Archive for the ‘technology’ category


The newer the Instagram, the buggier; and why no one should use Google Drive

24.11.2019

I’ve discovered that the newer the Instagram, the buggier it is. We’ve already seen that it can’t cope with video if you use Android 7 (a great way to reduce video bandwidth), and, earlier this year, filters do not work.
   I downgraded to version 59 till, last week, Instagram began deleting direct messages as its way to force me to upgrade. Neither versions 119 or 120 are stable, and are about as reliable as one of Boris Johnson’s marriages, although they have fixed the filter problem.


   Neither version has an alignment grid to aid you to adjust an image so it’s square, even though Instagram’s own documentation says it remains present. Presently, only Tyler Henry and other psychics can see the grid:


   Holly Jahangiri tells me that she has a stable Instagram on Android 9, and another good friend informs me that Instagram still gives him an editing grid on IOS, which reminds me of the débâcle of Boo.com many years ago: it only worked with the latest gear, at HQ, but never worked with older browsers, and certainly never transmitted in a timely fashion on the broadband of the early 2000s (and to heck with anyone unfortunate enough to still be on dial-up).
   I will keep downgrading till the grid is back for us non-clairvoyants, as it’s a feature I use, though I imagine I could run the risk of getting to one with a grid but inoperable filters. I doubt, however, that the video frame rate on Android 7 has been fixed, and since my earlier phone no longer charges (well, it does, but I have to drive to Johnsonville to the repair shop to do it), I’ve saved up oodles of video content.
   I also can’t tag locations in the new Instagrams. I can try, but the window showing me the locations doesn’t like keyboards. If you can’t enter the first word quickly enough, then you’re stuck in a situation where you have to keep tapping to get your keyboard back.
   It’s pretty unacceptable that a year-old phone is already incompatible with an app, but I guess you have to remember that no self-respecting geek working for Big Tech would have old gear.
   Speaking of Big Tech, I can’t work out why people still use Google Drive. I wasted 80 minutes last night trying to download around two gigabytes of images for work. All Google Drive does is say it’s ‘Zipping 1 file’, and after it’s ZIPped, that is all it does. There’s no prompt to download, no prompt to sign in, no automatic download, nada. You can click (if you catch it in time) the message that it’s ready (which I did on the third attempt), but that does nothing.

   I imagine this is Google’s way of saving on bandwidth and it is utterly successful for them as nothing is ever transmitted.
   The ZIPping process took probably 15–20 minutes a go.
   A comparable service like Wetransfer or Smash just, well, transfers, in less than the time Google Drive takes to archive a bunch of files.
   I also notice that Google Drive frequently only sends me a single image when the sender intends to send a whole bunch. There’s no age discrimination here: both an older friend and colleague and a young interviewee both had this happen in October when trying to send to me. It is, I suspect, all to do with an interface that hasn’t been tested, or is buggy.
   Basically: Google Drive does not work for either the sender or the recipient.
   This morning a friend and colleague tried to send me more files using this godawful service, and this time, Google Drive at least gave me a sign-on prompt. Even though I was already signed on. Not that that does anything: you never, ever log in. However, for once, the files he tried to send me actually did come down in the background.

   I should note that for these Google Drive exercises, I use a fresh browser (Opera) with no plug-ins or blocked cookies: this is the browser I use where I allow tracking and all the invasiveness Google likes to do to people. Now that it has begun grabbing Americans’ medical records in 21 states without patient consent in something called ‘Project Nightingale’ (thank you, Murdoch Press, for consistently having the guts to report on Google), we’re in a new era of intrusiveness. (I’m waiting for the time when most Americans won’t care that Google, a monopoly, has their medical records, after the initial outcry. No one seems to care about the surveillance US Big Tech does on us, which puts the KGB and Stasi to shame.)
   Looking at Google’s own help forums, it doesn’t matter what browser you use: even Chrome doesn’t work with Drive downloads in some cases.

   The lesson is: stop using Google Drive for file transfers, as Smash does a better job.
   Or, better yet, stop using Google. Get a Google-free phone, maybe even one from Huawei.

