Posts tagged ‘corporate culture’


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 »


We’ve been here before: foreign-owned media run another piece supporting an asset sale

04.05.2018


Clilly4/Creative Commons

I see there’s an opinion piece in Stuff from the Chamber of Commerce saying the Wellington City Council should sell its stake in Wellington Airport, because it doesn’t bring in that much (NZ$12 million per annum), and because Auckland’s selling theirs.
   It’s not too dissimilar to calls for the Council to sell the Municipal Electricity Department a few decades ago, or any other post-Muldoon call about privatization.
   Without making too much of a judgement, since I haven’t inquired deeply into the figures, it’s interesting that the line often peddled by certain business groups, when they want governments to sell assets, is: ‘They should run things like households, and have little debt.’
   This never applies to themselves. When it comes to their own expansion, they say, ‘We don’t need to run things like households, we can finance this through debt.’
   The same groups say that governments should be run more like businesses.
   However, their advice is always for governments to be run like households.
   Has it escaped them that they are different beasts?
   I wouldn’t mind seeing government entities run like businesses, making money for their stakeholders, and said so when I campaigned for mayor.
   Doing this needs abandoning a culture of mediocrity at some of those entities. Some believe this is impossible within government, and there are credible examples, usually under former command economies. But then there are also decent examples of state-owned enterprises doing rather well, like Absolut, before they were sold off by the Swedish government. If you want something current, the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. is one of the most profitable car makers on the planet.
   The difference lies in the approach toward the asset.
   But what do I know? I come from Hong Kong where the civil service inherited from the British is enviably efficient, something many occidentals seem to believe is impossible—yet I live in a country where I can apply for, and get, a new passport in four hours. Nevertheless, that belief in inefficiency holds.
   Change your mindset: things are possible with the right people. Don’t be a Luddite.
   And therein lies why Stuff and I are on different planets.

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Posted in business, China, culture, globalization, leadership, media, New Zealand, politics, Sweden, Wellington | No Comments »


Facebook and Cambridge Analytica: the signs were there for years, if one only looked

20.03.2018

Facebook’s woes over Cambridge Analytica have only prompted one reaction from me: I told you so. While I never seized upon this example, bravely revealed to us by whistleblower Christopher Wylie and reported by Carole Cadwalladr and Emma Graham-Harrison of The Guardian, Facebook has shown itself to be callous about private data, mining preferences even after users have opted out, as I have proved on more than one occasion on this blog. They don’t care what your preferences are, and for a long time changed them quietly when you weren’t looking.
   And it’s nothing new: in October 2010, Emily Steel wrote, in The Wall Street Journal, about a data firm called Rapleaf that harvested Facebook information to target political advertisements (hat tip here to Jack Martin Leith).
   Facebook knew of a data breach years ago and failed to report it as required under law. The firm never acts, as we have seen, when everyday people complain. It only acts when it faces potential bad press, such as finally ceasing, after nearly five years, its forced malware downloads after I tipped off Wired’s Louise Matsakis about them earlier this year. Soon after Louise’s article went live, the malware downloads ceased.
   Like all these problems, if the stick isn’t big enough, Facebook will just hope things go away, or complain, as it did today, that it’s the victim. Sorry, you’re not. You’ve been complicit more than once, and violating user privacy, as I have charged on this blog many times, is part of your business practice.
   In this environment, I am also not surprised that US$37,000 million has been wiped off Facebook’s value and CEO Mark Zuckerberg saw his net worth decline by US$5,000 million.
   Those who kept buying Facebook shares, I would argue, were unreasonably optimistic. The writing surely was on the wall in January at the very latest (though I would have said it was much earlier myself), when I wrote, ‘All these things should have been sending signals to the investor community a long time ago, and as we’ve discussed at Medinge Group for many years, companies would be more accurately valued if we examined their contribution to humanity, and measuring the ingredients of branding and relationships with people. Sooner or later, the truth will out, and finance will follow what brand already knew. Facebook’s record on this front, especially when you consider how we at Medinge value brands and a company’s promise-keeping, has been astonishingly poor. People do not trust Facebook, and in my book: no trust means poor brand equity.’
   This sounds like my going back to my very first Medinge meeting in 2002, when we concluded, at the end of the conference, three simple words: ‘Finance is broken.’ It’s not a useful measure of a company, certainly not the human relationships that exist within. But brand has been giving us this heads-up for a long time: if you can’t trust a company, then it follows that its brand equity is reduced. That means its overall value is reduced. And time after time, finance follows what brand already knew. Even those who tolerate dishonesty—and millions do—will find it easy to depart from a product or service along with the rest of the mob. There’s less and less for them to justify staying with it. The reasons get worn down one by one: I’m here because of my kids—till the kids depart; I’m here because of my friends—till the friends depart. If you don’t create transparency, you risk someone knocking back the wall.
   We always knew Facebook’s user numbers were bogus, considering how many bots there are on the system. It would be more when people wanted to buy advertising, and it would be less when US government panels charged with investigating Facebook were asking awkward questions. I would love to know how many people are really on there, and the truth probably lies between the two extremes. Facebook probably should revise its claimed numbers down by 50 per cent.
   It’s a very simplified analysis—of course brand equity is made up of far more than trust—and doubters will point to the fact Facebook’s stock had been rising through 2017.
   But, as I said, finance follows brand, and Facebook is fairly under assault from many quarters. It has ignored many problems for over a decade, its culture borne of arrogance, and you can only do this for so long before people wise up. In the Trump era, with the US ever more divided, there were political forces that even Facebook could not ignore. Zuckerberg won’t be poor, and Facebook, Inc. has plenty of assets, so they’re not going away. But Facebook, as we know it, isn’t the darling that it was a decade ago, and what we are seeing, and what I have been talking about for years, are just the tip of the iceberg.

