Posts tagged ‘2017’


Is the death of expertise tied to the Anglosphere?

20.03.2018


Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Boris Johnson: usually a talented delivery, but with conflicting substance.

I spotted The Death of Expertise at Unity Books, but I wonder if the subject is as simple as the review of the book suggests.
   There’s a lot out there about anti-intellectualism, and we know it’s not an exclusively American phenomenon. Tom Nichols, the book’s author, writes, as quoted in The New York Times, ‘Americans have reached a point where ignorance, especially of anything related to public policy, is an actual virtue. To reject the advice of experts is to assert autonomy, a way for Americans to insulate their increasingly fragile egos from ever being told they’re wrong about anything. It is a new Declaration of Independence: No longer do we hold these truths to be self-evident, we hold all truths to be self-evident, even the ones that aren’t true. All things are knowable and every opinion on any subject is as good as any other.’
   I venture to say that the “death of expertise” is an Anglophone phenomenon. Head into Wikipedia, for instance, and you’ll find proof that the masses are not a good way to ensure accuracy, at least not in the English version. Head into the German or Japanese editions and you find fewer errors, and begin to trust the pages more.
   Given that many of “the people” cannot discern what is “fake news” and what is not, or who is a bot and who is not, then it’s absolutely foolhardy to propose that they also be the ones who determine the trustworthiness of a news source, as Facebook is wont to do.
   I can’t comment as much on countries I have spent less time in, but certainly in the Anglosphere, I’ve seen people advance, with confidence and self-authority, completely wrong positions, ones not backed up by real knowledge. You only need to visit some software support forums to see online examples of this phenomenon.
   When I visit Sweden, for instance, there’s a real care from individuals not to advance wrongful positions, although I admit I am limited by my own circles and the brief time I have spent there.
   It’s not so much that we don’t value expertise, it’s that the bar for what constitutes an expert is set exceptionally low. We’re often too trusting of sources or authorities who don’t deserve our reverence. And I wonder if it comes with our language.
   I’ll go so far as to say that the standing of certain individuals I had in my own mind was shattered when we were all going for the mayoralty in my two campaigns in 2010 and 2013. There certainly was, among some of my opponents, no correlation between knowledge and the position they already held in society. It didn’t mean I disliked them. It just meant I wondered how they got as far as they did without getting found out.
   Fortunately, the victor, whether you agreed with her policies or not, possessed real intelligence. The fact she may have political views at odds with yours is nothing to do with intelligence, but her own observations and beliefs. I can respect that (which is why I follow people on social media whose political views I disagree with).
   In turn I’m sure many of them disliked what I stood for, even if they liked me personally. Certainly it is tempting to conclude that some quarters in the media, appealing to the same anti-intellectualism that some of my rivals represented, didn’t like a candidate asserting that we should increase our intellectual capital and pursue a knowledge economy. No hard feelings, mind. As an exercise, it served to confirm that, in my opinion, certain powers don’t have people’s best interests at heart, and there is a distinct lack of professionalism (and, for that matter, diversity) in some industries. In other words, a mismatch between what one says one does, and what one actually does. Language as doublespeak.
   So is it speaking English that makes us more careless? Maybe it is: as a lingua franca in some areas, merely speaking it might put a person up a few notches in others’ estimation. Sandeep Deva Misra, in his blog post in 2013, believes that’s the case, and that we shouldn’t prejudge Anglophones so favourably if the quality of their thought isn’t up to snuff.
   Maybe that’s what we need to do more of: look at the quality of thought, not the expression or make a judgement based on which language it’s come in. As English speakers, we enjoy a privilege. We can demand that others meet us on our terms and think poorly when someone speaks with an accent or confuses your and you’re. It gives us an immediate advantage because we have a command of the lingua franca of business and science. It gives us the impunity to write fictions in Wikipedia or make an argument sound appealing through sound bites, hoping to have made a quick getaway before we’re found out. Political debate has descended into style over substance for many, although this is nothing new. I was saying, although not blogging, things like this 20 years ago, and my students from 1999–2000 might remember my thoughts on Tony Blair’s 1997 campaign as being high on rhetoric and light on substance. Our willingness to accept things on face value without deeper analysis, lands us into trouble. We’re fooled by delivery and the authority that is attached with the English language.
   You’ll next see this in action in a high-profile way when Facebook comes forth with more comment about Cambridge Analytica. I can almost promise you now that it won’t hold water.

