Archive for the ‘marketing’ category


Cambridge Analytica is merely Facebook’s ‘smaller, less ambitious sibling’

14.04.2018

Beyond all that had gone on with AIQ and Cambridge Analytica, a lot more has come out about Facebook’s practices, things that I always suspected they do, for why else would they collect data on you even after you opted out?
   Now, Sam Biddle at The Intercept has written a piece that demonstrates that whatever Cambridge Analytica did, Facebook itself does far, far more, and not just to 87 million people, but all of its users (that’s either 2,000 million if you believe Facebook’s figures, or around half that if you believe my theories), using its FBLearner Flow program.
   Biddle writes (link in original):

This isn’t Facebook showing you Chevy ads because you’ve been reading about Ford all week — old hat in the online marketing world — rather Facebook using facts of your life to predict that in the near future, you’re going to get sick of your car. Facebook’s name for this service: “loyalty prediction.”
   Spiritually, Facebook’s artificial intelligence advertising has a lot in common with political consultancy Cambridge Analytica’s controversial “psychographic” profiling of voters, which uses mundane consumer demographics (what you’re interested in, where you live) to predict political action. But unlike Cambridge Analytica and its peers, who must content themselves with whatever data they can extract from Facebook’s public interfaces, Facebook is sitting on the motherlode, with unfettered access to staggering databases of behavior and preferences. A 2016 ProPublica report found some 29,000 different criteria for each individual Facebook user …
   … Cambridge Analytica begins to resemble Facebook’s smaller, less ambitious sibling.

   As I’ve said many times, I’ve no problem with Facebook making money, or even using AI for that matter, as long as it does so honestly, and I would hope that people would take as a given that we expect that it does so ethically. If a user (like me) has opted out of ad preferences because I took the time many years ago to check my settings, and return to the page regularly to make sure Facebook hasn’t altered them (as it often does), then I expect them to be respected (my investigations show that they aren’t). Sure, show me ads to pay the bills, but not ones that are tied to preferences that you collect that I gave you no permission to collect. As far as I know, the ad networks we work with respect these rules if readers had opted out at aboutads.info and the EU equivalent.
   Regulating Facebook mightn’t be that bad an idea if there’s no punishment to these guys essentially breaking basic consumer laws (as I know them to be here) as well as the codes of conduct they sign up to with industry bodies in their country. As I said of Google in 2011: if the other 60-plus members of the Network Advertising Initiative can create cookies that respect the rules, why can’t Google? Here we are again, except the main player breaking the rules is Facebook, and the data they have on us is far more precise than some Google cookies.
   Coming back to Biddle’s story, he sums up the company as a ‘data wholesaler, period.’ The 29,000 criteria per user claim is very easy to believe for those of us who have popped into Facebook ad preferences and found thousands of items collected about us, even after opting out. We also know that the Facebook data download shows an entirely different set of preferences, which means either the ad preference page is lying or the download is lying. In either case, those preferences are being used, manipulated and sold.
   Transparency can help Facebook through this crisis, yet all we saw from CEO Mark Zuckerberg was more obfuscation and feigned ignorance at the Senate and Congress. This exchange last week between Rep. Anna Eshoo of Palo Alto and Zuckerberg was a good example:

   Eshoo: It was. Are you willing to change your business model in the interest of protecting individual privacy?
   Zuckerberg: Congresswoman, we have made and are continuing to make changes to reduce the amount of data …
   Eshoo: No, are you willing to change your business model in the interest of protecting individual privacy?
   Zuckerberg: Congresswoman, I’m not sure what that means.

   In other words, they want to preserve their business model and keep things exactly as they are, even if they are probably in violation of a 2011 US FTC decree.
   The BBC World Service News had carried the hearings but, as far as I know, little made it on to the nightly TV here.
   This is either down to the natural news cycle: when Christopher Wylie blew the whistle on Cambridge Analytica in The Observer, it was major news, and subsequent follow-ups haven’t piqued the news editors’ interest in the same way. Or, the media were only outraged as it connected to Trump and Brexit, and now that we know it’s exponentially more widespread, it doesn’t matter as much.
   There’s still hope that the social network can be a force for good, if Zuckerberg and co. are actually sincere about it. If Facebook has this technology, why employ it for evil? That may sound a naïve question, but if you genuinely were there to better humankind (and not rate your female Harvard classmates on their looks) and you were sitting on a motherlode of user data, wouldn’t you ensure that the platform were used to create greater harmony between people rather than sow discord and spur murder? Wouldn’t you refrain from bragging that you have the ability to influence elections? The fact that Facebook doesn’t, and continues to see us as units to be milked in the matrix, should worry us a great deal more than an 87 million-user data breach.

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Turned alcohol ads off in Facebook? Did you honestly think they’d respect that?

