Archive for the ‘New Zealand’ category


Twitter’s shadow-banning: not just in the US, as Kiwis get caught up, too

21.01.2018


Anthony Quintano/Creative Commons

We’ve had years of Google and Facebook acting like arses, but it’s disappointing to see Twitter give us more and more causes for concern.
   In 2017, we saw them change their terms and conditions so speaking power to truth is no longer a requirement. You can’t help but think that the decision to accommodate the US president is part of that: there is a policy within Twitter that President Trump is immune to their terms and conditions, and can Tweet with impunity what you and I would get kicked off for doing. We also saw Twitter, which is scrambling to show the US government that it is doing something about alleged Russian interference, kick off a privately developed bot that helped identify fake accounts. You’d think that if Twitter were sincere about identifying fake accounts, it would embrace such technology.
   One of my regular blog readers, Karen Tolfree, very kindly linked me a report from Hannity (which another friend later informed me was first revealed on Breitbart) which showed Twitter staff caught on video admitting to shadow-banning either because they disagreed with the user’s politics (with an admission that Twitter is 90 per cent US Democrat-leaning) or because of US government pressure (when discussing Julian Assange’s account).
   What was the old saying? I might not always agree with your politics but I will always defend to the hilt your right to express your views.
   Therefore, I mightn’t be President Trump’s biggest fan but those who support him, and do so within the same rules that I’m governed by on Twitter (e.g. not resorting to hate speech or attacking any individual or group), must have the same right to free speech as I should.
   I do not wish them to be silenced because many of them have good reasons for their beliefs, and if I don’t see them in my feed then how will I understand them? I don’t wish to live in a bubble (meanwhile, Facebook and Google want you to; Facebook’s “crowdsourcing” its ranking of media sources is going to make things far worse—have a look at Duck Duck Go founder Gabriel Weinberg’s series of Tweets at the end of this post).
   Because you never know if Twitter’s shadow-banning is going to go after you, since, like Facebook’s false malware accusations, they could be indiscriminate.
   In fact, two New Zealanders were shadow-banned over the last week: one with stated left-leaning views (Paul Le Comte), another (Cate Owen) who hasn’t put her political leanings into her bio, and who was shadow-banned for reasons unknown. It’s not just conservatives these guys go after, and neither was told just which Tweet netted them this “punishment”.
   I think it’s generally agreed that we have passed peak Twitter just as we have passed peak Facebook, but as it’s one of the original, mid-2000s social media services I still use, I’m disappointed that I can’t feel as happy being on there as I once did. After all, our presence is effectively our endorsement, and do we really endorse this sort of censorship against people because of either their politics, governmental pressure or reasons unknown? Twitter paints itself as a place where we can speak freely, provided we do so within certain rules, and the dick moves over the last 12 months make me wonder if it’s heading in the same direction as Google (tax-avoiding, hacking, lying about advertising tracking, allegedly pressuring think-tanks to fire someone over their viewpoints, biasing results in its own favour) and Facebook (forced downloads using the excuse of malware detection, kicking off drag queens and kings, tracking people after they have opted out, potential database issues that kick people off for days, endless bots and general ineffectiveness in removing them, lying about user numbers). Twitter always had bots and trolls, but we’re seeing what goes on inside nowadays, and it ain’t pretty.
   In 2018, we know Twitter is not a place for free speech, where rules apply differently depending on who you are, and where the identification of bots is not a priority.
   And even though we’ve had some happy news already this year (e.g. the prospect of Baby Clarcinda in five months’ time), these influential websites, whose actions and policies do affect us all, are “doing it all wrong”.

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Posted in business, internet, media, New Zealand, politics, technology, USA | No Comments »


Endorsing Laurie Foon for Southern Ward

16.12.2017

While I no longer live in the Southern Ward in Wellington, I know whom I would vote for if I still did. It’s after a lot of thought, given how strong the candidates are—I count several of them as my friends. One stands out.
   I have known Laurie Foon for 20 years this year and have watched her genuinely take an interest in our city. This isn’t just political hype: two decades ago, she warned us about the Inner City Bypass and how it wouldn’t actually solve our traffic problems; her former business, Starfish, was internationally known for its real commitment to the environment and sustainability (its Willis Street store walked the talk with its materials and lighting); and as the Sustainable Business Network’s Wellington regional manager, she’s advised other companies on how to be environmentally friendly (she’s recently received a Kiwibank Local Hero Award for her efforts).
   In 1997, when I interviewed Laurie for Lucire’s first feature, she had enough foresight to say yes to a web publication, at a time when few others saw that value. (This is in a pre-Google world.) It’s important for our local politicians to be ahead of the curve—yet so many voters have opted to look firmly in a rear-view mirror when it comes to politics, fixated on re-creating the “good old days”. If I vote, I vote for our future, and Laurie really can make a difference in council—as she has been doing in our community for the past two decades and more, issue after issue. She’s forward-looking, and she can help make our city carbon neutral, waste-free, and socially responsible. It’s a wholehearted endorsement for Laurie to make good things happen.

