Posts tagged ‘ethics’

What Facebook’s anti-malware malware does to your Windows 10 computer


When I said in January that Facebook’s and Kaspersky’s anti-malware malware (there’s no better term for it, though of course they will deny that it was malware) had it in for McAfee, what did I mean?
   As some of you know, I fell for Facebook’s insistence that I download its malware if I wanted to gain access to the site, and no, I was not phished. This is a “feature” that Facebook and Kaspersky have bragged about.
   After you download the program from Kaspersky, that company refuses to tell you how to remove it from your computer. It doesn’t appear in your installed programs’ list. I put a very polite comment at their blog entry on the subject, but it was never approved. They don’t want to help people who were laboured with this unnecessary and invasive software. I once thought highly of Kaspersky, but their willingness to collaborate with Facebook, their opaqueness on this matter, and the earlier (unproven) accusations that they were party to faking malware to harm rival products have made me highly wary of the firm. I’ll never purchase anything from them because of their behaviour, at least till I see some change that they are willing to get with the programme as far as transparency and integrity are concerned.
   Thanks to Reddit, I learned how to remove what I could, but the fact remains that after the whole Facebook–Kaspersky scan for non-existent malware, McAfee would not work properly any more. This wasn’t due to any other malware—I had run a very comprehensive series of legitimate malware scans guided by an expert in Germany at Bleeping Computer in the wake of this incident, and confirmed all was well. As far as I could tell, the only noticeable change to my system was what Facebook put on.
   I was eventually forced to remove McAfee after 27 years of using their products, in favour of Avira. This is why: whatever was left on the computer kept fighting McAfee to turn itself off (above right, and video below). My Windows computer didn’t like the idea of having no antivirus program. I had attempted to reinstall McAfee once already, which stopped this behaviour for about a week. McAfee Virtual Technician could not resolve it, and I never got very far with McAfee support (as opposed to the incredibly helpful people on their forums). Over a month after Facebook forced its download on me, I was still paying the price of following their instructions—when we should know by now that anything these idiots tell you cannot be of any advantage to the user. Sometimes, when you get their warnings at 3 a.m., you don’t necessarily think as clearly as you would at 3 p.m.

   I don’t know how many hours I wasted on this in total, but I know I have saved many users a lot of time. For many days I found a lot of other Facebookers forced to do the same, and gave them some simple advice so that they would not fall into the same trap. Others have come to this blog: I’ve had some decent traffic around the two posts I wrote on the subject.
   People really need to know that not only is Facebook messing around with your settings and tracking you, they are putting things on your computer. I’m glad, then, that I will principally remain there for a few messages, and page and group administration—the latter very necessary given all the bots and spammers that now plague the website. I’m sure I can’t be alone in spotting numerous spammers per day, spammers which Facebook often does nothing about when reported. That, too, should make us wonder.

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Posted in business, internet, USA | 3 Comments »

Your preferences mean nothing: Facebook still profiles you, even after you switch off interest-based ads


A few years ago, I discovered that Google was monitoring and gathering user preferences even after one had opted out. Google would initially put an opt-out cookie that went with your browser when you first opt out, which is exactly what every other ad network does—but, then, within 24 hours, it would replace it with its standard cookie and begin tracking you again. It counted on people not returning to their ad preferences page, and the ploy may have worked for some two years before I discovered it, and reported it to the Network Advertising Initiative, who confirmed the error.
   The NAI says that Google has remedied that, and I trust that it has. It didn’t stop Google from hacking Iphone users the following year, circumventing the ‘Do not track’ feature on the Safari browser, till they got busted by the Murdoch Press.
   It seems these big Silicon Valley firms think they are a law unto themselves, as is evidenced by their approach to taxation, for instance, and it appears Facebook is now doing the same thing as Google when it comes to getting advertising preferences on you. In their world, user preferences are something to be spat on, not observed.
   Facebook has often switched things on in its user preferences that you had switched off earlier, but I don’t remember them having touched those settings for a few years. But a leopard doesn’t change its spots. Recently, I discovered that Facebook had indeed turned on my advertising preference tracking, under ‘Ads based on my use of websites and apps’. I had it set to ‘No’; a month ago, I discovered this was set to ‘Yes’.
   I promptly switched it off, but had discovered that Facebook had compiled quite the dossier on me on January 20. Had I agreed to it, this would have been fine; and I use Facebook’s targeting myself from time to time marketing to users that I believe have agreed to be tracked and marketed to.