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Posted in branding, business, culture, internet, leadership, media, politics, technology, UK, USA | 5 Comments »


Mitsubishi’s latest scandal: enough to shake it right out of the passenger-car market?

26.04.2016


Above: The Mitsubishi eK Wagon, one of the cars at the centre of the company’s latest scandal.

One thing about creating and running Autocade is that you gain an appreciation for corporate history. Recently, I blogged about Fiat, and the troubles the company is in; it wasn’t that long ago that Fiat was the designers’ darling, the company known for creating incredibly stylish vehicles for all its brands and showing how you could use Italian flair to generate sales.
   That was the 1990s; by the turn of the century, Fiat had lost some of its mojo, and by the time I got to Milano in the early 2000s, the taxi ranks had plenty of German and French cars. Once upon a time, they would have been nearly exclusively Italian. Today, a lot of Fiat’s range is either made by, or on platforms shared with, Ford, GM, Chrysler (which it now owns), Peugeot, Mitsubishi and Mazda. Sharing platforms isn’t a sin, but a necessity, but Fiat seems to have taken it to a new level, looking like a OEM brand whose logo is freely slapped on others’ products.
   Mitsubishi is the other car company to find itself in trouble in recent weeks. The company admitted that it had lied about the fuel economy figures for its kei cars, the micro-cars that it sells predominantly in Japan.
   It wasn’t as troublesome as Volkswagen’s defeat device which fooled the US EPA, running differently when it knew the engine was being tested. Mitsubishi kept things simple, and overinflated tyre pressures.
   It would have got away with it, too, if it weren’t for Nissan, a company to which Mitsubishi supplied, under an OEM deal, kei cars. The customer started to ask questions and tested the cars for itself.
   Mitsubishi had supplied 468,000 cars to Nissan, all of which are affected. It had only sold 157,000 under its own marque. Production of the cars, from the eK range, and the OEM equivalent for Nissan, the Dayz, is now suspended, while Mitsubishi’s shares plunged 15 per cent on the news last week.
   Sankei, the Japanese newspaper, believes that Mitsubishi used the wrong test method on the I-MIEV electric car, RVR (ASX), Outlander, and Pajero, which are exported.
   You have to wonder what the corporate culture must be like for these matters to recur so regularly. But then, collectively, people tend to forget very rapidly, and companies like Volkswagen and Mitsubishi must bank on these.
   VW isn’t the first to cheat the EPA—US car makers have attempted less sophisticated defeat devices in the latter half of the 20th century—though it has had a chequered past. Just over 10 years ago, there was a scandal involving VW colluding with a union leader to keep wage demands down, and a few low-level employees took the rap. Go back to the 1980s and the company found itself in a foreign exchange scandal. But these were known mainly among specialist circles, principally those following car industry news.
   Mitsubishi’s scandals, meanwhile, were more severe in terms of the headlines generated. Last decade, when the media called Mitsubishi Japan’s fourth-largest car maker—these days they call it the sixth—the company was implicated in a cover-up over the safety of its vehicles. Japanese authorities raided the company in 2004, and revealed that Mitsubishi Motors Corp. hid defects that affected 800,000 vehicles, and had done so since 1977. Nearly a million vehicles were recalled. Affected vehicles were sold domestically as well as in Europe and Asia. Top execs were arrested that time, including the company president, although it was hard under Japanese law to punish Mitsubishi severely. There was no disincentive to conducting business as usual. The company was ultimately bailed out by its parent, the giant Mitsubishi Group, when it found itself facing potential bankruptcy.
   People were killed as a result of Mitsubishi’s cover-ups, and at the time it was considered one of the biggest corporate scandals in Japan.
   Go back a bit further and Mitsubishi Materials Corp., a related company, had used slave labour in World War II, including US troops—something the company did not apologize for till 2015, even though the Japanese government itself had issued apologies in 2009 and 2010. While it was a first among Japanese corporations, and US POWs got what they had long awaited, descendants of Chinese slave labourers still have a lawsuit pending against a connected Mitsubishi subsidiary.
   The other major difference between Volkswagen and Mitsubishi is that the Japanese marque is relatively weak in terms of covering its market segments. It’s SUV- and truck-heavy, and its kei cars had sold well (till now), but it has little in the passenger car segments, which it had once fielded strongly. The Mirage (and the booted Attrage) and the Galant Fortis (exported as the Lancer to many markets) are what’s left: the latter is now nine years old, though still fairly competitive, and in desperate need of replacement. Its only other car is its Taiwan-only Colt Plus, still selling there as an entry-level model despite having been withdrawn from every other market. In the big-car segments, Mitsubishi is actually supplied by Nissan in Japan, but doesn’t make its own any more. ‘Sixth-largest’ is shorthand for third-smallest, at least among the big Japanese car companies.
   Mitsubishi looks set to quit the C-segment (Galant Fortis) since neither Renault nor Nissan, which it had approached, wanted a tie-up. And the company survives on tie-ups for economies of scale, and there’s now a big question mark over whether potential partners want to work with it. Automotive News’s Hans Greimel questions whether the Mitsubishi–Fiat truck deal will go ahead (though I had thought it was an inked fait accompli).
   But, most seriously, Mitsubishi hasn’t completely recovered from its earlier scandal.
   It is within living memory, and the timing and nature of the latest one, tying so closely to what rocked Volkswagen, ensured that it would get global press again, even if the bulk of the affected cars were only sold domestically. And when consumers see a pattern, they begin wondering if there’s a toxic corporate culture at play here.
   We’re too connected in 2016 not to know, and while Mitsubishi is likely to be bailed out again, it will face the prospect of shrinking car sales—and sooner or later one will have to question whether the company will stay in the passenger-car business. Isuzu exited in the 1990s, focusing on SUVs, pick-ups and heavy trucks, forced by an economic downturn. Since Mitsubishi’s own portfolio is looking similarly weighted, it wouldn’t surprise me if it chose to follow suit, its brand too tarnished, with too little brand equity, to continue.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, culture, marketing | 1 Comment »