10.04.2018

Steve Wozniak has quit Facebook, and apparently was surprised at the advertising preferences that the company had built up on him. Like me, Woz had been deleting the ad preferences and advertisers one at a time. Now, if Woz is surprised, then it shows you how serious it is. As I noted in my last post, Facebook even lies about those: on the public ad preferences page it might show none, in the big Facebook data dump it shows some. I believe it might even lie to advertisers about our activity.
   Here’s something else I can tell you first-hand. When you see ads on Instagram, a Facebook subsidiary, they claim that the preferences are controlled within Facebook.
   Inside the ad preferences, all alcohol ads are turned off. Guess what appeared in my Instagram? An ad for Heineken.
   Unless Heineken has launched a non-alcoholic beer under that brand, then Facebook has lied once again.



Facebook’s ad preferences mean nothing. I saw a beer ad in Instagram, then checked my Facebook ad preferences, which Instagram claims control what ads I see. That’s a load of old bollocks (i.e. business as usual at Facebook Inc.).

   And remember, throughout all of this, I had already opted out of ad customization on another Facebook page, so there’s no reason for Facebook to compile anything on me. Yet, regardless of that setting, it will compile and compile. It will even repopulate, with thousands of preferences, freshly deleted pages.
   Now we know that there’s a possibility, if you weren’t clued up about your privacy settings, that these preferences were sold to others. The latest revelation is that CubeYou had sold user data also gathered under the guise of ‘academic research’. Remember, Facebook knew about the Cambridge Analytica leak in 2015 and sought to bury the story. The new CubeYou story proves that that was not isolated. But then, if you go back through what I have been writing in this blog for a good part of this decade, you really wouldn’t be surprised about any of this. In fact, you can probably make an educated guess and say that this was normal practice at Facebook: have money, will sell. Even President Duterte of the Philippines benefited from these practices, with 1·2 million Filipinos’ data harvested, and the list goes on. In New Zealand, Facebook has said that up to 63,714 Kiwis’ profiles were harvested. And now, it appears there’s even a link with US businessman Peter Thiel, who gained New Zealand residency after spending less than 1 per cent of the time required here, and whose companies, as defence contractors, have received millions of dollars of New Zealand taxpayer funds.
   Thanks to Facebook, governments have a lot on us, something Edward Snowden has been saying for years. The difference in the 2000s and 2010s is, thanks to digital narcissism, we’re the ones willingly providing this information, while Facebook milks it for all it’s worth, before its enriched CEO pretends to play victim, and his people try to use legal means to shut down the negative media stories.

PS., April 14: If you thought the above was isolated, you’d be quite wrong:

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Facebook’s ad preferences’ page and user archive tell totally different stories about their tracking

28.03.2018

I decided there’d be no harm getting that Facebook archive since I was no longer using it. And while I didn’t see phone logs as Dylan McKay did (I only had the app for about a month or so in 2012), what I did find was entirely in line with the privacy breaches I had been accusing Facebook of for years.
   It relates to the Facebook ad preferences. In December 2016, I filed a complaint with the US Better Business Bureau over the fact that Facebook continued to compile data on your advertising preferences even after you opted out. During 2016, Facebook repopulated all my preferences not once, but multiple times, and I found a direct link between one of the advertisements it displayed in my feed and the recompiled preferences. This was the “smoking gun” the BBB asked me to find, though I never heard back from them.
   As of 2018, knowing that Facebook will not respect your opt-outs, just as Google failed to do in 2011 (and potentially for two years before that), I visited the ad preferences’ page (here’s the link to yours, if you use Facebook and are logged in) regularly to keep it empty. What the download showed was very damning: Facebook has preferences compiled on me that do not appear on its ad preferences’ page.
   Below are two screen shots, one of Facebook’s ad preferences’ page, and what is recorded in the archive. This is a direct violation of not only what the BBB says is one of its principles, it is a violation of the code advertisers subscribe to in industry bodies like the Network Advertising Initiative.



Above: Facebook’s own advertising preferences’ page, yet its user archive records something entirely different.

   The archive is also interesting in claiming what ads I have supposedly interacted with. The ad preferences’ page says I have only clicked on an ad from my Alma Mater, St Mark’s Church School. The download says otherwise, recording clicks but not describing which device. However, I can categorically state that the downloaded record is 100 per cent false. I have not only never clicked on those ads (in either Facebook or on Instagram), I have not heard of some of these organizations. It is tempting, therefore, to conclude that if this is Facebook’s record of my activity, then it is misrepresenting click activity to advertisers, which I regard as extremely dishonest. We already know Facebook lies about users that ads can reach. Even if you don’t take my word for it, then you must ask yourself why the Facebook page and the Facebook download tell two very different stories. Which is right?



It’s the same story when it comes to which advertisers I have interacted with. The second list, in the user archive, is 100 per cent false. Has Facebook lied to advertisers over click activity?

   This is not the end of it. As to which advertisers have my contact information, the ad preferences’ page say none. The download, however, says Spotify (which I have never used or downloaded), Shutterstock (whose site I have been on) and Emirates (and I am on their email list, but separately from Facebook). Again, why the two different records? And why has Facebook passed on this information to three advertisers without my consent?



Once again, when it comes to who has my contact information, Facebook tells me one story on an easily accessible page, and another one inside my user data archive. Which is true?

