Posts tagged ‘law’


The perfect storm: there’s a spike in users being told by Facebook they have malware today

30.12.2017

Many years ago, I was locked out of Facebook for 69 hours. It was completely a Facebook database problem, but in those days, they just locked you out without any explanation. It happened on a Friday. I believed I would not get back in till Facebook staff got back to work on Monday—and I was right. This is a company that seems to close down for the weekend, and the important techs don’t get back till afterwards. It also doesn’t understand the concept of time zones, as six years ago, Facebook walls stopped working on the 1st of each month in every time zone ahead of Pacific Standard Time.
   As it’s the weekend before the Gregorian New Year, Facebook’s probably closed again, so if their databases mess up, you could be stuck till Monday. Maybe later.
   Except these days, I believe they run another con altogether, as I explained in 2016.
   The theory: they now shift the blame to their users, by saying their computers are infected with malware, and forcing a malware scanner download on us. No one knows what this scanner actually does, but I know first-hand that it wrecks your real anti-virus program. I know first-hand that when Facebook and its scanner providers (which once included Kaspersky) are questioned on it, they clam up or they delete comments. I also know for a fact that others can log in to their Facebook accounts on the same “infected” PCs. All this is in earlier posts.
   Some affected users over the last few years have said that they could wait this out, and three days seem to be the standard period (though some were out for a month). That sounds awfully close to 69 hours, which I was out for in 2014.
   If word got out that their databases were this fragile, their share price would tumble.
   In a year when Apple has had to apologize for short battery life on their Iphones, and sexual predators in Hollywood got outed, maybe we could finish off 2017 with Facebook having to apologize for lying to its users about just what this scanner does. Because we also know that people who have legitimate malware scanners—including ones supplied by Facebook’s “partners”—have usually reported their PCs were clean.
   Today is the day of the perfect storm: if there is a big database outage at Facebook, it’s the weekend, and no one is around to fix it. For whatever reason, thousands of people have been receiving Facebook’s malware-scan message, telling them their computers are infected: today has seen the biggest spike ever in users getting this, beginning 14 hours ago.
   In my two years following this bug, I haven’t noticed any real common thread between affected users.
   With Facebook’s old bug, where walls stopped working on the 1st of each month, there was a particularly noticeable rise in reports on Getsatisfaction when 2011 ticked over to 2012—probably because no one was at work at Facebook to switch 2011 over to 2012. (I wonder if it had to be done manually. It honestly wouldn’t surprise me.)
   While some of this is admittedly guesswork, because none of the companies involved are saying a thing, there are just too many coincidences.
   Let’s sum up again.

• When certain Facebook accounts died three to four years ago, you were locked out, and this took roughly three days to fix (in my case, I got hit at a weekend, so nothing happened till Monday after a Friday bug). These bugs were account-specific.
• On January 1, 2012, Facebook walls around the world stopped working and would not show any entries from the new day—till it became January 1, 2012 in California, 21 hours behind the first group of people affected. It seems there is some manual tinkering that needs to go on with Facebook.
• Today, Facebook accuses people of having malware on their systems and demands they download a scanner. Yet we also know that others can log in to their Facebook accounts on the same “infected” machines. Conclusion: those computers are probably not infected as the lock-outs are account-specific. If it’s account-specific, then that leads me to believe it’s a database relating to that person.
• When people refuse to download Facebook’s scanner, many of their accounts come back online after—you guessed it—three days. Ergo, they were probably never infected: Facebook lied to them.
• Those that do download the scanner cannot find it in their installed programs’ lists. Neither Facebook nor their scanner partners have ever come clean about what this program actually does or why it needs to reside in a hidden directory on Windows.
• It is December 30, 2017, and it’s a weekend, and there’s a spike in users getting this warning. It began, noticeably, 14 hours ago. It’s very hard to believe so many got infected at the same time by the same bug: even a regular virus, or the real malware that gets spread through Facebook, doesn’t have this pattern. It all points back to something happening on Facebook. My reckoning is that this won’t be fixed till January 1, 2018 or afterwards.
• Facebook is the home of fake accounts—it’s very easy to find bots and spammers. Logically, if resources are used to host the bots, then that means fewer resources for the rest of us, and potential database problems.