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Posted in business, culture, globalization, India, leadership, media, New Zealand, politics, publishing, Sweden, UK, USA, Wellington | 2 Comments »


A quick read from Prof Stephen Hawking in Wired UK

14.03.2018

The late Prof Stephen Hawking’s interview with Condé Nast’s Wired UK is excellent, and a quick read. For those following me on the duopoly of Facebook and Google, here’s what the professor had to say:

I worry about the control that big corporations have over information. The danger is we get into the situation that existed in the Soviet Union with their papers, Pravda, which means “truth” and Izvestia, which means “news”. The joke was, there was no truth in Pravda and no news in Izvestia. Corporations will always promote stories that reflect well on them and suppress those that don’t.

   That last bit definitely applies to a lot of the media today, especially those owned outside our country.
   The rest makes for a great read as Prof Hawking talks about AI, the anti-science movement, Donald Trump, and what humanity needs to do urgently in science. Here’s that link again.

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Posted in business, politics, publishing, technology, USA | 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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Posted in business, internet, marketing, politics, USA | 4 Comments »


The folly of Windows 10

06.02.2018

Now that I’ve gone four days without a BSOD, it does appear Microsoft realized it had rolled out another lemon, and, nearly two months later, patched things. Goodness knows how many hours it has cost people worldwide—the forums have a lot of people reporting BSODs (maybe it’s confirmation bias, but I really don’t remember this many, ever). I posted this in a discussion entitled ‘Windows 10 is a nightmare!’, and the comments there make for sobering reading. A small number have had to purchase new computers; others report that the OS has made their computers unusable or that countless hours were spent trying to fix things. I can believe it. My addition:

I have to concur with the original poster: Windows 10 has been, hands-down, the most shockingly unreliable OS ever made, by anyone, anywhere.
   I have spent more time here for this OS than at any other time with Microsoft products—and Windows 10 has been terrible from day one.
   Most recently, I have had multiple BSODs per day since the fall Creators update was installed, and until Microsoft rolled out a patch at the end of January that finally fixed problems of its own making. If your computer is BSODing multiple times a day, with 800-plus events in the reliability monitor per week, then you can imagine how little work gets done. Things finally calmed down on February 2, when I received the cumulative update. You can see the thread for yourself here: I actually feel sorry for the MS tech who stepped in, because he’s solving problems a crap product with faults not of his own making. They won’t be bugs that are in his handbook. Looking at this part of the forum alone, BSOD comes up a lot in the subject lines, more than I ever remember. So it isn’t us, Microsoft, it’s you.
   Going right back to day one, I can’t believe how many threads I’m involved in. Windows 10 started up differently each day, as it would forget its own settings each day. Some days Cortana worked, other days it didn’t. Sometimes I had the UK keyboard (which I had never once installed), other days the US. In November 2015 I had to post a queryto ask how many hours it would take for a Windows 10 machine to shut down. That’s right, hours. At least that’s better than some of you who commented earlier who can’t get yours to start up.
   Initially, Cortana required fiddling with each day to get it to work. Notifications once went back in time—on a Saturday I began getting notifications from the previous Thursday. None from Friday though, they all vanished. Windows began forgetting my default browser and default PDF application, and no, you couldn’t fix either from the standard settings. The Anniversary update took 11 attempts to install on this PC—and one of them screwed things up so badly my PC was bricked and wound up at the shop, where I had to spend money to get it fixed urgently. (I joked at the time it was called Windows 10 because you needed more than 10 attempts to do anything.) It never installed on my laptop at all: by the time Creators spring came round, the one update that was compatible with my laptop, it had been through 40 unsuccessful update cycles.
   There’s still more that I can share, and you can probably find it via my profile. I would add more but on the original reply I actually hit a limit on these boxes. I guess Microsoft has a limit to how much bad news it can take from one user.
   Microsoft has actually changed its QC procedures for the worse—that is a matter of record—and you’d think after three years of abject failure they would switch back. We see the same hackneyed official responses here day in, day out. They need to spend more time getting things right before they ship their OSs, and spare their community people a lot of wasted hours with solutions that generally do not work. In my latest thread, I fixed it—yes, the tech helped a bit, but ultimately I had to listen to my gut and believe that MS had messed up. I was right, but wow, at a massive cost to my real job with days lost to being Microsoft’s unpaid technician.