   While most people will be less shocked by these revelations—I realize most are quite happy for Google et al to track them around the place and feed them content to confirm their own biases—it is still a violation of trust and the principles that Facebook itself has signed up to.
   It’s another case of ‘I told you so’: something that I suspected, found some evidence for, and found even more evidence for today.
   Like the malware scanner, the subject of my blog post in 2016 and Louise Matsakis’s exposé in Wired last month, Facebook needs to come clean on why it compiles data on users who have used its own settings to opt out, why it lies to users over what those preferences are, and why it may lie to advertisers about user click activity.
   We know the answer is money. As I said in December 2016, I have no problem with Facebook making money. I just ask, as I do with any venture, that it does so honestly. Right now, even with all the data it has on us, it appears Facebook can’t even do that right.

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Happy birthday: Autocade turns 10

07.03.2018


Above: Autocade can be hard work—and sometimes you have to put up less exciting vehicles, like the 2001–7 Chrysler Town & Country, for it to be a useful resource.

March 8, 2018 marks 10 years of Autocade.
   I’ve told the story before on this blog and elsewhere, about how the site came to be—annoyed by the inaccuracies and fictions of Wikipedia (who said the masses would be smart enough to get rid of the mistakes?), I took a leaf out of the late Michael Sedgwick’s book and created a wiki that had brief summaries of each model, the same way Sedgwick had structured his guides. I received an emailed threat from a well known British publisher (I’m looking at you, Haymarket, and as predicted in my reply, your thoughts proved to be totally baseless) when we started, and 12½ million page views later, we’re on 3,628 models (I think we finished the first day on 12), with our page on the Ford Fiesta Mk VII leading the count (other than the home page).
   Autocade began as a wiki but with so many bots trying to sign up, I closed off those registrations. There have really been about six contributors to the site, all told: myself and Keith Adams for the entries, Peter Jobes and Nigel Dunn for the tech, and two members of the public who offered copy; one fed it in directly back in the day when we were still allowing wiki modifications. I thank everyone for their contributions.
   A few years ago, I began running into people online who used Autocade but didn’t know I was behind it; it was very pleasing to see that it had become helpful to others. It also pleased me tremendously to see it referenced in Wikipedia, not always 100 per cent correctly, but as Autocade is the more accurate site on cars, this is the right way round.
   When a New Zealand magazine reviewed us, the editor noted that there were omissions, including his own car, a Mitsubishi Galant. Back then we were probably on 1,000 models, maybe fewer. All the Galants are now up, but Autocade remains a work in progress. The pace of adding pages has declined as life gets busier—each one takes, on average, 20 minutes to research and write. You wouldn’t think so from the brevity, but I want it to be accurate. I’m not perfect, which is why the pages get changed and updated: the stats say we’re running on 3·1 edits per page.
   But it looks like we’re covering enough for Autocade to be a reasonably useful resource for the internet public, especially some of the more obscure side notes in motoring history. China has proved a challenge because of the need to translate a lot of texts, and don’t think that my ethnicity is a great help. The US, believe it or not, has been difficult, because of the need to calculate cubic capacities accurately in metric (I opted to get it right to the cubic centimetre, not litres). However, it is an exciting time to be charting the course of automotive history, and because there are still so many gaps from the past that need to be filled, I have the chance to compare old and new and see how things have moved on even in my four-and-a-half decades on Earth.
   Since Sedgwick had done guides up to 1970, and paper references have been excellent taking us through the modern motor car’s history, I arbitrarily decided that Autocade would focus on 1970 and on. There are some exceptions, especially when model lines go back before 1970 and it would be a disservice to omit the earlier marks. But I wanted it to coincide roughly with my lifetime, so I could at least provide some commentary about how the vehicle was perceived at the time of launch. And the ’70s were a fascinating time to be watching the motor industry: those nations that were confident through most of the 20th century with the largest players (the US and UK) found themselves struggling, wondering how the Japanese, making scooters and motorcycles just decades before, were beating them with better quality and reliability. That decade’s Japanese cars are fascinating to study, and in Japan itself there is plenty of nostalgia for them now; you can see their evolution into more internationally styled product, rather than pastiches of others’, come the 1980s and on. The rise of Korea, Spain, China, India, Turkey, México and other countries as car-exporting nations has also been fascinating to watch. When Autocade started, Australia still had a domestic mass-produced car industry, Chrysler was still owned by Americans, and GM still had a portfolio of brands that included Pontiac and Saturn.
   I even used to go to one of the image galleries and, as many cars are listed by year, let the mouse scroll down the page. You can see periods grouped by certain colours, a sign of how cars both follow and establish fashion. There are stylistic trends: the garishness of smog-era US cars and the more logical efficiency of European ones at the same time; smoother designs of the 1980s and 1990s; a creeping fussiness and a concentration on showing the brand’s identity in the 2000s and 2010s. As some of the most noticeable consumer goods on the planet, cars make up a big part of the marketing profession.
   The site is large enough that I wouldn’t mind seeing an academic look at industry using the data gathered there; and I always thought it could be a useful book as well, bearing in mind that the images would need to be replaced with much higher-resolution fare.
   For now, I’m going to keep on plodding as we commence Autocade’s second decade. The Salon de Genève has brought forth some exciting débutantes, but then I should get more of the Chrysler Town & Country vans up …

