Archive for the ‘internet’ category


Switching to a Chinese OS solves another Instagram bug

25.06.2020

Whaddya know? Uploading an Instagram video with an Android 7-based phone is fine if it’s on a Chinese OS and not a western one.
   This was a bug I wrote about nearly two years ago, and I wasn’t alone. Others had difficulties with their Android 7 phones with getting Instagram videos to play smoothly: the frame rate was incredibly poor. The general solution posted then was to upgrade to Android 8.
   I never did that. Instead I would Bluetooth the files over to my old Meizu M2 Note (running Android 5), and upload to Instagram through that. It wasn’t efficient, and soon afterwards I stopped. By 2020 I gave up Instagramming regularly altogether.
   With my switch over to a Meizu Chinese OS (Flyme 8.0.0.0A, which on the M6 Note is still Android 7-based) earlier this week, I uploaded one video and it appears to be perfectly fine.

   So all those who wrote on to Reddit and elsewhere with their Android 7 problems, this could be a solution—though I know it won’t appeal to those who aren’t familiar with the Chinese language and would rather not get lost on their own phones. Those who managed to upgrade their OSs have likely already done so.

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Posted in China, internet, New Zealand, technology, USA | No Comments »


Catfished on Facebook? That’s OK, too, they’re there to provide the tools

11.06.2020

I don’t particularly have it in for Google and Facebook. I’m only pointing out the obvious: if you say your policy is x, or your product is y, then don’t deliver us z. Put it into non-electronic terms: if you sell me a car and I put it into first gear, and it instead reverses, then I will complain. And if you look back through 11 years of critique, that is what lies at the foundation of every post about them. Medinge does Brands with a Conscience, Big Tech does Brands without a Conscience. Once they start being honest and levelling with people, then I’ll stop pointing out their hypocrisy.

Speaking of which, a Facebook user calling themselves Barbara Black has taken a photo of former Miss Universe New Zealand Tania Dawson, using Tania’s photo as her profile pic and, of course, catfishing men. You know where this is going: despite numerous reports from Tania’s friends since the D-Day anniversary, including multiple ones from me, nothing has been done. Facebook tells me that there has been no violation of their terms. Some have actually found it impossible to report the fake profile, as their screen fills up with gibberish.

   Yet again it’s Facebook being on the side of the spammers, bots and phonies, as usual, because they have the potential to help their bottom line.
   I can safely say that all my reports of fake or compromised accounts this year have resulted in no take-downs whatsoever, making it far, far worse than what I experienced in 2014 when I said that Facebook faced a bot ‘epidemic’ (I used that very word).
   Very easy prediction for 2020: despite COVID-19, Facebook will have to remove more fake accounts than there are people on the planet. I reckon it has already happened but they won’t admit it. I just don’t know when people will wake up to the fact that this dubious site isn’t serving them, but at least the fakes have got to such a point now that everyday people recognize them: at some point, we will either know someone, or be that someone, who has been catfished or cloned. I’ve been off it for personal stuff for three years and have missed nowt.

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Online advertising dollars: Google’s cut from your work is 40 per cent

02.06.2020

From Bob Hoffman’s The Ad Contrarian newsletter of May 24: ‘two weeks ago a study by the ISBA and PcW that reported that half of every “programmatic” ad dollar is scraped by adtech middlemen’ and ‘According to a paper written by Fiona Scott Morton, an economist at Yale University, Google pockets about 40¢ of every online ad dollar before it ever gets to a publisher. Not just search dollars, not just programmatic dollars, but all online ad dollars.’ Just one more reason I refuse to sign these:

   I’m not part of the 90 per cent. And the bastards at Google are rich enough. Let them share it with illegal content mills as they are peas in a pod. Another solution for legitimate publishers is dearly needed.
   At least there’s been some sort of work with the commissions agencies take in other media, and that’s typically at 15 per cent here. Google is taking the piss with its automated systems.
   We know the US doesn’t have the balls (or funding?) to take them on at this point, but how about other sovereign territories in which Google operates? Surely they have to comply with our laws, too?

