Posts tagged ‘Big Tech’


Capitalism falls down when it’s rigged

04.12.2019

Martin Wolf, writing in the Financial Times, touches on a few points that resonate with my readings over the years.
   He believes capitalism, as a system, is not a bad one, but it is bad when it is ‘rigged’; and that Aristotle was indeed right (as history has since proved) that a sizeable middle class is necessary for the functioning of a democracy.
   We know that the US, for instance, doesn’t really do much about monopolies, having redefined them since the 1980s as essentially OK if no one gets charged more. Hence, Wolf, citing Prof Thomas Philippon’s The Great Reversal, notes that the spikes in M&A activity in the US has weakened competition. I should note that this isn’t the province of “the right”—Philippon also shows that M&A activity reduced under Nixon.
   I alluded to the lack of competition driving down innovation, but Wolf adds that it has driven up prices (so much for the US’s stance, since people are being charged more), and resulted in lower investment and lower productivity growth.
   In line with some of my recent posts, Wolf says, ‘In the past decade, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft combined have made over 400 acquisitions globally. Dominant companies should not be given a free hand to buy potential rivals. Such market and political power is unacceptable. A refurbishment of competition policy should start from the assumption that mergers and acquisitions need to be properly justified.’
   History shows us that Big Tech’s acquisitions have not been healthy to consumers, especially on the privacy front; they colluded to suppress wages before getting busted. In a serious case, according to one company, Google itself commits outright intellectual property theft: ‘Google would solicit a party to share with it highly confidential trade secrets under a non-disclosure agreement, conduct negotiations with the party, then terminate negotiations with the party professing a lack of interest in the party’s technology, followed by the unlawful use of the party’s trade secrets in its business.’ (The case, Attia v. Google, is ongoing, I believe.) Their own Federal Trade Commission said Google ‘used anticompetitive tactics and abused its monopoly power in ways that harmed Internet users and rivals,’ quoting the Murdoch Press. We see many undesirable patterns with other firms there exercising monopoly powers, some of which I’ve detailed on this blog, and so far, only Europe has had the cohones to slap Google with massive fines (in the milliards, since 2017), though other jurisdictions have begun to investigate.
   As New Zealand seeks to reexamine its Commerce Act, we need to ensure that we don’t merely parrot the US and UK approach.
   Wolf also notes that inequality ‘undermines social mobility; weakens aggregate demand and slows economic growth.’ The central point I’ve made before on Twitter: why would I want people to do poorly when those same people are potentially my customers? It seems to be good capitalism to ensure there’s a healthy base of consumers.

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Tesla or SpaceX doesn’t like you? They’ll say you’re an active shooter

24.11.2019

What does Tesla do to whistleblowers?
   They tell the cops you’re an active shooter.
   Apparently, this case about a gentleman called Martin Tripp emerged in 2018 but only today were the police documents released, and are worth reading.



Above: Two of the pages from the Storey County Sheriff’s Office over the false Martin Tripp ‘active shooter’ incident at Tesla.

   One could attempt to read it generously in Tesla’s favour but I think you’d be fooling yourself.
   Tripp had concerns about waste, and even raised them with Musk. From what I can tell, Musk only engaged Tripp after Tripp had been fired; and it was after that email exchange that the tip was given to police.
   It’s a far cry from the admirable firm I remember, being run by Martin Eberhard. Back then, it was optimistic and transparent. Nowadays it seems a truck prototype can’t stand up to scrutiny for 25 minutes, CEO Elon Musk disses one of the Thai cave rescue divers, Vernon Unsworth, calling him ‘pedo guy’, and Tweets misleading information that lands him in trouble with the US SEC. As far as I can tell in the Twitter thread above, Musk knew about Tripp—enough to speak on the case and be excessively paranoid about him, thinking he could be part of a conspiracy involving oil companies, claiming he committed ‘extensive and damaging sabotage’.
   As Bloomberg put it: ‘Many chief executive officers would try to ignore somebody like Tripp. Instead, as accounts from police, former employees, and documents produced by Tesla’s own internal investigation reveal, Musk set out to destroy him.’
   Also from Bloomberg:

The security manager at the Gigafactory, an ex-military guy with a high-and-tight haircut named Sean Gouthro, has filed a whistleblower report with the SEC. Gouthro says Tesla’s security operation behaved unethically in its zeal to nail the leaker. Investigators, he claims, hacked into Tripp’s phone, had him followed, and misled police about the surveillance. Gouthro says that Tripp didn’t sabotage Tesla or hack anything and that Musk knew this and sought to damage his reputation by spreading misinformation.