Above: Facebook compiled a big dossier on my preferences for its ad targeting, though when you open it up, there are entries that bear no resemblance to what I like.

   However, there are two worrying points here. The obvious one is Facebook disrespecting user preferences and collecting data on us—and there has been plenty of debate on just where that data go thanks to Mr Snowden. Secondly, for marketers, the data that Facebook has gathered are, to some degree, laughable.
   As I reviewed and deleted I discovered things in there that I had no interest in whatsoever. In the time that Facebook had gathered data on me, it had supposedly built up a profile on me that was made up of over 1,000 points (above is the summary, though I have expanded this out to have a good read). I found, in my profile, that I was supposedly into search engine marketing, Westpac, dentistry, NASSCOM (not sure what this is), radar, cosmetology, unmanned aerial vehicles, ClickZ, Marabou (chocolate), miniskirts, high-heeled footwear (yes, I can understand that publishing a fashion magazine might have added these), National Basketball Association, the Houston Astres (who?), Leicester City FC, TNA Knockout, the Australia national rugby union team (fortunately, the All Blacks were accurately recorded), World Tag Team Championship (WWE), and the Authority (professional wrestling); I discovered that Facebook thinks Occupy Wall Street is a ‘Religious Center’. Now, some of these will have come from websites I may have browsed at, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to my liking these things: what if you had browsed an article about the arrest of a child molester? Don’t ask me where the Aussie rugby and wrestling come from, as I don’t visit their sites or even news articles about either.
   I spent considerable time deleting all of them, doing myself and Facebook a favour. Naturally, I switched off the tracking.

Above: My ad preference tracking is switched off. End of story? Unfortunately, not: Facebook doesn’t care what you’ve put in here.

   I do think it is positive that Facebook reveals this, as it could have kept our preferences hidden, as it has done for years. It is only right that consumers are given a choice.
   However, where are the ethics to continue doing it after a user has switched it off?
   Because that’s exactly what Facebook does, and, like Google, you can’t pretend to me that these are all accidents. These are companies that believe they can do whatever they like, and intentionally have created systems to do so.
   Interestingly, when I approached the US DMA about this data-gathering on January 22, I received no response, unlike the NAI, which got back to me after I furnished proof of Google’s activities. At that point I had not told them who was doing it, I simply asked them what its position was, with its code of conduct, if a member were to gather data on a person even after that person had opted out.
   Within two days, Facebook had built up a new profile about me, of just over 100 items. I checked with the DAA, which has a website where you can see if the opt-out cookies are present, and it confirmed that Facebook’s was. It seems, then, that Facebook does not honour its own opt-out cookie, exactly the same as Google. Whether it uses this data or not is immaterial: it shouldn’t be gathering them for the duration of the time I choose to be opted out. I haven’t approached the DAA yet, but I will do after I get everything together.
   The items, incidentally, were still laughable; even more so, because of the smaller number. By the 24th, I was apparently a fan of Bandcamp and the company Excite (remember them?), but to my recollection I had not visited any site about either. And the next day there were a few dozen data points, where apparently I liked B movies, Berlin (the band), the immune system, the MG ZR, Frank de Boer, Gracia Baur, sandals, Presbyterianism, the Mandarin language, and Trinidad and Tobago. Again, where this all came from, I have little clue.

