Posts tagged ‘ethics’


The FT covers lawsuit alleging Facebook knew about inflated metrics

21.03.2020

I’ll be interested to read the judgement, should it get to that point: Facebook is being sued over allegedly inflating its audience numbers, and COO Sheryl Sandberg and financial officer David Wehner are also named.
   The plaintiff alleges that Facebook has known this for years. The suit dates from 2018 but there are new filings from the lawsuit.
   I’ve blogged on related topics for the majority of the previous decade, and in 2014 I said that Facebook had a bot ‘epidemic’.
   Finally another publication has caught on this, namely the Financial Times. The FT notes something that I did on this blog in 2017: ‘In some cases, the number cited for potential audience size in certain US states and demographics was actually larger than the population size as recorded in census figures, it claimed.’ Its own 2019 investigation found discrepancies in the Facebook Ads’ Manager tool.
   The complaint also says that Facebook had not removed fake and duplicate accounts. Lately I’ve found some obvious fake accounts, and reported them, only for Facebook to tell me that there’s nothing wrong with them. On Instagram, I have hundreds, possibly thousands, of accounts that I reported but remain current. Based on my user experience, the plaintiff is absolutely correct.
   Facebook only solves problems it puts its mind to, and all seem to be bolstering its bottom line. This is something it could have solved, and since it’s plagued the site for the good part of a decade, and it continues to, then you have to conclude that there’s no desire to. And of course there isn’t: the more fakes there are, the more page owners have to pay to reach real people.
   Over a decade ago, I know that it cost a small business a decent chunk of money to get an independent audit (from memory, we were looking at around NZ$6,000). Facebook doesn’t have this excuse, and that tells me it doesn’t want you to know how its ads actually perform.
   As I said many times: if a regular person like me can find a maximum of 277 fakes or bots in a single night, then how many are there? I’m surprised that not more of the mainstream media are talking about this, given that in 2018 Facebook posted an income of US$22,100 million on US$55,800 million of revenue, 98·5 per cent of which came from advertising. Is this one of the biggest cons out there? Here’s hoping the lawsuit will reveal something. Few seem to care about Facebook’s lies and erosion of their privacy, but maybe they might start caring when they realize they’ve been fleeced.

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Posted in business, internet, marketing, technology, USA | 2 Comments »


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 | 1 Comment »


Who is changing Facebook links to affiliate ones?

14.09.2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted in business, internet, publishing, technology, USA | No Comments »


Has Google My Business ever given you business?

22.08.2019

I had a call from a nice gentleman working for Google called Shabhaz today. No, he wasn’t about to tell me that I wasn’t on the ‘first page of Google’: he worked for Google My Business, where they want to verify businesses and suck them into the ecosystem, complete with dashboard and social features.
   I’ve always ignored the postcards that come and the one time my curiosity was piqued, the blasted site didn’t work anyway. I can’t remember the specifics now, but I recall my usual reaction: ‘What Google says and what Google does are entirely different things.’ You come to expect it from US Big Tech.
   I suppose if you ignore it for enough years, the Big G phones you.
   I proceeded to tell Shabhaz all the reasons I hated (actually, that’s not strong enough a word) his firm, but kept repeating, ‘I’m not angry at you, only at your employer.’ And words to the effect of, ‘A man has to make a living, so I don’t have a problem that you work for them, but this is a firm with highly dubious ethics.’
   He did say, ‘If I had that experience, I’d hate them, too,’ and I had to correct him and expand on the stories: ‘It’s not just about my experience—it’s all the things Google does that violate our privacy, not just mine, but everyone’s.’
   Nevertheless, you can’t stay angry at a guy who has had nothing to do with his bosses’ incompetence, greed, avarice and tax avoidance, and is only trying to collect a pay cheque, so I agreed to help him out.
   Of course, it didn’t work as planned, as updating the address leads to this:

   The house has only been there since 1972, and Google Earth has it, but then we all know that Google Earth operates in some kind of parallel universe—parallel to even Google My Business, it seems. One day, I suspect Google will catch up with houses built in the 1970s.
   But seriously, with three businesses all linked to my email address (Heaven knows how) I wonder if anyone has ever got any business through Google My Business.
   I’ve been on Linkedin longer than most people I know and I’ve never received any work enquiries from it.
   And I’ve yet to have anyone tell me that they found my business through Google, so I’m tempted to delete the listings for Jack Yan & Associates and Lucire from the My Business dashboard.
   The thing is, I don’t want to read your reviews about my businesses on Google. I don’t want to risk getting piled on by unethical actors, which totally can happen in this day and age. If you want to reach us, there’s a good contact form with all the addresses on our sites.
   So what’s the prognosis out there? Since I actually don’t use the site except as a last resort, and have little desire to, your experience far outweighs mine.

On a related note, this also made me wonder about competence.

   I’ve never given my permission to be in the Yellow Pages. And the fact that Lucire does screen printing is news to me. Who makes up this bullshit and tries to pass it off as authoritative?
   A Tweet to them is so far unanswered, so I may get in touch with them to have this listing removed. This one I can answer: since I’ve never been in the Yellow Pages, I can say, hand on heart, that I’ve never had any business from them. By the looks of it, they’ll never send me anything relevant anyway.