   It is good, however, to come out the other side (knock on wood)—and despite the countless hours spent, I was once again right, and conventional wisdom was wrong. I’m not sure if that’s something to be that proud of. A healthy mistrust of big firms stands one in good stead nevertheless, and remember, every industry has thick people making stuff.

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Posted in technology, USA | 2 Comments »


Mozy driver could have been behind 100–200 BSODs since the Windows 10 Creators fall update was installed

17.01.2018

A post shared by Jack Yan 甄爵恩 (@jack.yan) on

Two very helpful people—bwv848 at Bleeping Computer and Sumit Dhiman at Microsoft—have taken me through the steps to figure out what was going on with my Windows 10 desktop computer, on which I’ve had between 100 and 200 BSODs since the Windows 10 Creators fall update arrived.
   Windows claimed that the error was a DRIVER_IRQL_NOT_LESS_OR_EQUAL in tcpip.sys, but we know that that wasn’t the cause of the crash.
   They had both got to the point where the Driver Verifier had to be run again. On the first attempt, the process had identified an Avira driver, although after removing and reinstalling the anti-virus program, the crashes continued. I had found other dodgy things in the Event Viewer, but solving them didn’t get rid of the BSODs.
   Now that I’m back from holiday—and with Windows 10 crashing one more time and costing me more work that hadn’t been backed up—I gave Driver Verifier one more go.
   I had been averse to it because of the crashes that resulted from it, and had a sense it would tell me the same thing it had in December.
   True to form, Windows wouldn’t even load and it BSODed during the boot. But this time, running Windbg on the dump file revealed something called mobk.sys (Mozy Change Monitor Filter Driver), part of a program called Mozy.
   I’ve never heard of Mozy, but it appears to be a back-up program. Checking my driver, it dates from April 2010 and was installed in 2012—around the time I bought the computer.
   It could well have been installed by me as part of a bundle, or by PB (the retailer).
   Mozy wasn’t helpful. They have a forum, but when you sign up to use it, you get to a page where they want to charge you US$109 for one of their plans. Personally, if I was making software, I’d want reports from people like me. It’s not as though the question was complex: I wanted to know if it made sense to delete the offending driver in safe mode, or maybe download a trial version of their program, then remove it, in the hope that the driver would be overwritten and deleted. It’s only been a couple of hours since I Tweeted them, so I don’t expect any replies till tomorrow.
   Rather than wait, I popped into safe mode and deleted mobk.sys from the system32\drivers folder.
   These errors are deeply frustrating and in direct contrast to the stability that my Imacs have exhibited. Even though I’ve tired of OS X, at least I wasn’t losing work because of three to six BSODs per day.
   The advice I can give to others is to create a system restore point, then run the Driver Verifier, and repeat the two processes until a culprit has been identified.
   There are a few silver linings to this: I got rid of certain software which might have been insecure, and the random resets were quite handy in “clearing” the PC sometimes when I was doing work on it remotely.
   I wonder what had changed in Windows between the spring and fall Creators updates that generated this very serious problem. I haven’t seen Windows crash this often since a dying laptop, on Vista, needed a fresh OS installation (it now runs Ubuntu). I’m still of the mind that Microsoft shipped a lemon, given that I’ve had no end of problems with this OS since it launched, from inconsistent behaviour (Windows 10 would originally be different each time it booted up, from Cortana settings to which keyboard it believed I was using), to very difficult updates (Anniversary took 11 attempts on this PC and never made it on to my laptop even after 40 attempts; it only updated to Creators because all other updates would fail).
   While I can understand that there was no way either Mozy or Microsoft could have checked on a 2010 driver for compatibility, and there are so many configurations of Windows out there, there’s still no escaping that Windows 10 could have shipped with fewer bugs. Happily, as it turned out, the troubleshooting procedures may have worked, even if things wound up taking a month.
   I’ll blog again if I’m wrong about Mozy.

PS. (January 18): After 24-plus hours with no crashes, I got another one, with the same message. Following my own advice, I ran the driver verifier again. Windbg pointed this time to Oracle Virtualbox. I intentionally ran an older version of this because since 2015, no newer version would work due to its hardening feature. Faced with no choice but to update, it had the same error which, finally, I traced to Mactype. This was the error, for those searching:

The virtual machine ‘Windows XP’ has terminated unexpectedly during startup with exit code -1073741819 (0xc0000005). More details may be available in ‘C:\Users\User\VirtualBox VMs\Windows XP\Logs\VBoxHardening.log’.

