Blogger service, as I was helping a friend fight a six-month battle with Google to restore his blog), it was pretty easy to make up little fictions based on reality. This one, covering the decade just gone, was a different matter. No matter how you did it, often the reality would be stranger than the satire.
 
2010
The Australian establishment, especially large portions of its media, are shocked a woman could become prime minister. They spend her entire term telling the Australian public that this is morally wrong.
   Americans decide that they needed less honesty from television, so Simon Cowell leaves the US version of Pop Idol, American Idol.
   Donald Trump-hosted show The Apprentice gets its lowest ratings ever. He begins planning another show and brainstorms with his countrymen on Twitter.

   Long-running shows Ashes to Ashes and Lost end with exactly the same conclusion. Frustrated at years of investment in the two shows, the Anglosphere is so turned off television that they would rather form silos on social media websites to make their owners rich. Two guys in San Francisco spot the opportunity and invent Instagram.
   Jay Leno unquits The Tonight Show after discovering the $30 million per annum he made prior to leaving just couldn’t sustain his car collecting hobby.
   Kate loves Willy, so they get engaged.
 
2011
It’s revealed that Arnold Schwarzenegger does films, politics, and the family maid.
   Following the example of HH the Dalai Lama, Charlie Sheen decides to impart his wisdom to the masses, gaining an extra million Twitter followers as a result.
   Cheryl Cole starts on the US X Factor amid much buzz, then vanishes from the show. Only her dimples remain.
   Proving Apple is either a cult or a religion, Steve Jobs shrines appear all over the world after his passing.
   How I Met Your Mother concludes as we find out River Song is Amy Pond’s daughter.
   Kate loves Willy, so they get married.
 
Reality is stranger

   Facebook launches Timeline, but it actually doesn’t work on the 1st of each month as no one there has worked out there are time zones other than US Pacific. Still no one thinks they’re stupid.
   Google gets busted over its advertising preferences’ manager, which actually doesn’t stop gathering your preferences after you’ve opted out from having them gather your preferences. None of the other NAI members seem to have a problem with their opt-outs. As far as I can tell, Google has been lying about its opt-out for two years, affecting millions.
 
2012
President Obama finally figures out that same-sex marriage would not bring about disaster—that could safely be left to Big Tech, as it enjoys monopolies. As a result, Facebook has its IPO.
   Forget 2011’s Steve Jobs shrines, Jesus got a new look in Zaragoza, thanks to a repair job. Not everyone is enamoured with the updated Jesus, but it saves the town and numerous businesses.
   Prince Harry parties and brings a new meaning to ‘Las Vegas strip’. Got to have something to mark his grandmother’s 60th Jubilee.
   The Hunger Games makes stars of Jennifer Lawrence and Liam Hemsworth, although people over a certain age thought it was The Unger Games, a remake of The Odd Couple.
   Kate loves Willy, so they expect a kid.
 
In the real world
   Malala Yousafzai kicks ass and a bullet to the head doesn’t stop her. If anything, it makes her stronger and grows her reputation.
   E. L. James gathers up her Twilight fan fic and puts it all into a book, called 50 Shades of Grey.
   Remember, this is where Boris Johnson is mayor: the London Olympics use the Kazakh national anthem from Borat. High five!
   Google gets busted over bypassing the ‘Do not track’ setting on Iphone Safari browsers by The Wall Street Journal. Despite trying to look innocent, it stops this the same day. Several US states’ attorneys-general decide this was such a gross violation of privacy that they fine Google a few hours’ earnings.

   Proving boys can do anything, Brad Pitt became the face of Chanel No. 5.
   Lana Del Rey has really good hair.
 
2013
Jennifer Lawrence brings publicity to her new film, Silver Linings Playbook, by falling at the Oscars.
   Miley Cyrus mainstreams twerking, which showed how far society had already descended. Her Dad’s ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ release in 1992 wasn’t considered a cultural high-point at the time: the apple does not fall far from the tree.
   Edward Snowden exposes mass surveillance on US citizens and even US allies. There is mass panic over the collection of data and the private sector pushes back, ensuring encryption of users’ private information … actually, nothing happened, and the NSA continued with its data collection while the Obama administration charged Snowden with a crime and tried to extradite him from Russia, where he had more freedom of speech.
   HM Queen Elizabeth II evens things up with Helen Mirren by winning a BAFTA for playing HM Queen Elizabeth II.
   Kate loves Willy, so they have a kid.
 
