Posts tagged ‘internet’


Social media mean less and less

16.09.2018


Above: I must report and block dozens of Instagram accounts a day, not unlike getting over the 200-a-day mark on Facebook in 2014.

For the last few days, I made my Twitter private. It was the only time in 11 years of being on the service where I felt I needed that level of privacy; I only made things public again when I realized that I couldn’t actually contact people who weren’t already following me.
   However, it was relatively blissful. Accounts with automated following scripts were blocked as I had to approve them manually. I had far fewer notifications. And I only heard directly back from people I liked.
   It actually reminded me of the “old days”. It’s why Mastodon appeals: since there were only a million people on there at the end of last year, it felt like Twitter of old (even if it has already descended far enough for actor Wil Wheaton to get abused, compelling him to leave).
   The quieter few days also got me thinking: I had far more business success prior to social media. I was blogging at Beyond Branding, and that was a pretty good outlet. I emailed friends and corresponded like pen pals. Those weren’t fleeting friendships where the other party could just “like” what you said. If I really think about it, social media have done very little in terms of my business.
   I’m not saying that social media don’t have a purpose—a viral Tweet that might get quoted in the press could be useful, I suppose—but I really didn’t need them to be happy in my work and my everyday life.
   Since giving up updating my Facebook wall in 2017, I haven’t missed telling everyone about what I’m up to, because I figured that the people who needed to know would know. Twitter remained a useful outlet because there are some people on there whose interactions I truly value, but as you can surmise from what I said above, the number of notifications didn’t matter to me. I don’t need the same dopamine hit that others do when someone likes or re-Tweets something of theirs.
   Interestingly, during this time, I logged into Whatsapp, an app I load once every three months or so since I have a few friends on it. I saw a video sent to me by Stefan Engeseth:

   When I look at my Instagram stats, they’re back to around 2015 levels, and with these current trends, my usage will drop even further as we head into 2019.
   And I really don’t mind. The video shows just why social media aren’t what they’re cracked up to be, and why they aren’t ultimately healthy for us.
   I can add the following, that many of you who read this blog know: Facebook is full of bots, with false claims about their audience, and engages in actual distribution of questionable invasive software, charges I’ve levelled at the company for many years, long before the world even heard of Christopher Wylie. Twitter is also full of bots but actually disapproves of services that help them identify them; they have double standards when it comes to what you can and can’t say; and, perhaps most sadly, those people who have viewpoints that are contrary to the mainstream or the majority are shat on by disorganized gangs of Tweeters. That’s not liberty. Instagram is also full of bots—like when I was on Facebook, when I reported dozens to hundreds of bots a day—and there seems to be no end to them; it also lies when it talks about how its advertising works. Given all of these problems, why would I provide these services with my precious time?
   I engage with these social media in more and more limited fashion and I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m completely away from these big tech names in due course.
   It’s not as though young people are active on them, so the idea that they are services where you can get the next generation of customers is bogus. If you say you’re on Facebook, you might be considered an old-timer now. I asked a Year 11 student here on work experience what he used. Facebook wasn’t one of them. He said most of his friends Snapchatted, while he was in to Reddit. He didn’t like Facebook because it wasn’t real, and we have a generation who can spot the BS and the conceit behind it.
   It does make the need for services such as Duck Duck Go even greater, for us to get unbiased information not filtered by Google’s love of big corporations, in its quest to rid the web of its once meritorious nature. Google is all about being evil.
   As we near the 2020s, a decade which we hope will be more caring and just than the ones before, it’s my hope that we can restore merit to the system and that we find more ethical alternatives to the big names. I can’t see as great a need to show off fake lives on social media when it’s much more gratifying, for me at least, to return to what I did at the beginning of the century and let the work speak for itself.

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Posted in culture, internet, media, New Zealand, Sweden, technology, USA | 1 Comment »


Musk apologies to Unsworth, only because teacher told him to

18.07.2018

Via Adeline Chua: I see Elon Musk has apologized to Vernon Unsworth. But it smacks of the apology a child would give after being compelled by his teacher to do so.

   Translation: ‘I wouldn’t have said anything if the Vern didn’t push me. It’s all Vern’s fault.’ Or, ‘Vern made me do it.’
   I stand by my earlier blog post.
   I also take issue that there were mistruths, having watched the interview. As far as I could tell, Unsworth gave his opinion: I never took his statements for anything but that. And he drew a conclusion—that it was all a publicity stunt—that he wasn’t alone in drawing. Musk seems very easily offended by an opinion.
   Even if Musk was sincere, and there is no denying that he devoted resources to his rescue submarine idea, how the whole thing played out did feel like a publicity stunt. It wouldn’t hurt to review just how that perception went out, and how communications could have been better.
   If he hadn’t burned the bridge with Unsworth, maybe he could have had one extra person to ask.
   I find it hard to believe that a South African, someone who described himself as an alpha male once, would actually consider ‘can stick his submarine where it hurts’ to be an actual suggestion he commit a sexual act rather than an insult.
   If we really want to pick hairs on mistruths, Musk inferred that Unsworth wasn’t even there because he didn’t see him. That was exactly what he wanted people to think.
   I admire Musk for a lot of what he has accomplished, and Lucire was an early supporter of Tesla, but this week’s news has prompted me, and others, to look back at how he has conducted himself.
   It’s the record of a privileged man who hasn’t endeared himself to others, as this blogger notes. One might add this link, about a Twitter-based cult that will attack those who go after him (especially if you’re a woman, it seems).
   Just another day on the playground we call Twitter, then.