Top: Within two days, Facebook had a number of points about me, despite my having chosen to have its advertising-preference tracking switched off. It’s Google all over again. Above: The DAA confirms that Facebook’s opt-out cookie is present, although as I’ve discovered, it makes no difference.

   And so on. Every few days I’d go in there, have a peek, and have a laugh, and noted that my tracking preference was still set to ‘Off’.
   I have accused Facebook of arrogance and this is yet another example. I’ve also accused them of incompetence.
   You’ll have got to this point wondering why I still use it if I dislike the tracking. For a start, I shouldn’t have to put up with user preferences being ignored, if the setting has been provided, and if Facebook itself has been notified (I have contacted them). And as long as I have an account, which, unfortunately I need to administer business pages and groups, the tracking will continue, even if I do not use any features for my personal Timeline. (In fact, I hardly do any more; to the point where Facebook always has, in my feed, a top post showing me what I did x years ago when I log in; reminding me, ‘Gosh, didn’t we have it good together?’ liked a jilted lover.) By my own choice, I use Facebook’s messaging a lot (but not its app) and some very close friends contact me exclusively through that, and I’m going to have to continue there, too, because there is some utility. I also realize the irony of having a “like” button on this blog.

   In other words, I’ve minimized my activity with the site where I realistically can, and right now I don’t care if I can no longer like, post, share or comment, which was becoming a very, very regular bug with Facebook anyway. (It’s now getting more commonplace, as other friends begin getting the same symptoms with increasing frequency; it seems I hit the point before they did.)
   Like with Google, whose privacy gaffes saw me minimize my contact with them, I’ve de-Facebooked where I can; and I accept I can go further (e.g. regular logging out and cookie-blocking). I’ll see where things go after I contact the DAA.

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Posted in business, internet, marketing, USA | 3 Comments »

Read the report: Deloitte actually doesn’t blame migrants for increased corruption


Deloitte has published a report on the increasing corruption in Australia and New Zealand, which Fairfax’s Stuff website reported on today.
   Its opening paragraph: ‘An increase in bribery and corruption tarnishing New Zealand’s ethical image may be due to an influx of migrants from countries where such practices are normal.’
   The problem: I’m struggling to find any such link in Deloitte’s report.
   The article paraphrases Deloitte’s Ian Tuke perhaps to justify that opening paragraph: ‘Tuke said one working theory explaining the rise was the influx of migrants from countries such as China, which are in the red zone on Transparency International’s index of perceived corruption,’ but otherwise, the report makes no such connection.
   The real culprit, based on my own reading of the report, is the lack of knowledge by Australians and New Zealanders over what is acceptable under our laws.
   Yet again I see the Chinese become a far bigger target of blame than the source suggests, when we should be cleaning our own doorstep first.
   The Deloitte report acknowledges that there is indeed a high level of corruption in China, Indonesia, India and other countries, making this a big warning for those of us who choose to extend our businesses there. It’s not migration to New Zealand that’s an issue: it’s our choosing to go into these countries with our own operations.
   It would be foolhardy, however, for an article in the business section to tell Kiwis to stop exporting.
   But equally foolhardy is shifting the blame for a problem that New Zealand really needs to tackle—and which we are more than capable of tackling.
   The fact is: if we Kiwis were so clean, we’d uphold our own standards, regardless of what foreign practices were. Our political leaders also wouldn’t confuse the issue with, say, what happened at Oravida.
   When faced with a choice of paying a kickback or not in the mid-2000s when dealing in eastern Europe, our people chose to stay clean—and we lost a lot of money in the process.
   To me they did the right thing, and I credit less my own intervention and more the culture we had instilled.
   Hong Kong cleaned up its act in the 1970s with the ICAC, and I have said for decades (since the Labour asset sales of the 1980s) that New Zealand would do well in following such an example. Why haven’t we?
   Perhaps if we stopped shifting the blame and followed the recommendations in the Deloitte report, including shifting corporate cultures and instigating more rigorous checks, we can restore our top ranking in those Transparency International reports. But this has to be our choice, not a case where we are blaming migrants, for which there is little support in this very reasonable report.