   When Gouthro says Facebook (where he had worked before) is more professional than Tesla, that’s really worrying.
   In another case, Jason Blasdell claims that SpaceX, another Musk venture, where he was employed, falsified test documents. When he brought this to his superior’s attention, he was fired. In Blasdell’s case, two of his managers suggested he would ‘come in to work shooting.’ His account makes for sobering reading as the legal avenues he had get shut down, one by one.
   Google and Facebook might do some terrible things in the market-place, but I don’t think I’ve come across this level of vindictiveness against employees further down the food chain from the CEO.
   They seem to be mounting as well—I wouldn’t have known about the two ex-employee cases if not for spotting the Tripp police report Tweets. They both follow a similar pattern of discrediting people with valid concerns, going well beyond any reasonableness. We’re talking about lives and reputations getting destroyed.
   It all points to a deep insecurity within these firms, which go beyond the sort of monopolistic, anticompetitive, un-American, anti-innovation behaviours of the usual Big Tech suspects. Yes, Google will go as far as to get your fired, according to Barry Lynn of Citizens Against Monopoly (Google denies it), or it might play silly buggers and seemingly shut down your Adwords account, or blacklist your site by falsely claiming it is infected, hack your Iphone and bypass its ‘Do Not Track’ setting, expose your private information for years, and plain lie about tracking, but I’ve yet to hear them sicking armed police on you and having their staff say you’d be heading to the office shooting. So maybe in this context, Google can say it hasn’t been evil. Well done. Slow clap.
   At this rate, it’s Big Tech and the monopolies the US government has fostered that’ll drag down the reputation of ‘Made in the USA’.

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Posted in business, cars, culture, USA | No Comments »


Tumblr is now where Verizon’s corporate agenda rule

24.04.2019

How quickly an opinion can change.
   I have been on Tumblr for 12 years, signing up in 2007, with my first post in January 2008.
   For most of that time I have sung its praises, saying it was one of the good guys in amongst all the Big Tech platforms (Google, Facebook) that are pathological liars. Even a few years back, you could expect to get a personal reply to a tech issue on Tumblr, despite its user base numbering in the millions.
   Last year, as part of Verizon, Tumblr enacted its “porn ban”. I didn’t follow any adult content, and I didn’t make any myself, so it didn’t affect me much—though I noticed that the energy had gone from the site and even the non-porn posters were doing far less, if anything at all. As mentioned yesterday, I had been cutting back on posting for some time, too. It had jumped the shark.
   While I didn’t agree with the move, since I knew that there were users who were on Tumblr because it was a safe place to express their sexuality, I didn’t kick up as big a stink about it as I did with, say, Google’s Ads’ Preferences Manager or the forced fake-malware downloads from Facebook.
   But what is interesting is how Verizon ownership is infecting Tumblr. I see now that Tumblr can no longer say it supports ’net neutrality because its parent company does not. This isn’t news: the article in The Verge dates from 2017 but I never saw it till now. Of course Verizon would have wanted to keep this under wraps from the Tumblr user base, one which would have mostly sided with ’net neutrality.
   And now, after posting about NewTumbl on Tumblr last night, I see that Verizon’s corporate interests are at the fore again. Tumblr returns no results for NewTumbl in its search, because it’s that scared of a competitor. Apparently this has been going on for some time: some NewTumbl users in February blogged about it. I was able to confirm it. This isn’t censorship on some holier-than-thou “moral” grounds, but censorship because of corporate agenda, the sort of thing that would once have been beneath Tumblr.

   If I was ambivalent about leaving Tumblr before, this has made me more determined. I still have blogs there (including one with over 28,000 followers), so I won’t be shutting down my account, but, like Facebook, I won’t update my personal space any more after my 8,708 posts, unless I can’t find a creative outlet that does what Tumblr currently does and am forced to return. Right now, NewTumbl more than fulfils that role, and it’s doing so without the censorship and the corruption of long-held internet ideals that seem to plague US tech platforms. Tumblr users, see you at jackyan.newtumbl.com.

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Posted in culture, internet, media, technology, USA | 2 Comments »


EU copyright: as far as we’re concerned, link away

13.04.2019


European Unionwww.europarl.europa.eu/downloadcentre/en/visual-identity, Public Domain; link

I’m reading more about this EU copyright directive that was voted in last month.
   Without doing a full analysis, I can say that we won’t go after anyone who links to our publications.
   We presently don’t care if you use a brief snippet of our content and link back to the rest. I can’t see our position changing on this.
   We do care if you take entire chunks (e.g. the text of an entry on Autocade, since they’re only a paragraph long). In some cases we only have the rights to photos appearing on our own site so we may want those removed if they’ve been copied from us.
   Over the years I’ve just contacted publishers and asked them politely. Only a tiny handful actually respond; quite a few sites are bot-driven with feedback forms that no one checks. They get DMCAed.
   But I don’t have a problem with the systems that are in place today.
   It seems the EU is going to wind up creating a segregated internet: one where Big Tech and large media corporations can afford to do everything and smaller publishers can’t. This is already happening, thanks to Google’s own actions with favouring mainstream media sources rather than the outlet that had the guts to break the news item. Big companies are flexing their muscles and lawmakers are bending over backwards to serve them ahead of their own citizens. (Incidentally, I can’t see the UK doing anything differently here post-Brexit.)
   Smaller publications might band together and share among themselves by some sort of informal agreement.
   So for us, when it comes to linking and excerpting, keep doing it. Unless something happens that forces me to change my mind, I’m all for the status quo ante in the EU.