   If you are stuck, I recommend you read the postscripts and relevant comments to my earlier posts: here and here.

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Posted in internet, technology, USA | 8 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 | 1 Comment »


Why in 2017, joining Facebook is a bad thing

02.12.2017


Reddit, uploaded by GameAlex2005

Holly Jahangiri shared this link with me on Twitter yesterday: Facebook is asking people to upload photos of themselves to prove they’re human.
   Good luck with that, because most of the bot accounts do have profile photographs, so this won’t solve a thing.
   Of the many bots and fakes that Holly and I have reported recently, Facebook took down one of hers. They took down none of mine. Basically: Facebook isn’t too bothered by bots, or is too stupid to recognize them even when people alert them.
   Even though Facebook says, ‘Please upload a photo of yourself which clearly shows your face. It can be an older photo, and it doesn’t have to just be you on your own—so long as you’re in it. When you send us a photo, we’ll check it and then permanently delete it from our servers,’ don’t they claim that they don’t ever delete anything?
   As Design Taxi points out, this isn’t the first time Facebook has asked for our photographs as a means of identification: last month, they reported that Facebook wanted people to send nudes of themselves: ‘The system it is trying would prevent specific photos [e.g. revenge porn] ever being uploaded to Facebook, Instagram or Messenger—but you do have to privately share them with Facebook first.’
   My response below, (Links added to the following) sums up Facebook as it stands in 2017, not including these developments. I honestly can’t see why anyone would join now. If you are joining, there’s a pretty good chance you are a running bots anyway, there to join other bots, or you work for a click farm.

That is sick. Forced downloads through a malware scanner that doesn’t show up in your installed programs’ list, collection of preferences even after users have opted out, kicking out people using aliases for self-protection, allowing access to fan pages even though one is not an admin, allowing bots to overrun the system and (currently) ignoring 100 per cent of reports, lying about the number of users it can reach in any demographic and then claiming their numbers have no relation to the real-world population, and essentially covering up the fact its databases are regularly faulty (the photo method is probably part of this), I can see just how appealing Facebook is in 2017!

   As mentioned, if not for certain businesses, I’d be gone from the site—and I’m not even that bothered by all the photos I’d lose. I haven’t uploaded many for two years, and all the rest I have archived away. I have twice as many connections on Twitter; on Linkedin, around two-thirds what I have on Facebook; and about a third on Instagram. I have a small group of friends on Blogcozy. It’s not as though I’ll suddenly find myself away from social networking.

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


YouTube under fire for child exploitation videos—with ‘three unpaid volunteers’ monitoring reports

28.11.2017

The Murdoch Press has rightly kept its pressure up on Google, with a cover story in The Times, ‘Adverts fund paedophile habits’ on November 24 (the online version, behind a paywall, is here).
   Say what you will about its proprietor, but Murdochs have been happy to go after the misdeeds of Google: the earlier one I’ve cited on this blog was when Google was found to have hacked Iphones in 2012.
   This time, YouTube is under fire for videos of children that were attracting comments from pædophiles, forcing the company to switch off comments, but it’s already lost advertising from Mars, Cadbury, Adidas, Deutsche Bank, Diageo, HP, and Lidl.
   Buzzfeed has discovered even more disturbing content involving children, including from accounts that have earned YouTube’s verified symbol. Be prepared if you choose to click through: even the descriptions of the images are deeply unsettling.
   Buzzfeed noted:

On Tuesday afternoon, BuzzFeed News contacted YouTube regarding a number of verified accounts — each with millions of subscribers — with hundreds of disturbing videos showing children in distress. As of Wednesday morning, all the videos provided by BuzzFeed News, as well as the accounts, were suspended for violating YouTube’s rules …
   Many of the offending channels were even verified by YouTube — a process that the company says was done automatically as recently as 2016 …
   Before YouTube removed them, these live-action child exploitation videos were rampant and easy to find. What’s more, they were allegedly on YouTube’s radar: Matan Uziel — a producer and activist who leads Real Women, Real Stories (a platform for women to recount personal stories of trauma, including rape, sexual assault, and sex trafficking) and who provided BuzzFeed News with more than 20 examples of such videos — told BuzzFeed News that he tried multiple times to bring the videos to YouTube’s attention and that no substantive action was taken.
   On September 22, Uziel sent an email to YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki and three other Google employees (as well as FBI agents) expressing his concern about “tens of thousands of videos available on YouTube that we know are crafted to serve as eye candy for perverted, creepy adults, online predators to indulge in their child fantasies.” According to the email, which was reviewed by BuzzFeed News, Uziel included multiple screenshots of disturbing videos. Uziel also told BuzzFeed News he addressed the concerns about the videos early this fall in a Google Hangout with two Google communications staffers from the United Kingdom, and that Google expressed desire to address the situation. A YouTube spokesperson said that the company has no record of the September 22nd email but told BuzzFeed News that Uziel did email on September 13th with screenshots of offending videos. The company says it removed every video escalated by Uziel.

   I’m believe Uziel more, and I even believe that the 20 examples he provided to Buzzfeed were among the ones he escalated to Google. Unless he discovered them since, why would he show them to Buzzfeed while claiming that Google had been ineffective? Both The Times and Buzzfeed claim some of these abusive videos have each netted millions of views—and substantial sums for their creators.
   And people wonder why we don’t continue to operate a video channel there, instead opting for Vimeo (for my personal account) and Dailymotion (for Lucire).
   I don’t claim either is immune from this, but they seem to want to deal with harmful content more readily, principally because they’re not subject to the culture at Google and at Facebook, which appears to be: do nothing till you get into trouble publicly.
   LaQuisha St Redfern shared this link with me from The New York Times from a former Facebook employee, Sandy Parakilos, which can be summarized:

Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, mentioned in an October interview with Axios that one of the ways the company uncovered Russian propaganda ads was by identifying that they had been purchased in rubles. Given how easy this was, it seems clear the discovery could have come much sooner than it did — a year after the election. But apparently Facebook took the same approach to this investigation as the one I observed during my tenure: react only when the press or regulators make something an issue, and avoid any changes that would hurt the business of collecting and selling data.

   This behaviour is completely in line with my own experience with the two firms. Google, long-time readers may recall, libelled our websites for a week in 2013 by claiming they had malware. It was alleged that there were only two people overseeing the malware warnings, something which has since been disproved by a colleague of mine who was in Google’s employ at the time.
   However, The Times alleges that YouTube monitoring of reported videos is in the hands of ‘just three unpaid volunteers’, hence they remained online.
   I have some sympathy for YouTube given the volume of video that’s uploaded every second, making the site impossible to police by humans.
   However, given how much the company earns off people—their advertising arm rakes in tens of thousands of millions a year—three unpaid volunteers is grossly negligent. If certain states’ attorneys-general had more balls, like the EU does, this could be something to investigate.
   There’s also not much excuse that a company with Google’s resources didn’t put more people on the job to create algorithms to get rid of this content.
   Once rid, Google needs to ensure that owners who are caught up with false positives have a real appeals’ process—not the dismal, ineffective one they had in place for Blogger in the late 2000s that, again, was only remedied on a case-by-case basis after a Reuter journalist had his blog removed. That can be done with human employees who can take an impartial look at things—not ones who are brainwashed into thinking that Google’s bots can never err, which is a viewpoint that many of Google’s forum volunteers possess, and are consequently blinded.
   Facebook’s inability to shut down fake accounts—I have alerted them to an ‘epidemic’ in 2014—has been dealt with elsewhere, and now it’s biting them in the wake of President Trump’s election.
   These businesses, which pay little tax, are clearly abusing their privilege. Since the mid-2000s, Google hasn’t been what I would consider a responsible corporate citizen, and I don’t think Facebook has ever been.