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May is always quieter for blogging—and we get to 4,200 models on Autocade

12.05.2020

Again, proof that each 100th vehicle on Autocade isn’t planned: the 4,200th is the second-generation Mazda Premacy, or Mazda 5 in some markets, a compact MPV that débuted 15 years ago. If it were planned, something more significant would have appeared.
   I know MPVs aren’t sexy but they remain one of the most practical ways to ferry people around when it comes to the motor car. In terms of space efficiency and the percentage of the car’s length dedicated to passenger accommodation, they remain one of the best. And with the old Premacy, they handled really well, too.
   It must be the times we live in that people demand inefficient crossovers and SUVs instead, and that is a shame. Maybe with the pandemic people will re-evaluate what’s important, and signalling that you have some inadequacy with a large vehicle might fall down the pecking order. MPVs were usually cleverly designed, and the Premacy was no exception—what a shame Mazda, and so many others, are no longer in this market as buyer tastes shifted.

Out of curiosity, why do people visit Autocade? We haven’t had a big jump in visits with COVID-19 (contrary to some other motoring sites), as I imagine encyclopædias aren’t as fun as, say, AROnline, where at least you can reminisce about the British motor industry that was, back in the day when Britain had a functioning government that seemed terrible at the time when no one could imagine how much worse it could get. Obviously we haven’t had as many new models to record, but are they the reason people pop by? Or are the old models the reason? Or the coverage of the Chinese market, which few Anglophone sites seem to do? If you are an Autocade fan reading this, please feel free to let us know why in the comments.

One moan about Facebook. Go on.
   Sometimes when I pop in—and that remains rarely—and look at the Lucire fan page, I’ll spot an automated Tweet that has appeared courtesy of IFTTT. It’s had, say, no views, or one view. I think, ‘Since there have been no real interactions with this bot entry, maybe I should delete it and feed it in manually, because surely Facebook would give something that has been entered directly on to its platform better organic reach than something that a bot has done?’
   With that thought process, I delete it and enter the same thing in manually.
   Except now, as has happened so many times before, the page preview is corrupted—Facebook adds letters to the end of the URL, corrupting it, so that the preview results in a 404. This is an old bug that goes back years—I spotted it when I used Facebook regularly, and that was before 2017. It’s not every link but over the last few weeks there have been two. You then have to go and edit the text to ask people, ‘Please don’t click on the site preview because Facebook is incapable of providing the correct link.’ Now you’re down some views because people think you’ve linked a 404. Not everyone’s going to read your explanation about Facebook’s incompetence. (Once again, this reminds me why some people say I encounter more bugs there than others—I don’t, but not everyone is observant.)

   This series of events is entirely counterintuitive because it means that bot activity is prioritized over actual activity on Facebook. Bot activity is more accurate and links correctly. And so we come back to the old, old story I have told many times about Facebook and bots and how the platform is bot city. In 2014, I rang the alarm bells; and I was astonished that in 2019 Facebook claims it had to delete over 5,400 million bot accounts. You should have listened to me then, folks—unless, of course, bots are part of the growth strategy, and of course they are.
   So, when feeding in links, remember this. Facebook: friendly to bots, not to humans. It’s probably not a bad way to approach their site anyway.

I’ve looked at my May blogging stats going back a decade (left sidebar, for those on the desktop skin) and it’s always quieter. I blog less. I wonder why this is. The beginning of hibernation? The fact that less interesting stuff’s happening in late autumn as the seasons change?

