Posts tagged ‘media’


Why paywalls are getting more prevalent; and The Guardian Weekly rethought

10.11.2018

Megan McArdle’s excellent op–ed in The Washington Post, ‘A farewell to free journalism’, has been bookmarked on my phone for months. It’s a very good summary of where things are for digital media, and how the advent of Google and Facebook along with the democratization of the internet have reduced online advertising income to a pittance. There’s native advertising, of course, which Lucire and Lucire Men indulged in for a few years in the 2010s, and I remain a fan of it in terms of what it paid, but McArdle’s piece is a stark reminder of the real world: there ain’t enough of it to keep every newsroom funded.
   I’ll also say that I have been very tempted over the last year or two to start locking away some of Lucire’s 21 years of content behind a paywall, but part of me has a romantic notion (and you can see it in McArdle’s own writing) that information deserves to be free.
   Everyone should get a slice of the pie if they are putting up free content along with slots for Doubleclick ads, for instance, and those advertising networks operate on merit: get enough qualified visitors (and they do know who they are, since very few people opt out; in Facebook’s case opting out actually does nothing and they continue to track your preferences) and they’ll feed the ads through accordingly, whether you own a “real” publication or not.
   It wasn’t that long ago, however, when more premium ad networks worked with premium media, leaving Google’s Adsense to operate among amateurs. It felt like a two-tier ad market. Those days are long gone, since plenty of people were quite happy to pay the cheap rates for the latter.
   It’s why my loyal Desktop readers who took in my typography column every month between 1996 and 2010 do not see me there any more: we columnists were let go when the business model changed.
   All of this can exacerbate an already tricky situation, as the worse funded independent media get, the less likely we can afford to offer decent journalism, biasing the playing field in favour of corporate media that have deeper pockets. Google, as we have seen, no longer ranks media on merit, either: since they and Facebook control half of all online advertising revenue, and over 60 per cent in the US, it’s not in their interests to send readers to the most meritorious. It’s in their interests to send readers to the media with the deeper pockets and scalable servers that can handle large amounts of traffic with a lot of Google ads, so they make more money.
   It’s yet another reason to look at alternatives to Google if you wish to seek out decent independent media and support non-corporate voices. However, even my favoured search engine, Duck Duck Go, doesn’t have a specific news service, though it’s still a start.
   In our case, if we didn’t have a print edition as well as a web one, then online-only mightn’t be worthwhile sans paywall.

Tonight I was interested to see The Guardian Weekly in magazine format, a switch that happened on October 10.
   It’s a move that I predicted over a decade ago, when I said that magazines should occupy a ‘soft-cover coffee-table book’ niche (which is what the local edition of Lucire aims to do) and traditional newspapers could take the area occupied by the likes of Time and Newsweek.
   With the improvement in printing presses and the price of lightweight gloss paper it seemed a logical move. Add to changing reader habits—the same ones that drove the death of the broadsheet format in the UK—and the evolution of editorial and graphic design, I couldn’t see it heading any other way. Consequently, I think The Guardian will do rather well.

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The double standards on the Ross affair are equally to do with race

09.11.2018

Graham Adams, in a very good opinion in Noted, suggests that while there is a public interest in knowing the identity of the married National MP who had an affair with her colleague, Jami-Lee Ross, the media have been silent because of the relationship it enjoys with parliamentarians. He contrasts this with The New Zealand Herald’s publication of the identity of my friend Bevan Chuang as the woman who had an affair with then-Auckland mayor Len Brown, and concludes that councils have no such relationship.
   Adams makes a compelling case. His suggestion is that if the MP is making a stand for family values, then the hypocrisy should be pointed out. However, personally I have little interest in details of who is sleeping with whom, and I suggest the double standards are not to do with the reason he identifies, but to do with race. I Tweeted:

   On Twitter tonight, Bevan agrees with me:

   She never wanted the limelight on what was a private matter, but we have certain stereotypes at play.
   We even see certain people incensed that we would even stand up for ourselves.
   The sands are slowly shifting, and from what I see on social media, the majority of New Zealanders have no issue with giving everyone the same treatment regardless of their colour or creed.
   Establishments and institutions have proved more difficult to shift. Our media are slowly changing, but many newsrooms have yet to reflect the diversity in our nation. Cast your minds back only to 2013 and newsrooms were even less diverse then.
   Then there is the whole Dirty Politics angle, and as the decade advanced, the National Party seems keen to evolve into a caricature of its past self, borrowing elements from the US in what appears to be a desire to become a conservative parody—except many aren’t in on the joke. It’s a pity because this is the party of certain politicians I admired such as the late George Gair, and it was within my lifetime when its policies had substance.
   I’m not here to bag National (at least not in this post) and maybe the anonymous MP enjoys some protection because of the party she’s in, whereas Bevan found herself embroiled in an anti-Labour attack.
   Of course, the reality could be a combination of all three.
   The one we can do something about really quickly is the race and sexism one. All it takes is the shifting of attitudes, and to call the double standards out when we see them.