In the real world
   RIP Nelson Mandela.
 
2014

Ellen Degeneres broke Twitter with a selfie, but since everyone knew why, no one recalls if the fail whale went up.
   The world got a reminder not to upload private stuff to the cloud—as celebrities found out the hard way when their intimate pics were leaked. En masse, the world stopped uploading images to the cloud and to social media while they waited for Big Tech to fix things with their privacy … actually, nothing happened, and people uploaded more photos, in the hope that hackers would find them and release them.
   Scotland decides to stay part of the Union—for now. Of course they could trust London not to do something silly like leave the European Union.
   Bill Cosby makes Mel Gibson look respectable.
   Jay Leno decides he’s made enough for his car collecting hobby and leaves The Tonight Show, though he might still unquit. Watch your back, Jimmy.
   Kate loves Willy, so they expect another kid.
         
In the real world
   You’ve heard of the website You Park Like a C***? An American exchange student in Tübingen wanted to be featured on You’re Stuck in a C***.
   RIP Robin Williams, one of the funniest actors on Earth.
 
2015
Volkswagen, trying to outdo its links to Nazism and allegations of labour relations’ corruption, recalls tens of millions of diesel vehicles to see how far its brand would stretch. The US plans to fine VW way more than Ford or GM when they cheated on emissions, because, foreign.
   Donald Trump hits on an idea for a new reality show where he runs for president. Casting begins.
   Steve Harvey named the wrong winner at the Miss Universe pageant. At this point, being ‘Harveyed’ is a fairly innocent term.
   Jon Snow is very much alive and continues fronting the news on Channel 4.
   Kate loves Willy, so they have another kid.
 
In the real world
   Forget that August 9, 1976 Sports Illustrated cover; Caitlyn Jenner appears on the cover of Vanity Fair.
 
2016
The Chicago Cubs win the World Series, as detailed in Grey’s Sports Almanac.
   In November, the unthinkable happens: Wellington has a massive rainstorm, followed by an earthquake that triggers a tsunami warning, followed by flooding and extreme fog that leave the city cut off from the rest of the country. Summer would be called off while citizens figured out what to do. The UFO invasion does not take place, though with local body elections, certain candidates were replaced by replicants.
   Kate loves Willy—and Harry loves Meghan. Not a bad way to mark HM the Queen’s 90th birthday.
 
In the real world
   The UK votes to leave the European Union: Nigel Farage is overjoyed, but Boris Johnson and Michael Gove’s body language and facial expression reveal their dismay, and their words don’t match.
   I discover first-hand that Facebook is forcing downloads on people with the guise of ‘anti-malware’, even though this claim is dubious, and Facebook admits data are transferred back to the mother ship. I spend two years finding a journalist with the guts to write about it. Potentially millions have already been affected stretching to the beginning of the decade.
   RIP David Bowie.
 
2017
With the approval of the US audience, a massive, multi-channel series débuts, starring Donald J. Trump. It shows a dystopian America that elects a game show host its president, and warns us what can follow. This four-year experiment is expected to culminate in 2020 with an election special, which determines the series’ fate for a renewed batch of episodes.
   Kendall Jenner can do anything. She can solve riots with cans of Pepsi. Forget flower power.
   Kate loves Willy, so they expect another kid.
 
In the real world
   La La Land wins the Oscar for Best Picture, until it was taken off them and Midnight wins the Oscar for Best Picture. Someone Harveyed (first definition): presenter Warren Beatty had been handed the wrong card.
   Someone unplugs British Airways’ computers, and all flights at Heathrow and Gatwick are cancelled.
   News of Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual harassment changes the meaning of getting ‘Harveyed’, and this one is far more horrific.
 
2018
Kanye West became Donald Trump’s biggest fan and joins the cast of his experimental four-year show. He plays an unhinged character who believes slavery was a choice.
   Harry loves Meg, and tie the knot. Meghan’s Dad, however, was too busy pursuing a career in modelling to attend.
   Taylor Swift gets the voters out, and the public hasn’t seen anything like this since David Hasselhoff brought down the Berlin Wall.
   Kate loves Willy, so they have another kid.
 