Result Code:
E_FAIL (0x80004005)
Component:
MachineWrap
Interface:
IMachine {85cd948e-a71f-4289-281e-0ca7ad48cd89}

The key is to insert these three lines into Mactype.ini:

[UnloadDll]
VirtualBox.exe
VBoxSvc.exe

   The error also picked up that there were McAfee drivers left behind from what should have been a full removal. I ran mcpr.exe, found in a thread with the ever-helpful Peter (Exbrit on the McAfee forums). Mcpr.exe did not remove the three drivers, so I took them out manually (despite this going against expert advice): mfeclnrk.sys, mfencbdc.sys and mfencrk.sys. There was also a driver from Malwarebytes, which I downloaded after expert advice in the wake of the damage done by Facebook and its forced download in 2016. Malwarebytes had to be removed with a program called mb-clean as it didn’t show up in the Windows 10 programs’ list.
   One important point: when the system restored itself after the latest crash, it appeared the old mobk.sys reinstalled itself into system32\drivers. I removed it again in safe mode. I’ve since created multiple restore points so hopefully none of the now-removed drivers resurface to cause problems again.
   I am very happy that I’m running the latest Virtualbox, too, since posting in 2015 resulted in no solid leads. It’s why I’m posting all of this stuff, in the hope others find it useful.—JY

P.PS. (January 22): No crashes for three days, I update both the Microsoft and Bleeping Computer threads with the good news, and within nine minutes, bam! Oracle VM Virtualbox is to blame again, if the driver verifier is accurate. That was yesterday. Today, I attempted to remove the program from the Windows Control Panel. Merely removing it caused three BSODs for three attempts, literally within minutes of each other. I booted into safe mode once, tried to remove it (I couldn’t), then back to the regular mode. I was then able to remove Virtualbox. I have since reinstalled it—let’s see what happens next.—JY

P.P.PS. (January 23): Two BSODs this afternoon, still so very disappointed software is this unreliable today. Removing a networking driver from Virtualbox has made no difference. Same error as before. I haven’t re-run driver verifier, but I have now updated MacType to the latest version and double-checked the ini file changes are still there.—JY

P.P.P.PS. (January 24): MacType update did nothing. Bwv848 recommends removing Oracle Virtualbox altogether. I may have to do that, and reinstall it only when I need it, and see what happens. Sumit at Microsoft has given up for the time being.—JY

P.P.P.P.PS. (January 25): After one more crash despite some tweaking of the power options last night, I removed Oracle Virtualbox this morning. There were five remaining drivers that removal did not address, two from the latest version (VBoxNetAdp6.sys and VBoxNetLwf.sys) and three from the old one (VBoxNetAdp.sys, VBoxNetFlt.sys and VBoxUSB.sys). I manually removed them. No crashes since, though I will be interested to know if reinstalling, without any of the old drivers present, will make a difference.—JY

P.P.P.P.P.PS. (January 26): Got to its first crash by 11.45 a.m. Driver verifier now blames CLVirtualDrive.sys. Found one user on Virtualbox’s forum who had the DRIVER_IRQL_NOT_LESS_OR_EQUAL crash but the mod doesn’t like me helping out (very protective people, who don’t like their favourite software criticized). A system restore saw Oracle Virtualbox return, even though I made a restore point long after I deleted it. Let’s see what CLVirtualDrive.sys is. Four BSODs before noon. Man from Mozy got back to me—the first contact other than on Twitter—because they wound up spamming me and never responded to my original support question. Amazing how a few events—including Facebook’s forced download in 2016—have directly led to this time-wasting point in 2018.—JY

Enough postscripts. The next episode of the saga is here.

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Posted in technology, USA | 3 Comments »


The perfect storm: there’s a spike in users being told by Facebook they have malware today