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Posted in business, internet, media, publishing, technology, UK | No Comments »


In the wake of terrorism in your own country

20.03.2019


Above: Flowers at the Islamic Centre in Kilbirnie, Wellington on Monday.

On 9-11, I wrote an editorial in Lucire immediately. It was clear to me what I needed to write, and the editorial got quite a few readers at the time.
   Today is March 20, five days after a terrorist attack on our country, and it’s only now I’ve had some idea of how to put my thoughts into a longer-form fashion, rather than a lot of Tweets, some of which have had a lot of support.
   I guess it’s different when the attack happens to your own people in your own country.
   One of the earliest points I made, when the death toll hit 49, was that this was “our 9-11”, at least when you consider the per capita loss of life. When it hit 50, it actually exceeded the number of lives lost per capita in 9-11. This helps put the matter into some context.
   While the terrorist is a foreign national, who was most likely radicalized by foreign ideas, it has generated a great deal of soul-searching among New Zealanders. Even the right-wing talking heads have suddenly changed their tune, although, if a friend and colleague’s experience as a waiter in New York City in September 2001 is anything to go by, they will return to their regularly scheduled programming in two weeks’ time. Certain media bosses, especially among foreign-owned companies, would have it no other way, since they are not here to benefit New Zealanders, only their foreign shareholders and their own pockets. Stoking division is their business and I do not believe leopards change their spots.
   Therefore, the majority of right-thinking New Zealanders are not complicit, but a minority of us harbour bigoted thoughts, and enough of that minority infect the comments’ sections of mainstream media websites and social networks to make it seem as though they are more numerous in number. The outpouring of support for our Muslim community highlights that the good far outnumber the rotten eggs in our society. And I think more of us are now prepared to call out racism and bigotry knowing that, in fact, public opinion is behind us.
   So many Kiwis, myself included, say that hatred toward Muslims is not in our national character. But it is sufficiently in our national character when Muslim groups have pleaded with government agencies to step up, to be met with endless bureaucratic roadblocks; and many political parties have stains on their records in appealing to Islamophobia, something which indeed was foreign to this nation for all of my childhood.
   I grew up with a Muslim boy and we remain friends to this day, but I never thought of him by his creed. If I was forced to “label” him I would have called him a Pakistani New Zealander. I am willing to bet many Kiwis were in the same boat: we probably knew Muslims but never thought once about their religion.
   It takes certain people to make changes in mainstream thinking. I thought I might be labelled a ‘Chinese New Zealander’ till Winston Peters, now our deputy PM, droned on about ‘Asians’ out of some fear about the weakness of New Zealand culture; and we might have only become aware of Islam to any degree after 9-11. But these are, in fact, foreign ideas, adopted here by those who lack imagination or a willingness to do some hard work. They have been imported here through the sharing of culture. While I support the exchange of ideas, in some misguided utopian belief that dialogue is good for us all, I certainly did not anticipate, during the first heady days of the web, that we would have so much of the bad come with the good. I believed in some level of natural selection, that educated people would refrain and filter, and present their country’s or community’s best face. But as each medium boganfied (yes, I am making up words), the infection came. Newspapers changed thanks to Rupert Murdoch cheapening them, eventually morphing into publications that sensationalized division, especially against Muslims after 9-11. Television went downhill as well largely thanks to the same bloke and his lieutenant, Roger Ailes. The web was fine till each medium became infected with negativity, but Google, Facebook and Twitter were all too happy for it to continue because it increased engagement on their properties. Each fuelled it more with algorithms that showed only supporting views, deepening each user’s belief in the rightness of their ideas, to the exclusion of everyone else’s.
   Most Americans I know believe in civility. I’ve spoken often enough in their country to know this. They don’t believe their freedom of speech is absolute, and personally draw the line at hate speech, but their big websites act as though this is absolute, and allow the negative to fester. It seems it is for profit: we see Twitter remove Will Connolly’s (‘Egg Boy’) account but not racist Australian politician Sen. Fraser Anning. It is tempting to believe that Twitter is following the dollars here without regard to their stated policy. We have, after all, seen all Big Tech players lie constantly, and, for the most part, they get away with it. We let them, because we keep using them. Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t need to say anything about Christchurch, because we’ll keep using his websites (Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp) and he’ll keep finding ways of monetizing us, dehumanizing us. He won’t show up to the UK when summoned, and Facebook will continue to lie about removing videos and offensive content when we know many reports go unheeded.
   Umair Haque wrote in the wake of the Christchurch terrorist attacks: ‘Facebook and Twitter and YouTube etcetera really just bring the American ideal to life that there should be extreme, absolute freedom of speech, with zero consequences whatsoever, even for expressing hate and violence of the most vile and repellent kinds.’
   As people become dehumanized through words and campaigns, it makes it easier for people to commit violence against them. They no longer see them as deserving of respect or protection. In the foulest version, they no longer see them as having a right to life.
   Now, I don’t believe that this absolute approach can be branded American. And I do believe Big Tech has very different values to Americans. Their newsmedia have, too. When regular people are censored, when big money talks more loudly than their laws, then there is something very wrong with their companies—and this is the common enemy of both Republicans and Democrats, not each other. And this wrongness is being exported here, too. I’ve said it for years: we are a sovereign nation, and we have no need to copy their failed idea of a health system or even their vernacular (on this note: retailers, please cease using Black Friday to describe your end-of-year sales, especially this year). We do not need to import the political playbooks, whether you are a political party, a blogger, or a local newspaper. There are Kiwis who actually talked about their ‘First Amendment rights’ because they may have watched too much US television and are unaware we have our own Bill of Rights Act. Even the raid on Kim Dotcom’s home seemed to be down to some warped idea of apeing their cop shows, about impressing the FBI more than following our own laws on surveillance and our own beliefs on decency.
   I honestly don’t see the attraction of turning us into some vassal state or a mutant clone of other nations, yet foreign-owned media continue to peddle this nonsense by undermining the Kiwi character and everyday Kiwi unity.
   Did the terrorist see any of this? I have no idea. I equally have no idea if the people he came into contact with here cemented his hate. However, I think he would have come across sufficient international influences here to validate his imagined fears of non-whites and women. By all means, we should call out bad behaviour, but when we do, we shouldn’t restrict it to individual cases we see in our daily lives. There are entire institutions that are doing this, strings pulled from faraway lands, and to them we must also say: enough is enough. The way you do business isn’t in line with who we are. We need to be aware of who the non-Kiwi players are, often masquerading under locally grown brand names (such as ‘Newstalk ZB’—a quick peek of shareholders suggest the majority are as Kiwi as Ned Kelly), and, if need be, vote with our time and money to support those who really understand us. Be alert to who’s really trying to influence us.