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Posted in business, culture, internet, leadership, USA | No Comments »


The end of US ’net neutrality: another step toward the corporate internet

11.06.2018

That’s it for ’net neutrality in the US. The FCC has changed the rules, so their ISPs can throttle certain sites’ traffic. They can conceivably charge more for Americans visiting certain websites, too. It’s not a most pessimistic scenario: ISPs have attempted this behaviour before.
   It’s another step in the corporations controlling the internet there. We already have Google biasing itself toward corporate players when it comes to news: never mind that you’re a plucky independent who broke the story, Google News will send that traffic to corporate media.
   The changes in the US will allow ISPs to act like cable providers. I reckon it could give them licence to monitor Americans’ traffic as well, including websites that they mightn’t want others to know they’re watching.
   As Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the web, puts it: ‘We’re talking about it being just a human right that my ability to communicate with people on the web, to go to websites I want without being spied on is really, really crucial.’
   Of course I have a vested interest in a fair and open internet. But everyone should. Without ’net neutrality, innovators will find it harder to get their creations into the public eye. Small businesses, in particular, will be hurt, because we can’t pay to be in the “fast lane” that ISPs will inevitably create for their favoured corporate partners. In the States, minority and rural communities will likely be hurt.
   And while some might delight that certain websites pushing political viewpoints at odds with their own could be throttled, they also have to remember that this can happen to websites that share their own views. If it’s an independent site, it’s likely that it will face limits.
   The companies that can afford to be in that “fast lane” have benefited from ’net neutrality themselves, but are now pulling the ladder up so others can’t climb it.
   It’s worth remembering that 80 per cent of Americans support ’net neutrality—they are, like us, a largely fair-minded people. However, the FCC is comprised of unelected officials. Their “representatives” in the House and Senate are unlikely, according to articles I’ve read, to support their citizens’ will.
   Here’s more on the subject, at Vox.
   Since China censors its internet, we now have two of the biggest countries online giving their residents a limited form of access to online resources.
   However, China might censor based on politics but its “Great Wall” won’t be as quick to block new websites that do some good in the world. Who knew? China might be better for small businesses trying to get a leg up than the United States.
   This means that real innovation, creations that can gain some prominence online, could take place outside the US where, hopefully, we won’t be subjected to similar corporate agenda. (Nevertheless, our own history, where left and right backed the controversial s. 92A of the Copyright Act, suggests our lawmakers can be malleable when money talks.)
   These innovations mightn’t catch the public’s imagination in quite the same way—the US has historically been important for getting them out there. Today, it got harder for those wonderful start-ups that I got to know over the years. Mix that with the US’s determination to put up trade barriers based on false beliefs about trade balances, we’re in for a less progressive (and I mean that in the vernacular, and not the political sense) ride. “The rest of the world” needs to pull together in this new reality and ensure their subjects still have a fair crack at doing well, breaking through certain parties’ desire to stunt human progress.
   Let Sir Tim have the last word, as he makes the case far more succinctly than I did above: ‘When I invented the web, I didn’t have to ask anyone for permission, and neither did America’s successful internet entrepreneurs when they started their businesses. To reach its full potential, the internet must remain a permissionless space for creativity, innovation and free expression. In today’s world, companies can’t operate without internet, and access to it is controlled by just a few providers. The FCC’s announcements today [in April 2017] suggest they want to step back and allow concentrated market players to pick winners and losers online. Their talk is all about getting more people connected, but what is the point if your ISP only lets you watch the movies they choose, just like the old days of cable?’

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Posted in business, China, internet, New Zealand, politics, publishing, technology, USA | No Comments »


People are waking up to Wikipedia’s abuses

25.05.2018


Tristan Schmurr/Creative Commons

Welcome to another of my “I told you they were dodgy” posts. This time, it’s not about Facebook or Google (which, finally, are receiving the coverage that should have been metered out years ago), but Wikipedia.
   The latest is on a Wikipedia editor called ‘Philip Cross’, a story which Craig Murray has been following on his blog.
   Start with this one, where Murray notes that Cross has not had a single day off from editing Wikipedia between August 29, 2013 and May 14, 2018, including Christmas Days.
   And this one.
   Both note that Cross edits Wikipedia entries on antiwar and antiestablishment figures, making them more negative and stripping away the positive, and concerns raised by other Wikipedia editors amount to naught. Cross is known to be against the UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, and has devoted a lot of time to George Galloway’s page. However, he likes right-wing Times columnists Oliver Kamm and Melanie Phillips.
   Matt Kennard Tweeted on May 12:

while on May 21, Twitter user Leftworks said:

In other words, suggesting that someone play by the rules on Wikipedia will get you threatened with a ban from Wikipedia.
   Now you get the idea, you can check out Murray’s subsequent blog posts on the subject:

https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2018/05/emma-barnett-a-classic-philip-cross-wikipedia-operation/
https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2018/05/the-philip-cross-msm-promotion-operation-part-3/
https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2018/05/philip-cross-madness-part-iv/

   Whether you believe Philip Cross is one person or not, it highlights what I’ve said on this blog and formerly on Vox in the 2000s: that certain editors can scam their way to the top and not be questioned. I know first-hand that publicly criticizing Wikipedia could get me hate mail, as had happened last decade when I was subjected to days of email abuse from one senior editor based in Canada. That time I merely linked to a piece which talked about the dangers of Wikipedia and how some editors had scammed it—all that editor unwittingly did with her emails was confirm that position (no one says that all scammers are smart) and since then, observing Wikipedia has cemented it. Interestingly, both the Wikimedia Foundation and Wikipedia’s remaining co-founder Jimmy Wales are quick to defend Cross, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that “he” is biased.
   Facebook’s idea of using Wikipedia to combat “fake news” is about as moronic a decision one can make.
   Now that there are voices adding to my own, and on far more serious matters than non-existent cars, I can only hope people will, at the least, treat Wikipedia with caution. If you choose to stop donating to them, I wouldn’t blame you.

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


Zuckerberg was either wilfully ignorant or lied during his testimony about ad data collection

17.04.2018

Either Mark Zuckerberg is woefully ignorant of what happens at his company or he lied during his testimony to US lawmakers last week.
   As reported by Chris Griffith in the Murdoch Press, Zuckerberg said, ‘Anyone can turn off and opt out of any data collection for ads, whether they use our services or not.’
   Actually, you can’t. As proven many times on this blog.
   If you’d like to read that earlier post, here it is.
   This is still going on in 2018, and confirmed by others.
   I can’t speak for shadow profiles because I am a Facebook user.
   Summary: Facebook will ignore opt-outs done on its own site and at industry sites, and compile ad preferences on you. Been saying it, and proving it, for years.

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


It’s as though Statistics New Zealand set up this year’s census to fail

04.03.2018

You have to wonder if the online census this year has been intentionally bad so that the powers that be can call it a flop and use it as an excuse to delay online voting, thereby disenfranchising younger voters.
   It’s the Sunday before the census and I await my access code: none was delivered, and I have three addresses at which this could be received (two entries to one dwelling, and a PO box). If it’s not at any of these, then that’s pretty poor. I have been giving them a chance on the expectation it would arrive, but now this is highly unlikely.
   And when you go to the website, they claim my browser’s incompatible. I disagree, since I’m within the parameters they state.

   This screen shot was taken after I filled out a request for the access code yesterday. Statistics NZ tells me the code will now take a week to arrive, four days after census night. Frankly, that’s not good enough.
   While I’ve seen some TV commercials for the census, I’ve seen no online advertising for it, and nothing in social media. My other half has seen no TVCs for it.
   Going up to the census people at the Newtown Fair today, I was handed a card with their telephone number and asked to call them tomorrow.
   You’d think they’d have people there at the weekend when we’re thinking about these things. Let’s hope I remember tomorrow.
   And I’m someone who cares about my civic duty here. What about all those who don’t? Are we going to see a record population drop?
   I’m not alone in this.

   They’ll be very busy, as Sarah Bickerton Tweeted earlier today (the replies are worth checking out):

and there are a lot of people among her circles, myself included, who don’t have the access code. Kat’s story is particularly interesting (edited for brevity):

   Online systems are robust and can be successful.
   It’s just that they need to be backed up by people with a will to make things succeed, not people who are so intent on making them fail.

PS.: Jonathan Mosen’s experience with this census as a blind person makes my issues seem insignificant. Fortunately, for him, Statistics New Zealand came to the party.—JY

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Posted in internet, marketing, New Zealand, politics, technology | No Comments »


After 10 years, it’s time to reduce Facebook sharing even more

11.12.2017


Wallula, shared via Creative Commons

The following status update was posted on my Facebook wall to some of my friends earlier tonight, though of course the links have been added here.