In summary, today’s thought about Google:

PS.: Yellow has deleted our entry (done within hours of my complaint).

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Posted in business, internet, New Zealand, Wellington | 2 Comments »


More Facebook lies in its ad preferences’ manager?

21.04.2019

As I’ve often said, it’s wise to keep an eye on your Facebook ad preferences’ page. Even if you’ve opted out of Facebook targeting, Facebook will still keep compiling information on you. I see no other purpose for this other than to target you with advertising, contrary to what you expect.
   Facebook also tells you which companies have uploaded their marketing lists to them, and this has been very interesting reading. A load of US politicians whom I have never heard of somehow have this information, and today’s crop is no different.

   I’ve written to Old Mout Cider, which I was surprised to find is part of the Dutch conglomerate Heineken NV, and await an answer, but the biggie here has to be Über.
   Many years ago, I tried the app but could never get it to work. Neither could my partner. Then we started hearing from Susan Fowler and Pando Daily, and that helped confirm that we would never support the company.
   Basically, Über would never let me log in, saying I had exhausted my password attempts after the grand total of one, despite sending a password reset link. My partner could log in but we could never figure anything out beyond that (it had credit card details she had never entered and said we lived next door).
   Concerned about this, I went to Über’s website to request deletion of my personal details, but this was the screen I got.

   Now, either Big Tech One is lying or Big Tech Two is lying.
   To its credit, Über New Zealand responded very quickly on Twitter (on Good Friday, no less) and said it would look into it. Within minutes it was able to confirm that I do not have an account there (presumably it was deleted with a lack of use, or maybe I went and did it back when they wouldn’t let me log in?) and my email address doesn’t appear anywhere.
   Therefore, we can likely again conclude that Facebook lies and we have to bring into question its advertising preferences’ management page.
   We already know Facebook has lied to advertisers about the number of people it can reach (namely that it exceeds the number of people alive in certain demographics), that there is a discrepancy between what it reports in the preferences and what a full download of personal data reveals, so I have to wonder what the deception is here.
   Is it allowing these advertisers to reach us even when (as Über claims) they have no information on us? (Heineken’s response will seal the deal when they get back to me after Easter.) In that case, it will be very hard for Facebook to argue that we have given them consent to do this.
   Heineken, incidentally, is a major advertiser on Instagram, as I see their advertisements even after opting out of all alcohol advertising on the Facebook ad preferences’ page (as instructed by Instagram). When we establish contact next week, I will be more than happy to tell them this. Who knows? While I doubt they will cease advertising on the platforms on my say-so, sometimes you have to plant the seed so that they are aware their ads are not being filtered out from those people who do not want to see booze promoted in their feeds.

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Posted in branding, business, culture, internet, marketing, media, New Zealand, technology, USA | No Comments »


More reminders that Google lies

21.02.2019


Nest/Creative Commons

We’ve been here countless times before since last decade. Funny how many of these “errors” Google has, and funny how they only admit to these “errors” after they get busted. How many more “errors” are there?

The link that Grady features is here.
   Just how many times do I need to remind people that this is “business as usual” for Google?
   If I lied to you this often, and spied on you through different gadgets, wouldn’t you stop trusting me? So why trust Google?

Hat tip to Vincent Wright.

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Posted in internet, technology, USA | 1 Comment »


The descent of Twitter

22.09.2018


Dawn Huczek/Creative Commons 2·0

This Tweet was probably half in jest:

   Then, within days, it played out pretty much exactly like this when Frank Oz Tweeted that he did not conceive of Bert and Ernie as gay. Or how Wil Wheaton can never seem to escape false accusations that he is anti-trans or anti-LGBQ, to the point where he left Mastodon. In his words (the link is mine):

I see this in the online space all the time now: mobs of people, acting in bad faith, can make people they don’t know and will likely never meet miserable, or even try to ruin their lives and careers (look at what they did to James Gunn). And those mobs’ bad behaviors are continually rewarded, because it’s honestly easier to just give them what they want. We are ceding the social space to bad people, because they have the most time, the least morals and ethics, and are skilled at relentlessly attacking and harassing their targets. It only takes few seconds for one person to type “fuck off” and hit send. That person probably doesn’t care and doesn’t think about how their one grain of sand quickly becomes a dune, with another person buried beneath it.

   It highlights just how far ahead of the game Stephen Fry was when he abandoned Twitter for a time in 2016:

Oh goodness, what fun twitter was in the early days, a secret bathing-pool in a magical glade in an enchanted forest … But now the pool is stagnant …
   To leave that metaphor, let us grieve at what twitter has become. A stalking ground for the sanctimoniously self-righteous who love to second-guess, to leap to conclusions and be offended – worse, to be offended on behalf of others they do not even know … It makes sensible people want to take an absolutely opposite point of view.