How can we help those fooled into believing what their local brands are?

06.01.2016

How interesting to see a silly Tweet of mine make the Murdoch Press and lead an opinion column—I’m told it even hit the news.com.au home page.
   It’s a very old joke that I’ve told since 2002, when I walked along Bay Road in Kilbirnie and saw a locksmith sign in Futura. Back then, Dick Smith Electronics had its logotype set in ITC Avant Garde Gothic. I really thought it was a Dick Smith sign at a first, fleeting glance, seeing CKSMITH. The joke was born.
   Most in my social media streams got it except a couple of Australians who had likely come across it via Murdochs a day late, one calling me ignorant (not sure how you can get that from one Tweet), and another ‘ahole’ (is this a misspelling of aloha?). As the funniest guy in their media is John Clarke, who was born in New Zealand, maybe humour doesn’t reach a couple of households there if it has to be imported. And the number of times John’s taken the piss about us, to my thorough enjoyment, means that some of us can take a joke. Perhaps we just have a sense of humour. We have to: it was the only way we could deal with our PM appearing on The Late Show with David Letterman. It is, to quote the man, ‘a bit of banter. No drama.’
   The false indignation “on behalf of others” is always a comical one, because it’s usually founded on a misplaced and unjustified sense of superiority. During a political campaign, they’re the ones I find the most humorous and least authoritative. Thick skin came with that territory.
   Neither deserves a response beyond what I said on Twitter, but the second one (with a fresh new account to troll from, always a good sign of someone who won’t stand by their words) highlights a point that I have made on this blog before.
   “Ruby Pond” notes, ‘The guy is pure Oz and started when you were in nappies and tried! Stick to your foreign companies, they really help Oz.’ I’m not sure what I was tried about, not having been to court while I was in nappies, but maybe she’s depending on the fact that not everyone remembers back to their infancy.
   Well done. She got this from an American-owned newspaper website (remember, Rupert’s no longer an Australian, nor is the HQ in Australia and hasn’t been for a long, long time), and, for the record, I’m not as old as the business that Dick founded. There’s also a suggestion that I must be Australian, because, after all, everyone on the planet must be. No other countries exist. I didn’t want to get into trans-Tasman rivalry in such a situation, nor was it appropriate to give a list of Australian corporate misdeeds in New Zealand. The term off-topic springs to mind.
   I told her, ‘Stick to your foreign media, they really help Oz.’
   Hers is that simplistic thinking that gets people supporting foreign-owned businesses when they believe they are supporting local ones.
   Dick’s been one of my personal heroes since his solo helicopter flight and I’ve been a customer of the chain he founded since I was old enough to buy my own tech gear. Entrepreneurs like him are the ones I’ve always encouraged, through mentoring and through my policies. However, the sad story of the company, no longer owned by Dick, is one of corporate greed—which the founder himself has been critical of. We haven’t learned the lessons of so many economic crises: Gordon Gecko’s mantra of ‘greed is good’ continues to drive the corporate world.
   The reason so many multinationals buy local brands is to fool the public into thinking they’re supporting their own. We’re guilty of it ourselves, and I recall using the examples of Just Juice and most of our local newspapers on this blog. People closed accounts at the National Bank when it became ANZ here, because of a suspicion of, dislike of, or rivalry with Australia, perceiving National to be a local bank. The problem there: ANZ had owned the National Bank for years before the rebranding of its own subsidiary, and prior to that it was part of Lloyds TSB in the UK. A lot of Australians think Ford and Holden are domestic players (though, oddly, not Toyota, which probably builds as many, if not more, cars there), just as many Britons still think they are buying British when they shop at Ford and Vauxhall.
   The situation with news.com.au differs slightly in that that business was started in Australia by Rupert Murdoch’s Dad, and it has grown from there—but the fact remains that its HQ is overseas and that’s where it pays its tax. Help to Australians: not a lot. The Murdoch Press’s globalization agenda won’t be one that the “buy Australian” crowd would support for the most part.