30.12.2017

Many years ago, I was locked out of Facebook for 69 hours. It was completely a Facebook database problem, but in those days, they just locked you out without any explanation. It happened on a Friday. I believed I would not get back in till Facebook staff got back to work on Monday—and I was right. This is a company that seems to close down for the weekend, and the important techs don’t get back till afterwards. It also doesn’t understand the concept of time zones, as six years ago, Facebook walls stopped working on the 1st of each month in every time zone ahead of Pacific Standard Time.
   As it’s the weekend before the Gregorian New Year, Facebook’s probably closed again, so if their databases mess up, you could be stuck till Monday. Maybe later.
   Except these days, I believe they run another con altogether, as I explained in 2016.
   The theory: they now shift the blame to their users, by saying their computers are infected with malware, and forcing a malware scanner download on us. No one knows what this scanner actually does, but I know first-hand that it wrecks your real anti-virus program. I know first-hand that when Facebook and its scanner providers (which once included Kaspersky) are questioned on it, they clam up or they delete comments. I also know for a fact that others can log in to their Facebook accounts on the same “infected” PCs. All this is in earlier posts.
   Some affected users over the last few years have said that they could wait this out, and three days seem to be the standard period (though some were out for a month). That sounds awfully close to 69 hours, which I was out for in 2014.
   If word got out that their databases were this fragile, their share price would tumble.
   In a year when Apple has had to apologize for short battery life on their Iphones, and sexual predators in Hollywood got outed, maybe we could finish off 2017 with Facebook having to apologize for lying to its users about just what this scanner does. Because we also know that people who have legitimate malware scanners—including ones supplied by Facebook’s “partners”—have usually reported their PCs were clean.
   Today is the day of the perfect storm: if there is a big database outage at Facebook, it’s the weekend, and no one is around to fix it. For whatever reason, thousands of people have been receiving Facebook’s malware-scan message, telling them their computers are infected: today has seen the biggest spike ever in users getting this, beginning 14 hours ago.
   In my two years following this bug, I haven’t noticed any real common thread between affected users.
   With Facebook’s old bug, where walls stopped working on the 1st of each month, there was a particularly noticeable rise in reports on Getsatisfaction when 2011 ticked over to 2012—probably because no one was at work at Facebook to switch 2011 over to 2012. (I wonder if it had to be done manually. It honestly wouldn’t surprise me.)
   While some of this is admittedly guesswork, because none of the companies involved are saying a thing, there are just too many coincidences.
   Let’s sum up again.

• When certain Facebook accounts died three to four years ago, you were locked out, and this took roughly three days to fix (in my case, I got hit at a weekend, so nothing happened till Monday after a Friday bug). These bugs were account-specific.
• On January 1, 2012, Facebook walls around the world stopped working and would not show any entries from the new day—till it became January 1, 2012 in California, 21 hours behind the first group of people affected. It seems there is some manual tinkering that needs to go on with Facebook.
• Today, Facebook accuses people of having malware on their systems and demands they download a scanner. Yet we also know that others can log in to their Facebook accounts on the same “infected” machines. Conclusion: those computers are probably not infected as the lock-outs are account-specific. If it’s account-specific, then that leads me to believe it’s a database relating to that person.
• When people refuse to download Facebook’s scanner, many of their accounts come back online after—you guessed it—three days. Ergo, they were probably never infected: Facebook lied to them.
• Those that do download the scanner cannot find it in their installed programs’ lists. Neither Facebook nor their scanner partners have ever come clean about what this program actually does or why it needs to reside in a hidden directory on Windows.
• It is December 30, 2017, and it’s a weekend, and there’s a spike in users getting this warning. It began, noticeably, 14 hours ago. It’s very hard to believe so many got infected at the same time by the same bug: even a regular virus, or the real malware that gets spread through Facebook, doesn’t have this pattern. It all points back to something happening on Facebook. My reckoning is that this won’t be fixed till January 1, 2018 or afterwards.
• Facebook is the home of fake accounts—it’s very easy to find bots and spammers. Logically, if resources are used to host the bots, then that means fewer resources for the rest of us, and potential database problems.

   If you are stuck, I recommend you read the postscripts and relevant comments to my earlier posts: here and here.

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Posted in internet, technology, USA | 8 Comments »


Developer creates a tool to expose bigoted, fake Twitter accounts; Twitter bans it