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Posted in business, China, culture, Hong Kong, India, leadership, media, New Zealand, publishing | No Comments »

FCC rules in favour of ’net neutrality (at least we think it has)


I’ve gone into the reasons I support ’net neutrality elsewhere, but it was nice to hear about this on the wireless:

even though we still don’t know the specifics, as the FCC has kept this to itself for now. (We do know that Google has written a letter to the FCC, and that ‘an entire core part of the document was removed with respect to broadband subscriber access service,’ according to dissenting commissioner Ajit Pai.)
   While I knew Comcast had spent tens of crore lobbying against ’net neutrality, the rest may surprise you. According to (emphasis added):

Just six months ago, we were facing staggering odds. Big corporations like US cable TV giant Comcast had spent more than $750 million lobbying for a corporate-controlled Internet. Google, the biggest lobby in the industry, was refusing to speak up. The FCC chair Tom Wheeler, a former Big Cable lobbyist, was hostile to Net Neutrality.

   You’d think that Google would want to keep its squeaky-clean good-guy image up, but not speaking up seems to support Julian Assange’s allegations that the firm is a ‘privatized NSA’, becoming increasingly militarized. Gordon Kelly in Forbes goes so far as saying that Microsoft and Google have swapped places, with Google now the old-school establishment firm trying to defend the good old days.
   This highlights even more the importance to keep the ’net neutral, away from some of these larger firms whose mandate is, at best, uncertain and, at worst, unethical. When you think about innovations, including some of the websites we use today regularly, many were started by the little guy, and I’d like to see more of what independent minds come up with. (Facebook was one; Duck Duck Go was another.) Keeping the internet neutral in the US for all players—and that includes New Zealanders selling their wares there—is a good thing.
   And if you needed a reminder, here is perhaps the most widely seen argument for ’net neutrality of them all in 2014:

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

How many Facebook bots do you see in an evening? I count over 250


Last month, I Tweeted Facebook, asking them to raise the reporting limit for bots. Right now, you can report around 40 bot accounts before a warning box comes up asking you to slow down. If you do another 10, you are barred from reporting any more for 24 hours—even though you are trying to help Facebook clean up its act.
   I said that the rate of increase in bot accounts was exponential, and that raising the limit to 200 immediately might be useful.
   Tonight, the 200 barrier has been broken. In other words, in one evening, not counting click farms (which are also hitting our groups like crazy, with a growing number from Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania and Tunisia daily), I came across 277 bot accounts on Facebook. All because I have a few groups and I was checking to see who was joining.
   And here I was, thinking that over the last few weeks, when I was seeing a maximum of six daily, that Facebook had this problem under control.
   Obviously, the bot nets found a way through whatever defences Facebook had.
   I won’t republish the list of 277 here. There might be slightly fewer as there could be doubling-up in my list—you can lose your place at night copying and pasting. If you do want to have a peek at what bot accounts look like, the second part of the list at my Tumblr blog will give you an idea. And if you’d like to report them, you’re most welcome to—though since it’s neither your job nor mine, I wonder why we should bother. Facebook loves to brag about its numbers of how many people it has using the site. If in order to fool advertisers it shows a quarter-on-quarter increase by counting the bots, then maybe we should let it be, and eventually let the site fall over (and let’s face it, the frequency of that happening has increased, too).
   All of which point to a website that is becoming less and less useful as a marketing tool—no wonder the likes of Ello saw an increase in usage in the last few weeks.