   But this is how brands work, because they encourage us to make mental shortcuts for the products and services we consume. I’ve devoted a good deal of my professional life to it. Some should encourage scrutiny because of the power they have (Wally Olins noted, many years ago, how some brands need to adopt notions that were once reserved for states), and it was hoped that, post-No Logo, we would be more inquisitive about the backgrounds to the organizations we support.
   Even though it’s our money and time, the sad thing is that this level of inquiry remains the province of the few, those people who are willing to scrutinize their own behaviour and practise what they preach. Social media have helped spread news of corporate misbehaviours (Volkswagen will attest to that) and more people are aware; but to counter that we get more information than we ever used to, and unless something resonates, will we just forget it?
   Therefore, it can only be something where people who have done the proper investigation get to have a say. And like all human endeavours, it can be scammed, so safeguards have to be built in.
   One of the reasons the Medinge Group awarded its Brands with a Conscience accolades for close to a decade was to champion the organizations that were getting it right, inviting transparency and scrutiny, championing good corporate citizenship, and engaging in socially responsible programmes. Among them were companies devoted to doing things right by the communities they were present in, whether it was Dilmah Tea, Tata Steel or Hennes & Mauritz.
   By our championing them, selected by a think-tank of leading brand professionals, we would be able to highlight shining examples of branding, as well as give them the sort of boost they deserved. If positive companies could increase their custom, and if positive non-profits could increase their influence, then we can do some good in the world.
   As people rightly want shortcuts in their busy daily lives, then the work at Medinge, if seen as an endorsement, would help them make a decision about whether to deal with that organization or not.
   It’s nice to be in that bubble, which makes me ever-grateful to get reminders that we still have a lot of work to do. If you’re genuinely desirous of helping your own, then we need to help create more ways of reminding people which organizations do just that. The Brands with a Conscience programme was definitely a very good way of doing it. What shall we do, in the post-peak-Facebook world of the second part of this decade, to get word out? Is it through video, thanks to greater bandwidth, that allows us to experience and understand more? Is this the coming of age of some form of virtual reality? Or, as we did when we first started exploring bulletin boards and email, time again for us to reach out to people in communities very foreign and different to ours through video chats—something like Google Hangouts but actually with people? (Yes, I know, Google fans, I was taking the piss.) Is Skype the service on which this can be built?
   I would have said that technology is the great democratizer, and maybe more of us should be giving out awards to truly deserving organizations, voted on by more of the public. But we come across the issue of quality versus quantity again: the Reputation Institute surveyed 60,000 people in 15 countries and still wound up with Nestlé among the most reputable firms in the world. Nestlé may do very good things in some quarters, but it hasn’t been able to avoid a lawsuit by environmental and public interests groups in California over its water-bottling operation there, or accusations by activists who believe the company wants to privatize water at the expense of public health. Volkswagen was there in the 2014 survey. We decide on image, and that image is the very thing that gets us making bad choices.
   The next innovators are already on to it, and we don’t even know that we seek it. But, in order to self-actualize, maybe organizing us—individuals, not corporations—into global communities is the next stage. We have seen Kiva work so positively, so how about making it more interactive? Naturally we will tend to choose to help those in our own countries first—crowdfunding campaigns show us that—but allowing us to understand another human being’s situation could be the challenge in a time when governments pursue their austerity agenda. Somehow, we can restore, at least to some degree, the optimism we had when we in the first world accessed the World Wide Web for the first time.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, culture, globalization, humour, internet, marketing, media, social responsibility, technology, UK, USA | No Comments »


YouTube switches on my search history again, all in the quest to get more personal data

24.09.2015


Check your YouTube settings: even if you switch off your search history, Google may turn it on again