28.12.2017

In theory, one of the positive things about social media should be the fact that a company has as much chance of succeeding as an individual. Another is that it shouldn’t matter who you are, you have the same opportunity to get your word out. No one should get special treatment.
   But, on Twitter, they’ve come out and said a few very disappointing things over 2017. First is that we’re not equal. President Donald Trump of the US may say odd things regularly, things that Twitter would kick you and me off for, but because it’s ‘newsworthy’, there’s an express policy to let him stay. (Believe me, I’d be equally unhappy if a US Democratic president, or anyone, behaved this way, which goes against basic netiquette. This is nothing to do with politics—as a centrist and swing voter I follow people on the left and the right.)
   There are numerous things wrong with Twitter’s position, not least who gets to decide what is newsworthy. Can someone working from Twitter in the US decide if a Tweet of mine is newsworthy in New Zealand? I’m unconvinced. One US news app thought Steven Joyce getting hit with a dildo was of greater significance to us than the death of Martin Crowe, for example.
   Secondly, one would have thought their country was founded on the notion that everyone is created equal, but clearly that’s not the case on Twitter. Maybe no one in charge there read their country’s Declaration of Independence (second paragraph, wasn’t it?), and hanker for the days of Empire again. There’s some truth, then, when Silicon Valley is accused of élitism.
   More recently, Twitter changed one of its rules. Formerly, it was, ‘We believe in freedom of expression and in speaking truth to power’; now, it’s a simpler ‘We believe in freedom of expression and open dialogue.’ I’ve had to read up on what truth to power means, and as far as I can discern, it is an American term with the meaning of ‘speaking out with your truth to those in power’. That seems a perfectly reasonable position: that if you are going to have a dialogue with someone (in power or otherwise), you should do so with integrity and honesty. To me, the alteration in wording suggests integrity and honesty aren’t needed, as long as the dialogue is open. Perhaps at odds with the author of this rule, I always thought Twitter was open anyway, if you did a public Tweet.
   Now I see that Twitter is effectively allowing bots, in the wake of it and Facebook being investigated for allowing bots that might have influenced their country’s presidential election.
   I’ve warned about Facebook bots reaching an epidemic level in 2014 and those who follow this blog know how frustrating it has been to have them removed, even in 2017. Facebook’s people tend not to recognize what any average netizen would, which suggests to me that they’re desperate to keep their user numbers artificially high—even after getting busted for lying about them, when researchers discovered there were actually fewer people in certain demographics than Facebook claimed it could reach. (That desperation, incidentally, could be the reason the company lies about malware detection on websites.)
   Twitter has had a bot problem from the start, as it’s very easy for someone to create an automated account. They tended not to bother me too much, as I followed back humans. However, now I read that some netizens developed a tool that would identify neo-Nazis, only to have Twitter ban it.
   Even under Twitter’s own rules, these accounts impersonate others, at the least by stealing profile photographs from real people. Yet according to journalist Yair Rosenberg in The New York Times today, who said he had received ‘the second-most abuse of any Jewish journalist on Twitter during the campaign cycle,’ Twitter, it seems, is fine with this.
   ‘These bigots are not content to harass Jews and other minorities on Twitter; they seek to assume their identities and then defame them.
   ‘The con goes like this: The impersonator lifts an online photo of a Jew, Muslim, African-American or other minority — typically one with clear identifying markers, like a yarmulke-clad Hasid or a woman in hijab. Using that picture as a Twitter avatar, the bigot then adds ethnic and progressive descriptors to the bio: “Jewish,” “Zionist,” “Muslim,” “enemy of the alt-right.”’
   The account would then send out bigoted Tweets in order to defame the group of people that their profile photo or name suggested they belonged to.
   A developer, Neal Chandra, created a tool to unmask neo-Nazis, and the program went on Twitter to alert people that their discussions had been interrupted by an impostor. However, these accounts began mass-reporting the bot, says Rosenberg, and Twitter ultimately took their side.
   This is exactly like Facebook refusing to remove bots and spammers, even after users have reported them. Chandra’s tool does the same thing in alerting people to fake accounts (which, like Facebook’s, steal someone’s image), albeit in automated fashion, yet again fake accounts have won.
   I find this particularly disturbing at a time when both companies are being questioned by their government: you’d think they would hold back on tools that actually helped them do their jobs and ensured their T&Cs were being complied with. This either speaks to Twitter’s and Facebook’s sheer arrogance, or their utter stupidity.
   These platforms will stand or fall by their stated ideals, and Twitter is genuinely failing its users with this latest.
   It really is like someone coming to a company saying, ‘I will solve one of your biggest problems, one that a lot of your customers complain the most about, free of charge,’ and being trespassed from the premises.
   I’ve quit updating my private Facebook wall (though others continue to tag me and I allow those on my wall), and I wonder if Twitter is next. I reckon we’ve passed peak Twitter, and going to 280 characters—something I was once told by a Twitter VP would never happen—seems like the sort of scrambling that went on at Altavista and Excite when they realized Google had them beat for search.
   I’ve defended this platform because I believe the charges levelled against it by some are unfair: it’s not filled with angry people who want to politicize and divide, if you choose to follow decent ones back. I don’t see much of that in my Tweetstream, and when I do, I might choose to ignore it or, in some cases, unfollow those accounts.
   But if Twitter continues to make dick moves with its policies and practices, then we may feel that our values no longer align with theirs.
   In 2017, Twitter only really worked properly for 11 minutes.
   There’s a lot of work in branding that shows that people choose to support brands that express their values, and that corporate social responsibility is one of the ways to make that connection. Twitter is going the right way in alienating users. Could it be the next one to go, as Mastodon picks up the slack? Sooner or later, one of the alternatives, services which let you keep your identity, something that users are getting increasingly concerned about, is going to get a critical mass of users, and both Twitter and Facebook should fear this.