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Posted in business, internet, media, technology, UK, USA | 2 Comments »


Why the love? Google tracks you when location services are off; Facebook allegedly listens in on conversations

23.11.2017


Above: We boarded the Norwegian Jewel yesterday—then my other half got a cruise-themed video on YouTube.

Hat tip to Punkscience for this one.
   My other half and I noted that her YouTube gave her a cruise-themed video from 2013 after we boarded the Norwegian Jewel yesterday for a visit. Punkscience found this article in The Guardian (originally reported by Quartz), where Google admitted that it had been tracking Android users even when their location services were turned off. The company said it would cease to do so this month.
   It’s just like Google getting busted (by me) on ignoring users’ opt-outs from customized ads, something it allegedly ceased to do when the NAI confronted them with my findings.
   It’s just like Google getting busted by the Murdoch Press on hacking Iphones that had the ‘Do not track’ preference switched on, something it coincidentally ceased to do when The Wall Street Journal published its story.
   There is no difference between these three incidents in 2011, 2012 and 2017. Google will breach your privacy settings: a leopard does not change its spots.
   Now you know why I bought my cellphone from a Chinese vendor.
   Speaking of big tech firms breaching your privacy, Ian56 found this link.
   It’s why I refuse to download the Facebook app—and here’s one experiment that suggests Facebook listens in on your conversations through it.
   A couple, with no cats, decided they would talk about cat food within earshot of their phone. They claim they had not searched for the term or posted about it on social media. Soon after, Facebook began serving them cat food ads.

   We already know that Facebook collects advertising preferences on users even when they have switched off their ad customization, just like at Google between 2009 and 2011.
   Now it appears they will gather that information by any means necessary.
   This may be only one experiment, so we can’t claim it’s absolute proof, and we can’t rule out coincidence, but everything else about Facebook’s desperation to get user preferences and inflate its user numbers makes me believe that the company is doing this.
   Facebook claims it can do that when you approve their app to be loaded on your phone, so the company has protected itself far better than Google on this.
   Personally, I access Facebook through Firefox and cannot understand why one would need the app. If there is a speed advantage, is it worth it?
   This sort of stuff has been going on for years—much of it documented on this blog—so it beggars belief that these firms are still so well regarded by the public in brand surveys. I’m not sure that in the real world we would approve of firms that plant a human spy inside your home to monitor your every word to report back to their superiors, so why do we love firms that do this to us digitally? I mean, I never heard that the KGB or Stasi were among the most-loved brands in their countries of origin.