Here I was, telling friends that 2014 marked the first year in which I didn’t have to call Google out over something, be it privacy breaches, deceptive conduct, or simply not measuring up to its claims.
   As usual, I spoke too soon, as tonight I stumbled across another example of Google saying one thing and doing another. All in the quest to get data on you, without you knowing.
   Last time that happened, Google had to change its practices regarding its Ads Preferences Manager, a system where it claimed you could opt out, where it then inserted an opt-out cookie, but, when you weren’t looking, removed the opt-out cookie and began tracking your preferences again. Now, if only it sold diesel cars, there’d be an uproar in the US media.
   But it was all sorted very quietly, with the Network Advertising Initiative forcing Google, its largest member, to stop its deceptive conduct.
   This was a year before the Murdoch Press exposed Google for hacking Iphone Safari browser users, for which the company was eventually fined $17 million, or four hours’ earnings. Again, if only it was selling diesel cars, the fine would be a thousand times greater.
   This one’s related: the tracking of your history on YouTube. Google wants to track your data so it can customize advertising to you, since Doubleclick, its advertising unit, makes milliards a year. I had suspected it was going on in July 2014, since the site was delivering a large number of motoring advertisements to me, but needed to gather more proof. Like the investigation I made into Ads Preferences Manager four years ago, I should have checked Google’s settings; at the time I didn’t, thinking that Google would be incredibly stupid, callous and ignorant to manipulate user settings again after getting busted twice in the last five years for disrespecting them. But when the punishment is four hours’ earnings, with hindsight, of course, it wasn’t afraid.
   I have had my YouTube history turned off for years, ever since I first discovered Google’s cheating over monitoring. However, in 2012, YouTube had switched this on again, without my intervention. You could argue that I had forgotten, that I must have switched it back on myself, as unlikely as that would be. Nevertheless, I was sufficiently concerned that I blogged about it in November, noting that I had found myself with a YouTube viewing and search history earlier that year. It’s something I would have deleted and turned off again in 2012.
   What did I find when I checked my YouTube history today, now that Google has revamped its account management interface? You guessed it: a search history. It’s not complete—it doesn’t have everything I’ve searched for—but it does begin again on July 23, 2013. This jumps ahead to August 14 and 23, then October 3; June 23 and 30, July 3 and 4, 2014; then August 24 through 27, 2015. You have to ask yourself: how does Google have a search history for someone whose search history was turned off in 2012 (and even before then)? The only conceivable answer to me is that Google switches it on again without your permission, and it was indeed on again when I visited the Privacy Check-up pages today.
   I also have a watch history, with videos in March, April, November and December 2012.
   I shan’t be deleting either, as this will serve as a record of the fact Google still messes around with our privacy settings regularly. But I will say again, today, that I had to “pause” the search history for YouTube again, and I’ll check in again later, although not three years later, to see if Google switches it back on.
   I was surprised to find that I have a YouTube account, and Google gave me the option to delete my zero videos, playlists, subscriptions and subscribers. However, if I proceeded, and I might after this investigation, the above histories would also vanish.
   We may have another Ads Preferences Manager case on our hands, one where the US and tech media will just shrug its shoulders and proclaim Google to be the Almighty on which their jobs hinge. At worst, some states’ attorneys-general will go after them for another few hours’ pay.

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Posted in internet, media, technology, USA | No Comments »


Five or ten years, your Kiwi passport is not a valid government-issued ID, says Facebook

26.05.2015

Sometimes you wonder if the big players on Silicon Valley exist in a parallel universe.
   Google, of course, is a firm that makes little sense to me: one that usually says one thing and does another, in almost every encounter I have had with it. And you know they can’t be that smart if, for many, many versions of Google Earth, they had no idea what was at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC.
   Facebook, naturally, observes these same traditions. Last year, I lost access to the website for 69 hours, when it decided posting, liking and commenting were no longer necessary features, and withdrew them. No one really seemed to mind when they couldn’t write on my wall: other than a few exceptions, folks just shrugged it off. We are, it seems, extremely accepting of having a buggy website where nothing works.
   Fast forward one year, and posting, liking and commenting are things that occasionally work on Facebook when it feels like it; most of today, they didn’t. But that’s nothing compared to a friend who has had her entire profile deleted.
   The story shows once again what geniuses must work at these firms.
   First, she found some photos of hers on another profile, so she complained through the usual channels. Instead of deleting the pirates’ photos, Facebook deleted her account instead.
   When she appealed, Facebook asked for proof of identity. She provided her New Zealand passport.
   But, according to Facebook, New Zealand passports are not a valid form of government-issued ID. Her other forms of identity were invalid, too.
   I’m interested to know how the brains’ trust of Facebook works. If a passport is not a valid government-issued form of identity, then what is? Is there something Facebook knows about that far exceeds the power of a passport? Am I to believe my American friends have held out on me all these years about this mystery form of super-identity?
   Or, of course, Facebook believes, and we have had proof of this, that no one lives outside the Pacific coast of the United States. This explains its ongoing bugs at the 1st of each month where the site’s functionality is severely reduced because it isn’t the 1st of the month in California. So if your passport doesn’t “look American”, it can’t possibly be valid.
   Here is a woman with over 50,000 fans in her business and who has been planning her wedding via the site, who has now been shut out.
   It does seem that Facebook is doing this willy-nilly. We also know its apology for shutting drag queens’ accounts last year to be insincere, when LaQuisha Redfern found herself locked out with no means of appeal.
   And yet, proven spammers (people who have spammed, and their spams reported to Facebook) are allowed to maintain their accounts. Spambots—and I found a bot net of over 90 recently (down from 277 a day, so Facebook is getting better)—are OK, too, because Facebook staff cannot tell the difference between a legitimate human being and a bot. While it deleted most of the 90 I identified, it strangely left a handful up, even though a pattern had been established. A few were old accounts that were hacked with their identities changed, but apparently that’s enough to fool Facebook into thinking they are legitimate human beings. A bot net I uncovered last year took multiple, repeated complaints before Facebook realized that they were actually bots that wrote random things on each other’s walls; never mind that what was written was incomprehensible. Literacy, it seems, is not a requirement at Facebook.
   If Facebook is deleting real humans, or, in my case, limiting its functionalities to us (although I would have thought posting, liking and commenting were pretty fundamental to the site), and maintaining bots (because, as we know, Facebook uses bots to make money), then it’s only a matter of time when it’s just a massive bot net communicating with each other, there to con companies into paying for more bots to follow them.
   Facebook it has done a lot of things right when it came to IP protection and enforcement when I have approached them. Generally, I don’t find them as offensive as Google. But just how it could have got this case so wrong is beyond me.