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Posted in culture, New Zealand, politics, social responsibility, Wellington | No Comments »


New Zealand slips to 17th in latest Good Country Index

11.12.2017


Above: Simon Anholt, giving a talk at TEDSalon Berlin.

Out today: my friend Simon Anholt’s Good Country Index, with the Netherlands taking the top spot from Sweden, which drops to sixth. New Zealand is in 17th, failing in prosperity and equality, and in cultural contribution (previously we had been 5th and 12th). On the plus side, we are doing reasonably well in health and well-being, and in science and technology. It’s a challenge for us as we aren’t keeping up with certain aspects of the game by international standards. Have a read—it’s all properly referenced and sourced.

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Posted in branding, culture, general, leadership, New Zealand, politics, Sweden | No Comments »


Google is telling fibs again when it says it’s dealing with “fake news” sites: more proof

19.11.2017


Above: Good news, Newsroom and The Spinoff are there in Google News.

Further to my blog post last night, I decided to look at Google News to see who had the latest on our PM, Jacinda Ardern. Feeding in her name, the above is the results’ page.
   I had thought that I had never seen Newsroom, which I make a point of checking out ahead of corporate, foreign-owned media such as Stuff and The New Zealand Herald, on Google News, but it turns out that I was wrong: its articles do appear. That’s a positive.
   But scroll down this page and see what else does.


Above: Bad news: Google News is quite happy to have “fake news” content mills in its index, something that would never have happened 10 years ago.

   I have said in the past that Google News has itself to blame for allowing, into its index, illegitimate websites that have no journalistic integrity. I think this screen shot proves it.
   The last two sources: 10,000 Couples and Insider Car News—the latter, in fact, so fake that it doesn’t even use the ASCII letters for its name (it’s Іnsіdеr Cаr Nеws), which is a common spammers’ trick—have made it into Google News. Neither is legit, and the latter has “content mill” writ large in its title. Surely an experienced editor at Google News would have seen this.
   Once upon a time, Google News would never have allowed such sites into this part of its index, and it was strict on checking what would make it. Evidently there is no standard now.
   If you want to look at “fake news”, here is a wonderful example: it’s not just on Facebook.
   No wonder some legitimate, well regarded websites are suffering all over the world. If this is representative of Google’s effort at shutting down fake-news operators, as it has claimed it is doing, then it is a dismal failure. Google, perhaps like Facebook, does not seem interested in dealing with fakes at all. In fact, it’s quite happy to shut legitimate sites down and accuse them of malware.
   It reinforces my point that we need alternatives right now to save the internet from itself. The trouble is whether the internet community is going to bother, or if we’re happy being sheeple.

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Posted in business, culture, internet, media, New Zealand, politics | 5 Comments »


Saving the internet from itself—Sir Tim Berners-Lee sees the same dangers

18.11.2017


Above: The Intercept is well respected, yet Google cozying up to corporate media meant its traffic has suffered, according to Alternet.

There’s a select group of countries where media outlets are losing traffic, all because Facebook is experimenting with moving all news items out of the news feed and on to a separate page.
   Facebook knows that personal sharing is down 25 and 29 per cent year-on-year for the last two years, and wants to encourage people to stay by highlighting the personal updates. (It probably helped back in the day when everything you entered into Facebook had to begin with your name, followed by ‘is’.) In Slovakia, Serbia, Sri Lanka and three other countries, media have reported a 60 to 80 per cent fall in user engagement via Facebook, leading to a drop in traffic.
   We’ve never been big on Facebook as a commercial tool for our publications, and if this is the way of the future, then it’s just as well that our traffic hasn’t been reliant on them.
   A 60–80 per cent drop in engagement is nothing: earlier this decade, we saw a 90 per cent drop in reach with Lucire’s Facebook page. One day we were doing thousands, the next day we were doing hundreds. It never got back up to that level unless we had something go viral (which, thankfully, happens often enough for us to keep posting).
   Facebook purposely broke the algorithm for pages because page owners would then be forced to pay for shares, and as Facebook is full of fake accounts, many of whom go liking pages, then the more you pay, the less real engagement your page is going to get.
   We felt that if a company could be this dishonest, it really wasn’t worth putting money into it.
   It’s a dangerous platform for any publisher to depend on, and I’m feeling like we made the right decision.
   Also, we had a Facebook group for Lucire long before Facebook pages were invented, and as any of you know, when the latter emerged there was hardly any difference between the two. We felt it highly disloyal to ask our group members to decamp to a page, so we didn’t. Eventually we ceased updating the group.
   We all know that sites like Facebook have propagated “fake news”, including fictional news items designed as click-bait conceived by people who have no interest in, say, the outcome of the US presidential election. Macedonian teenagers created headlines to dupe Trump supporters, with one claiming that his friend can earn thousands per month from them when they click through to his website, full of Google Doubleclick ads.
   The Guardian reports that paid items haven’t suffered the drop, which tells me that if you’re in the fake-news business, you could do quite well from Facebook in certain places. In fact, we know in 2016 they were paying Facebook for ads.
   Conversely, if you are credible media, then maybe you really shouldn’t be seen on that platform if you want to protect your brand.
   Facebook says it has no plans to roll out the “split feed” globally, but then Facebook says a lot of things, while it does the exact opposite.
   Both Facebook and Google claim they are shutting down these accounts, but I know from first-hand experience that Facebook is lousy at identifying fakes, even when they have been reported by people like me and Holly Jahangiri. Each of us can probably find you a dozen fakes in about two minutes, fakes that we’ve reported to Facebook and which they have done nothing about. I’ve already said that in one night in 2014, I found 277 fake accounts—and that wasn’t an outlier. I suspect Facebook has similar problems identifying fake-news fan pages.
   Everyday people are losing out: independent media are suffering—except for the golden opportunity Facebook has presented the fake-news business.