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Posted in cars, design, internet, New Zealand, politics, publishing, technology, UK | No Comments »


Facebook exploits COVID-19 for profit, and viral thoughts

01.05.2020

A lot of the world’s population has come together in the fight against COVID-19. Except Facebook, of course, who is exploiting the virus for profit. Facebook has done well in the first quarter of 2020 with positive earnings. Freedom From Facebook & Google co-chairs Sarah Miller and David Segal note (the links are theirs): ‘Facebook has exploited a global pandemic to grow their monopoly and bottom line. They’ve profited from ads boasting fake cures and harmful information, allowed ad targeting to “pseudoscience” audiences, permitted anti-stay-at-home protests to organize on the platform, and are now launching a COVID “Data for Good” endeavour to harvest even more of our personal information.
   ‘Make no mistake, Facebook having more of your data is never “good”, nor will they just relinquish the collected data when the pandemic’s curve has been flattened. Rather, they’ll bank it and continue to profit from hyper-targeted ads for years to come.’

It’s been a few weeks (April 19 was my last post on this subject) since I last crunched these numbers but it does appear that overall, COVID-19 infections as a percentage of tests done are dropping, several countries excepting. Here is the source.

France 167,178 of 724,574 = 23·07%
UK 171,253 of 901,905 = 18·99%
Sweden 21,092 of 119,500 = 17·65%
USA 1,095,304 of 6,391,887 = 17·14%
Spain 239,639 of 1,455,306 = 16·47%
Singapore 17,101 of 143,919 = 11·88%
KSA 22,753 of 200,000 = 11·38%
Switzerland 29,586 of 266,200 = 11·11%
Italy 205,463 of 1,979,217 = 10·38%
Germany 163,009 of 2,547,052 = 6·40%
South Korea 10,774 of 623,069 = 1·73%
Australia 6,766 of 581,941 = 1·16%
New Zealand 1,479 of 139,898 = 1·06%
Taiwan 429 of 63,340 = 0·68%
Hong Kong 1,038 of 154,989 = 0·67%

Emmerdale fans will never forgive me. I’ve not been one to watch British soaps, finding them uninteresting. However, in this household, we have had Emmerdale on since it’s scheduled between TV1’s midday bulletin and the 1 p.m. government press conference on COVID-19, or, as some of us call it, The Ashley Bloomfield Show, named for our director-general of health who not only has to put up with all of this, but took a hit to one-fifth of his pay cheque. Naturally, one sings along to the Emmerdale theme, except I have no clue about its lyrics. Are there lyrics?

Not a single like on Twitter or Mastodon. I’ve offended a heck of a lot of people.

We are supposedly at Level 3, which someone said was Level 4 (the full lockdown) with takeaways. However, we’ve gone from the 1960s-style near-empty motorways to this almost immediately.

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Posted in business, culture, humour, internet, media, New Zealand, TV, Wellington | No Comments »