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The Facebook and Twitter purge: you can violate policies by doing nothing

16.10.2018

I’m not familiar with The Anti-Media, but New Zealand-based lawyer Darius Shahtahmasebi, who contributed to the site, notes that it was caught up in the Facebook and Twitter purge last week.
   The Anti-Media, he notes, had 2·17 million Facebook followers. ‘Supposedly, Facebook wants you to believe that 2.17 million people voluntarily signed up to our page just to receive all the spam content that we put out there (sounds realistic),’ he wrote in RT.
   After Facebook removed the page, Twitter followed suit and suspended their account.
   Not only that, Shahtahmasebi notes that Anti-Media team members had their Twitter accounts purged as well. Its editor in chief received this message: ‘CareyWedler has been suspended for violating the Twitter Rules. Specifically, for:’. That was it. She’s none the wiser on what violation had been committed.
   But here are the real kickers: their social manager had access to 30 accounts, and Twitter was able to coordinate the suspension of 29 of them, while their chief creative officer had his removed, including accounts he had never used. The Anti-Media Radio account suffered a similar fate, Twitter claiming it was due to ‘multiple or repeat violations of the Twitter rules’—and it had no Tweets.
   Shahtahmasebi has his theories on what was behind all of this. It does give my theories over the years a lot of weight: namely that Facebook targets individuals and its “rules” are applied with no reference to actual stated policies. Essentially, the company lies. Twitter has been digging itself more deeply into a hole of late, and it’s very evident now, even if you didn’t want to admit it earlier, that it operates on the same lines. Google I have covered before, some might think ad nauseam.
   One of his conclusions: ‘There is nothing much that can be done unless enough people take a principled stand against such a severe level of censorship.’ In some cases, including one Tweeter I followed, it has been to vote with one’s feet, and leave these spaces to continue their descent without us.

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Google censors at every level—it’s just what they do

11.10.2018

As my final post on Google Plus, I posted the Murdoch Press article on how the company exposed user data between 2015 and 2018, choosing not to disclose it publicly for fear of regulatory scrutiny and damage to its reputation.
   How interesting to note that it has now been removed twice by the powers that be at Google. I have just posted it a third time.
   I wasn’t willing to put even the first time down to a bug. Google censors, and we know it censors.
   It’s particularly bad timing for a company, so fearful of its reputation being harmed, that reports of its willingness to appease Beijing through censorship are emerging in the same week. (Here’s another.)
   Breitbart has got in on the action, too, citing another leaked briefing, contradicting Google’s public statements that it is neutral. You can read the full briefing, entitled The Good Censor, at this Dropbox link provided by Breitbart.
   This isn’t a case of left versus right here—anyone who follows this blog knows that. Breitbart may be warning us about the latest censorship policy, but on the other side, Alternet has been hit, too. It strikes me that the US’s so-called “opponents” actually have many aligned interests, and their common enemy seems to be forces that attempt to suppress independent voices and individual thinking. We know of Google’s love of corporate media and big business, biasing results in favour of them and against independent media, regardless of merit.
   Part of me laments the demise of Google Plus since I’ve recorded many of Google’s misdeeds there over the years—the removal of ‘Don’t be evil’, refusing to come clean on its gender discrimination, the lack of monitoring of YouTube videos, shutting down critics in the US, and the abuse of monopoly powers, among others. That’s just a tiny handful of links between 2015 and 2018—covering the same period user data were compromised.
   One would have to have blinkers on not to see the pattern that has been forming for over a decade, much of which has been documented here.

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In line with what I discovered in 2011: Google tracks your location even after opting out

16.08.2018

The Associated Press had an exclusive this week: Google does not obey your opt-out preferences.
   I could have told you that in 2011. Oh wait, I did. And I pointed out other instances where Google ignored your request to pause your history, continuing to track you either through its main site or its properties such as YouTube.
   This latest story related to Google tracking people’s movements on their Android phones.
   The AP found that Google lies: what it claims Location History does on its website is not what it actually does.
   In 2011, I proved that Google lied about its Ads Preferences Manager (no, it doesn’t use apostrophes): it said one thing on its website and did another. In 2014 and 2015 I showed Google lied about what it would do with your search histories.
   Instagram does that these days with its advertising preferences, saying you can control them via Facebook when, in fact, it stores another set altogether which you have no control over. If I get time I’ll post my proof. It makes you wonder if the same dishonest programmers are running things, or whether it’s part of Big Tech’s culture to lie.
   This is nothing new: they all lie, especially about unwanted surveillance, and have been doing so for a long time. It’s just that mainstream media are finally waking up to it.