This leads me on to Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s latest, where he is no longer as optimistic about his invention, the World Wide Web.
   ‘I’m still an optimist, but an optimist standing at the top of the hill with a nasty storm blowing in my face, hanging on to a fence,’ he told The Guardian.
   The newspaper notes, ‘The spread of misinformation and propaganda online has exploded partly because of the way the advertising systems of large digital platforms such as Google or Facebook have been designed to hold people’s attention.’
   Sir Tim continued, ‘The system is failing. The way ad revenue works with clickbait is not fulfilling the goal of helping humanity promote truth and democracy. So I am concerned.’
   He’s also concerned with the US government’s moves to roll back ’net neutrality, which means big companies will have a greater say online and independent, diverse voices won’t. The ISPs will throttle websites that they don’t like, and we know this is going to favour the big players: AT&T already blocked Skype on the Iphone so it could make more money from phone calls.
   We’ve seen Google’s ad code manipulated first-hand where malware was served, leading to Google making false accusations against us and hurting our publications’ traffic for over a year afterwards.
   The ad industry is finding ways to combat this problem, but with Google the biggest player in this space, can we trust them?
   We also know that Google has been siding with corporate media for years—and to heck with the independent media who may have either broken the news or created something far more in-depth. I’ve seen this first-hand, where something like Stuff is favoured over us. That wasn’t the case at Google, say, six or seven years ago: if you have merit, they’ll send the traffic your way.
   Again, this doesn’t benefit everyday people if low-quality sites—even one-person blogs—have been permitted into Google News.
   Google claims it is fighting “fake news”, but it seems like it’s an excuse to shut down more independent media in favour of the corporates.

We spotted this a long time ago, but it’s finally hit Alternet, which some of my friends read. If your politics aren’t in line with theirs, then you might think this was a good thing. ‘Good on Google to shut down the fake news,’ you might say. However, it’s just as likely to shut down a site that does support your politics, for exactly the same reasons.
   I’m not going to make a judgement about Alternet’s validity here, but I will quote Don Hazen, Alternet’s executive editor: ‘We were getting slammed by Google’s new algorithm intended to fight “fake news.” We were losing millions of monthly visitors, and so was much of the progressive news media. Lost readership goes directly to the bottom line.’
   Millions. Now, we aren’t in the million-per-month club ourselves, but you’d think that if you were netting yourselves that many readers, you must have some credibility.
   Hazen notes that The Nation, Media Matters, The Intercept, and Salon—all respected media names—have been caught.
   Finally, someone at a much bigger website than the ones we run has written, ‘The more we dig, the more we learn about Google’s cozy relationship with corporate media and traditional forms of journalism. It appears that Google has pushed popular, high-traffic progressive websites to the margins and embraced corporate media, a move that seriously questions its fairness. Some speculate Google is trying to protect itself from critics of fake news at the expense of the valid independent outlets.’
   It’s not news, since we’ve had this happen to us for years, but it shows that Google is expanding its programme more and more, and some big names are being dragged down. I may feel vindicated on not relying on Facebook, but the fact is Google is a gatekeeper for our publication, and it’s in our interests to see it serve news fairly. Right now, it doesn’t.
   The danger is we are going to have an internet where corporate and fake-news agenda, both driven by profit, prevail.
   And that’s a big, big reason for us, as netizens, to be finding solutions to step away from large, Silicon Valley websites that yield far too much power. We might also support those government agencies who are investigating them and their use of our private information. And we should support those websites that are mapping news or offer an alternative search engine.
   As to social networking, we’ve long passed peak Facebook, and one friend suggests that since everything democratizes, maybe social networking sites will, too? In line with Doc Searls’s thoughts, we might be the ones who have a say on how our private information is to be used.
   There are opportunities out there for ethical players whose brands need a real nudge from us when they’re ready for prime-time. Medinge Group has been saying this since the turn of the century: that consumers will want to frequent businesses that have ethical principles, in part to reflect their own values. Millennials, we think, will particularly demand this. An advertising system that’s better than Google’s, a search engine that deals with news in a meritorious fashion, and social networking that’s better than Facebook’s, all driven by merit and quality, would be a massive draw for me right now—and they could even save the internet from itself.