   Not that long ago I was blocked by a claimed anti-Zionist Tweeter who exhibited these very traits, and I had to wonder whether he was a troll who was on Twitter precisely to stir hatred of Palestinians. With bots and fake accounts all over social media (I now report dozens of bots daily on Instagram, which usually responds with about five messages a day saying they had done something, leaving thousands going back years untouched), you have to wonder.
   Years ago, too, a Facebook post I made about someone in Auckland adopting an American retail phrase (I forget what it was, as I don’t use it, but it was ‘Black’ with a weekday appended to it) had the daughter of two friends who own a well known fashion label immediately jump to ‘Why are you so against New Zealand retailers?’ I was “unfriended” (shock, horror) over this, but because I’m not Wil Wheaton, this didn’t get to the Retailers’ Association mobilizing all its members to have me kicked off Facebook. It’s a leap to say that a concern about the creeping use of US English means I hate retailers, and all but the most up-tight would have understood the context.
   This indignant and often false offence that people take either shows that they have no desire to engage and learn something, and that they are in reality pretty nasty, or that they have one personality in real life and another on social media, the latter being the one where the dark side gets released. Reminds me of a churchgoer I know: nice for a period on Sundays to his fellow parishioners but hating humanity the rest of the decade.
   Some decent people I know on Twitter say they are staying, because to depart would let the bastards win, and I admire that in them. For now, Mastodon is a friendly place for me to be, even if I’m now somewhat wary after the way Wheaton was treated, but the way social media, in general, are is hardly pleasing. Those of us who were on the web early had an ideal in mind, of a more united, knowledgeable planet. We saw email become crappier because of spammers, YouTube become crappier because of commenters (and Google ownership), and Wikipedia become crappier because it has been gamed at its highest levels, so it seems it’s inevitable, given the record of the human race, that social media would also descend with the same pattern. Like in General Election voting, too many are self-interested, and will act against their own interests, limiting any chance they might have for growth in a fairer society. To borrow Stephen’s analogy, we can only enjoy the swimming pool if we don’t all pee in it.

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Posted in business, culture, internet, New Zealand, politics, technology, UK, USA | 3 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 | 6 Comments »


Facebook overestimates and underestimates reach depending on the story it wants to tell

04.03.2018

Funny, isn’t it? Last year, Facebook was busted for claiming that in some demographics, their ads could reach more people than there were people. When it comes to the US’s Russia probe, they claim their ads reached far, far fewer people: they initially claimed they reached 10 million, but Jonathan Albright, a researcher at Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism, found that they had in fact reached hundreds of millions.
   Facebook: fudging since 2004.

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


Another program rendered incompatible with Windows 10’s fall Creators update

26.01.2018

It’s fast becoming apparent that Windows 10’s fall Creators update is a lemon, just like the original Windows 10.
   As those of you who have followed my posts know, my PC began BSODing multiple times daily, on average. There were brief interludes (it went for three days without a BSOD once, and yesterday it only BSODed once) but these (now) anomalies don’t really diminish my ‘three to six per day’ claim I made earlier by much.
   And it’s all to do with drivers. I won’t repeat earlier posts but the result was that drivers that came with Mozy, McAfee, Malwarebytes and Oracle Virtualbox caused these. In Mozy’s case, it was an old one. Same with McAfee, the remnants of a program that even their removal tool could not take out. Malwarebytes didn’t even show up in the installed programs’ list, and required another program. In Virtualbox’s case, there were both old and new drivers. They all had to be removed, in most cases manually, because removal procedures don’t seem to take them out. This is a failing, I believe.
   But with all these drivers gone, I still had a BSOD this morning. Four before lunch. The culprit this time was a CLVirtualDrive.sys driver that came with Cyberlink Power2Go, which came bundled when I replaced by DVD burner last year.
   And Cyberlink knows something is wrong with this driver. On December 13, two days after I began getting BSODs, it issued a patch for its latest version. Of course, it leaves those of us with older versions in the lurch, and I was surprised to find that the one it had issued for mine (years old) wouldn’t even run because I was on a bundled OEM edition.
   I’m crying foul. If your program is causing BSODs, then I feel it’s your responsibility to help us out. It shouldn’t matter if it’s a trial version, because this is a window into your business. This signals that Cyberlink doesn’t really want to offer a simple download to prevent users from losing hours each day to fixing their computers, even when they’re partly to blame for the problems.
   Let me say this publicly now: if any of our fonts cause system crashes like this, contact me and I will provide you with fresh copies with which you can upgrade your computer.
   I’m removing Power2Go as I write. It’s superfluous anyway: I only use it because it came as part of the bundle. Windows’ default burning works well enough for me.
   But there’s one thing that Cyberlink’s pages have confirmed: the fall Creators update has problems and it seems to me that it is incompatible with many earlier Windows drivers. We can lay a lot of these problems at Microsoft’s feet. Indeed, based on my experience, you could go far as to say that Windows 10 is now incompatible with many Windows programs.
   That’s all well and good if you have a new computer and the latest software, but what of those of us with older ones who will, invariably, have older drivers or upgraded from older systems?
   Are we now reaching an era where computing is divided between the haves and have-nots? It’s not as though decent new computers at the shops have got any cheaper of late.

Next part: click here.

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Posted in technology, USA | 2 Comments »