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Posted in business, internet, marketing, USA | 3 Comments »

Caveat emptor: Facebook’s click farm problem is worsening


Many people will remember this video, which exposed Facebook using click farms to inflate customers’ likes (I would have used Veritasium’s original, but YouTube won’t show embedding codes at the moment):
Facebook Fraud Exposed: Does Facebook Advertising Lead to Fake Likes? from Reputation911 on Vimeo
   I won’t repeat what they exposed, as the video does a far better job. Essentially, they are building up fake profiles with group activity, to look like legitimate profiles when they become members of various pages. However, I am noticing that the problem is getting worse. Despite getting busted, Facebook is making sure that engagement on its fan pages gets worse, so you have to pay for promotion.
   One group I run, which has over 10,000 members, mostly in Germany, is getting a lot of these fake likers, principally from Morocco. Each day we’ve had over a dozen. Two, so far, even claim that they work for Facebook on their profiles (here’s one). (Facebook was contacted for comment, and, as usual, I have heard nothing back.) Now, you can claim these people are putting fake employers down, and that’s a reasonable conclusion. But even if they aren’t working for Facebook, they are working for a click farm, which can’t be any good for the website. In addition, Facebook is doing nothing to delete these click-farm profiles. [PS.: Despite being allowed to remain for years, Facebook deleted these accounts after this blog post was written.]
   There are similar characteristics: there are lots of photos, but few that could be regarded as profile photos. The majority have random imagery. As with a lot of fake profiles, they are multilingual: these guys never, ever post a status in German, yet a lot (over 90 per cent) of their groups are German. The latest one I saw claimed to be based in Netherlands and did not have a single friend with a Dutch name. One had over 1,000 likes, which is not unreasonable, either—yet you could group them by industry! It was very obvious that they were being paid. I was fooled with the first few, but not after you get six in a night—and they have only increased in number since.

Morocco 1

Morocco 2

Morocco 3

   They are harder to spot than the obvious fakes which use a stock photo for the profile, or the ones from China which all have joined the same poker game, or those that have only joined groups beginning with the letter A.
   I realize these folks have to make a buck. But we, as Facebook customers, have to understand the effects. It means Facebook campaigns are becoming increasingly poor value, and, at some point—maybe even now—it will not be worth paying a cent to the company to reach potential fans if there are other means.

PS.: One was accidentally let through and posted an irrelevant video, so they could be spammers getting extra hits for their clients.—JY

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Posted in business, internet, marketing, USA | 3 Comments »

Does Google advertising continue to track you after opting out?


Google cookies

Consistently, for the last several weeks, the ads I would see on YouTube have been for Hyundai. I didn’t think much of it, other than Hyundai going through an advertising blitz.
   After uncovering Google’s outright deceptions regarding its former Ads Preferences Manager, where the company promised not to track people when they opted out—but began tracking people within 24 hours after they opted out—I have been careful about the cookies on my system, especially from Google’s subsidiary, Doubleclick. Not only did I opt out of Google ads, after opting out, I blocked the Doubleclick cookie, which, logically, should mean that Google should not know my advertising preferences. All cookies are also blocked. The fact that car advertising was creeping in was coincidental, I thought.
   Today, Holden advertised its Colorado on my YouTube visit, and I got suspicious.
   I know Google Plus tracks us—opting out of having your searches monitored also does nothing, incidentally—and the minute I removed all Google cookies, my automotive advertising on YouTube ceased. The first ad was Corona beer, and the second and third were Air New Zealand. Other videos—and I watched 10 to test—had no ads. No more Hyundais.
   So Google, despite all the opt-out mechanisms, and despite my being very careful about what cookies are being allowed on my system, may still be tracking my advertising preferences. It wouldn’t be the first time Google has been caught illegally and deceptively monitoring users after opt-outs or who have tighter browser privacy settings (using the Google Plus One button, which is how I suspect they are doing it). As I uncover more, I’ll update this blog.

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

The Wikipedia game


The contributors or editors of Wikipedia are often quick to make changes after errors are pointed out. A recent funny one was for the suburb of Cannons Creek, in Porirua, when Wikipedia told a friend’s son:

Cannons Creek is a suburb of Porirua City approximately 22km north of Wellington in New Zealand. The citizens attempted to expel a demon but the exorcism backfired, rendering the town uninhabitable for the last fifteen years.