I realize there’s some irony in posting this on Facebook.
   Some of you will have noticed that I haven’t been updating as frequently. That’s in line with global trends: personal sharing was down 25 per cent year on year between 2015 and 2016, and 29 per cent between 2016 and 2017. After 10 years on Facebook, sometimes I feel I’ve shared enough.
   Even on my own blog, I haven’t done as much in-depth on branding, because my theories and beliefs haven’t markedly changed.
   None of ours do too much. I may have changed a handful of minds through discussions I’ve had here, and on occasion you’ve changed my mind. I’ve seen how some of you have terrible arguments, and how brilliant others are. But overall, has the past decade of exchanges really been worth that much? Some of you here are on the left of politics, and some of you on the right. I hope through dialogue you all wound up with a mutual understanding of one another. I have seen some of you come to a very healthy respect on this wall, and that was worth it. But I wonder if it is my job to be “hosting debates”. Those debates simply serve to underline that all my friends are decent people, and I’ve made good choices over the last decade on who gets to read this wall in full. None of it has changed what I thought of you, unless in those very rare examples you’ve shown yourself to be totally incapable of rational thought (and you’ve probably left in a huff anyway). It shows I’m open-minded enough to have friends from all over the world of all political persuasions, faiths, beliefs, sexual orientations, gender identities, educational levels, and socioeconomic grouping, because none of that ultimately says whether you are a decent human being or not. At the end of the day, that is the only real measure.
   If you’re reading this, then we know each other personally, and you know where this is heading. You’ll find me increasingly more at Mastodon, Hubzilla, Blogcozy, Instagram (I know, it’s owned by Facebook) and my own blog. We don’t exactly need this forum to be messaging and debating. I will continue to frequent some groups and look after some pages, including my public page here on Facebook.
   And of course I’ll continue writing, but not on a site that feeds malware to people (Facebook has bragged about this officially), tracks your preferences after opting out, tolerates sexual harassment, keeps kiddie porn and pornography online even after reports are filed, and has an absolutely appalling record of removing bots and spammers. These are all a matter of record.
   If I mess up, I trust you, as my friends, to contact me through other means and to tell me I’ve been a dick. If you agree or disagree with viewpoints, there are blog comments or other means of voicing that, or, as some of you have done on Facebook (because you, too, have probably realized the futility of engaging in comments), you can send me a message. Heck, you could even pick up the phone. And if you want to congratulate me, well, that should be easy.
   Of course it’s not a complete farewell. As long as this account stays open—and Facebook won’t let you manage pages without one—then the odd update will still wind up on this wall. I may feel strongly enough about something that it demands sharing. But, 10 years later, there are better places to be having conversations, especially as social media democratizes and users demand that they have control over their identities and how to use them.

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Posted in culture, internet, technology, USA | 3 Comments »


Saving the internet from itself—Sir Tim Berners-Lee sees the same dangers

18.11.2017


Above: The Intercept is well respected, yet Google cozying up to corporate media meant its traffic has suffered, according to Alternet.

There’s a select group of countries where media outlets are losing traffic, all because Facebook is experimenting with moving all news items out of the news feed and on to a separate page.
   Facebook knows that personal sharing is down 25 and 29 per cent year-on-year for the last two years, and wants to encourage people to stay by highlighting the personal updates. (It probably helped back in the day when everything you entered into Facebook had to begin with your name, followed by ‘is’.) In Slovakia, Serbia, Sri Lanka and three other countries, media have reported a 60 to 80 per cent fall in user engagement via Facebook, leading to a drop in traffic.
   We’ve never been big on Facebook as a commercial tool for our publications, and if this is the way of the future, then it’s just as well that our traffic hasn’t been reliant on them.
   A 60–80 per cent drop in engagement is nothing: earlier this decade, we saw a 90 per cent drop in reach with Lucire’s Facebook page. One day we were doing thousands, the next day we were doing hundreds. It never got back up to that level unless we had something go viral (which, thankfully, happens often enough for us to keep posting).
   Facebook purposely broke the algorithm for pages because page owners would then be forced to pay for shares, and as Facebook is full of fake accounts, many of whom go liking pages, then the more you pay, the less real engagement your page is going to get.
   We felt that if a company could be this dishonest, it really wasn’t worth putting money into it.
   It’s a dangerous platform for any publisher to depend on, and I’m feeling like we made the right decision.
   Also, we had a Facebook group for Lucire long before Facebook pages were invented, and as any of you know, when the latter emerged there was hardly any difference between the two. We felt it highly disloyal to ask our group members to decamp to a page, so we didn’t. Eventually we ceased updating the group.
   We all know that sites like Facebook have propagated “fake news”, including fictional news items designed as click-bait conceived by people who have no interest in, say, the outcome of the US presidential election. Macedonian teenagers created headlines to dupe Trump supporters, with one claiming that his friend can earn thousands per month from them when they click through to his website, full of Google Doubleclick ads.
   The Guardian reports that paid items haven’t suffered the drop, which tells me that if you’re in the fake-news business, you could do quite well from Facebook in certain places. In fact, we know in 2016 they were paying Facebook for ads.
   Conversely, if you are credible media, then maybe you really shouldn’t be seen on that platform if you want to protect your brand.
   Facebook says it has no plans to roll out the “split feed” globally, but then Facebook says a lot of things, while it does the exact opposite.
   Both Facebook and Google claim they are shutting down these accounts, but I know from first-hand experience that Facebook is lousy at identifying fakes, even when they have been reported by people like me and Holly Jahangiri. Each of us can probably find you a dozen fakes in about two minutes, fakes that we’ve reported to Facebook and which they have done nothing about. I’ve already said that in one night in 2014, I found 277 fake accounts—and that wasn’t an outlier. I suspect Facebook has similar problems identifying fake-news fan pages.
   Everyday people are losing out: independent media are suffering—except for the golden opportunity Facebook has presented the fake-news business.