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Posted in branding, culture, internet, media, New Zealand, politics, social responsibility, technology, USA | 3 Comments »


Behind the scenes

16.10.2017

Agent: Yes, that’s correct, we promise we can find you a job, no matter what.
Applicant: That’s great! You can help me?
Agent: Of course. Now, let’s look at your academic transcript.
The Agent studiously examines the transcript.
Agent: Oh, dear, this isn’t very good.
Applicant: Um …
Agent: It says you have a very poor average, that you scored 16 per cent in your university exams.
Applicant: Yes, but when I came in here, you promised you would find me a job!
Agent: But …
Applicant: You promised!
The Agent reflects on what he told the Applicant earlier in the session.
Agent: I might just have something. It’s for one of the specialists on a New Zealand version of a TV show. It’s called Married at First Sight. Are you interested, sir?
Applicant: Call me Tony.

Originally published on my Blogcozy blog.

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Posted in humour, New Zealand, TV | No Comments »


Secret “Asian” man (with apologies to Tak Toyoshima)

11.10.2017


Matt Clark

Above: Driving a silver Aston Martin. I’m citing the Official Secrets Act when I say I may or may not be on the tail of Auric Goldfinger.

Oh dear, I’ve been outed. I’m a spy. Actually, Walter Matthau and I prefer ‘agent’.
   You can read between the lines in this New York Times piece about Dr Jian Yang, MP.
   I’ve already gone into what I think of the Yang situation on Twitter but if you scroll down, you’ll see Raymond Huo, MP is tarred with the same brush.
   It’s the sort of reporting that makes me wonder, especially since people like me contribute to Duncan Garner’s ‘nightmarish glimpse’ of Aotearoa.

[Prof Anne-Marie Brady of the University of Canterbury] said the Chinese-language media in New Zealand was subject to extreme censorship, and accused both Mr. Yang and Raymond Huo, an ethnic Chinese lawmaker from the center-left Labour Party, of being subject to influence by the Chinese Embassy and community organizations it used as front groups to push the country’s agenda.
   Mr. Huo strongly denied any “insinuations against his character,” saying his connections with Chinese groups and appearances at their events were just part of being an effective lawmaker.

And:

Despite the criticism, Mr. Yang has continued to appear alongside Wang Lutong, China’s ambassador to New Zealand, at public events, including for China’s National Day celebrations this week, when he posed for photos with the ambassador and a Chinese military attaché.

   I wound up at three events where the Chinese ambassador, HE Wang Lutong, was also invited. This makes me a spy, I mean, agent.
   I even shook hands with him. This means my loyalty to New Zealand should be questioned.
   I ran for mayor twice, which must be a sure sign that Beijing is making a power-play at the local level.
   You all should have seen it coming.
   My Omega watch, the ease with which I can test-drive Aston Martins, and the fact I know how to tie a bow tie to match my dinner suit.
   The faux Edinburgh accent that I can bring out at any time with the words, ‘There can be only one,’ and ‘We shail into hishtory!’
   Helming a fashion magazine and printing on Matt paper, that’s another clue. We had a stylist whose name was Illya K. I don’t always work Solo. Sometimes I call on Ms Gale or Ms Purdy.
   Jian Yang and I have the same initials, which should really ring alarm bells.
   Clearly this all makes me a spy. I mean, agent.
   Never mind I grew up in a household where my paternal grandfather served under General Chiang Kai-shek and he and my Dad were Kuomintang members. Dad was ready to 反工 and fight back the communists if called up.
   Never mind that I was extremely critical when New Zealanders were roughed up by our cops when a Chinese bigwig came out from Beijing in the 1990s.
   Never mind that I have been schooled here, contributed to New Zealand society, and flown our flag high in the industries I’ve worked in.
   All Chinese New Zealanders, it seems, are still subject to suspicion and fears of the yellow peril in 2017, no matter how much you put in to the country you love.
   We might think, ‘That’s not as bad as the White Australia policy,’ and it isn’t. We don’t risk deportation. But we do read these stories where there’s plenty of nudge-nudge wink-wink going on and you wonder if there’s the same underlying motive.
   All you need to do is have a particular skin colour and support your community, risking that the host has invited Communist Party bigwigs.
   Those of us who are here now don’t really bear grudges against what happened in the 1940s. We have our views, but that doesn’t stop us from getting on with life. And that means we will be seen with people whose political opinions differ from ours.
   Sound familiar? That’s no different to anyone else here. It’s not exactly difficult to be in the same room as a German New Zealander or a Japanese New Zealander in 2017. A leftie won’t find it hard to be in the same room as a rightie.
   So I’ll keep turning up to community events, thank you, without that casting any shadow over my character or my loyalty.
   A person in this country is innocent till proved guilty. We should hold all New Zealanders to the same standard, regardless of ethnicity. This is part of what being a Kiwi is about, and this is ideal is one of the many reasons I love this country. If the outcry in the wake of Garner’s Fairfax Press opinion is any indication, most of us adhere to this, and exhibit it.
   Therefore, I don’t have a problem with Prof Brady or anyone interviewed for the piece—it’s the way their quotes were used to make me question where race relations in our neck of the woods is heading.
   But until he’s proved guilty, I’m going to reserve making any judgement of Dr Yang. The New York Times and any foreign media reporting on or operating here should know better, too.