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Posted in cars, China, culture, design, globalization, India, internet, marketing, media, New Zealand, publishing, technology, UK, USA, Wellington | No Comments »


Facebook overestimates and underestimates reach depending on the story it wants to tell

04.03.2018

Funny, isn’t it? Last year, Facebook was busted for claiming that in some demographics, their ads could reach more people than there were people. When it comes to the US’s Russia probe, they claim their ads reached far, far fewer people: they initially claimed they reached 10 million, but Jonathan Albright, a researcher at Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism, found that they had in fact reached hundreds of millions.
   Facebook: fudging since 2004.

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It’s as though Statistics New Zealand set up this year’s census to fail

04.03.2018

You have to wonder if the online census this year has been intentionally bad so that the powers that be can call it a flop and use it as an excuse to delay online voting, thereby disenfranchising younger voters.
   It’s the Sunday before the census and I await my access code: none was delivered, and I have three addresses at which this could be received (two entries to one dwelling, and a PO box). If it’s not at any of these, then that’s pretty poor. I have been giving them a chance on the expectation it would arrive, but now this is highly unlikely.
   And when you go to the website, they claim my browser’s incompatible. I disagree, since I’m within the parameters they state.

   This screen shot was taken after I filled out a request for the access code yesterday. Statistics NZ tells me the code will now take a week to arrive, four days after census night. Frankly, that’s not good enough.
   While I’ve seen some TV commercials for the census, I’ve seen no online advertising for it, and nothing in social media. My other half has seen no TVCs for it.
   Going up to the census people at the Newtown Fair today, I was handed a card with their telephone number and asked to call them tomorrow.
   You’d think they’d have people there at the weekend when we’re thinking about these things. Let’s hope I remember tomorrow.
   And I’m someone who cares about my civic duty here. What about all those who don’t? Are we going to see a record population drop?
   I’m not alone in this.

   They’ll be very busy, as Sarah Bickerton Tweeted earlier today (the replies are worth checking out):

and there are a lot of people among her circles, myself included, who don’t have the access code. Kat’s story is particularly interesting (edited for brevity):

   Online systems are robust and can be successful.
   It’s just that they need to be backed up by people with a will to make things succeed, not people who are so intent on making them fail.

PS.: Jonathan Mosen’s experience with this census as a blind person makes my issues seem insignificant. Fortunately, for him, Statistics New Zealand came to the party.—JY

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Social media: not the evolution you might have expected