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Posted in business, internet, New Zealand, USA | 1 Comment »


Ikea tries to shut down its biggest fan site, showing us how the company thinks within

17.06.2014

In an age of social media, you would think it was the most stupid thing to try to shut down the biggest online community you have.
   Ikea has done just that, on IP grounds, against Ikea Hackers, by getting their legal department to send Jules Yap, its founder, a cease-and-desist letter after her site had been going for eight years. In that time she had sent customers to Ikea, after they were inspired by the new ideas her community had on doing new things with Ikea furniture.
   There are arguments that Ikea could have been liable for any injuries sustained from the “hacks”, but that’s daft. Are we really that litigious as a society, prepared to blame someone for something we ourselves freely chose to do? Ikea has instructions on how to build their furniture, and it’s your own choice if you are prepared to go against them.
   And eight years is an awfully long time to bring a case against someone for trade mark usage, rendering this claim particularly weak.
   There are other Ikea-hacking websites and Facebook pages as well—so it’s even dumber that Ikea would go after one with such a huge community, a website that has an Alexa ranking currently in the 20,000s (in lay terms: it has a huge audience, potentially bigger than that of Ikea’s corporate site itself in Jules’s country, Malaysia).
   Jules says that she has to take down the ads as part of her settlement for being able to retain the site—ads that simply paid for her hosting, which she might not be able to afford to do any more. (Some fans have offered to host for free or provide new domain names.)
   The Ikea Hackers logo doesn’t look remotely like the Ikea one, which would readily imply there was no endorsement by the Swedish company.
   Therefore, Ikea’s statement, on its Facebook, holds very little water.

Vi är glada för det engagemang som finns för IKEA och att det finns communities runt om i världen som älskar våra produkter lika mycket som vi gör.
   Vi känner ett stort ansvar mot våra kunder och att de alltid kan lita på IKEA. Det är viktigt för oss att värna om hur IKEA namnet och varumärket används för att kunna behålla trovärdigheten i varumärket. Vi vill inte skapa förvirring för våra kunder om när IKEA står bakom och när vi inte gör det. När andra företag använder IKEA namnet i kommersiellt syfte, skapar det förvirring och rättigheter går förlorade.
   Därför har Inter IKEA Systems, som äger rättigheterna till IKEA varumärket, kommit överens med IKEA Hackers om att siten från slutet av juni 2014 fortsätter som en fan-baserad blog utan kommersiella inslag.

Essentially, it uses the standard arguments of confusion, safeguarding its trade mark, and—the Google translation follows—‘When other companies use the IKEA name for commercial purposes, it creates confusion and rights are lost.’
   This can be fought, but Jules elected not to, and her lawyer advised against it. It’s a pity, because I don’t think she received the best advice.
   On Ikea’s Swedish Facebook page, some are on the attack. I wrote:

I would hardly call her activity ‘commercial’ in that the ads merely paid for her web hosting. I doubt very much Jules profited. But I will tell you who did: Ikea. She introduced customers to you.
   While your actions are not unprecedented, it seems to fly in the face of how one builds the social aspects of a modern brand.
   The negative PR you have received from this far outweighs the brand equity she had helped you build. It was a short-sighted decision on the part of your legal department and has sullied the Ikea brand in my mind.