Meanwhile, I see WordPress’s Jetpack plug-in did this to my blog today without any intervention from me. I imagine it did an automatic update, which it was not set to do.

   There’s untested software all over the place, ignoring your settings because it thinks it knows better. News flash, folks, your programs don’t know better.
   A great way for one tech company to get rid of criticisms of another tech company for a few hours, I guess, harming its ranking in the process. Google itself has done it before.
   Farewell, Jetpack. Other than the stats and the phone-friendly skin, I never needed you. I’m sure there are alternatives that don’t wipe out my entire blog.

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Facebook takes away user control over their own advertising preferences

15.11.2019

Facebook’s advertising preferences are getting more useless by the day. Even a company as dodgy as Google has managed to keep its preference page working.
   Over the years I’ve been telling people that they can delete their interests from Facebook if they’re uncomfortable with the targeting, since Facebook gathers these interests even when you have opted out of targeted ads. Now, you can’t. If you’re on the desktop, Facebook just won’t show them to you. You can have this window open for hours for nothing to appear (and yes, I have tried regularly).

   Maybe you don’t have any, Jack? You just said you deleted them. Fact: I do have them, except they are only visible on the cellphone—and as usual they’re not that accurate. However, on the cellphone, these cannot be deleted or edited in any way.

   I also have a set of different ones if I export my Facebook data, but that’s another story.
   And remember when I said I opted out of alcohol ads, yet I still see plenty, especially from Heineken, which has even uploaded my email and private information to Facebook without my permission, and refuses to respond? (I may have to get the Privacy Commissioner to intervene again.) Facebook does say that opting out doesn’t necessarily work. In which case, you have to wonder why on earth the feature is there—regardless of what you toggle, Facebook does what it wants. Even Google doesn’t get this bad.
   Remember: Facebook offers you features, but they don’t necessarily work.
   And advertisers: Facebook’s audience estimates, by their own admission, have no bearing on the real population, and there is no third-party auditing. Even if you tailor your promotions, there’s no guarantee they’re even reaching the people you want. My interests are certainly incorrect—not that I can do anything about it so you don’t waste your money. Now multiply that by hundreds of millions of users.

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Big Tech and advertising: the con is being revealed

13.11.2019

People are waking up to the fact that online advertising isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.
   Last month, Bob Hoffman’s excellent The Ad Contrarian newsletter noted, ‘I believe the marketing industry has pissed away hundreds of billions of dollars on digital fairy tales and ad fraud over the past 10 years (in fact, I’m writing a book about it.) If I am right, and if the article in question is correct, we are in the midst of a business delusion unmatched in all of history.’ He linked to an article by Jesse Frederik and Mauritz Martin (also sent to me by another colleague), entitled ‘The new dot com bubble is here: it’s called online advertising’ in The Correspondent. In it, they cast doubt over the effectiveness of online ads, hidden behind buzzwords and the selection effect. If I understand the latter correctly, it means that people who are already predisposed to your offering are more likely to click on your ads, so the ads aren’t actually netting you new audiences.
   Here’s the example Frederik and Martin give:

Picture this. Luigi’s Pizzeria hires three teenagers to hand out coupons to passersby. After a few weeks of flyering, one of the three turns out to be a marketing genius. Customers keep showing up with coupons distributed by this particular kid. The other two can’t make any sense of it: how does he do it? When they ask him, he explains: “I stand in the waiting area of the pizzeria.”

   The summary is that despite these companies claiming there’s a correlation between advertising with them and some result, the truth is that no one actually knows.
   And the con is being perpetuated by the biggest names in the business.
   As Hoffman noted at the end of October:

A few decades ago the advertising industry decided they couldn’t trust the numbers they were being given by media. The result was the rise of third-party research, ratings, and auditing organizations.
   But there are still a few companies that refuse to allow independent, third-party auditing of their numbers.