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The founder’s image is tied to the business—or, why Elon Musk shouldn’t call someone a pædophile

16.07.2018

I have often said that each new technology often goes downhill when unsavoury parts of our society get to it. Email was fine before spammers, Wikipedia was fine without sociopaths, Blogger was fine without Google ownership, and Google was fine without an NYSE listing.
   But what does one make of Twitter? Once upon a time, it was a decent place to hang out. Ask Stephen Fry.
   Today, however, with all sorts of people on it, the post-spammer, post-sociopath stage appears to be: watch the rich lose it.
   Those who don’t like President Trump might think I’m thinking of him, but it was actually Elon Musk, whose efforts on so many fronts I have publicly admired, who seems to be the latest in turning his corner of Twitter into an angry man’s rant record.
   Not long ago, I saw Musk argue with a Tweeter about economics and blocking him. Of course it’s everyone’s prerogative to block as they see fit, but I always remember what my parents told me when I was a child: the really powerful see the big picture. They don’t sweat the small stuff. And this seems like someone sweating the small stuff. Even if he is the 53rd richest person in the world.
   From Techcrunch (hat tip to Adeline Chua):

There’s more on that story here.
   Quoting Adeline:

   I’m not sure what Musk intends with all of these Tweets, but I’m losing respect for the man. He probably wouldn’t care what I think, but then, going on the earlier Tweets, he probably does.
   As someone who leads a much, much smaller bunch of companies, I know the boss’s public statements do impact on the rest of the team, and how your firm’s perceived.
   If we look at the rich, Sir Richard Branson is a great ambassador for his ventures and is careful about what he says. His brands are tied in with his personal image, and he’s well aware of that. Elon Musk is not an exception: his personality and announcements are keeping Tesla’s faithful invested in the brand, for instance.
   On the one hand, it’s great that Twitter is a great leveller. But with that comes other risks. If it is a leveller, bringing everyone to the level of the village merchant, then we can make a choice about whom we deal with.
   In a real-life village, when we walk round, we may choose to buy from certain people and not others, because of how we’re treated or what their reputation’s like.
   In this virtual village, we have one of the wealthiest players ranting in the corner.
   And therein lies the risk for Tesla and SpaceX. Maybe he’s so confident at his lead that, with or without him, his dreams can come true. It would be great if we did have more electric cars and more affordable space exploration. However, while the founder is still young, alive and kicking, I’m afraid these ventures are still very much tied to how we perceive him. I’m not sure that being a rich, angry Tweeter who calls a rescuer a ‘pedo’ is the image that a Tesla buyer, for instance, wants to be associated with.
   Frankly, if we’re going to remember anyone in the whole Thai cave rescue, let it be Saman Kunan, the former Thai navy SEAL diver who lost his life.

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Posted in branding, business, culture, internet, media, USA | 3 Comments »


PS/2 keyboard one way to get your Windows 10 computer back after bricking

10.05.2018


Everybody wants PS2. Still from The Professionals episode ‘Servant of Two Masters’.

I read this article in The Guardian, thinking: surely, after Microsoft rolled out some terrible updates, it wouldn’t be so stupid as to do one that bricks customers’ computers again? Especially after the bug was reported a month ago.
   The April update worked reasonably well, though I lost my wallpaper. But everything else was there, and I was using Vivaldi, which is a Chromium-based browser.
   Then I rebooted.
   That was it: my computer was bricked. The first boot, a very tiny rotating circle eventually appeared, but I couldn’t do anything except move the circle with my mouse. Subsequent reboots just resulted in a black screen—something, I must say, I had already encountered with an earlier Windows update that saw my having to take the PC back to the shop.
   I rebooted the computer three times to force it into recovery mode, but then there was another problem: neither mouse nor keyboard worked. It was as though USB was dead.
   Out of sheer luck I had a PS/2 keyboard that was unused, and after more forced reboots, I was able to use the old keyboard to look at various recovery options. Remember: no input device on USB works, and this was a bug that had surfaced with the last update in February.
   Forget system restore: the April update is a fresh OS, so there are no restore points.
   I had no choice but to roll back to the previous version I had installed.
   And here I am, back again, an hour wasted. It would probably be longer if I didn’t have an SSD.
   Microsoft, get your QC sorted, because this current model you’ve employed over the last few years simply does not work. I have spent more hours on these updates than with any OS you have ever rolled out, and that includes XP Service Pack 3 on a comparatively ancient system.
   And if you get stuck like I do, and like all those in The Guardian’s article did, I hope you still have a way of plugging in a PS/2 device and have an old-school keyboard lying around.