   This won’t blow over. It’s not like politics where people are disinterested enough for all but the most impassioned to retain memory of a misdeed. (For example, does Oravida still mean anything to anyone out there?) Ikea is a strong brand, and mud sticks to them. Some years ago, I met a woman who still had a Nestlé boycott in place after the company’s milk powder incidents of the 1960s. And all of a sudden, Ikea’s alleged tax fraud (see here for the SVT article, in Swedish) or the airbrushing of women out of its Saudi Arabian catalogue come to mind. They’re things most people forget, because they go against the generally positive image of an organization or Ingvar Kamprad himself, until there’s some misstep from within that shows that things are rotten in Denmark—or in Sweden, as the case is here. Or is it the Netherlands, where its company registration is?
   Brands are, in particular, fragile. I have maintained for over a decade that brand management is increasingly in the hands of the audience, not the company behind it—something underpinning my most recent academic paper for the Journal of Digital & Social Media Marketing. We all know that there must be as much consistency between the views of the brand held by the organization and those held by the public. The greater the chasm, the weaker the brand equity. Here, Ikea is confirming the worst of its behaviour done in the name of its brand, all for the sake of some euros (I won’t say kronor here)—meaning the consistent messages are not in clever Swedish design, but between what it’s doing in this case and what it allegedly does in Liechtenstein.
   And since the foundation that controls Ikea is technically not for profit, then it’s a bit rich for this company—accused of tax avoidance by calling itself a charity—to be calling Jules’s activities ‘commercial’. It is hypocritical, especially when you bear this in mind:

In 2004, the last year that the INGKA Holding group filed accounts, the company reported profits of €1.4 billion on sales of €12.8 billion, a margin of nearly 11 percent. Because INGKA Holding is owned by the nonprofit INGKA Foundation, none of this profit is taxed. The foundation’s nonprofit status also means that the Kamprad family cannot reap these profits directly, but the Kamprads do collect a portion of IKEA sales profits through the franchising relationship between INGKA Holding and Inter IKEA Systems.

   The tax haven secret trust the companies use is legal, says Ikea, which is why it pays 3·5 per cent tax. I have little doubt that the complex structure takes advantage of laws without breaking them, and Kamprad was famous for departing Sweden for Switzerland because of his home country’s high taxes. The cease-and-desist letter probably is legal, too. And they show you what mentality must exist within the organization: forget the Swedishness and the charitable aspects, it’s all about the euros.

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Posted in branding, business, culture, internet, marketing, Sweden | No Comments »


The Rongotai years

05.02.2014

This came up today at Victoria University where an old client of ours asked about my 2013 campaign. I remembered there was something about education that I wanted to address at the time.
   One of the stranger emails during 2013 came from a former classmate of mine at Rongotai College. A brilliant guy at his sporting code, and from memory, a fair dinkum bloke. Unfortunately, he gave a fake return address, so I was unable to get my email to him (even though I wrote one of those ‘Hey, great to hear from you after all these years’ replies). He’s not on Facebook, either.
   His message went along the lines of why I never mention Rongotai College in my biographies, and criticized me of snobbery and being ashamed of the place.
   Those who know me know that I have little time for snobbery.
   It was odd since in my publicity during both elections, Rongotai College is mentioned—no more and no less than the two private schools I attended. You only had to go as far as the third line in the bullet points in my bio to find Rongotai there. That was the case with all my 2010 brochures and in my 2013 Vote.co.nz profile. (My 2013 fliers had less room and my schooling—anywhere—was omitted.) And it regularly came up in speeches, especially at my fund-raisers, which were held at Soi, co-owned by an old boy.
   I admit that sometimes I say, in conversation, that I was ‘Dux at St Mark’s and Proxime Accessit at Scots,’ simply because ‘School Certificate at Rongotai’ doesn’t say a heck of a lot about me. It’s normal just to talk about where you finished each stage of your education.
   For the same reason, I skip my Bachelor of Commerce degree since I did honours and then a Master of Commerce and Administration. I also skip Man Kee Kindergarten in Kowloon, Hong Kong, where I won the tidiness award at age three.
   I’m sure I wouldn’t find his fifth form sporting achievements on his CV.
   I assume he didn’t check the footer to this website, under ‘Connected organizations’, since he didn’t make it to the third line in my bio. There, I only mention St Mark’s and Scots—for the simple reason that these are schools I still work with: I serve on the alumni associations of both. My hands are full now with two upcoming centenaries, but: Rongotai College has simply never asked me.
   I’m wondering whether the writer himself has a bit of a chip on his shoulder about the place. Might he have reason to believe it was inferior if the other two were “élite”?
   Rongotai College did, let’s face it, have some issues in those days.
   On the plus side, the sporting record is decent. The fact that opera singer Ben Makisi came out of there during that time is another proud moment.
   Rongotai College showed me the importance of being my own man, and understanding peer pressure, to which it is unnecessary to succumb. I never did.
   The first guys to help me out in business were my mates at Rongotai, such as Matthew Breen and Andrew Bridge—and Andrew and I have stayed in touch.
   Rongotai College also showed that for every racist dickwad there was a rugby-playing Samoan or Tongan student capable of metering out justice.
   However, and I hate to say this, it also demonstrated leadership dysfunction in those days. There were serious senior management problems that filtered down to the rest of the place, which I witnessed, though some teachers thankfully remained steadfast.
   During that era, Rongotai was less than nurturing despite the best efforts of some of its teachers, such as Will Meehan (who helped shape my writing style in my fifth form when I began thinking about working in media, and endured my extra practice in my exercise books) and Dave Reynolds.
   So when I was offered a half-scholarship on the strength of my School Certificate marks, I took it.
   However, the élitist tag, for either St Mark’s or Scots, is inaccurate.
   While I enjoyed St Mark’s and Scots more than my time at Rongotai, it’s daft to call either élite. There were many parents, who did not come from money, who worked hard to send us there. At any of the private schools I attended, none of my contemporaries felt they were above the others. I did, interestingly, encounter this behaviour at Rongotai, where being in the A-stream went to a few lads’ heads.
   My time at Scots was better for me, since there was a culture where each student should seek out his own path and excel at the things they loved the most. That’s not a function of money, it’s a function of leadership and education. There was also greater camaraderie,.
   Headmaster Keith Laws may have his critics—he hinted as much at the leavers’ assembly to me—but these aspects of Scots remained firm. Perhaps it was cultural, or perhaps he engendered them. Regardless, I thank him for his decision—the buck stopped at the head’s office—for granting me that scholarship.
   Finally, if I was trying to bury my Rongotai connection, I certainly wouldn’t have been seeking out a lot of the lads on social networks over the years. Or attended the funeral of the father of one of the old boys in 2013.
   So, for the record, no, I’m not ashamed of my past.