   No surprises there. I’ve already talked about Facebook’s audience estimates having no relationship with the actual population, so we know they’re bogus.
   And, I imagine, they partly get away with it because of their scale. One result of the American economic orthodoxy these days is that monopolies are welcome—it’s the neoliberal school of thinking. Now, I went through law school being taught the Commerce Act 1986 and the Trade Practices Act 1974 over in Australia, and some US antitrust legislation. I was given all the economic arguments on why monopolies are bad, including the starvation of innovation in their sector.
   Roger McNamee put me right there in Zucked, essentially informing me that what I learned isn’t current practice in the US. And that is worrisome at the least.
   It does mean, in places like Europe which haven’t bought into this model, and who still have balls (as well as evidence), they’re happy to go after Google over their monopoly. And since our anti-monopoly legislation is still intact, and one hopes that we don’t suddenly change tack (since I know the Commerce Act is under review), we should fight those monopoly effects that Big Tech has in our country.
   What happens to monopolies? Well, if past behaviour is any indication, they can get broken up. Sen. Elizabeth Warren is simply recounting American history when she suggests that that’s what Facebook, Google and Amazon should endure. There was a time when Republicans and Democrats would have been united on this prospect, given the trusts that gave rise to their Sherman Act in 1890, protecting the public from market failures like these. Even a generation ago, they’d never have allowed companies to get this influential.
   Also a generation ago, we wouldn’t swallow the BS an advertising platform gave us without something to back it up. Right now, it seems we don’t have anything—and the industry is beginning to cry foul.


Lorie Shaull/Creative Commons Attribution–Share Alike 2·0

Regardless of your political stripes, Sen. Elizabeth Warren calling for the break-up of Big Tech made sense as recently as a generation ago.

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The latest round of Facebook lies

26.10.2019

I believe one of the Democrat-leaning newspapers in the US compiles a list of lies by Donald Trump. I really think we should be doing one for Facebook, as it would make for impressive reading, though it would also take some time to compile.
   Founder Mark Zuckerberg claimed he talked to media from ‘across the spectrum’, but as The Intercept’s Jon Schwarz and Sam Biddle discovered, this is another lie: Zuckerberg cultivates relationships with US conservatives, not their liberals, based on the duo’s checks.

   This adds fuel to the fire that Zuckerberg dreads US senator Elizabeth Warren getting into the White House, and has said so, and we know the buck really stops with him when it comes to Facebook’s activities. Facebook even pulled Sen. Warren’s ads from their platform briefly: so much for impersonal algorithms, ‘We’re just a platform,’ and free speech. We also know from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s questioning of the Facebook founder that he claims he passes the buck on what media are considered legit to a conservative group, something he’ll have sanctioned, so be prepared to see Facebook reflect his (and Trump-supporting, Facebook board member Peter Thiel’s) right-wing political views.
   As Schwarz and Biddle also note, Facebook’s VP for US public policy is a George W. Bush aide and a board member for the former president’s museum.
   Jack Morse at Mashable, meanwhile, reported that Zuckerberg is attempting historical revisionism on why he started Facebook. Retconning might work with comic books but less so in real life. Apparently, instead of the truth—a website which scraped photos of students and asked people to rate who was hotter—Facebook is now something created to give people a voice after the Iraq war in 2003.
   Sorry, Mark, we know you didn’t have such noble intentions, regardless of what they eventually became.
   It’s an insult to all those entrepreneurs who actually did start businesses or ventures with noble intent or socially responsible purposes.
   Frankly, sticking to the truth, and saying you discovered the power of connecting people, is a far more compelling story.
   Except, of course, Facebook no longer connects people. It divides people by validating their own biases, including less savoury viewpoints. It stokes outrage because that’s worth more clicks and time spent on its site. At worst, it’s a tool used for genocide. It’s a shame Facebook refuses to acknowledge the Pandora’s box it has opened, because its top management has no desire to do a thing about it. And as such it loses my respect even further. Don’t want the likes of Warren calling for breaking your company up? The solution is actually quite simple, but you all have become too rich and too establishment to want to break things.
   I actually had to write this in my op–ed for Lucire’s 22nd anniversary last week: ‘In this respect, we see our mission as the opposite of social media: we want to bring people together, not usher them into silos and echo chambers.’ The narrative Facebook wishes to spin, like so many in its past, is an easily seen-through joke.