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

04.05.2018


Clilly4/Creative Commons

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

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UK picks on independent Tweeters, falsely calls them Russian bots and trolls

23.04.2018

If you were one of the people caught up with ‘The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!’ and a selection of Cold War paranoia resurrected by politicians and the media, then surely recent news would make you start to think that this was a fake-news narrative?
   Ian56 on Twitter was recently named by the UK Government as a Russian bot, and Twitter temporarily suspended his account.
   He recently fronted up to the Murdoch Press’s Sky News, which a bot actually couldn’t.
   To be a Russian bot, you need to be (a) Russian and (b) a bot. The clue’s in the title.

   If the British Government would like to understand what a bot looks like, I can log in to my Facebook and send them a dozen to investigate. They are remarkably easy to find.
   It would be easy to identify bots on Twitter, but Twitter doesn’t like getting shown up. But Ian56 has never been caught up in that, because he’s human.
   His only “crime”, as far as I can see, is thinking for himself. Then he used his right to free speech to share those thoughts.
   He’s also British, and proud of his country—which is why he calls out what he sees are lies by his own government.
   And if there is hyperbole on his Twitter account, the ones which the Sky News talking heads tried to zing him with, it’s no worse than what you see on there every day by private citizens. If that’s all they could find out of Ian56’s 157,000 Tweets, then he’s actually doing better than the rest of us.
   We seem to be reaching an era where the establishment is upset that people have the right to free speech, but that is what all this technology has offered: democratization of communication. Something that certain media talking heads seem to get very offended by, too.
   Ian’s not alone, because Murdoch’s The Times is also peddling the Russian narrative and named a Finnish grandmother as a ‘Russian troll’ and part of a Russian disinformation machine.

   I’ve followed Citizen Halo for a long time, and she’s been perfectly open about her history. Her account was set up nine years ago, long before some of the Internet Research Agency’s social media activity was reported to have begun. She’s been anti-war since Vietnam, and her Tweets reflect that.
   While she sees no insult in being labelled Russian (she openly admits to some Russian ancestry) she takes exception at being called a troll, which she, again, isn’t. She also wasn’t ‘mobilised’ as The Times claims to spread news about the air strikes in Syria. She and Ian questioned the veracity of mainstream media views, and they certainly weren’t the only ones. They just happen to be very good at social media. That doesn’t make you part of a Russian disinformation machine.
   As a result of The Times’s article, Citizen Halo has gained a couple of thousand followers.
   Meanwhile, Craig Murray, who ‘went from being Britain’s youngest ambassador to being sacked for opposing the use of intelligence from torture’ also sees similar attacks in the UK, again through The Times.
   It headlined, ‘Apologists for Assad working in universities’. Murray adds:

Inside there was a further two page attack on named academics who have the temerity to ask for evidence of government claims over Syria, including distinguished Professors Tim Hayward, Paul McKeigue and Piers Robinson. The Times also attacked named journalists and bloggers and, to top it off, finished with a column alleging collusion between Scottish nationalists and the Russian state.

   The net goes wider, says Murray, with the BBC and The Guardian joining in the narrative. On Ian, Murray noted:

The government then issued a ridiculous press release branding decent people as “Russian bots” just for opposing British policy in Syria. In a piece of McCarthyism so macabre I cannot believe this is really happening, an apparently pleasant and normal man called Ian was grilled live on Murdoch’s Sky News, having been named by his own government as a Russian bot.

The Guardian published the government line without question.
   It does appear that in 2018, all you need to do is think independently and exercise your right to free speech for the UK Government and the media to sell a conspiracy theory.
   That, if anything, begins weakening the official narrative.
   Like most people, I do take in some of the news that I get fed. Yet this activity is having the opposite effect of what the establishment wants, forcing tenuous links usually associated with gossip sites and tabloids. If you had trust in these institutions before, you may now rightly be questioning why.