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Posted in business, culture, internet, social responsibility, technology, USA | 1 Comment »


Even before the exposés, I never used Über

28.12.2017

I really don’t know why anyone would use Über.
   All the sexism and misogyny aside, I actually don’t know how anyone could use it.
   For example, on my phone, I installed it (before I learned about their totally inappropriate behaviour), tried to log in, and the app would tell me I have used too many log-in attempts. Well, if one is too many (and no, I didn’t get my password wrong) then that’s fine. I don’t need to use it.
   Today my other half wondered just how bad the app was. Unlike me, she has a locally bought Android phone, so it has some Google software on it.
   After signing up, and unlike me she was able to log in, the app said she needed to update her Google services.
   She actually set up a Google account and a Gmail (you all know how I feel about this), so now her phone is spied on by a horribly invasive company. She didn’t want anything to do with Google, but she is now linked to them, and her phone is tracked by them in her Google account. (We’ll soon be deleting all the Google stuff off it as it really has no utility.)
   Still no go. She gets in but the app insists we live next door. You simply cannot feed in our address.
   A Visa card has already been added to her account. As far as she knows, she has never done this.
   We tried to add in an address in Tawa but it wouldn’t stick (despite it appearing in the pull-down menu). I tried to correct our address, and it plotted a route to Paraparaumu. Again, one that neither of us had ever added.
   My suspicion is that the Visa card is our neighbour’s and that we could probably steal rides off that pretty easily. Not that we ever would: we like our neighbours. I also believe the route to Paraparaumu could be one she fed in.
   Basically, Über has an app that is deeply invasive and doesn’t actually work, pays their drivers badly, and has a sexist and misogynist work culture. Do they have any redeeming qualities?
   If we’re not driving, then we’re all for superior public transport and professional taxi drivers. I see that as a good thing.

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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 »