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Posted in culture, globalization, internet, media, New Zealand, politics, USA | 1 Comment »


More lies: Instagram’s separate (and now possibly secret) set of ad preferences

02.09.2018

This post was originally going to be about Facebook lying. It still is, just not in the way originally conceived.
   Those who follow this blog know that, on Instagram, I get alcohol advertising. Alcohol is one of the categories you can restrict on Facebook. Instagram claims that it relies on your Facebook ad preferences to control what advertising you see. That is a lie, and it’s still a lie even as of today (with an ad for Johnnie Walker in my feed). I turned off alcohol advertising in Facebook ages ago, and it’s made no difference to what I see on Instagram.
   What it doesn’t tell you is that Instagram keeps its own set of advertising interests, which can be found at www.instagram.com/accounts/access_tool/ads_interests, but it’s only accessible on the web version, which no one ever really checks out. When I last checked on August 18, you could still see a snippet of these interests, and they are completely different to those that I have on Facebook (where I go in to delete my interests regularly, something which, I might add, I should actually not have to do since I opted out of interest-based advertising on Facebook, which means that Facebook should have no need to collect preferences, but I digress). You cannot edit your Instagram ad preferences. They are, like the Facebook ones, completely laughable and bear no resemblance to my real interests. Advertisers: caveat venditor.

   As of now, Instagram no longer lists ad interests for me, though those alcohol ads still show up.

   So, Instagram lies about Facebook ad preferences affecting your Instagram advertising, because they don’t.
   And as late as August 18, because Instagram kept its own set of preferences, it was lying about its reliance on Facebook ad preferences.
   And today, Instagram might still be lying because while it doesn’t show your preferences on Instagram any more, Facebook ad preferences still have no effect on Instagram advertising. As far as I can tell, even though the Instagram ad preference page is blank, it still relies on a separate set of preferences that is now secret and, as before, not editable.
   But we are talking Big Tech in Silicon Valley. Google lies, Facebook lies. You just have to remember that this is par for the course and there is no need to believe anything they say. Even in a year when Facebook is under fire, they continue to give ammo to its critics. This makes me very happy now that there is a body—the EU—that has the cohones to issue fines, something that its own country’s authorities are either too weak or too corrupt to do.

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Posted in business, internet, technology, USA | 1 Comment »