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


Google collects more enemies—we haven’t been critical enough of it

05.09.2017

My complaints about Google over the years—and the battles I’ve had with them between 2009 and 2014—are a matter of record on this blog. It appears that Google has been making enemies who are much more important than me, and in this blog post I don’t mean the European Union, who found that the big G had been abusing its monopoly powers by giving its own properties priority placement in its own search results. (The EU, incidentally, had the balls to fine Google €2,420 million, or 2·5 per cent of Google’s revenues, unlike various US states’ attorneys-general a few years ago, who hit them with a $17 million bill, or four hours’ income for Google.)
   It’s Jon von Tetzchner, the co-founder and CEO of Vivaldi, who blogged on Monday how Google hasn’t been able to ‘resist the misuse of power.’
   Von Tetzchner was formerly at Opera, so he has had a lot of time in the tech world. Opera has been around longer than Google, and it was the first browser to incorporate Google search.
   As you’ve read over the years, I’ve reported on Google’s privacy breaches, its false accusations of malware on our sites, its favouring big sites over little ones in News, and (second-hand) the hacking of Iphones to gather user data. Google tax-dodging, meanwhile, has been reported elsewhere.
   It appears Google suspended Vivaldi’s Adwords campaigns without warning, and the timing is very suspicious.
   Right after von Tetzchner’s thoughts on Google’s data-gathering were published in Wired, all of Vivaldi’s Google Adwords campaigns were suspended, and Google’s explanations were vague, unreasonable and contradictory.
   Recently there were also revelations that Google had pressured a think-tank to fire someone critical of the company, according to The New York Times. Barry Lynn, ousted from the New America Foundation for praising the EU’s fine, accused the Foundation for placing Google’s money (it donates millions) ahead of its own integrity. Google denies the charge. He’s since set up Citizens Against Monopoly.
   It’s taken over half a decade for certain quarters to wake up to some of the things I’ve been warning people about. Not that long ago, the press was still praising Google Plus as a Facebook-killer, something I noted from the beginning would be a bad idea. It seems the EU’s courage in fining Google has been the turning point in forcing some to open their eyes. Until then, people were all too willing to drink the Google Kool-Aid.
   And we should be aware of what powerful companies like Google are doing.
   Two decades ago, my colleague Wally Olins wrote Trading Identities: Why Countries and Companies Are Taking on Each Other’s Roles. There, he noted that corporations were adopting behaviours of nations and vice versa. Companies needed to get more involved in social responsibility as they became more powerful. We are in an era where there are powerful companies that exert massive influences over our lives, yet they are so dominant that they don’t really care whether they are seen as a caring player or not. Google clearly doesn’t in its pettiness over allegedly targeting Vivaldi, and Facebook doesn’t as it gathers data and falsely accuses its own users of having malware on their machines.
   On September 1, my colleague Euan Semple wrote, ‘As tools and services provided by companies such as Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon become key parts of the infrastructure of our lives they, and their respective Chief Executives, exert increasing influence on society.
   ‘How we see ourselves individually and collectively is shaped by their products. Our ability to do things is in our hands but their control. How we educate ourselves and understand the world is steered by them. How we stay healthy, get from one place to another, and even feed and clothe ourselves is each day more dependent on them.
   ‘We used to rely on our governments to ensure the provision of these critical aspects of our lives. Our governments are out of their depth and floundering.
   ‘Are we transitioning from the nation state to some other way of maintaining and supporting our societies? How do we feel about this? Is it inevitable? Could we stop it even if we wanted?’
   The last paragraph takes us beyond the scope of this blog post, but we should be as critical of these companies as we are of our (and others’) governments, and, the European Commission excepting, I don’t think we’re taking their actions quite seriously enough.

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Posted in branding, business, culture, internet, marketing, media, social responsibility, technology, USA | 1 Comment »


How I answered Facebook Business’s survey

29.08.2017

Facebook sent me a survey as one of our businesses has bought advertising with them. I’ve detailed my responses below, with a few notes. I’ve included Instagram in this, since their own advertising platform allows us to reach that.

What is the most important thing that Facebook can do to improve your advertising experience?
Some years ago, Facebook intentionally wrecked the sharing, so post sharing dropped 90 per cent. We all know why: the profit motive. Allowing a slight return to the higher levels would be useful because we know those shares were genuine. I’d be happy to supplement those with a buy; right now I dislike having to fork out so much. You made plenty off us, it’s time to give regular customers a bit of a break.

What do you most value about advertising on Facebook relative to advertising with other digital platforms?
Nothing much, actually. You claim to have all these stats on people but I know from my own ad preferences that you are wrong on a lot of things (probably 40 per cent) about me. Even though I have opted out, you continue to collect preferences. How do I know I am advertising to people who want it? Also, I cannot change my location on Instagram (apparently you guys don’t know where New York is) through any platform, so all the ads there are irrelevant to me. I see complete disadvantages about your platforms. We only buy with you in the hope that some of the advertising is targeted but we know full well that we’ll be annoying part of the group you reach.