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Baojun doesn’t scream ‘premium’ and ‘next-gen tech’ to me

10.10.2019

I have to agree with Yang Jian, managing editor of Automotive News China, that Baojun’s new models ‘obviously’ failed to reverse the brand’s sales’ decline.
   It is obvious given that the vehicles are priced considerably above the previous ones, and despite its next-gen tech, there’s no real alignment with what Baojun stands for.
   There might be a new logo (débuted January 2019) but GM expects that this, the new premium products, and (I would expect) other retail updates would undo nearly nine years of brand equity.
   The associations of Baojun as an entry-level brand run deeply, and the new models are like, if you’ll pardon the analogy and the use of another car group, taking the next Audis and sticking a Škoda badge on them. Except even stylistically, the new Baojuns bear little resemblance to the old ones—they’re that radical a departure.
   I wonder if it would be wiser to keep Baojun exactly where it was, and let it decline, while launching the new models under a more upscale GM brand, even one perceived as ‘foreign’ or ‘joint venture’ by Chinese consumers.
   DaimlerChrysler made the mistake of killing Plymouth when it was surplus to requirements, then found itself without a budget brand when the late 2000s’ recession hit. Chrysler, once the upper-middle marque, had to fill the void.
   There’s a reason companies like GM and Volkswagen have brands spanning the market: they feed buyers into the corporation, and there’s something for everyone.
   And while it’s possible to move brands upscale, creating four lines where the base model prices exceed the highest price you have ever charged for your other base models is just too sudden a shift.

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Should I remove Feedburner?

05.10.2019

I’m wondering whether it’s worth carrying on with Feedburner. Over the last few years I’ve rid our sites of Facebook gadgets—that means if you “Facebook liked” something here, you’d have to go through the Po.st links above (which I’m hoping are visible on the mobile version), rather than something made by Facebook that could track you. It’s not been 100 per cent perfect, since Po.st doesn’t pick up on likes and shares that you get within Facebook, so if this post manages a dozen likes there, the count you see above won’t increase by 12. It’s why well liked posts don’t necessarily have a high share count, which renders the figure you see here irrelevant.
   I suppose it’s better that someone understates the share figure than overstates it—as Facebook does with its user numbers.
   But I dislike Google’s tracking as much as Facebook’s, and since I have de-Googled everywhere else (one of the last is shown below), then I’d like to get rid of the remaining Google tools I use.

   I signed this blog up to Feedburner when the company was independent of Google, but I see from the gadget on the full desktop version of this site there are only 37 of you who use its feeds from this blog. This is a far cry from the 400-plus I used to see regularly, even 500-plus at one point in the late 2000s.
   I checked in to my Feedburner stats lately, and was reminded that the drop from hundreds to dozens all happened one day in 2014, and my follower numbers have been in the two digits since. Check out this graphic and note the green line:

   It’s entirely consistent with what I witnessed over the years. There were indeed days when the Feedburner gadget’s count would drop into the 30s, before rising back up to 400 or so the following day. I never understood why there would be these changes: in the early days of Feedburner, before the Google acquisition in 2007, I had a slow and steady rise in followers. These peaked soon after Google took over, plateaued, and just before the 2010s began, the massive fluctations began.
   I can’t believe there’d be en masse sign-ups and cancellations over a five-year period, but in 2014, the last fall happened, and it remained low. And, to be frank, it’s somewhat demoralizing. Is the fall due to Google itself, or that Feedburner decided to run a check on email addresses and found that the majority were fake one day, or something else?
   Given that the fluctations were happening for years, then I want to say there was a bug that knocked out hundreds of subscribers, but I actually don’t know, and I haven’t read anything on this online, despite searching for it.
   Perhaps Google cuts back the dissemination of your RSS feed if you’re not using their Blogger product, but we know why using their service is an exceptionally bad idea.
   It reminds me of Facebook’s decision to kill the shares from a page by 90 per cent some years back, to force people to pay to keep their pages in the feed.
   If you’re getting this on Feedburner, would you mind leaving me a comment so I know it’s still worthwhile? Otherwise, I may remove my account—I’ve de-Googled everything else—and if you still need Atom and RSS feeds, they can be had at jackyan.com/blog/atom/ and jackyan.com/blog/feed/ respectively.