Even the web is forgetting our history

26.04.2020


Hernán Piñera/Creative Commons/CC BY-SA 2.0

My friend Richard MacManus wrote a great blog post in February on the passing of Clive James, and made this poignant observation: ‘Because far from preserving our culture, the Web is at best forgetting it and at worst erasing it. As it turns out, a website is much more vulnerable than an Egyptian pyramid.’
   The problem: search engines are biased to show us the latest stuff, so older items are being forgotten.
   There are dead domains, of course—each time I pop by to our links’ pages, I find I’m deleting more than I’m adding. I mean, who maintains links’ pages these days, anyway? (Ours look mega-dated.) But the items we added in the 1990s and 2000s are vanishing and other than the Internet Archive, Richard notes its Wayback Machine is ‘increasingly the only method of accessing past websites that have otherwise disappeared into the ether. Many old websites are now either 404 errors, or the domains have been snapped up by spammers searching for Google juice.’
   His fear is that sites like Clive James’s will be forgotten rather than preserved, and he has a point. As a collective, humanity seems to desire novelty: the newest car, the newest cellphone, and the newest news. Searching for a topic tends to bring up the newest references, since the modern web operates on the basis that history is bunk.
   That’s a real shame as it means we don’t get to understand our history as well as we should. Take this pandemic, for instance: are there lessons we could learn from MERS and SARS, or even the Great Plague of London in the 1660s? But a search is more likely to reveal stuff we already know or have recently come across in the media, like a sort of comfort blanket to assure us of our smartness. It’s not just political views and personal biases that are getting bubbled, it seems human knowledge is, too.
   Even Duck Duck Go, my preferred search engine, can be guilty of this, though a search I just made of the word pandemic shows it is better in providing relevance over novelty.
   Showing results founded on their novelty actually makes the web less interesting because search engines fail to make it a place of discovery. If page after page reveals the latest, and the latest is often commodified news, then there is no point going to the second or third pages to find out more. Google takes great pride in detailing the date in the description, or ‘2 days ago’ or ‘1 day ago’. But if search engines remained focused on relevance, then we may stumble on something we didn’t know, and be better educated in the process.
   Therefore, it’s possibly another area that Big Tech is getting wrong: it’s not just endangering democracy, but human intelligence. The biases I accused Google News and Facebook of—viz. their preference for corporate media—build on the dumbing-down of the masses.
   I may well be wrong: maybe people don’t want to get smarter: Facebook tells us that folks just want a dopamine hit from approval, and maybe confirmation of our own limited knowledge gives us the same. ‘Look at how smart I am!’ Or how about this collection?
   Any expert will tell you that the best way to keep your traffic up is to generate more and more new content, and it’s easy to understand why: like a physical library, the old stuff is getting forgotten, buried, or even—if they can’t sell or give it away—pulped.
   Again, there’s a massive opportunity here. A hypothetical new news aggregator can outdo Google News by spidering and rewarding independent media that break news, by giving them the best placement—as Google News used to do. That encourages independent media to do their job and opens the public up to new voices and viewpoints. And now a hypothetical new search engine could outdo Google by providing relevance over novelty, or at least getting the balance of the two right.

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Posted in culture, interests, internet, media, New Zealand, publishing, technology, Wellington | No Comments »


Google isn’t working

22.04.2020

I’ve done several Zoom meetings since the pandemic was declared, and two Google Hangouts. While I’m not thrilled at having to use two companies with patchy (to say the least) records on user privacy, the meetings (three for Medinge, one for another board I sit on) have been productive, and the only bottleneck has been, of course, Google.
   I’ve never known what to do with those meeting.ics files that come in but I assume they are digital diary entries for those who don’t like paper. But I can open them in a text file and figure out when meetings start and end and with whom I’m having them.
   If someone sends me a Zoom or Google Hangouts’ link then I’m all good, as I can head straight there and attend the meeting. But for one organization, which has been on Google for longer than I’ve been on their board, I’m expected to get this from the ICS file itself. Fortunately they have an excellent secretary and convener who sends me the link privately since I’m the only one out of the 10 or so who attend these Google-based meetings who can’t figure out how to use this technology.
   Apparently, for everyone, they receive the email and they get a Google Hangout link inside a Calendar entry like this:

and for me, and I’ve spent two hours on this, this is all I get:

   I can tell you it’s not inside the ICS file. There’s no link at all.
   Before you say, ‘Jack, you have non-standard privacy settings on your browser and computer,’ let me answer that now: I’ve downloaded a fresh copy of Opera with no privacy blocks whatsoever, and instead of retrieving the ICS from my usual Eudora email client, I’ve gone into Gmail, where they’ve sent the same invitation, and pretended to like Google and tried to do everything within their ecosystem. This is my only Gmail account, which we are all required to have on this board.
   I’ve opened the email containing this link. If I click on ‘Add to calendar’, I get the screenshot of mine above. Next to the meeting.ics attachment is ‘Download’. If I click on that, I download exactly the same file I had on my regular email, with no Google Hangouts’ link. Surprisingly, there is no way to add an ICS file from Gmail to your Google Calendar—not even a customized right-click option—which must rank as one of the stupidest things that Google could do if they expect us to use their products as a suite.
   There is no obvious way to open meeting.ics from within Google Calendar. However, you can import (Settings, then Settings, then Import/Export) the file, and the result? Same as before.
   Our notifications are sent through a service called Our Cat Herder, and when I click for the full meeting details, I just get taken to that site, again with no Google Hangouts’ link.
   I get that our brains are all wired differently, but there must be a simple, logical explanation on why everyone else can see this link and I can’t.
   I realize that when I spot something Google does, and write about it on this blog, I usually go, ‘That’s dodgy. These guys are a bunch of wankers,’ and 99 per cent of people go, ‘That’s dodgy but I’ll put up with it because free stuff,’ so I know we are different. However, I’m struggling to think how anyone has managed to navigate Gmail, Google Calendar and all their non-search crap to find this link.
   I’ve asked the person convening the meeting to show me in person how they get to their Google Calendar window after we come out of lockdown, but I really have clicked everything under the sun in Gmail, Calendar, Google Account, my profile, and anything else they let me access. I spent 90 minutes one morning and another half-hour today: two hours of letting this Big Tech crowd know all about my computer and invade my privacy. It just cannot be done. Except logic tells me if nine other people can, then their brains must be wired so differently that they are clicking on something that I obviously cannot see. That Google has made it that invisible or that illogical to my 1 per cent brain. But, Gmail users, what else should I click on? There isn’t anything else. I’ve clicked on everything that’s obvious and even on things that were obvious dead ends.



Above: I’ve clicked on what I thought are the obvious links, so where’s this mystery Google Calendar file that reveals a Google Hangouts’ link?

   But logic also says that if we are all receiving the same emails and the same meeting.ics file then why are they different? Even the time is different (theirs is 4.30 to 6 p.m., mine is 4.30 to 6.30 p.m.) as is the title (theirs has the name of the organization in it).
   This is yet another case where Google doesn’t work. I’ve written plenty about why this company’s products are bad for us, their record of censorship, their exercise of a monopoly, their taking and exposure of user data, and their general incompetence. We all know about their failure to be transparent, especially with the one product which makes the most money—their (independently unaudited) advertising. Recently I wrote about how Google Drive does not work, and now you can add Gmail and Google Calendar to the list. Conclusion: this hodgepodge of services is a waste of time. Like Microsoft Word, I’m glad I didn’t get laboured with them early on—and know to stay well away from them in the general course of my work.

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Is Facebook lying to customers about who has seen their ads?

13.04.2020

Not withstanding that I can’t edit my advertising preferences on Facebook—they took that ability away from me and a small group of users some time ago (and, like Twitter, they are dead wrong about what those preferences are)—I see they now lie about what ads I’ve seen and clicked on.
   I can categorically say I have not seen an ad, much less clicked on an ad, for the US Embassy.
   It’s pretty hard for a person who doesn’t use Facebook except for work to have clicked on any ads on their platform.
   And as I’ve largely quit Instagram it’s highly unlikely I accidentally swiped and clicked on an ad there, too.
   On the remote chance that I did, then it shows that either Facebook’s or the US Embassy’s targeting is appallingly bad since I’m not American. I doubt that the US Embassy would have had such a wide market as to include me.
   I theorize, and I do so with zero proof, that Facebook is so deep in its con to claim certain advertising reach numbers that it’s falsely attributing hits to random users across the site. These may have been hits done by bots—bots that it endorses, incidentally—and now they want to pin them on legitimate people.
   It’s a hypothesis but given that I’ve been right about a few way-out ones (false user numbers, bot epidemics, malware downloads), I’m going to advance it. Now let’s wait four years for this to blow up into something.


Above: The only way I can view my advertising preferences on Facebook is through the mobile version. But here they cannot be edited. (The web version won’t show them at all.) They are also quite wrong that these are my interests, but since when have they been right anyway?

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Are you doing on Facebook what Facebook does on Facebook? They’ll sue you

10.04.2020


Pxfuel/Creative Commons CC0 1·0

Here’s quite a funny one for you this Easter weekend: Facebook apparently has filed suit against companies that do the following, according to Social Media Today.