This leads me on to Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s latest, where he is no longer as optimistic about his invention, the World Wide Web.
   ‘I’m still an optimist, but an optimist standing at the top of the hill with a nasty storm blowing in my face, hanging on to a fence,’ he told The Guardian.
   The newspaper notes, ‘The spread of misinformation and propaganda online has exploded partly because of the way the advertising systems of large digital platforms such as Google or Facebook have been designed to hold people’s attention.’
   Sir Tim continued, ‘The system is failing. The way ad revenue works with clickbait is not fulfilling the goal of helping humanity promote truth and democracy. So I am concerned.’
   He’s also concerned with the US government’s moves to roll back ’net neutrality, which means big companies will have a greater say online and independent, diverse voices won’t. The ISPs will throttle websites that they don’t like, and we know this is going to favour the big players: AT&T already blocked Skype on the Iphone so it could make more money from phone calls.
   We’ve seen Google’s ad code manipulated first-hand where malware was served, leading to Google making false accusations against us and hurting our publications’ traffic for over a year afterwards.
   The ad industry is finding ways to combat this problem, but with Google the biggest player in this space, can we trust them?
   We also know that Google has been siding with corporate media for years—and to heck with the independent media who may have either broken the news or created something far more in-depth. I’ve seen this first-hand, where something like Stuff is favoured over us. That wasn’t the case at Google, say, six or seven years ago: if you have merit, they’ll send the traffic your way.
   Again, this doesn’t benefit everyday people if low-quality sites—even one-person blogs—have been permitted into Google News.
   Google claims it is fighting “fake news”, but it seems like it’s an excuse to shut down more independent media in favour of the corporates.

We spotted this a long time ago, but it’s finally hit Alternet, which some of my friends read. If your politics aren’t in line with theirs, then you might think this was a good thing. ‘Good on Google to shut down the fake news,’ you might say. However, it’s just as likely to shut down a site that does support your politics, for exactly the same reasons.
   I’m not going to make a judgement about Alternet’s validity here, but I will quote Don Hazen, Alternet’s executive editor: ‘We were getting slammed by Google’s new algorithm intended to fight “fake news.” We were losing millions of monthly visitors, and so was much of the progressive news media. Lost readership goes directly to the bottom line.’
   Millions. Now, we aren’t in the million-per-month club ourselves, but you’d think that if you were netting yourselves that many readers, you must have some credibility.
   Hazen notes that The Nation, Media Matters, The Intercept, and Salon—all respected media names—have been caught.
   Finally, someone at a much bigger website than the ones we run has written, ‘The more we dig, the more we learn about Google’s cozy relationship with corporate media and traditional forms of journalism. It appears that Google has pushed popular, high-traffic progressive websites to the margins and embraced corporate media, a move that seriously questions its fairness. Some speculate Google is trying to protect itself from critics of fake news at the expense of the valid independent outlets.’
   It’s not news, since we’ve had this happen to us for years, but it shows that Google is expanding its programme more and more, and some big names are being dragged down. I may feel vindicated on not relying on Facebook, but the fact is Google is a gatekeeper for our publication, and it’s in our interests to see it serve news fairly. Right now, it doesn’t.
   The danger is we are going to have an internet where corporate and fake-news agenda, both driven by profit, prevail.
   And that’s a big, big reason for us, as netizens, to be finding solutions to step away from large, Silicon Valley websites that yield far too much power. We might also support those government agencies who are investigating them and their use of our private information. And we should support those websites that are mapping news or offer an alternative search engine.
   As to social networking, we’ve long passed peak Facebook, and one friend suggests that since everything democratizes, maybe social networking sites will, too? In line with Doc Searls’s thoughts, we might be the ones who have a say on how our private information is to be used.
   There are opportunities out there for ethical players whose brands need a real nudge from us when they’re ready for prime-time. Medinge Group has been saying this since the turn of the century: that consumers will want to frequent businesses that have ethical principles, in part to reflect their own values. Millennials, we think, will particularly demand this. An advertising system that’s better than Google’s, a search engine that deals with news in a meritorious fashion, and social networking that’s better than Facebook’s, all driven by merit and quality, would be a massive draw for me right now—and they could even save the internet from itself.

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Posted in branding, culture, internet, media, New Zealand, politics, social responsibility, technology, USA | 3 Comments »


The hunt for reliable news is harder today

03.10.2017


Above: A reputable Las Vegas newspaper, the Las Vegas Review–Journal.