This was changed within hours of my Tweeting about it, so a contributor must have spotted the vandalism to the page.
   My earlier one about second-generation Hyundai Sonatas being classified as first-generation ones in the Wikimedia Commons was also remedied, which is good. I imagine someone will eventually see that the new Hyundai i10 cannot be both longer and shorter than its predecessor.
   However, I still hold a poor impression of Wikipedia because of an incident some years ago that suggested that certain people in the hierarchy gamed the system.
   The accusations of a senior editor—who accused me of defamation and tried to force me to remove a blog post with links about Wikipedia’s faults—did not stand up to any scrutiny. The lesson is: if you want to abuse me with legal arguments on email for five days, you’d better get your facts straight when you’re talking to a guy with a law degree. (She got her wish though, because of Six Apart closing down Vox, which is where I had blogged this.)
   It highlighted a certain arrogance among some of the people high up there. I hope she is not representative of senior Wikipedia editors but the amount of errors that I find—very serious, factual ones on things I know about—is ridiculous. Her behaviour suggested that facts won’t get in the way of power trips.
   One major error that has steadfastly remained for years is Wikipedia’s insistence that the Ford CE14 platform was used for a variety of US Ford cars in the 1980s. This work of fiction has made its way all over the internet, including to the IMCDB,* a Ford Tempo fan site, and elsewhere.
   The correct fact is that CE14 was the 1990 European Ford Escort. Wikipedia states that it was used for the 1980 US Ford Escort and its derivatives (Mercury Lynx, Ford EXP, Mercury LN7) and the Ford Tempo and Mercury Topaz.
   This is incredibly easy to debunk for anyone who has followed the Ford Motor Company over the years, or read a book or a magazine article about it. First: Ford’s alphanumeric codes were not in existence when these US cars were being developed. Secondly, the Tempo and Topaz are not in the C segment at Ford, but the CD segment; but, in any case, they did not have an alphanumeric code. Thirdly, the E in CE14 stands for Europe, which, the last time I checked, is not in the US. Fourthly, the numbers are more or less sequential as the projects are lined up at Ford. If 7 is Probe, 11 (if I recall correctly) was the 1990 Ford Laser, then how on earth could 14 be for a car that came out in 1980? (You can point out that CD162 was released before CD132, but there is another story behind that.)
   The user who created the original, error-filled, unreferenced page has been awarded stars by their peers at Wikipedia. Well done.
   Wikipedia proponents will argue that I should go and correct this myself, but I wonder why I should. I’ve read how Wikipedia works, and a friend who tried to get false information corrected about his wife corrected confirms this. Senior editors check their facts online, and to heck with print references. What they will see is a lot of references to CE14 that back up the error (even though the error began with them), probably accuse and then block the new contributor of vandalism, and the status quo will be preserved. After all, Jimmy Wales—the man most regularly credited as founding Wikipedia—has his own birthday incorrectly stated on the website. It’s what Stephen Colbert called ‘Wikiality’: if enough people believe something to be true, then to heck with the truth.
   The Guardian cites some research at PARC:

   Chi’s team discovered that the way the site operated had changed significantly from the early days, when it ran an open-door policy that allowed in anyone with the time and energy to dedicate to the project. Today, they discovered, a stable group of high-level editors has become increasingly responsible for controlling the encyclopedia, while casual contributors and editors are falling away. Wikipedia – often touted as the bastion of open knowledge online – has become, in Chi’s words, “a more exclusive place”.
   One of the measures the Parc team looked at was how often a user’s edit succeeds in sticking. “We found that if you were an elite editor, the chance of your edit being reverted was something in the order of 1% – and that’s been very consistent over time from around 2003 or 2004,” he says.
   Meanwhile, for those who did not invest vast amounts of time in editing, the experience was very different. “For editors that make between two and nine edits a month, the percentage of their edits being reverted had gone from 5% in 2004 all the way up to about 15% by October 2008. And the ‘onesies’ – people who only make one edit a month – their edits are now being reverted at a 25% rate,” Chi explains.
   In other words, a change by a casual editor is more likely than ever to be overturned, while changes by the elite are rarely questioned. “To power users it feels like Wikipedia operates in the way it always has – but for the newcomers or the occasional users, they feel like the resistance in the community has definitely changed.”