Being an optimist for a better post-Google, post-Facebook era

15.12.2017

Interesting to get this perspective on ‘Big Tech’ from The Guardian, on how it’s become tempting to blame the big Silicon Valley players for some of the problems we have today. The angle Moira Weigel takes is that there needs to be more democracy in the system, where workers need to unite and respecting those who shape the technologies that are being used.
   I want to add a few far simpler thoughts.
   At the turn of the century, our branding profession was under assault from No Logo and others, showing that certain brands were not what they were cracked up to be. Medinge Group was formed in part because we, as practitioners, saw nothing wrong with branding per se, and that the tools could be used for good. Not everyone was Enron or Nike. There are Patagonia and Dilmah. That led to the original brand manifesto, on what branding should accomplish. (I was generously given credit for authoring this at one point, but I was simply the person who put the thoughts of my colleagues into eight points. In fact, we collectively gathered our ideas into eight groups, so I can’t even take credit for the fact there are eight points.)
   In 2017, we may look at Über’s sexism or Facebook’s willingness to accept and distribute malware-laden ads, and charge tech with damaging the fabric of society. Those who dislike President Trump in the US want someone to blame, and Facebook’s and Google’s contributions to their election in 2016 are a matter of record. But it’s not that online advertising is a bad thing. Or that social media are bad things. The issue is that the players aren’t socially responsible: none of them exist for any other purpose than to make their owners and shareholders rich, and the odd concession to not doing evil doesn’t really make up for the list of misdeeds that these firms add to. Many of them have been recorded over the years on this very blog.
   Much of what we have been working toward at Medinge is showing that socially responsible organizations actually do better, because they find accord with their consumers, who want to do business or engage with those who share their values; and, as Nicholas Ind has been showing in his latest book, Branding Inside Out, these players are more harmonious internally. In the case of Stella McCartney, sticking to socially responsible values earns her brand a premium—and she’s one of the wealthiest fashion designers in the world.
   I just can’t see some of the big tech players acting the same way. Google doesn’t pay much tax, for instance, and the misuse of Adwords aside, there are allegations that it hasn’t done enough to combat child exploitation and it has not been a fair player when it comes to rewarding and acknowledging media outlets that break the news, instead siding with corporate media. Google may have open-source projects out there, but its behaviour is old-school corporatism these days, a far cry from its first five years when even I would have said they were one of the good guys.
   Facebook’s problems are too numerous to list, though I attempted to do so here, but it can be summed up as: a company that will do nothing unless it faces embarrassment from enough people in a position of power. We’ve seen it tolerate kiddie porn and sexual harassment, giving both a “pass” when reported.
   Yet, for all that they make, it would be reasonable to expect that they put more people on the job in places where it mattered. The notion that three volunteers monitor complaints of child exploitation videos at YouTube is ridiculous but, for anyone who has complained about removing offensive content online, instantly believable; why there were not more is open to question. Anyone who has ventured on to a Google forum to complain about a Google product will also know that inaction is the norm there, unless you happen to get to someone senior and caring enough. Similarly, increasing resources toward monitoring advertising, and ensuring that complaints are properly dealt with would be helpful.
   Google’s failure to remove content mills from its News is contributing to “fake news”, yet its method of combatting that appears to be taking people away from legitimate media and ranking corporate players more highly.
   None of these are the actions of companies that want to do right by netizens.
   As Weigel notes, there’s a cost to abandoning Facebook and Google. But equally there are opportunities if these firms cannot provide the sort of moral, socially responsible leadership modern audiences demand. In my opinion, they do not actually command brand loyalty—a key ingredient of brand equity—if true alternatives existed.
   Duck Duck Go might only have a fraction of the traffic Google gets in search, but despite a good mission its results aren’t always as good, and its search index is smaller. But we probably should look to it as a real alternative to search, knowing that our support can help it grow and attract more investment. There is room for a rival to Google News that allows legitimate media and takes reports of fake news sites more seriously. If social media are democratizing—and there are signs that they are, certainly with some of the writings by Doc Searls and Richard MacManus—then there is room for people to form their own social networks that are decentralized, and where we hold the keys to our identity, able to take them wherever we please (Hubzilla is a prime example; you can read more about its protocol here). The internet can be a place which serves society.
   It might all come back to education; in fact, we might even say Confucius was right. If you’re smart enough, you’ll see a positive resource and decide that it would not be in the best interests of society to debase it. Civility and respect should be the order of the day. If these tools hadn’t been used by the privileged few to line their pockets at the expense of the many—or, for that matter, the democratic processes of their nations—wouldn’t we be in a better place? They capitalized on divisions in society (and even deepened them), when there is far more for all of us to gain if we looked to unity. Why should we allow the concentration of power (and wealth) to rest at the top of tech’s food chain? Right now, all I see of Google and Facebook’s brands are faceless, impersonal and detached giants, with no human accountability, humming on algorithms that are broken, and in Facebook’s case, potentially having databases that have been built on so much, that it doesn’t function properly any more. Yet they could have been so much more to society.
   Not possible to unseat such big players? We might have thought once that Altavista would remain the world’s biggest website; who knew Google would topple it in such a short time? But closer to home, and speaking for myself, I see The Spinoff and Newsroom as two news media brands that engender far greater trust than Fairfax’s Stuff or The New Zealand Herald. I am more likely to click on a link on Twitter if I see it is to one of the newer sites. They, too, have challenged the status quo in a short space of time, something which I didn’t believe would be possible a decade ago when a couple of people proposed that I create a locally owned alternative.
   We don’t say email is bad because there is spam. We accept that the good outweighs the bad and, for the most part, we have succeeded in building filters that get rid of the unwanted. We don’t say the web is bad because it has allowed piracy or pornography; its legitimate uses far outweigh its shady ones. But we should be supporting, or trying to find, new ways to advertise, innovate and network (socially or otherwise). Right now, I’m willing to bet that the next big thing (and it might not even be one player, but a multitude of individuals working in unison) is one where its values are so clear and transparent that they inspire us to live our full potential. I remain an optimist when it comes to human potential, if we set our sights on making something better.

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Posted in branding, business, internet, leadership, politics, publishing, social responsibility, technology, USA | 3 Comments »