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Posted in China, culture, humour, media, New Zealand, politics, publishing | 2 Comments »


The hunt for reliable news is harder today

03.10.2017


Above: A reputable Las Vegas newspaper, the Las Vegas Review–Journal.

I’m not going to weigh in on the debate surrounding the US Second Amendment today, but what I will say is whether we like their politicians or not, the victims in Las Vegas didn’t deserve their fates. My thoughts and prayers go to them and their families.
   One related observation from a very good friend was that one local (albeit foreign-owned) media outlet was running live web coverage of the shooting, and questioned whether this was of any real interest to New Zealanders. It could be, to use her words, ‘disaster voyeurism.’
   I have to agree. If you were concerned for a loved one who was there, you’re more likely on Las Vegas, Nevada, or US national news media, and not a local one.
   There is some public interest in it, of course. This is a country we have a connection with, but arguably not to this extent.
   Now, I don’t totally begrudge a publisher trying to make money from breaking news, either, since we all have to eat, but in chatting to my friend I had to look at what was enabling this to happen.
   I’m not one to knock having a global market-place, either, as I’ve benefited from it. And there is a global market-place for news. However, it does seem out of kilter that a locally targeted website covers international news to this minute detail. It’s not like those media outlets that aimed to be global despite having a local or national base (the British tabloids come to mind, such as the Mail and The Guardian), where you could rightly expect that.
   It’s hard to avoid that this is a cynical grab for clicks, and I point my finger at Google News.
   I might have de-Googled a lot of my life, but I always maintained that I would keep using Google News, as it’s a service I find some utility from. But a while back, Google News changed its focus. Rather than reward the outlet that broke a news item, it tended to take people to mainstream media outlets. We used to get rewarded for breaking stories. Now the mainstream media do. There’s less incentive for independent media to do so because we’re not being rewarded meritoriously. As Spanish publishers discovered, Google News sends you traffic, and it gets to decide whom is to be rewarded. When Google News shut its Spanish service, traffic to small publishers fell: it was independents that suffered the most.
   Therefore, if we had the old algorithm, those searching today for news of the Las Vegas shooting would see the outlet(s) that broke the news first leading their searches, and other media would follow. That would be in line with the Google I liked during the first decade of this century. It, too, was once a plucky upstart and for years it rewarded other plucky upstarts.
   From my experience having broken stories that other publishers eventually do, searches now take you to mainstream outlets, and, if Google’s “bubbling” of its regular search results is any indication, they take you to mainstream outlets in your own country, or those that you (and others like you, because it has the data on this) have traditionally favoured.
   Proponents might argue that that is a good thing: the local outlet might express things in more familiar language or the layout might be more comforting, but I question whether that helps people discover fresh perspectives. It certainly doesn’t get you the best news if it’s not the best source, the ones that were responsible for the first reports.
   It encourages a blatant grab for clicks for international outlets, knowing Google News will send enough people their way to make this worthwhile. If a New Zealand website reporting either second-hand or having less informed sources still benefits from the traffic from locals and some foreigners, then why not, and to heck with journalists who can do it better? Are we really getting our fair share of the traffic when it might not actually be fair for us to do so?
   It doesn’t make for a richer news environment if it’s just about the clicks. Yet this is the world we live in—and for some reason we still love Google.
   I might add this change in policy long predates the US president’s first utterance of the term ‘fake news’.
   Merit is out, big firms are in, as far as the Googlebot is concerned. And that’s yet another reason we should be very wary of the big G.

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Posted in culture, globalization, internet, media, New Zealand, USA | 5 Comments »


Consumer’s choice: how I bought a car from the UK over the ’net and shipped it home

01.10.2017

Originally published at Drivetribe, but as I own the copyright it only made sense to share it here for readers, too, especially those who might wish to buy a car from abroad and want to do the job themselves. It was originally written for a British audience.


Above: The lengths I went to, to make sure I didn’t wind up buying a car with an automatic transmission: source it from the UK and spend ten months on the process.