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Cambridge Analytica is merely Facebook’s ‘smaller, less ambitious sibling’

14.04.2018

Beyond all that had gone on with AIQ and Cambridge Analytica, a lot more has come out about Facebook’s practices, things that I always suspected they do, for why else would they collect data on you even after you opted out?
   Now, Sam Biddle at The Intercept has written a piece that demonstrates that whatever Cambridge Analytica did, Facebook itself does far, far more, and not just to 87 million people, but all of its users (that’s either 2,000 million if you believe Facebook’s figures, or around half that if you believe my theories), using its FBLearner Flow program.
   Biddle writes (link in original):

This isn’t Facebook showing you Chevy ads because you’ve been reading about Ford all week — old hat in the online marketing world — rather Facebook using facts of your life to predict that in the near future, you’re going to get sick of your car. Facebook’s name for this service: “loyalty prediction.”
   Spiritually, Facebook’s artificial intelligence advertising has a lot in common with political consultancy Cambridge Analytica’s controversial “psychographic” profiling of voters, which uses mundane consumer demographics (what you’re interested in, where you live) to predict political action. But unlike Cambridge Analytica and its peers, who must content themselves with whatever data they can extract from Facebook’s public interfaces, Facebook is sitting on the motherlode, with unfettered access to staggering databases of behavior and preferences. A 2016 ProPublica report found some 29,000 different criteria for each individual Facebook user …
   … Cambridge Analytica begins to resemble Facebook’s smaller, less ambitious sibling.

   As I’ve said many times, I’ve no problem with Facebook making money, or even using AI for that matter, as long as it does so honestly, and I would hope that people would take as a given that we expect that it does so ethically. If a user (like me) has opted out of ad preferences because I took the time many years ago to check my settings, and return to the page regularly to make sure Facebook hasn’t altered them (as it often does), then I expect them to be respected (my investigations show that they aren’t). Sure, show me ads to pay the bills, but not ones that are tied to preferences that you collect that I gave you no permission to collect. As far as I know, the ad networks we work with respect these rules if readers had opted out at aboutads.info and the EU equivalent.
   Regulating Facebook mightn’t be that bad an idea if there’s no punishment to these guys essentially breaking basic consumer laws (as I know them to be here) as well as the codes of conduct they sign up to with industry bodies in their country. As I said of Google in 2011: if the other 60-plus members of the Network Advertising Initiative can create cookies that respect the rules, why can’t Google? Here we are again, except the main player breaking the rules is Facebook, and the data they have on us is far more precise than some Google cookies.
   Coming back to Biddle’s story, he sums up the company as a ‘data wholesaler, period.’ The 29,000 criteria per user claim is very easy to believe for those of us who have popped into Facebook ad preferences and found thousands of items collected about us, even after opting out. We also know that the Facebook data download shows an entirely different set of preferences, which means either the ad preference page is lying or the download is lying. In either case, those preferences are being used, manipulated and sold.
   Transparency can help Facebook through this crisis, yet all we saw from CEO Mark Zuckerberg was more obfuscation and feigned ignorance at the Senate and Congress. This exchange last week between Rep. Anna Eshoo of Palo Alto and Zuckerberg was a good example:

   Eshoo: It was. Are you willing to change your business model in the interest of protecting individual privacy?
   Zuckerberg: Congresswoman, we have made and are continuing to make changes to reduce the amount of data …
   Eshoo: No, are you willing to change your business model in the interest of protecting individual privacy?
   Zuckerberg: Congresswoman, I’m not sure what that means.

   In other words, they want to preserve their business model and keep things exactly as they are, even if they are probably in violation of a 2011 US FTC decree.
   The BBC World Service News had carried the hearings but, as far as I know, little made it on to the nightly TV here.
   This is either down to the natural news cycle: when Christopher Wylie blew the whistle on Cambridge Analytica in The Observer, it was major news, and subsequent follow-ups haven’t piqued the news editors’ interest in the same way. Or, the media were only outraged as it connected to Trump and Brexit, and now that we know it’s exponentially more widespread, it doesn’t matter as much.
   There’s still hope that the social network can be a force for good, if Zuckerberg and co. are actually sincere about it. If Facebook has this technology, why employ it for evil? That may sound a naïve question, but if you genuinely were there to better humankind (and not rate your female Harvard classmates on their looks) and you were sitting on a motherlode of user data, wouldn’t you ensure that the platform were used to create greater harmony between people rather than sow discord and spur murder? Wouldn’t you refrain from bragging that you have the ability to influence elections? The fact that Facebook doesn’t, and continues to see us as units to be milked in the matrix, should worry us a great deal more than an 87 million-user data breach.

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