I’m not going to weigh in on the debate surrounding the US Second Amendment today, but what I will say is whether we like their politicians or not, the victims in Las Vegas didn’t deserve their fates. My thoughts and prayers go to them and their families.
   One related observation from a very good friend was that one local (albeit foreign-owned) media outlet was running live web coverage of the shooting, and questioned whether this was of any real interest to New Zealanders. It could be, to use her words, ‘disaster voyeurism.’
   I have to agree. If you were concerned for a loved one who was there, you’re more likely on Las Vegas, Nevada, or US national news media, and not a local one.
   There is some public interest in it, of course. This is a country we have a connection with, but arguably not to this extent.
   Now, I don’t totally begrudge a publisher trying to make money from breaking news, either, since we all have to eat, but in chatting to my friend I had to look at what was enabling this to happen.
   I’m not one to knock having a global market-place, either, as I’ve benefited from it. And there is a global market-place for news. However, it does seem out of kilter that a locally targeted website covers international news to this minute detail. It’s not like those media outlets that aimed to be global despite having a local or national base (the British tabloids come to mind, such as the Mail and The Guardian), where you could rightly expect that.
   It’s hard to avoid that this is a cynical grab for clicks, and I point my finger at Google News.
   I might have de-Googled a lot of my life, but I always maintained that I would keep using Google News, as it’s a service I find some utility from. But a while back, Google News changed its focus. Rather than reward the outlet that broke a news item, it tended to take people to mainstream media outlets. We used to get rewarded for breaking stories. Now the mainstream media do. There’s less incentive for independent media to do so because we’re not being rewarded meritoriously. As Spanish publishers discovered, Google News sends you traffic, and it gets to decide whom is to be rewarded. When Google News shut its Spanish service, traffic to small publishers fell: it was independents that suffered the most.
   Therefore, if we had the old algorithm, those searching today for news of the Las Vegas shooting would see the outlet(s) that broke the news first leading their searches, and other media would follow. That would be in line with the Google I liked during the first decade of this century. It, too, was once a plucky upstart and for years it rewarded other plucky upstarts.
   From my experience having broken stories that other publishers eventually do, searches now take you to mainstream outlets, and, if Google’s “bubbling” of its regular search results is any indication, they take you to mainstream outlets in your own country, or those that you (and others like you, because it has the data on this) have traditionally favoured.
   Proponents might argue that that is a good thing: the local outlet might express things in more familiar language or the layout might be more comforting, but I question whether that helps people discover fresh perspectives. It certainly doesn’t get you the best news if it’s not the best source, the ones that were responsible for the first reports.
   It encourages a blatant grab for clicks for international outlets, knowing Google News will send enough people their way to make this worthwhile. If a New Zealand website reporting either second-hand or having less informed sources still benefits from the traffic from locals and some foreigners, then why not, and to heck with journalists who can do it better? Are we really getting our fair share of the traffic when it might not actually be fair for us to do so?
   It doesn’t make for a richer news environment if it’s just about the clicks. Yet this is the world we live in—and for some reason we still love Google.
   I might add this change in policy long predates the US president’s first utterance of the term ‘fake news’.
   Merit is out, big firms are in, as far as the Googlebot is concerned. And that’s yet another reason we should be very wary of the big G.

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Posted in culture, globalization, internet, media, New Zealand, USA | 5 Comments »


Consumer’s choice: how I bought a car from the UK over the ’net and shipped it home

01.10.2017

Originally published at Drivetribe, but as I own the copyright it only made sense to share it here for readers, too, especially those who might wish to buy a car from abroad and want to do the job themselves. It was originally written for a British audience.


Above: The lengths I went to, to make sure I didn’t wind up buying a car with an automatic transmission: source it from the UK and spend ten months on the process.

One consequence of Brexit was the pound falling, which makes buying out of Blighty very tempting for foreigners. When it comes to buying a car, the savings can be substantial enough for a buyer in the antipodes.
   My situation in New Zealand was neither driven by politics nor currency: it was the lack of manual-transmission cars. When I last bought a car for myself in 2004, the market was roughly 50–50 between manuals and automatics. Today that figure is 90 per cent in favour of automatics, meaning those of us who prefer shifting gears ourselves face a major difficulty. We either limit ourselves to the few cars that come on to the market that are manuals, or we switch. Considering it was my own money, and a five-figure sum at that, I wasn’t about to contemplate getting something that I didn’t like. Britain, it seemed, would have to be the source of my next car.
   There were certain circumstances that made this a lot easier.
   First, you need friends in the UK.
   Secondly, you should browse Auto Trader, Parkers and other sites regularly for months on end to get a feel of the market.
   Third, you should be looking for something that’s relatively new, to ensure compliance with the laws of both the UK and your own.
   When my old Renault Mégane I Coupé was written off in an accident, the logical thing would be to buy the Mégane III Coupé. However, if you live in a right-hand-drive country and you’re not in the UK, Ireland or South Africa, you’re out of luck, unless you fancy going to an RS. And I simply didn’t need 250-plus horsepower to go to the post office or up the coast.
   There were two powerplants common to Renaults in New Zealand: the 110 bhp 1·6, and the 2·0 automatic. That left me with one choice, and 110 bhp was sufficient for what I needed. I also looked forward to the better fuel economy, even if New Zealanders pay less at the pump than Brits.
   I was fortunate that I didn’t need a replacement car in a hurry. For years I had a “spare car”, one that my father had bought and I could use now that he had developed Alzheimer’s. The other stroke of luck was that I had contemplated getting a newer Mégane III Coupé anyway, and had been browsing UK sites for about six months at that point. I knew roughly what a good deal looked like. Finally, the esteemed motoring editor, Mr Keith Adams, and one other school friend, Philip, had offered to check out cars should I spot anything in their area.