Reality is stranger
   Louise Matsakis at Wired writes the story on Facebook’s forced downloads, after I tipped her off. Facebook stopped pushing these downloads, after affecting millions and telling them it was for their own good.
   A month later, a pink-haired man named Christopher Wylie blew the lid on something much bigger: Facebook, in violation of a 2011 FTC consent decree, allowed a data company to harvest over 50 million users, swinging the outcome of the US presidential election.
   Roseanne comes back, Roseanne Barr Tweets something racist, Roseanne goes away.
   Some media job-shame actor Geoffrey Owens for working at Trader Joe’s; people come to his defence.
   Twelve boys are rescued from a cave in Thailand, after Elon Musk makes a coffin that others brand impractical, angering him so much he calls one of the rescuers ‘pedo guy’.
   Speaking of Elon, Tesla will call the cops on you if you’re a whistleblower, telling them you’re heading to work to shoot up the place.
   And yes, this does mean that the real news was whackier than the fiction.
 
2019
To keep the ratings up for his long-running show, Donald Trump gets jealous of Greta Thunberg, as she didn’t have to fake her Time Person of the Year cover.
   He heads to the UK for the D-Day commemorations, and bonds with HM the Queen, telling her, ‘My Dad was German and my Mum was Scottish, too.’

   The British attempt a remake of Donald Trump’s show. They search for a man who is born in New York, cheated on his first two wives, has five kids, funny hair, used to espouse more liberal views, before trying to sell ethnonationalism as part of his schtick. They find him: Boris Johnson, best known for his earlier work on Little Britain USA. Within weeks he’s already cheated on his partner Carrie by giving everyone in the UK a weak pound.
   Harry loves Meg, and this year, they didn’t need Kate and Willy to provide the baby news.
 
Reality is stranger
   Facebook says it will act in the wake of the Christchurch massacre, but by the following month, New Zealand’s privacy commissioner reveals they’ve done nothing, and are ‘morally bankrupt, pathological liars’.
   Twitter deletes the account of Will ‘Egg Boy’ Connolly, but not racist Australian politician Fraser Anning, again demonstrating how fearful they are of racists. Twitter also deleted an account that looked for anti-Semitic bots, as bots are good for business (just like Facebook).
   The Hong Kong police show their nostalgia for the British, by using the same colonial, “the natives are revolting” techniques once developed to quash piccaninnies.
   The UK charges in to the Ecuadorian Embassy to arrest Julian Assange, then subject him to psychological torture. The US and UK mainstream media continue vilifying him, while the Russian state media call it out.
   Mark Zuckerberg keeps meeting with right-wing figures, and people still want to keep making him rich by using Facebook, despite being lied to constantly about everything.

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Healthy jump in Autocade traffic for home-page entries

24.12.2019

Some interesting traffic patterns at Autocade. At the time of writing, two models have been added: the Audi A2 and the Daimler DE36. They’ve netted 5 and 2 views respectively, which is what you’d expect for new pages.
   The last significant updates, when models were added, took place on December 13. The last model added was the Toyota Corona Mark II (X10), which has amassed an incredible 1,409 views. I would expect around 100–200 for a page of its age. Here are the views of the latest 20:

Audi A2 5 views
Daimler DE36 2
Toyopet Corona Mark II (X10) 1,409
Opel Fiera 689
Opel Olímpico 699
Opel Rekord C 1,776
Opel Rekord B 1,051
Morgan Plus Six 690
Lancia Lybra 1,075
Hyundai Veloster (JS) 127
Kia Seltos 190
Kia KX3 (KC) 118
Hawtai Lusheng E80 114
Hyundai Veloster (FS) 115
Lincoln Corsair 106
Perodua Nautica 108
Perodua Aruz 177
Perodua Axia 188
Perodua Myvi (2017–) 161
Volkswagen Golf VIII 154

   Not that I’m complaining one little bit, but the figures for the third to ninth entries are anomalous; the subsequent ones are where I’d expect things to be. The Lancia Lybra link has had some social activity and the Opel Rekord C page is quite well linked on Autocade, so potentially people (or spiders) have hit it, but that doesn’t explain the 690 for the Morgan Plus Six. The Toyopet remedied an old 404, but again I’m surprised at the figure.
   To whomever has been visiting this much, I do thank you. We may crack the 18 million mark before 2019 is out, and we’ve netted a million page views on Autocade in record time. More on that after we get the next 14,000 page views.