One consequence of Brexit was the pound falling, which makes buying out of Blighty very tempting for foreigners. When it comes to buying a car, the savings can be substantial enough for a buyer in the antipodes.
   My situation in New Zealand was neither driven by politics nor currency: it was the lack of manual-transmission cars. When I last bought a car for myself in 2004, the market was roughly 50–50 between manuals and automatics. Today that figure is 90 per cent in favour of automatics, meaning those of us who prefer shifting gears ourselves face a major difficulty. We either limit ourselves to the few cars that come on to the market that are manuals, or we switch. Considering it was my own money, and a five-figure sum at that, I wasn’t about to contemplate getting something that I didn’t like. Britain, it seemed, would have to be the source of my next car.
   There were certain circumstances that made this a lot easier.
   First, you need friends in the UK.
   Secondly, you should browse Auto Trader, Parkers and other sites regularly for months on end to get a feel of the market.
   Third, you should be looking for something that’s relatively new, to ensure compliance with the laws of both the UK and your own.
   When my old Renault Mégane I Coupé was written off in an accident, the logical thing would be to buy the Mégane III Coupé. However, if you live in a right-hand-drive country and you’re not in the UK, Ireland or South Africa, you’re out of luck, unless you fancy going to an RS. And I simply didn’t need 250-plus horsepower to go to the post office or up the coast.
   There were two powerplants common to Renaults in New Zealand: the 110 bhp 1·6, and the 2·0 automatic. That left me with one choice, and 110 bhp was sufficient for what I needed. I also looked forward to the better fuel economy, even if New Zealanders pay less at the pump than Brits.
   I was fortunate that I didn’t need a replacement car in a hurry. For years I had a “spare car”, one that my father had bought and I could use now that he had developed Alzheimer’s. The other stroke of luck was that I had contemplated getting a newer Mégane III Coupé anyway, and had been browsing UK sites for about six months at that point. I knew roughly what a good deal looked like. Finally, the esteemed motoring editor, Mr Keith Adams, and one other school friend, Philip, had offered to check out cars should I spot anything in their area.

I advise strongly that you use a company specializing in the importation. That’s where Jake Williams and Dan Hepburn at Online Logistics of Auckland came in

   While my circumstances were unique, there are plenty of other reasons to look to the UK for cars.
   A friend looking for a Volkswagen Eos reckoned he would save NZ$10,000 (£5,850) by sourcing one from the UK. This is largely fuelled by the greater depreciation on UK second-hand cars, and the savings potentially mount on flasher motors, such as Audi Q7s or Bentleys.
   While Japan is closer, and the source of many used cars in New Zealand, some buyers have had to buy new radios to match New Zealand frequencies. There’s also the disadvantage of dealing in a foreign language with a very different legal system should you choose to do it yourself.
   The disadvantage of a UK import is that speedometers will be in mph, whereas New Zealand adopted the newfangled metric system decades ago. However, on a more modern car with a digital dashboard, the switch shouldn’t be an issue, and that was the case with the Mégane.
   For a Kiwi buyer, the first step is to check the New Zealand Transport Authority (NZTA) website, which has useful worksheets on private car importation.
   In summary, the car must comply with New Zealand standards, and it helps—for now—that cars that have EU type approval will. The car must have a vehicle approval plate or sticker, or a statement of compliance. The NZTA worksheets and website are detailed and go through further specifics.
   You should, for peace of mind, order an AA or Dekra inspection. AA members in New Zealand can expect a discount from AA in the UK, and this shouldn’t exceed £200. Any faults need to be remedied before you purchase the car, or you should walk away.
   Of course, you need to be able to prove the ownership of the vehicle: that means an invoice showing that you’ve purchased it (this should have the VIN on it), plus the V5 registration document. Since it’s being exported outside the UK, the relevant part of the V5 noting thje car will be leaving the country will have been sent to the Department for Transport by the seller. The seller needs to put this in the courier to you.
   I advise strongly that you use a company specializing in the importation. You can do a lot yourself, but it pays to have an extra pair of eyes to ensure you’ve dotted the is and crossed the ts, and in New Zealand, that’s where Jake Williams and Dan Hepburn at Online Logistics of Auckland came in.
   Online Logistics isn’t interested in profiting based on the price of your car, unlike some services. They set standard fees for shipping, and arrange insurance, which it’ll need on the way to New Zealand. They do ask that the car departs from Felixstowe, and they will ship it to Auckland.
   They will require the VIN, so they can double-check that the car meets the required standards, the invoice, and the original copy of the V5.
   Once it’s on New Zealand shores, it has to go through several inspections.
   The first is an inspection by the Ministry of Primary Industries, which makes sure that there aren’t any bugs. It could order that the car be fumigated, and this can set you back around NZ$400. Once done, you’ll get an MPI sticker saying the car’s passed the biosecurity inspection.
   Customs will then sting you GST (the equivalent of VAT) on cost, insurance and freight.
   An NZTA-approved organization will then inspect the car to check for structural faults. Online Logistics took care of this part, so you don’t need to hunt for an approved one yourself. Once that’s done, you’ll get a pink sticker from NZTA.
   The fourth step is getting the car certified. Again, Online Logistics has a company it contracts to do this, and this is where you’re likely to see your car for the first time. Certification will confirm that the car meets safety and emission standards, gets the VIN recorded into the database, gives you a registration form so you can get the car registered in New Zealand, and issues a warrant of fitness (MOT). Certification can be strict: cars that have had a poor repair job done in the UK will not pass until it is redone in line with New Zealand standards, and this is where the importation process can fall to pieces. That’s why it’s important to have that check done in the UK before purchase. Stay well away from category D cars, and aim for low miles.