   The late Aaron Swartz, whom I have admired, was quoted in the article:

“I used to be one of the top editors … now I contribute things here and there where I see something wrong.” The reason, he explains, is that the site feels more insular and exclusive than in the past. “In general, the biggest problem I have with the editors is their attitude,” he says. “They say: ‘We’re not going to explain how we make decisions, we basically talk amongst ourselves.’

   It appears to be why Larry Sanger, the other guy who founded Wikipedia, left. This very behaviour was something he forecast a decade ago that appears to hold true today (original emphases):

   But there are myriad abuses and problems that never make it to mediation, let alone arbitration. A few of the project’s participants can be, not to put a nice word on it, pretty nasty. And this is tolerated. So, for any person who can and wants to work politely with well-meaning, rational, reasonably well-informed people—which is to say, to be sure, most people working on Wikipedia—the constant fighting can be so off-putting as to drive them away from the project. This explains why I am gone; it also explains why many others, including some extremely knowledgeable and helpful people, have left the project.
   The root problem: anti-elitism, or lack of respect for expertise. There is a deeper problem—or I, at least, regard it as a problem—which explains both of the above-elaborated problems. Namely, as a community, Wikipedia lacks the habit or tradition of respect for expertise. As a community, far from being elitist (which would, in this context, mean excluding the unwashed masses), it is anti-elitist (which, in this context, means that expertise is not accorded any special respect, and snubs and disrespect of expertise is tolerated). This is one of my failures: a policy that I attempted to institute in Wikipedia’s first year, but for which I did not muster adequate support, was the policy of respecting and deferring politely to experts. (Those who were there will, I hope, remember that I tried very hard.)
   I need not recount the history of how this nascent policy eventually withered and died. Ultimately, it became very clear that the most active and influential members of the project–beginning with Jimmy Wales, who hired me to start a free encyclopedia project and who now manages Wikipedia and Wikimedia—were decidedly anti-elitist in the above-described sense.
   Consequently, nearly everyone with much expertise but little patience will avoid editing Wikipedia, because they will—at least if they are editing articles on articles that are subject to any sort of controversy—be forced to defend their edits on article discussion pages against attacks by nonexperts. This is not perhaps so bad in itself. But if the expert should have the gall to complain to the community about the problem, he or she will be shouted down (at worst) or politely asked to “work with” persons who have proven themselves to be unreasonable (at best).

   I do not doubt for a second that Wikipedia was started with the best of intentions. It was a really good resource a decade ago, when it attracted the best minds to the project. It does, I am sure, attract some incredibly talented people who are generous and knowledgeable. I am told the science pages are some of the best written out there because those ones have been held up to the original Wikipedia standards. But many pages seem to reflect the great social experiment of the internet: email was great before spammers, and YouTube is great without comments. Democratization does not always mean that the masses will improve things, especially in the realm of specialist knowledge.
   And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a very long-winded way of explaining why I took the word wiki off the home page of Autocade 12 hours ago. I started it allowing public edits, using the same software as Wikipedia, and these days, only specialists can edit the site. The word wiki, ignoring its etymology, is now too closely associated with Wikipedia, and that brand is just too tainted these days for my liking.