I advise strongly that you use a company specializing in the importation. That’s where Jake Williams and Dan Hepburn at Online Logistics of Auckland came in

   While my circumstances were unique, there are plenty of other reasons to look to the UK for cars.
   A friend looking for a Volkswagen Eos reckoned he would save NZ$10,000 (£5,850) by sourcing one from the UK. This is largely fuelled by the greater depreciation on UK second-hand cars, and the savings potentially mount on flasher motors, such as Audi Q7s or Bentleys.
   While Japan is closer, and the source of many used cars in New Zealand, some buyers have had to buy new radios to match New Zealand frequencies. There’s also the disadvantage of dealing in a foreign language with a very different legal system should you choose to do it yourself.
   The disadvantage of a UK import is that speedometers will be in mph, whereas New Zealand adopted the newfangled metric system decades ago. However, on a more modern car with a digital dashboard, the switch shouldn’t be an issue, and that was the case with the Mégane.
   For a Kiwi buyer, the first step is to check the New Zealand Transport Authority (NZTA) website, which has useful worksheets on private car importation.
   In summary, the car must comply with New Zealand standards, and it helps—for now—that cars that have EU type approval will. The car must have a vehicle approval plate or sticker, or a statement of compliance. The NZTA worksheets and website are detailed and go through further specifics.
   You should, for peace of mind, order an AA or Dekra inspection. AA members in New Zealand can expect a discount from AA in the UK, and this shouldn’t exceed £200. Any faults need to be remedied before you purchase the car, or you should walk away.
   Of course, you need to be able to prove the ownership of the vehicle: that means an invoice showing that you’ve purchased it (this should have the VIN on it), plus the V5 registration document. Since it’s being exported outside the UK, the relevant part of the V5 noting thje car will be leaving the country will have been sent to the Department for Transport by the seller. The seller needs to put this in the courier to you.
   I advise strongly that you use a company specializing in the importation. You can do a lot yourself, but it pays to have an extra pair of eyes to ensure you’ve dotted the is and crossed the ts, and in New Zealand, that’s where Jake Williams and Dan Hepburn at Online Logistics of Auckland came in.
   Online Logistics isn’t interested in profiting based on the price of your car, unlike some services. They set standard fees for shipping, and arrange insurance, which it’ll need on the way to New Zealand. They do ask that the car departs from Felixstowe, and they will ship it to Auckland.
   They will require the VIN, so they can double-check that the car meets the required standards, the invoice, and the original copy of the V5.
   Once it’s on New Zealand shores, it has to go through several inspections.
   The first is an inspection by the Ministry of Primary Industries, which makes sure that there aren’t any bugs. It could order that the car be fumigated, and this can set you back around NZ$400. Once done, you’ll get an MPI sticker saying the car’s passed the biosecurity inspection.
   Customs will then sting you GST (the equivalent of VAT) on cost, insurance and freight.
   An NZTA-approved organization will then inspect the car to check for structural faults. Online Logistics took care of this part, so you don’t need to hunt for an approved one yourself. Once that’s done, you’ll get a pink sticker from NZTA.
   The fourth step is getting the car certified. Again, Online Logistics has a company it contracts to do this, and this is where you’re likely to see your car for the first time. Certification will confirm that the car meets safety and emission standards, gets the VIN recorded into the database, gives you a registration form so you can get the car registered in New Zealand, and issues a warrant of fitness (MOT). Certification can be strict: cars that have had a poor repair job done in the UK will not pass until it is redone in line with New Zealand standards, and this is where the importation process can fall to pieces. That’s why it’s important to have that check done in the UK before purchase. Stay well away from category D cars, and aim for low miles.