Incidentally, the Po.st sharing gadgets across all our sites are down. Anyone else?

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The “fortress America” approach to the internet fuels piracy

21.12.2019

There are websites such as CBS News in the US that no longer let us here in New Zealand view them. US Auto Trader is another one. It’s a damned shame, because I feel it’s a stab at the heart of what made the internet great—the fact that we could be in touch with each other across borders. These two US websites, and there are plenty more, are enacting the “fortress America” policy, and I’ve never believed that isolationism is a good thing.
   Let’s start with the Auto Trader one. As someone who found his car on the UK Auto Trader website, it seems daft for the US to limit itself to its own nation’s buyers. What if someone abroad really would like an American classic? Then again, I accept that classic cars are few and far between on that site, and if photos from the US are anything to go by, the site’s probably full of Hyundai Sonatas and Toyota Camrys anyway.

   I went to the CBS website because of a Twitter link containing an interesting headline. Since we’re blocked from seeing that site, then I logically fed the same headline into a search engine and found it in two places. The first was Microsoft News, which I imagine is fine for CBS since they probably still get paid a licence for it. The second, however, was an illegal content mill that had stolen the article.
   I opted for the former to (a) do the right thing and (b) avoid the sort of pop-ups and other annoying ads that content mills often host, but what if the Microsoft version was unavailable? These geo-restrictions actually encourage piracy and does the original publisher out of income, and I can’t see that as a good thing.
   Some blamed the GDPR coming into force in the EU, so it appears CBS—which apparently is against Donald Trump talking isolationism yet practises it—decided to lump “not America” into one group and include us in it. But so what if GDPR is in force? It’s asking you to have more reasonable protections for privacy—you know, the sort of thing your websites probably had 15 years ago by default?
   I still don’t think it’s that hard to ask users to hop over to Aboutads.info and opt out of ad tracking on each of their browsers. We haven’t anything as sophisticated as some websites, which put their controls front and centre, but we at least provide links; and we ourselves don’t collect intrusive data. Yes, some ad networks we use do (which you can opt out of), but we’d never ask them for it. The way things are configured, I don’t even know your IP address when you feed in a comment.
   Ours isn’t a perfect solution but at least we don’t isolate—we welcome all walks of life, regardless of where you hail from. Just like the pioneers of the web, such as Sir Tim Berners-Lee. Make the internet great again.

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Capitalism falls down when it’s rigged

04.12.2019

Martin Wolf, writing in the Financial Times, touches on a few points that resonate with my readings over the years.
   He believes capitalism, as a system, is not a bad one, but it is bad when it is ‘rigged’; and that Aristotle was indeed right (as history has since proved) that a sizeable middle class is necessary for the functioning of a democracy.
   We know that the US, for instance, doesn’t really do much about monopolies, having redefined them since the 1980s as essentially OK if no one gets charged more. Hence, Wolf, citing Prof Thomas Philippon’s The Great Reversal, notes that the spikes in M&A activity in the US has weakened competition. I should note that this isn’t the province of “the right”—Philippon also shows that M&A activity reduced under Nixon.
   I alluded to the lack of competition driving down innovation, but Wolf adds that it has driven up prices (so much for the US’s stance, since people are being charged more), and resulted in lower investment and lower productivity growth.
   In line with some of my recent posts, Wolf says, ‘In the past decade, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft combined have made over 400 acquisitions globally. Dominant companies should not be given a free hand to buy potential rivals. Such market and political power is unacceptable. A refurbishment of competition policy should start from the assumption that mergers and acquisitions need to be properly justified.’
   History shows us that Big Tech’s acquisitions have not been healthy to consumers, especially on the privacy front; they colluded to suppress wages before getting busted. In a serious case, according to one company, Google itself commits outright intellectual property theft: ‘Google would solicit a party to share with it highly confidential trade secrets under a non-disclosure agreement, conduct negotiations with the party, then terminate negotiations with the party professing a lack of interest in the party’s technology, followed by the unlawful use of the party’s trade secrets in its business.’ (The case, Attia v. Google, is ongoing, I believe.) Their own Federal Trade Commission said Google ‘used anticompetitive tactics and abused its monopoly power in ways that harmed Internet users and rivals,’ quoting the Murdoch Press. We see many undesirable patterns with other firms there exercising monopoly powers, some of which I’ve detailed on this blog, and so far, only Europe has had the cohones to slap Google with massive fines (in the milliards, since 2017), though other jurisdictions have begun to investigate.
   As New Zealand seeks to reexamine its Commerce Act, we need to ensure that we don’t merely parrot the US and UK approach.
   Wolf also notes that inequality ‘undermines social mobility; weakens aggregate demand and slows economic growth.’ The central point I’ve made before on Twitter: why would I want people to do poorly when those same people are potentially my customers? It seems to be good capitalism to ensure there’s a healthy base of consumers.