* Since I approached the IMCDB, which actually has people dedicated to accuracy, many of its CE14 references were removed.—JY

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Posted in branding, cars, culture, interests, internet, leadership, media, publishing, technology | 5 Comments »

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


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 »

This government’s comedy of errors lately—and few to capitalize on them


Polity has gone through the MFAT OIA documents relating to Judith Collins’s visit to China, where she met with Oravida thrice.
   I’ve been reading them but out of order (the second bunch only) and their summary of what I have read gels with my take on things.
   These matters have been covered better on political blogs, but I can’t but help drawing comparisons between the stubbornness of this government with the days of Neil Hamilton, Jonathan Aitken and others in the UK Conservatives in the 1990s.
   The Minister’s latest, that the Greens were quick to capitalize on (as they did with Simon Bridges—which begs the question of where Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition is), is this quotation: ‘Does that have anything to do with me? Am I the minister of wetlands? Go and find someone who actually cares about this, because I don’t. It’s not my issue … I don’t like wetlands—they’re swamps.’
   This Cabinet has opened itself up to media attacks because of the relatively large holes in its conduct, of which the above seems typical.
   The odd one, at least to 21st-century eyes, has to be the PM’s defence of Collins, as reported by Radio New Zealand: ‘Meanwhile, the Prime Minister blames Twitter for the stress Ms Collins has faced over her involvement with Oravida … Mr Key said Ms Collins had been under a lot of stress and much of that was driven by comments on Twitter.’
   One of my friends responded, ‘If he’d ever seen the abuse she dished out in her tweets, he’d know she was the instigator of most of it, not the victim.’
   And the PM makes one critical mistake here: he seems to portray social media as some sort of foreign world, where specialist knowledge is required. It’s certainly one that certain members of the old media fraternity love to use.
   The truth is social media aren’t that different: they are merely extensions of what one already knows. If you have been in business or in public service, you should know how to write and communicate. If you’re a reasonably competent writer in your everyday life, then it’s a cinch that you’ll be good at communicating with social media.
   I might get sucked in by the odd troll every now and then, but Twitter stress isn’t a valid enough excuse in my book.
   However, the PM is a smart guy. He knows that most of us will forget in a short space of time and there’ll be another scandal that will surface. So the disappearance of Collins through a time-out might be a good calculated move—at least that’s what he’s counting on.
   But the fourth estate might not be as forgiving this time. Duncan Garner wrote (also noting she needed a Twitter break): ‘The truth is, her story about what she was doing in China with Oravida has completely collapsed. She has lost all credibility. What started as a pop-in cup of milk and a private dinner turns out to be a turbo-blasted official dinner involving both Governments, their officials, a senior Minister (Collins) and a National party donor (Oravida).’
   The problem with all of this is: where’s Labour, in the midst of the greatest gift an opposition has been given for years?
   One friend of a friend noted that maybe Labour shouldn’t be attacking, because we Kiwis don’t like whingers. It is the charge I hear from friends on the right. Labour should, instead, be coming up with solid policies and leave the attacks to the Greens (which is doing a marvellous job) and Winston Peters (need I say more? He remains a great political wordsmith).
   For me, I’d like them to do both if they are to stand a chance. The job of the Opposition is to oppose.
   And failure to oppose strongly may suggest to the electorate that the same thing could happen under Labour.
   Six months out from the election I contested, I had my policies published—which one blog noted was unusual but welcome. That meant my policies were out for twice as long as my opponents’.
   We’re talking about a party that has been in opposition for a long time, long enough to know what it wishes to do should it be handed the reins of government.
   And yet, apart from a few policy announcements here and there, it has been silent. You’d think the names of the Shadow Cabinet would be in our consciousness by now. Embarrassingly, I even forgot David Cunliffe’s name recently in a conversation. I could only call him ‘not-Robertson’. (It is better than the PM calling Grant Robertson ‘Perry Mason’ today, I hasten to add.)
   It makes me wonder if Labour isn’t working and whether the anti-National vote will, indeed, head even more to the Greens this year.

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Posted in business, China, internet, media, New Zealand, politics | 3 Comments »