   I tried feeding in New York only after Auckland (where I had travelled to earlier this month) wasn’t recognized by the app and I kept getting Wellington ads. It’s probably not that big a surprise since some years ago, Facebook had no idea where Paris (I specifically mean the French one, as I’m sure most of you know) was. And Google didn’t know where the White House was last decade, so American companies not knowing the location of American cities and landmarks shouldn’t be a surprise, either. Remember, Facebook once thought all of its hundreds of millions of users lived on the US west coast in 2011 and the site would stop working for people outside their own time zone on the 1st of each month. They really are quite insular, and it’s a surprise they even cared about getting the opinion of a customer in New Zealand, since I doubt they know where we are.

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Paging Dr Libby

10.04.2017

Update: scroll down for a happy ending to this!

Even famous people can slip up. Two posts on Instagram, one of them mine, the other an hour later on Dr Libby Weaver’s account.


   If you’d like a closer inspection, here’s my photo cropped roughly where hers is.


The clouds are the giveaway, and trust me, no one was standing in exactly the same position I was when I took the original.
   I have called Dr Weaver out on Twitter and in a message via her website, with a proposal: how about giving me a set of the notes from the seminar my photo helped her sell, and we’d call this a win–win? Attendees paid NZ$40 to attend her do, and I reckon NZ$40 is a fair price for a photo licence. I hope she’ll bite—seems an amicable way to get round this.

Update: Dr Weaver’s team were really punctual at getting back to me. The following morning, I received a reply from Felicity on her staff, who added my credit on the photograph caption. There were no notes from her seminar, however—note-taking is the attendee’s choice. However, they were happy to send me a book, and I notice this morning (Wednesday, two days after) they have asked for my address. Well done to their team on a swift response, and look out for the book appearing on my Instagram when it arrives. If it’s the sort of thing our readers like, we might even put it on Lucire.
   The lesson: both sides wanted to turn something negative into something positive—wins all round.

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


Facebook’s ad targeting: evidence now filed with the Better Business Bureau

04.12.2016


As of today, I’ve sent off my evidence to the US Better Business Bureau so they can continue their investigation of Facebook. The DAA was too gutless to investigate but the BBB, by contrast, gives a damn.
   Let me note here that I have nothing against Facebook making a buck. I just ask that it do so honestly, that it does what it says.
   Facebook claims that you can opt out of targeted advertising, and that you can edit your preferences for that targeting, the same was what Google did in 2011. It was revealed then that Google lied, and the Network Advertising Initiative was able to follow up my findings and assured me it would work with them to sort their procedures out.
   If you opt out of targeting, Facebook continues to gather information on you. The BBB noted to me in April that if I could show that Facebook was targeting based on personal information I did not provide (e.g. if you fed in a fake location as your home in Facebook and it serves you ads based on your real location), then it could be a violation of their principles. This is pretty easy to prove: just go to any ad in your feed, click on the arrow in the right-hand corner, and click ‘Why was I shown this ad?’ In most cases, your actual location will have something to do with it.
   Secondly, there is a potential link between the preferences Facebook has stored on you—the ones they say they would not use—and the ads you are shown. Facebook claims you can edit those preferences but as I showed last week, this is not true. Facebook will, in fact, repopulate all deleted preferences (and even add to them), but thanks to the company itself providing me with the smoking gun, I was able to connect those shown preferences with ads displayed between March and December 2016. It casts doubt on whether Facebook is actually targeting me based on freely given information, especially since, for example, I am being served ads for Oh Baby! when I don’t have kids. (Oh Baby!, meanwhile, is one of the preferences in its settings.)
   My Google investigation took three months; this took between eight and nine.
   We’ll see if the BBB will take quite as long—they might, because they say they tend to be inundated with complaints about Facebook, but find that most cases do not violate their principles. But I’ve shown them not only examples along the lines of what they suggested, but a few that go even further.

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