Having identified the model I wanted, I had to trawl through the websites. The UK is well served, and some sites allow you to feed in a postcode and the distance you’re willing (or your friend’s willing) to travel.
   However, if you rely on friends, you’ll need to catch them at the right time, and both gentlemen had busy weekends that meant waiting.
   VAT was the other issue that’s unfamiliar to New Zealanders. GST is applied on all domestic transactions in New Zealand, but not on export ones. This isn’t always the case in the UK, and some sellers won’t know how any of this works.
   One of the first cars I spotted was from a seller who had VAT on the purchase price, which logically I should get refunded when the car left the country. I would have to pay the full amount but once I could prove that the car had left the UK, the transaction would be zero-rated and I would get the VAT back. I was told by the manager that in 11 years of business, he had never come across it, and over the weeks of chatting, the vehicle was sold.
   Car Giant, in London, was one company that was very clued up and told me that it had sold to New Zealanders before. They’re willing to refund VAT on cars that were VAT-qualifying, but charged a small service fee to do so. The accounts’ department was particularly well set up, and its staff very easy to deal with long-distance.
   Evans Halshaw, however, proved to be farcical. After having a vehicle moved to the Kettering branch close to Keith’s then-residence after paying the deposit, and having then paid for an AA inspection, the company then refused to sell it to me, and would only deal with Keith.
   Although the company was happy to take my deposit, Keith was soon told, ‘we will need payment to come from yourself either by debit card or bank transfer as the deal is with yourself not Mr Yan,’ by one of its sales’ staff.
   I wasn’t about to ask Keith to part with any money, If I were to transfer funds to his account, but not have the car belong to me, and if Keith were to then transfer ownership to me without money changing hands, then the New Zealand Customs would smell a rat. It would look like money laundering: NZTA requires there to be a clear chain of ownership, and this wasn’t clear. Evans Halshaw were unwilling to put the invoice in my name.
   I’m a British national with a UK address—again something a lot of buyers Down Under won’t have—but Evans Halshaw began claiming that it was ‘policy’ not to sell to me.
   The company was never able to provide a copy of such a policy despite numerous phone calls and emails.
   Essentially, for this to work and satisfy Customs on my end, Keith would have to fork out money, and I would have to pay him: a situation that didn’t work for either of us.
   Phil, a qualified lawyer, offered to head into another branch of Evans Halshaw and do the transaction exactly as they wanted: head there with ‘chip and PIN’, only for the company to change its tune again: it would not sell to me, or any representative of mine.

The refund from Evans Halshaw never materialized, and I found myself £182 out of pocket

   This farce went on for a month and involved a great deal of calls from me into the small hours of the morning.
   The matter eventually went to the group’s lawyer, David Bell, and between him and me, it was sorted in 10 minutes.
   Evans Halshaw did indeed have a policy not to sell to a foreigner, never mind that he was also a Briton. What their first staffer should never have done was take my deposit in the first place.
   Despite knowing it was me who paid the deposit, the Kettering dealer began believing it was Keith who was the buyer.
   When Mr Bell knew all the facts, there was a moment when the penny dropped for us both: he had been told that Keith was the buyer all along, and advised accordingly. Once I knew where the mix-up was, everything made sense.
   It wasn’t helped by belligerent staff who refused to answer questions directly.
   However, on knowing of their error, Evans Halshaw refunded my deposit (albeit minus the credit card fees I had paid) and offered to refund the AA check, in exchange for the report. I willingly gave them the report, but the second refund never materialized. Neither the dealer principal at Kettering nor Mr Bell responded, despite reminders, and I found myself £182 out of pocket, along with goodness knows how much in long-distance phone charges. I still wonder how this is one of the country’s largest dealer groups, with this blatant disregard for the customer.
   Two weeks later, the perfect Mégane popped up. It was all a blessing in disguise. It was the colour (Cayenne orange) of the car I had on my computer wallpaper years before. The mileage was very low. And another friend, Andrew, was willing to pop by and look at it, sold by a very easy-going seller, Andy Mudge of Thames Fleet Purchasing. In fact, he proved so amenable I referred others to him, and he was more than happy, as with many other dealers I had spoke to in the UK since the Evans Halshaw affair, to sell to a British national based abroad.
   The car passed the Dekra check with next to no issues, and Andy was willing to cap the freight charges of the car from his Maidenhead property to the port for £100. (It’s advisable to have the car transported, rather than driven, to the port, as I won’t have paid for the tax as the new keeper.)
   The car was non-VAT qualifying, making life easier for both parties. I paid Andy the amount by wire transfer, added a pony on top to cover the courier of documents (V5 and handbooks) and the spare key.
   The one feeling I hadn’t expected was to see thousands of pounds leave my account and have nothing to show for it. The car took just under two months before I witnessed it for the first time, having flown up to Auckland to collect it (another NZ$100), with a 600 km journey south back to its new home in Wellington.
   Many months later, I’m thrilled with my purchase. There are, to my knowledge, only two non-RS Mégane III Coupés in New Zealand, both in the same colour. It has an engine for which I can get parts, and there are sufficient commonalities with the Méganes sold here when it comes to brake pads and other items. It had taken a considerable amount of time but it was eventually worth it. After all, if it’s your money, you should get what you want. If you don’t want to drive the standard New Zealand car—and looking around that appears to be a Toyota Auris Automatic—then the UK is a very ready source of cars.

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Posted in business, cars, globalization, internet, New Zealand, UK | 1 Comment »