01.02.2018

I’m getting a buzz seeing how little I update social media now. Around February 2016 I began updating Tumblr far less; I’ve gone from dozens of posts per month to four in December 2017 and seven in January 2018. (Here’s my Tumblr archive.) Facebook, as many of you know, is a thing of the past for me (as far as my personal wall is concerned), though that was helped along by Facebook itself. However, I’m still a pretty heavy Instagram user, and I continue to Tweet—though with Twitter’s analytics telling you how much you’re up or down over the previous month, it might be a challenge to see if I can get that down by 100 per cent next. (It won’t happen any time soon, but if Twitter continues on its current path over its policies, it might come sooner rather than later.)
   I’m wondering if the next badge of honour is how much you can de-socialize yourself, and for those of us with web presences (such as this blog), bringing traffic to your own spaces. Why? It’s all about credibility and authenticity. And I’m not sure if the fleeting nature of social media provides them, at least not for me.
   Now in an age where so many are trying to be an “influencer”, then wouldn’t we expect the tide to turn against the shallow, fleeting posters in favour of something deeper and more considered? After all, marketing seeks authenticity—it has for a long time. What is authentic about a social media influencer who changes clothes multiple times a day out of obligation to sponsors? Even if they reach millions, did it really connect with audiences on a deeper level or did it simply seem forced?
   I can understand how, initially, social media were real connectors, allowing people to connect one on one and have a conversation. It seemed logical that marketing would head that way, going from one-to-many, to something more personalized, then (as Stefan Engeseth has posited for a long time) to one where brand and audience were on the same side, trying to find shared values (let’s call it ‘oneness’). At a time social media looked like it would help things along. But has it really? Influencers are less interested in being on the same side than being on the other side, in an adaptation of the one-to-many model. It’s just that that model itself has become democratized, so a single person has the means of reaching millions without a traditional intermediary (e.g. the media). There’s nothing really wrong with that, as long as we see it for what it is: a communications’ channel. Nothing new there.
   Some are doing it right in pursuing oneness with their audiences by posting just on a single topic, updating honestly about their everyday lives—my good friend Summer Rayne Oakes comes to mind with her Homestead Brooklyn account, and has stayed on-message with what she stands for and her message for over a decade. Within the world of Instagram, this is a “deeper” level, sharing values in an effort to connect and be on the same side as her audience. However, she isn’t solely using Instagram; other media back her up. Hers is a fantastic example of how to market and influence in the context I’m describing, so there is still a point to these social media services. But for every Summer Rayne there are many, many who are gathering attention for no values that I can fathom—it has all been about the numbers of followers and looking attractive.
   I haven’t a problem with their choice—it is their space, after all—but we shouldn’t pretend that these are media that have allowed more authentic conversations to take place. Marketers should know this. These messages aren’t customized or personalized. Algorithms will rank them so audiences get a positive hit that their own preferences are being validated, just like any internet medium that places us in bubbles. The authenticity is relative: because no party has come between the communicator and the audience, then it’s unfiltered, and in that respect it’s first-hand versus second-hand. But how many times was that message rehearsed? How many photos were taken before that one was selected? It’s “unreality”.
   There are so many such social media presences now, and crowded media are not places where people can have a decent connection with audiences. Some with millions of users—I’m thinking of young models—might not even be reaching the target audience that companies expected of them. Is what they wear really going to be relevant to someone of the opposite sex browsing for eye candy? That isn’t a genuine conversation.
   Don’t look to my Instagram for any clues, either—I use it for leisure and not for marketing. I don’t have the ambition of being a social media influencer: I’m happy with what I do have to get my viewpoints across.
   And I don’t know what’s next. I see social media decentralizing and people taking charge of their privacy more, even if most people are happy to have the authorities snoop on their conversations. Mastodon has been pretty good so far, because it hasn’t attracted everyone. The few who are there are having respectful conversations, even if posts aren’t reaching the numbers they might on Twitter, and mutual respect can lead to authenticity. If, as a marketer, that’s not what you seek, that’s fine: there are plenty of accounts operating on audience numbers but not genuine conversations—as long as you know what you’re getting into. But I believe marketing, and in particular branding, should form real relationships and dialogue. Not every life is the fantasy shown in social media—we know that that’s not possible. One politician has coined the term ‘fake news’; and social media have “fake lives”, in amongst all the bots.
   If these media become known for shallow connections “by the numbers”, then even those doing it right, forming those genuine conversations, may be compelled to move on, or at least value the social media services less because of what their brands stand for. Email is a great medium still, and you can still have great conversations on it, but email marketing isn’t as “sexy” as it was in the mid-1990s, because there’s more spam than legit messages. It takes skill to use it well and to build up a proper, consented email list. Social media are getting to a point where some big-number accounts are associated with shallowness, and the companies themselves (e.g. Facebook and Twitter) have policies and conduct that have the potential to taint our own brands.
   In 2018, as at any other time, doing something well takes hard work. There is no magic medium.

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Disloyalty programme, loyalty conduct

27.01.2018

P.P.P.PS.: Lumino’s head office has taken this case very, very seriously, and has been following up on Ezidebit and Goody. I’m actually really impressed—enough to add the two words to the title. They get that I’ve never put my cellphone number on an any app in the past, and they, too, know that the timing of the scam calls is suspicious. I’ve had a promise that they’ll follow up.—JY

I signed up to the Lumino Dental Plan yesterday (Friday). Big mistake. Lesson worth repeating: listen to your gut.
   Some days, the pleasant side of me kicks in and I give people the benefit of the doubt. I read the T&Cs while I was still there but it started getting unreasonable with my standing at the counter while they’re trying to deal with their other patients. ‘Don’t be such a wanker, Jack,’ I thought. ‘So their agreement wasn’t drafted by a professional lawyer. You’ve used Lumino before and the dentist last year was great, and this hygienist was excellent. Let the office manager’s sales’ technique win the day, it’s no big deal.’
   Naturally, she really wanted me to sign and made it quite clear that that was the result she wanted.
   But it was a big deal. I spent an hour last night writing the below to the companies involved. They gave five different emails so I contacted them all.