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Posted in business, culture, leadership, New Zealand, politics, Wellington | No Comments »


Google tracks your searches, and uses them, even when your web history is turned off

22.01.2014

My dislike of Google is no secret, and, as a precaution, I have every known Google tracking setting turned off. I even block the Doubleclick and YouTube cookies. However, I have to manage a page at Google Plus—and Google cleverly tracks you through its Plus service.
   It doesn’t lie about it:

When you use our services or view content provided by Google, we may automatically collect and store certain information in server logs. This may include:

details of how you used our service, such as your search queries.

But you wonder why they bother having a web history page. My web history is turned off, but it needn’t matter: Google is still tracking me and giving me useless information.

Web history turned off

   How do I know? Its friendly Google Plus suggestion, asking me if I know a Senger Ralf:

Senger Ralf

I don’t. I run a few Facebook groups, and as most Facebook users know, the site is plagued by fake accounts. It’s not uncommon for me to need to block a dozen a day. Senger Ralf was one of the borderline cases, so after searching on DuckDuckGo, I tried Google.
   It also claims that I have downloaded 39 apps. This is BS. I logged into Google Play recently and without any move on my part, 30-plus apps started coming down. Thank goodness none of them got installed, but Google now inaccurately thinks I am into a whole bunch of useless games. A blessing in disguise, then: the less accurate the data on me, the better.
   The documentary, Terms and Conditions May Apply, is great to watch if you ever come across it. Google’s spying is revealed there, along with that of others. The documentary maker even reveals that Google covered up its original privacy policy on its site, deceptively passing off that its earliest dated from 2000, when there were ones before that. The 1999 policies, which are now on the site (Google has a habit of stopping dodgy behaviour when it is busted), included terms such as:

Google’s policy on our wholly controlled and operated Internet sites is to respect and protect the privacy of our users.

and:

From time to time, there may be situations where Google asks you for personal information. When we intend to use your personal information, we tell you up front. This way you can decide whether you want to give us the information or not. In case you change your mind or some personal information changes, we will endeavor to provide a way to correct, update or remove the personal data you give us.

Upon your first visit to Google, Google sends a “cookie” to your computer. A cookie is a file that identifies you as a unique user. It can also store personal preferences and user data. A cookie can tell us, “This is the same individual who visited Google two days ago” but it cannot tell us, “This person is Joe Smith” or even, “This person lives in the United States.”

How times have changed. (In 1999, I was a Google fan. Understandable if that was their privacy policy.) Now it tracks you when you have turned off your web history, which gives you the false impression that Google no longer looks at your searches, and it uses your name and avatar for advertising purposes, even when you have turned off Google Plus endorsements.
   It pays to be extremely wary of this firm, because it never says what it means.
   Finally, if you are a Wordpress user, and you have Google concerns, then be aware that the big G is tracking you there, too. The Wordpress dashboard uses Google fonts. The way to fix this is to download a very small plug-in called Disable Google Fonts (hat tip to Fontfeed). If you like the look of the fonts, just install them on to your own hard drive—they are open source.

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Posted in business, culture, internet, technology, USA | 8 Comments »