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Who is changing Facebook links to affiliate ones?

14.09.2019

I know someone else has come across this before, since there’s a page on it here.
   The very same thing has begun happening on Autocade, whenever the Facebook link is clicked. I’d love to blame Facebook, but I don’t believe it’s them.
   I’ve contacted Sovrn (formerly Viglinks) as the discussion board participants identify them, but ShopStyle may know as it’s their API being used.
   Here’s what I asked ShopStyle tonight, but if anyone has an idea, I’d love to hear it.

I do not know your company, but the Facebook link on one of my sites (http://autocade.net) is being altered to https://api.shopstyle.com/action/apiVisitRetailer?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fautocade.net&pid=uid7424-7742368-93&pdata=k0jgi6bfn30122110msza whenever someone clicks on it, and they wind up at https://www.facebook.com/marketplace/deals/?ref=affiliate_external&referral_story_type=daily_deals_rakuten.
   When I go into the source code on our server, the link is correct. The change is happening elsewhere, and I can’t figure out where. From the link and UID I’ve given you, are you able to tell? We do run ads and a Disqus plug-in on our site, as well as a Po.st sharer, if these help narrow down the possibilities.
   I’m sure you’d want to kill the account of whomever is misusing ShopStyle’s APIs to earn referrals.

   Here’s the page I wind up on when I click the link. It has no useful content.

   I’ll report back if I discover more, as there may be a dodgy ad network out there, or Disqus or Po.st aren’t as honest as they used to be. Disqus is clunky anyway, and once we reach a certain payment threshold, we may remove it from all our sites. Autocade was the one place where comments were really good, so it’ll be a shame to lose it.

PS.: After looking through the inspector, it appears to be Disqus, using Viglinks. One has to turn off affiliate links in the Disqus set-up.

P.PS.: Both ShopStyle and Sovrn were really helpful—ShopStyle’s Rasheka even went so far as to include screenshots and links.

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When Universal Media Server loads the wrong dot-conf file for your device

25.08.2019

The latest Universal Media Server has never worked for me. Many years ago, I downloaded what must have been v. 6, and it went well. Upon receiving notification I should upgrade, I did—only to have no videos play any more. Only thumbnails appeared and that was the best UMS could do.
   Fast forward to 2019, when I buy a new computer, expecting that, with a clean installation of Windows 10, any prior issue would be history. Not so: UMS still behaved the same, so I ran v. 6.3.2, which works about 85 per cent of the time. This is, of course, better than 0 per cent for more recent versions.
   I’m at a loss on why newer versions don’t work, considering this computer shares little with its predecessor other than licences for programs that have no relation to media streaming. Yet I must be in a minority (again) since there are few entries of this in UMS forums.
   Today’s error was interesting, and this is a note to myself and anyone else who comes across it. Those who believe software runs the same every time are either unobservant or kidding themselves: while on a Mac this usually holds true, on Windows it is sheer fantasy. UMS refused to recognize my TV as a TV, loading the configuration for Microsoft Windows Media Player (WMP) instead. Naturally, nothing played—in fact, nothing was found in any of the directories.
   Fix: I edited the UMS configuration file manually, searched for selected_renderers =, and added what the program usually found: Vizio Smart TV. Quit and restart (the executable from the program’s directory).
   It does mean the other configurations might not load, but since most of the time I’m watching UMS-streamed content on my TV, then I’m sorted. If I have other devices to load, I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

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I want to remove a My Business location, but Google won’t let me

23.08.2019

I really should not have wasted my time with Google, as My Business (see yesterday’s post) reminded me just why I don’t use the site—it’s not only the privacy issues, but the fact that things don’t work as advertised, which has always been the case with Google.
   You’ve already seen that it’s impossible for me to add my business’s address to Google My Business. That’s not a huge surprise, since the last time I had Google Earth, they didn’t even know that the White House was at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC—and that was version 5 of their software. If these folks don’t even know where their own president is, I can’t expect them to deal with Tawa.
   However, we do have an address in Manhattan, so I attempted to add that. After all, it seemed I was verified, or at least close to being verified, so why not get around the existing entry’s non-verification (as it goes through the process of sending a postcard, and, frankly, no one at the office can be bothered—they feel about Google much the same way as I).
   There was no difference: Google still wanted to send a postcard, so I thought I should delete the entry.
   Well, you can’t. There isn’t anything in the documentation that says it’s this hard. Following their own instructions, I delete the location, and nothing happens.