Ladies and Gentlemen:
After due consideration, I do not wish to enter into this Dental Plan, and exercise my right under the Consumer Guarantees Act to cancel it. I have been advised by Lumino the Dentists the Terrace that the cooling-off period for this sale is the standard five (working) days and I will be refunded in full.
   I was asked by the practice this afternoon to email you with my reasons should I cancel. As all the above addresses have been given to me in one communication alone, I am taking the liberty of writing to you all.
   First, I do not feel I had sufficient time to absorb the Ezidebit agreement today (Friday the 26th), especially on a tiny tablet screen, under what I felt was an expectation that I would sign before I departed.
   If I recall correctly, the tablet app links to Lumino’s terms and conditions and these are different to the ones in the DLE brochure introducing the plan. I was not made aware of the DLE’s terms and conditions initially and was led to believe that the only ones were on the tablet.
   As I advised Lumino while at the practice today, I had serious concerns about the Ezidebit agreement’s poor drafting and its reference to non-existent legislation. I was assured that should I sign, I would not suffer any loss because (a) that the cooling-off period for direct sales applied; and (b) that all Lumino customers who have cancelled to date have been refunded in full.
   Among my concerns: I have never heard of the Contracts Privacy Act (neither has my partner, who has legal training), and there is confusion about whether I will be charged administration and transaction fees (Lumino says I won’t, Ezidebit’s T&Cs say I will). I also see there are SMS fees, although I was told at the practice that my cellphone would not be used and was led to believe that its request in the app was a formality. There is no specificity on any of these fees, other than for a failed payment. Generally, the Ezidebit agreement appears to be a copy-and-paste job, its constituent parts drafted by two lawyers who hated each other, and assembled by a third who hated them both.
   Neither party has come forth with information about the handling of my private information.
   Going to Ezidebit’s parent company, Global Payments, didn’t help, since the US firm’s website says there would be information on its cookie usage on its terms of use page—but there isn’t. I never went further.
   Now that I have had a chance to sit down and review the documentation in your email, I have to conclude that with two businesses telling me different things—and the American one not even sure of what it has on its own website, let alone what laws exist in New Zealand—I have no trust in this arrangement.
   The principle might be sound enough but the execution leaves much to be desired.
   I will be happy to meet the full cost of my hygienist’s session today once I am satisfied that the refund has taken place. I respectfully request that I be refunded in full as soon as practicable, including any fees that may or may not have applied. As no privacy policy was given, I must also request that all personal details held by Ezidebit (in New Zealand and Australia, since both companies are named in the agreement) or its parent Global Payments on me, including my name, email, Visa account information and cellphone number, be deleted immediately after the refund is made. I trust that any intermediaries or contractors who got them during today’s transactions will remove them as well.

Thank you,

Yours sincerely,

Jack Yan

   A company called Goody was involved, and sent me the email asking for programme confirmation. I wrote to them separately. I’m not sure what their relationship is since the only T&Cs ever presented to me were for Lumino and Ezidebit. Goody could be an innocent third-party service provider, who also now has my personal information. I’ve asked them to delete it and take me off any programme of theirs, too. I had a peek through their terms and conditions and privacy policy, and both appeared up to snuff.
   Tonight, Lumino sent me a survey form asking me what I thought of their service. Read on if you want to find out what happened earlier today (I’ll italicize it).

The care was excellent and I do not want that mixed up with the very harsh words I have for the Lumino Dental Plan. You have already been emailed about my choice to end my participation forthwith and to pay full price for my visit once I get confirmation that I have been refunded in full including any unspecified charges. In summary, US-owned Ezidebit whom you have partnered with looks like the dodgiest company around. I do not share my private cellphone number as a matter of practice but felt compelled to do so on your app on the assurance of your staffer that it would actually not be used. I put it into your tablet and within 24 hours I have a scam caller—yours is the only “unknown” company that has this number—not any more, it seems! The American company had no privacy policy and, as I pointed out at the time of signing, cited non-existent legislation in the T&Cs you gave me. You evidently have no idea how seriously I take my privacy and I feel disappointed, distressed and let down by this whole experience. I really should have listened to my gut and walked away at the practice, instead of spending an hour writing last night’s email and even more time to update you on the scam calls I now get. I have heard of loyalty programmes but your Dental Plan is the first time I have come across a disloyalty programme.

   I feel very let down, and it’s been a lesson for me—but also for any business that decides to lend its good reputation to something highly questionable. It pays to do your due diligence, and that includes going through the customer sign-up process yourself to spot what holes there are. It’s become pretty obvious that this didn’t happen.

PS.: The scam caller on my cell came from +64 4 488-7021. Feel free to look it up for yourselves.—JY

P.PS.: The Lumino practice sent me an invoice for the hygienist’s session for another $153. No apology at all. Instead, ‘once this account is settled we will process your dental plan cancellation.’ Really?

Good morning:

I am deeply disappointed you have chosen to do it this way when I asked for the Plan to be cancelled first, as is my right—and which is something you plainly stated I could do. I don’t even get an apology or explanation for all the shortcomings in the Plan or the inconvenience caused, which is indeed surprising, or some assurance that my personal details were not sold. Given the scam calls on both my cell and land lines since providing you with my number on your app, I am sadly forced to conclude that they were.
   Let me clarify our respective positions under New Zealand law.
   Here’s where I stand:

  • I have a right to cancel this Plan. You’ve said so and I know so. I’ve exercised this right as of Friday night.
  • You do not have a right to make the refund of the Plan conditional on my settling the account.
  • I have an obligation to settle your account independent of the Plan’s cancellation.
  •    Here’s where you stand:

  • You’ve done dental work on me which you should rightly be paid for.
  • You’ve had a written offer from me to settle this account already.
  • You’re in an extremely strong position to make sure I settle the account without making settlement conditional on the Plan’s cancellation.
  • Your doing so violates New Zealand consumer law.
  •    Unlike you, I can make this conditional on your cancelling the Plan, in part because I have no way of finding out whether you’ve taken my $299 or not.
       It appears from your email that you already have.
       Logically you could refund the difference between $299 and the invoice amount, which would be taking some responsibility for this mess.
       I cannot see why I need to be out of pocket for $452 at any time. I am sure you can see how this is grossly unfair.
       This seems like a delaying tactic to make sure the five days go by.
       I now respectfully ask you cancel the Plan immediately and refund the difference, which seems the easiest solution.