• Companies that sell fake followers and likes, which Facebook has pushed harder to enforce since New York’s Attorney General ruled that selling fake social media followers and likes is illegal last February
• Two different app developers over ‘click injection fraud’, which simulates clicks in order to extract ad revenue
• Two companies over the creation of malware, and tricking Facebook users into installing it in order to steal personal information

In other words, Facebook has filed suit against people who do things that are variations of what Facebook itself does.
   The first. This has long been proven by Veritasium, and one would hope the defendant points out that Facebook has endorsed such behaviour, and that its terms and conditions have generally meant squat. Facebook allows hate groups (hate speech is ‘counter-speech’, they tell me), hates drag queens and kings, drags its heels in removing illegal content (eight clips of the Christchurch massacre are still on there, a year later), and preserves bots, fake accounts and phishing pages, all contrary to what their own terms and conditions say. These happen with such frequency that one might say they are Facebook policy.
   Now, Facebook mightn’t do the second but it certainly extracts ad revenue from customers, and not necessarily fairly. Click fraud? How about audience fraud? That’s been the subject of lawsuits against it. We’ve gone through this before on this blog, least of which is Facebook’s lying about its user numbers. It cites heaps of people but we know among them are bots; and we know that it claims more people in certain demographics than there are people. I’ve said this for a long, long time.
   Third: Facebook tricked users for years into installing a ‘malware scanner’ with purposes it would not go into. But it essentially admitted their scanners collected data from users (as reported in Wired, ‘Facebook tells users when they agree to conduct the scan that the data collected in the process will be used “to improve security on and off Facebook”’—it seems reasonable to conclude this is personal information). The scanner never appeared in one’s installed programs’ list, either, and in my case, knocked out my real antivirus software. We also know that when Facebook accused certain people of having malware, the company was lying. The scanner took a long time to run, so what was it sending back to the mothership? Conclude from all of that what you will, but tricking Facebook users into installing software that is hidden on a user’s PC and takes data off it is right out of a fraudster’s playbook.
   Given the amount of crooked activity that Facebook itself engages in, and the lies its team tells, criminals would be forgiven into thinking that it was a website that collected and ran scams, and that Mark Zuckerberg was a kindred spirit.
   The hypocrisy remains strong at Facebook.

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Posted in internet, New Zealand, technology, USA | 1 Comment »


Another COVID-19 table: total infections as a proportion of tests done

07.04.2020

Peter Lambrechtsen rightly pointed out that COVID-19 per capita infection statistics aren’t as good as knowing the infection rate based on tests done, so at 2 a.m. I decided to crunch some numbers based on the stats I had on hand. These are many hours old now but hopefully still indicative of where things stand. Here you want a low percentage, and we are very fortunate to be sitting on 2·71 per cent. This site has tests per million as well, which I haven’t factored in. Taiwan and Hong Kong are looking even better on this measure; Australia isn’t looking too bad, either. The European and US numbers are sobering. Mainland China and the KSA haven’t released their testing numbers, only total infections.
   I don’t really want to go into fatality rates.

France 98,010 of 224,254 = 43·70%
Spain 140,510 of 355,000 = 39·58%
UK 51,608 of 252,958 = 20·40%
USA 369,179 of 1,941,052 = 19·02%
Italy 132,547 of 721,732 = 18·37%
Sweden 7,693 of 54,700 = 14·06%
Switzerland 22,242 of 167,429 = 13·28%
Germany 104,199 of 918,460 = 11·34%
New Zealand 1,160 of 42,826 = 2·71%
South Korea 10,331 of 461,233 = 2·24%
Singapore 1,375 of 65,000 = 2·12%
Australia 5,908 of 310,700 = 1·90%
Hong Kong 936 of 96,709 = 0·97%
Taiwan 376 of 39,011 = 0·96%

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Posted in China, France, Hong Kong, internet, New Zealand, Sweden, UK, USA | No Comments »