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Tesla or SpaceX doesn’t like you? They’ll say you’re an active shooter

24.11.2019

What does Tesla do to whistleblowers?
   They tell the cops you’re an active shooter.
   Apparently, this case about a gentleman called Martin Tripp emerged in 2018 but only today were the police documents released, and are worth reading.



Above: Two of the pages from the Storey County Sheriff’s Office over the false Martin Tripp ‘active shooter’ incident at Tesla.

   One could attempt to read it generously in Tesla’s favour but I think you’d be fooling yourself.
   Tripp had concerns about waste, and even raised them with Musk. From what I can tell, Musk only engaged Tripp after Tripp had been fired; and it was after that email exchange that the tip was given to police.
   It’s a far cry from the admirable firm I remember, being run by Martin Eberhard. Back then, it was optimistic and transparent. Nowadays it seems a truck prototype can’t stand up to scrutiny for 25 minutes, CEO Elon Musk disses one of the Thai cave rescue divers, Vernon Unsworth, calling him ‘pedo guy’, and Tweets misleading information that lands him in trouble with the US SEC. As far as I can tell in the Twitter thread above, Musk knew about Tripp—enough to speak on the case and be excessively paranoid about him, thinking he could be part of a conspiracy involving oil companies, claiming he committed ‘extensive and damaging sabotage’.
   As Bloomberg put it: ‘Many chief executive officers would try to ignore somebody like Tripp. Instead, as accounts from police, former employees, and documents produced by Tesla’s own internal investigation reveal, Musk set out to destroy him.’
   Also from Bloomberg:

The security manager at the Gigafactory, an ex-military guy with a high-and-tight haircut named Sean Gouthro, has filed a whistleblower report with the SEC. Gouthro says Tesla’s security operation behaved unethically in its zeal to nail the leaker. Investigators, he claims, hacked into Tripp’s phone, had him followed, and misled police about the surveillance. Gouthro says that Tripp didn’t sabotage Tesla or hack anything and that Musk knew this and sought to damage his reputation by spreading misinformation.

   When Gouthro says Facebook (where he had worked before) is more professional than Tesla, that’s really worrying.
   In another case, Jason Blasdell claims that SpaceX, another Musk venture, where he was employed, falsified test documents. When he brought this to his superior’s attention, he was fired. In Blasdell’s case, two of his managers suggested he would ‘come in to work shooting.’ His account makes for sobering reading as the legal avenues he had get shut down, one by one.
   Google and Facebook might do some terrible things in the market-place, but I don’t think I’ve come across this level of vindictiveness against employees further down the food chain from the CEO.
   They seem to be mounting as well—I wouldn’t have known about the two ex-employee cases if not for spotting the Tripp police report Tweets. They both follow a similar pattern of discrediting people with valid concerns, going well beyond any reasonableness. We’re talking about lives and reputations getting destroyed.
   It all points to a deep insecurity within these firms, which go beyond the sort of monopolistic, anticompetitive, un-American, anti-innovation behaviours of the usual Big Tech suspects. Yes, Google will go as far as to get your fired, according to Barry Lynn of Citizens Against Monopoly (Google denies it), or it might play silly buggers and seemingly shut down your Adwords account, or blacklist your site by falsely claiming it is infected, hack your Iphone and bypass its ‘Do Not Track’ setting, expose your private information for years, and plain lie about tracking, but I’ve yet to hear them sicking armed police on you and having their staff say you’d be heading to the office shooting. So maybe in this context, Google can say it hasn’t been evil. Well done. Slow clap.
   At this rate, it’s Big Tech and the monopolies the US government has fostered that’ll drag down the reputation of ‘Made in the USA’.

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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 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 »