Seems simple enough: Google says I should select ‘Remove location’.


Google wants me to confirm. I click ‘Remove’.


Like a lot of US Big Tech, they make it appear that they’re busy doing something …


… when in fact, nothing is being done.

   Maybe I should go in and edit it, as perhaps Google can’t deal with three businesses called Lucire.
   Good luck with that. I click on the entry and just get taken to a page where I am asked to select an account. I only have one, so I click on it three times, and I get taken back to the My Business home page with the four locations on it.


Clicking on the last entry goes to this page. Click my email address three times, and you’ll go back to the start.

   And ad infinitum. You can attempt to do this as many times as you like, but it is impossible to delete a location, contrary to what Google claims, it is impossible to edit some locations, contrary to what Google claims.
   It’s no wonder the Dashboard was so full of discrepancies because, like Facebook, like Twitter, like Amazon, their databases are probably shot to hell, and nothing works as they say they do. I may be a layman on such subjects but it appears the more they add, the more the house of cards collapses.
   I suspect some of these errors are intentional—we know Google intentionally programs in more pages so they can claim increased page-views to their site (e.g. if you click on an image in the Google image search, they take you to an intermediate page first—10 years ago, they took you straight to the page)—so by offering a website that is SNAFU, you’re forced to increase the page-view count. (Of course, if we do holding pages and forwarding pages to our sites, Google penalizes us.) When such obvious inefficiencies are introduced, you know that the reasons aren’t all kosher.
   So there you are: even if you wanted to delete an entry (and I was sorely tempted to yesterday), Google won’t let you.
   Google: deceitful and useless. And a total waste of time. I’m so glad I don’t use this site in any real way—apart from the time it sucked over the last 24 hours.

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Facebook is getting away with it again—even though it knew about Cambridge Analytica

25.07.2019

Thanks to my friend Bill Shepherd, I’ve now subscribed to The Ad Contrarian newsletter. Bob Hoffman is one of the few who gets it when it comes to how insignificant the FTC’s Facebook fine is.
   Five (American) billion (American) dollars sounds like a lot to you and me, but considering Facebook’s stock rose on the news, they’ve more than covered the fine on the rise alone.
   Bob writes: ‘The travesty of this settlement guarantees that no tech company CEO will take consumer privacy or data security seriously. Nothing will change till someone either has to pay personally or go to jail. Paying insignificant fines with corporate money is now an officially established cost of doing business in techland and—who knows?—a jolly good way to boost share prices.’
   There’s something very messed up about this scenario, particularly as some of the US’s authorities are constantly being shown up by the EU (over Google’s monopoly actions) and the UK’s Damian Collins, MP (over the questions being asked of Facebook—unlike US politicians’, his aren’t toothless).
   The US SEC, meanwhile, has released its report on Facebook, showing that Facebook knew what was happening with Cambridge Analytica in 2015–16, and that the company willingly sold user data to the firm. SEC’s Stephanie Avakian noted, ‘As alleged in our complaint, Facebook presented the risk of misuse of user data as hypothetical when they knew user data had in fact been misused.’ You can read the entire action as filed by the SEC here.

In its quarterly and annual reports filed between January 28, 2016 and March 16, 2018 (the “relevant period”), Facebook did not disclose that a researcher had, in violation of the company’s policies, transferred data relating to approximately 30 million Facebook users to Cambridge Analytica. Instead, Facebook misleadingly presented the potential for misuse of user data as merely a hypothetical investment risk. Moreover, when asked by reporters in 2017 about its investigation into the Cambridge Analytica matter, Facebook falsely claimed the company found no evidence of wrongdoing, thereby reinforcing the misleading statements in its periodic filings.

   As I have been hashtagging, #Facebooklies. This is standard practice for the firm, as has been evidenced countless times for over a decade. The settlement: US$100 million. Pocket change.

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