Having identified the model I wanted, I had to trawl through the websites. The UK is well served, and some sites allow you to feed in a postcode and the distance you’re willing (or your friend’s willing) to travel.
   However, if you rely on friends, you’ll need to catch them at the right time, and both gentlemen had busy weekends that meant waiting.
   VAT was the other issue that’s unfamiliar to New Zealanders. GST is applied on all domestic transactions in New Zealand, but not on export ones. This isn’t always the case in the UK, and some sellers won’t know how any of this works.
   One of the first cars I spotted was from a seller who had VAT on the purchase price, which logically I should get refunded when the car left the country. I would have to pay the full amount but once I could prove that the car had left the UK, the transaction would be zero-rated and I would get the VAT back. I was told by the manager that in 11 years of business, he had never come across it, and over the weeks of chatting, the vehicle was sold.
   Car Giant, in London, was one company that was very clued up and told me that it had sold to New Zealanders before. They’re willing to refund VAT on cars that were VAT-qualifying, but charged a small service fee to do so. The accounts’ department was particularly well set up, and its staff very easy to deal with long-distance.
   Evans Halshaw, however, proved to be farcical. After having a vehicle moved to the Kettering branch close to Keith’s then-residence after paying the deposit, and having then paid for an AA inspection, the company then refused to sell it to me, and would only deal with Keith.
   Although the company was happy to take my deposit, Keith was soon told, ‘we will need payment to come from yourself either by debit card or bank transfer as the deal is with yourself not Mr Yan,’ by one of its sales’ staff.
   I wasn’t about to ask Keith to part with any money, If I were to transfer funds to his account, but not have the car belong to me, and if Keith were to then transfer ownership to me without money changing hands, then the New Zealand Customs would smell a rat. It would look like money laundering: NZTA requires there to be a clear chain of ownership, and this wasn’t clear. Evans Halshaw were unwilling to put the invoice in my name.
   I’m a British national with a UK address—again something a lot of buyers Down Under won’t have—but Evans Halshaw began claiming that it was ‘policy’ not to sell to me.
   The company was never able to provide a copy of such a policy despite numerous phone calls and emails.
   Essentially, for this to work and satisfy Customs on my end, Keith would have to fork out money, and I would have to pay him: a situation that didn’t work for either of us.
   Phil, a qualified lawyer, offered to head into another branch of Evans Halshaw and do the transaction exactly as they wanted: head there with ‘chip and PIN’, only for the company to change its tune again: it would not sell to me, or any representative of mine.

The refund from Evans Halshaw never materialized, and I found myself £182 out of pocket

   This farce went on for a month and involved a great deal of calls from me into the small hours of the morning.
   The matter eventually went to the group’s lawyer, David Bell, and between him and me, it was sorted in 10 minutes.
   Evans Halshaw did indeed have a policy not to sell to a foreigner, never mind that he was also a Briton. What their first staffer should never have done was take my deposit in the first place.
   Despite knowing it was me who paid the deposit, the Kettering dealer began believing it was Keith who was the buyer.
   When Mr Bell knew all the facts, there was a moment when the penny dropped for us both: he had been told that Keith was the buyer all along, and advised accordingly. Once I knew where the mix-up was, everything made sense.
   It wasn’t helped by belligerent staff who refused to answer questions directly.
   However, on knowing of their error, Evans Halshaw refunded my deposit (albeit minus the credit card fees I had paid) and offered to refund the AA check, in exchange for the report. I willingly gave them the report, but the second refund never materialized. Neither the dealer principal at Kettering nor Mr Bell responded, despite reminders, and I found myself £182 out of pocket, along with goodness knows how much in long-distance phone charges. I still wonder how this is one of the country’s largest dealer groups, with this blatant disregard for the customer.
   Two weeks later, the perfect Mégane popped up. It was all a blessing in disguise. It was the colour (Cayenne orange) of the car I had on my computer wallpaper years before. The mileage was very low. And another friend, Andrew, was willing to pop by and look at it, sold by a very easy-going seller, Andy Mudge of Thames Fleet Purchasing. In fact, he proved so amenable I referred others to him, and he was more than happy, as with many other dealers I had spoke to in the UK since the Evans Halshaw affair, to sell to a British national based abroad.
   The car passed the Dekra check with next to no issues, and Andy was willing to cap the freight charges of the car from his Maidenhead property to the port for £100. (It’s advisable to have the car transported, rather than driven, to the port, as I won’t have paid for the tax as the new keeper.)
   The car was non-VAT qualifying, making life easier for both parties. I paid Andy the amount by wire transfer, added a pony on top to cover the courier of documents (V5 and handbooks) and the spare key.
   The one feeling I hadn’t expected was to see thousands of pounds leave my account and have nothing to show for it. The car took just under two months before I witnessed it for the first time, having flown up to Auckland to collect it (another NZ$100), with a 600 km journey south back to its new home in Wellington.
   Many months later, I’m thrilled with my purchase. There are, to my knowledge, only two non-RS Mégane III Coupés in New Zealand, both in the same colour. It has an engine for which I can get parts, and there are sufficient commonalities with the Méganes sold here when it comes to brake pads and other items. It had taken a considerable amount of time but it was eventually worth it. After all, if it’s your money, you should get what you want. If you don’t want to drive the standard New Zealand car—and looking around that appears to be a Toyota Auris Automatic—then the UK is a very ready source of cars.