    Sincerely,

    Jack

    The matter is now before the support team in Auckland. Hopefully they can sort this without my contacting their CEO (which seems like the next logical step).—JY

    P.P.PS.: The practice manager on the Terrace has received the above and responded far more professionally, asking me to leave it with her and she’ll sort it out. She assures me my details have not been sold—not that I doubted Lumino but I still have very massive doubts about Ezidebit and Global Payments. She’s also offered me 5 per cent off on future treatments out of goodwill, which is a very promising solution. Lumino’s support line in Auckland was also very friendly and logged it into their system.—JY

    P.P.P.PS.: Lumino has remained on the case and tracked down Ezidebit’s privacy policy, which I had never seen till today. And I believe we have our smoking gun. Ezidebit’s claims that they have not heard of this happening before suddenly fall flat. In cl. 3.1:

    When we share your information with third parties whom we partner with to provide our services (for example, providers of software or any other electronic applications which have been integrated with Ezidebit to enable us to process payments for users of that software or application), those third parties may use that personal information to provide marketing communications and targeted advertising to you.

    In cl. 3.2:

    We may disclose your personal information to our related companies or to third parties located outside of New Zealand, including:
    • The United States;
    • Australia;
    • Philippines;
    • The United Kingdom; and
    • Hong Kong.

    That latter clause explains the scam call on Monday, January 29 then, which was on my cell and asked for me by name. The caller had a Philippine accent and claimed she was calling from Hong Kong.—JY

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    The last American Falcon

    25.01.2018

    I’m fascinated by the 1970½ Ford Falcon for a number of reasons. The first is the obvious one: rarity. This car was built for only half a model year, from January to August 1970. If you think it looks like a contemporary Torino, you’re right: it’s basically a very stripped-down Torino. Yet you could spec it with any of the engines from the Torino, including the 429 in³ V8 (and some did). Which brings me to the second reason: why would anyone really bother with it, if you could get a Torino for a bit more? (That answers why this car only lasted half a model year.) And that leads me to the third reason: what was going through Ford’s mind at the time? That’s where it gets interesting.
       At this time, Ford was undergoing managerial changes, with Henry Ford II firing Bunkie Knudsen (who had been lured away from GM). That happened in September 1969, by which time the decision to go ahead with the Falcon had already been made. This is, in other words, a Knudsen initiative.
       Federal regulations made the 1966–70 Falcon obsolete because it had a dash-mounted starter—the rule was that they had to be in the column. However, it’s curious that Ford made this call to put the Falcon nameplate on a mid-sizer, considering it had made its name as an ‘economy’ car (by US standards). If you read the brochure, you’ll find that this was all about size. Ford bragged that the car was 2 ft longer. Yet for this half-model year, it was still marketed as an ‘economy’ car.
       I imagine as the US headed into the 1970s, there was no sign of the fuel crisis on the horizon, so there was nothing wrong about size. Why not spoil the average Falcon buyer, used to a smaller car, with something much larger? Hadn’t upsizing already happened on every other model line out there—by this point the Mustang was about to grow into a monstrosity with massive C-pillars and terrible rear visibility?
       Ford (and the other Big Four makers) had been known to blow one model line up, then start another little one, and the Maverick had already been launched for 1970, and was now doing the compact work. By that logic, Falcon could grow more, even though other solutions might have been to either replace the Falcon with the Maverick or simply shift the Falcon nameplate to the Maverick—but both would have involved “downsizing”, and in 1970 that was not in the US car industry’s vocab. The panic hadn’t set in yet.
       Fourthly, this is a beautiful shape. Unnecessarily big (till you consider it had to accommodate the 429), but a beautiful shape. The 1970s hadn’t really started in earnest, so we hadn’t seen some of the really garish shapes that were to come. This has that 1960s classicism coupled with 1970s uncertainty. There’s still some optimism with jet-age inspiration, but the lack of practicality foreshadowed the style-first, single-digit mpg “road-hugging weight” cars that were round the corner, cars which no one truly needed but Detroit, in its optimism (or blindness), believed Americans did. There’s still something very honest about the last US Falcon. After this, only the Australians and Argentinians kept things alive, but those are other stories.

    Also published at Drivetribe.

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    Posted in business, cars, culture, design, interests, marketing, USA | No Comments »


    Zuckerberg wants to fix Facebook: too little, too late

    14.01.2018


    WTF: welcome to Facebook. (Creative Commons photograph.)

    Mark Zuckerberg’s promise to fix Facebook in 2018 is, in my opinion, too little, too late.
       However, since I ceased updating my Facebook profile last month, I’ve come across many people who tell me the only reason they stay on it is to keep in touch with family and friends, so Zuckerberg’s intention to refocus his site on that is the right thing to do. He’s also right to admit that Facebook has made ‘errors enforcing our policies and preventing misuse of our tools.’
       Interestingly, Facebook’s stock has fallen since his announcement, wiping milliards off Zuckerberg’s own fortune. Investors are likely nervous that this refocusing will hurt brands who pay to advertise on the platform, who might now reconsider using it. It’s a decidedly short-term outlook based on short-term memory, but that’s Wall Street for you. Come to think of it, that’s humanity for you.
       But let’s look at this a bit more dispassionately. Despite my no longer updating Facebook, I’m continuing to get a lot of friend requests. And those requests are coming from bots. Facebook hasn’t fixed its bot problem—far from it. This reached epidemic levels in 2014, and it’s continued in 2018—four years and one US presidential election later. As discussed earlier on this blog, Facebook has been found to have lied about user numbers: it claims more people in certain demographics than there are people. If its stock was to fall, that should have done it. But nothing happened: investors are keen to maintain delusions if it helps their interests. But it needs to be fixed.
       If Zuckerberg is sincere, Facebook also needs to fix its endless databasing issues and to come clean on its bogus malware warnings, forcing people to download “scanners” that are hidden on their computers. This should have hit the tech media but no one seems to have the guts to report on it. That’s not a huge deal, I suppose, since it has meant tens of thousands have come to my blog instead, but again, that was a big red flag that, if reported, should have had investors worried. And that needs to be fixed.
       Others I’ve discussed this with inform me that Facebook needs to do a far better job of removing porn, including kiddie porn, and if it weren’t for a lot of pressure, it tends to leave bullying and sexist comments up as well.
       All these things should have been sending signals to the investor community a long time ago, and as we’ve discussed at Medinge Group for many years, companies would be more accurately valued if we examined their contribution to humanity, and measuring the ingredients of branding and relationships with people. Sooner or later, the truth will out, and finance will follow what brand already knew. Facebook’s record on this front, especially when you consider how we at Medinge value brands and a company’s promise-keeping, has been astonishingly poor. People do not trust Facebook, and in my book: no trust means poor brand equity.
       But the notion that businesses will suddenly desert Facebook is an interesting one to me, because, frankly, Facebook has been a lousy referrer of traffic, and has been for years. We have little financial incentive to remain on the site for some of our ventures.
       Those of us with functioning memories will remember when Facebook killed the sharing from our fan pages by 90 per cent overnight some years ago. The aim was to get us to pay for sharing, and for many businesses, that worked.
       But it meant users who wanted to hear from these brands no longer did, and I believe that’s where the one of the first declines began.
       People support brands for many reasons but I’m willing to bet that their respective advertising budgets isn’t one of them. They follow them for their values and what they represent. Or they follow them for their products and services. Those who couldn’t afford to advertise, or opted to spend outside social media, lost a link with those users. And I believe users lost one of their reasons for remaining on Facebook, because their favourite brands were no longer showing up in their news feeds.
       (Instagram, incidentally, has the opposite problem: thanks to Facebook’s suspect profiling, users are being bombarded with promotions from companies they are not fans of; Instagram’s claim that they rely on Facebook’s ad preferences, and Facebook’s claim that you can opt out of these, are also highly questionable. I get that people should be shown ads from companies they could become fans of; but why annoy them to this extent? Instagram also tracks the IP where you are surfing from, and ignores the geographical location you freely give either Instagram or Facebook for advertising purposes.)
       What then surfaced in news feeds? Since Facebook became Digg, namely a repository of links (something I also said many years ago, long before the term ‘fake news’ was coined), feeds became littered with news articles (real and bogus) and people began to be “bubbled”, seeing things that supported their own world-views, because Facebook’s profiling sent those things to them. As T. S. Eliot once wrote, ‘Nothing pleases people more than to go on thinking what they have always thought, and at the same time imagine that they are thinking something new and daring: it combines the advantage of security and the delight of adventure.’
       This, as Facebook has discovered, was dangerous to democracy and entire groups—people have died because of it—and thinking people questioned whether there was much value staying on the site.
       From memory, and speaking for myself, Facebook probably had the balance of personal, brand and news right in 2010.
       But I doubt that even if Facebook were to go back to something like the turn of the decade, it will entice me back. It’s a thing of the past, something that might have been fun once, like Myspace. It didn’t take long to wean me off that.
       Even Zuckerberg notes that technology should decentralize and democratize, and that big tech has failed people on this front. I can foresee an attempt to decentralize Facebook, but with a caveat: they’ll want to continue gathering data on us as part of the deal. It’ll be an interesting gamble to take, unless it’s willing to give up its biggest asset: its claim to understanding individual profiles, even if many of its accounts aren’t human.
       To me, the brand is tarnished. Every measure we have at Medinge Group suggests to me Facebook is a poor corporate citizen, and it’s going to take not just a turnaround in database stability or the enforcement of T&Cs, but a whole reconsideration of its raison d’être to serve the masses. Honesty and transparency can save it—two things that I haven’t seen Facebook exhibit much of in the 10-plus years I have used it.

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    Posted in branding, business, internet, marketing, technology, USA | 12 Comments »