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Too many white cars make fake news

17.09.2017


A photo taken in Wellington with a test car I had for Lucire. White cars aren’t the over-represented colour in New Zealand: guess from this photo what is.

A friend of mine put me on to this Fairfax Press Stuff article, entitled ‘Silly Car Question #16: Why are there so many white cars?’. It’s a silly question all right, because I haven’t noticed this phenomenon in New Zealand at all, and if any colour is over-represented, it’s the silver–grey tones. It seems like “fake news”, and if you read on, then there’s more to support that assertion.
   ‘It’s because every second car imported from Asia is white – literally. Latest research tells us that 48 per cent of all vehicles manufactured in Asia, particularly Japan, are painted white.’ (My friend, of Chinese descent, summarized jokingly, ‘It’s our fault,’ and my thought was, ‘Not again.’)
   Let’s break this one sentence down. The author says that we source a lot of our used cars from Japan, hence this 48 per cent figure is reflected in the New Zealand fleet. But you only need to ask yourself a simple question here: how many of those white cars made in Japan (or Korea, or India, or Thailand) stay in those countries to become used imports to New Zealand? These nations are net exporters of cars, so whatever trickles on to the Japanese home market will be a smaller percentage of that 48. How many are white—we don’t have that statistic, but, as I noted, it’s certainly not reflected in the cars on our roads. Now, if we’re talking Tahiti, where there are a lot of white cars, then that’s another story—and that is likely to do with white reflecting light in a hot climate. As this is a foreign-owned newspaper group, then perhaps the author does not live in New Zealand, or if he does, maybe he hangs around taxi ranks a lot.
   Let’s go a bit further: ‘Statistics gathered by Axalta Coating Sytems, a leading global supplier of liquid and powder coatings, showed that worldwide 37 per cent of all new vehicles built during 2016 were painted white, which was up two percentage points on 2015’ and ‘All this leads to the next obvious question: why are all these cars painted white? / It may be because that’s what the manufacturers want.’
   From what I can tell, this article was cobbled together from two sets of statistics. A bit of research wouldn’t have been remiss. However, it is a sign of the times, and even we’re guilty of taking a release at face value to get news out. But the result on Stuff just doesn’t make much sense.
   James Newburrie, a car enthusiast and IT security specialist, has a far more reasonable answer to the high number of silver (and dull-coloured, which includes white) cars, which he gave me permission to quote in May 2016:

Car colours are fairly well correlated with consumer confidence. In an environment where consumer confidence is high, regular cars are likely to be available in all sorts of bright and lurid colours (purple, green, yellow, etc). As consumer confidence tanks, people start to think more about resale value and they chose more “universal” colours (the kind of colours no one hates: Silver, conservative blues, etc).
   Cars directed at young people tend to be cheaper and maintain strong colours throughout the cycle – but to keep costs down they tend to stay around red, black, white, blue and silver, perhaps with one “girly” colour if it is a small car. Cars directed to financially secure people as second cars, like sports cars for instance, tend to be more vibrantly coloured, because your buying into the dream.
   So, in the 1950s while the economy was good, people bought cars in bright colours with lots of colours, the oil crisis comes along and they go to white and beige, the 80s come along and we all vomit from car colours, the recession we had to have leads to boredom, then everything is awesome again and you can buy a metallic purple Falcon, or a metallic orange commodore – then the great recession and we’re all bored to death again.
   Consumer confidence probably is just starting to recover now. If history is any indication, there will be a point where people just go “oh screw worrying” and then they will see that other people aren’t worried anymore and they’ll say “screw worrying” etc … and we will snap back.

   Follow that up with what car dealers are now selling, and bingo, you might have a serviceable article.

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