Posts tagged ‘Murdoch Press’


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 »


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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Posted in culture, internet, media, politics, publishing, TV, UK | No Comments »


Facebook and Cambridge Analytica: the signs were there for years, if one only looked

20.03.2018

Facebook’s woes over Cambridge Analytica have only prompted one reaction from me: I told you so. While I never seized upon this example, bravely revealed to us by whistleblower Christopher Wylie and reported by Carole Cadwalladr and Emma Graham-Harrison of The Guardian, Facebook has shown itself to be callous about private data, mining preferences even after users have opted out, as I have proved on more than one occasion on this blog. They don’t care what your preferences are, and for a long time changed them quietly when you weren’t looking.
   And it’s nothing new: in October 2010, Emily Steel wrote, in The Wall Street Journal, about a data firm called Rapleaf that harvested Facebook information to target political advertisements (hat tip here to Jack Martin Leith).
   Facebook knew of a data breach years ago and failed to report it as required under law. The firm never acts, as we have seen, when everyday people complain. It only acts when it faces potential bad press, such as finally ceasing, after nearly five years, its forced malware downloads after I tipped off Wired’s Louise Matsakis about them earlier this year. Soon after Louise’s article went live, the malware downloads ceased.
   Like all these problems, if the stick isn’t big enough, Facebook will just hope things go away, or complain, as it did today, that it’s the victim. Sorry, you’re not. You’ve been complicit more than once, and violating user privacy, as I have charged on this blog many times, is part of your business practice.
   In this environment, I am also not surprised that US$37,000 million has been wiped off Facebook’s value and CEO Mark Zuckerberg saw his net worth decline by US$5,000 million.
   Those who kept buying Facebook shares, I would argue, were unreasonably optimistic. The writing surely was on the wall in January at the very latest (though I would have said it was much earlier myself), when I wrote, ‘All these things should have been sending signals to the investor community a long time ago, and as we’ve discussed at Medinge Group for many years, companies would be more accurately valued if we examined their contribution to humanity, and measuring the ingredients of branding and relationships with people. Sooner or later, the truth will out, and finance will follow what brand already knew. Facebook’s record on this front, especially when you consider how we at Medinge value brands and a company’s promise-keeping, has been astonishingly poor. People do not trust Facebook, and in my book: no trust means poor brand equity.’
   This sounds like my going back to my very first Medinge meeting in 2002, when we concluded, at the end of the conference, three simple words: ‘Finance is broken.’ It’s not a useful measure of a company, certainly not the human relationships that exist within. But brand has been giving us this heads-up for a long time: if you can’t trust a company, then it follows that its brand equity is reduced. That means its overall value is reduced. And time after time, finance follows what brand already knew. Even those who tolerate dishonesty—and millions do—will find it easy to depart from a product or service along with the rest of the mob. There’s less and less for them to justify staying with it. The reasons get worn down one by one: I’m here because of my kids—till the kids depart; I’m here because of my friends—till the friends depart. If you don’t create transparency, you risk someone knocking back the wall.
   We always knew Facebook’s user numbers were bogus, considering how many bots there are on the system. It would be more when people wanted to buy advertising, and it would be less when US government panels charged with investigating Facebook were asking awkward questions. I would love to know how many people are really on there, and the truth probably lies between the two extremes. Facebook probably should revise its claimed numbers down by 50 per cent.
   It’s a very simplified analysis—of course brand equity is made up of far more than trust—and doubters will point to the fact Facebook’s stock had been rising through 2017.
   But, as I said, finance follows brand, and Facebook is fairly under assault from many quarters. It has ignored many problems for over a decade, its culture borne of arrogance, and you can only do this for so long before people wise up. In the Trump era, with the US ever more divided, there were political forces that even Facebook could not ignore. Zuckerberg won’t be poor, and Facebook, Inc. has plenty of assets, so they’re not going away. But Facebook, as we know it, isn’t the darling that it was a decade ago, and what we are seeing, and what I have been talking about for years, are just the tip of the iceberg.

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Posted in branding, business, culture, internet, leadership, media, politics, technology, UK, USA | 4 Comments »


Twitter’s shadow-banning: not just in the US, as Kiwis get caught up, too

21.01.2018


Anthony Quintano/Creative Commons

We’ve had years of Google and Facebook acting like arses, but it’s disappointing to see Twitter give us more and more causes for concern.
   In 2017, we saw them change their terms and conditions so speaking power to truth is no longer a requirement. You can’t help but think that the decision to accommodate the US president is part of that: there is a policy within Twitter that President Trump is immune to their terms and conditions, and can Tweet with impunity what you and I would get kicked off for doing. We also saw Twitter, which is scrambling to show the US government that it is doing something about alleged Russian interference, kick off a privately developed bot that helped identify fake accounts. You’d think that if Twitter were sincere about identifying fake accounts, it would embrace such technology.
   One of my regular blog readers, Karen Tolfree, very kindly linked me a report from Hannity (which another friend later informed me was first revealed on Breitbart) which showed Twitter staff caught on video admitting to shadow-banning either because they disagreed with the user’s politics (with an admission that Twitter is 90 per cent US Democrat-leaning) or because of US government pressure (when discussing Julian Assange’s account).
   What was the old saying? I might not always agree with your politics but I will always defend to the hilt your right to express your views.
   Therefore, I mightn’t be President Trump’s biggest fan but those who support him, and do so within the same rules that I’m governed by on Twitter (e.g. not resorting to hate speech or attacking any individual or group), must have the same right to free speech as I should.
   I do not wish them to be silenced because many of them have good reasons for their beliefs, and if I don’t see them in my feed then how will I understand them? I don’t wish to live in a bubble (meanwhile, Facebook and Google want you to; Facebook’s “crowdsourcing” its ranking of media sources is going to make things far worse—have a look at Duck Duck Go founder Gabriel Weinberg’s series of Tweets at the end of this post).
   Because you never know if Twitter’s shadow-banning is going to go after you, since, like Facebook’s false malware accusations, they could be indiscriminate.
   In fact, two New Zealanders were shadow-banned over the last week: one with stated left-leaning views (Paul Le Comte), another (Cate Owen) who hasn’t put her political leanings into her bio, and who was shadow-banned for reasons unknown. It’s not just conservatives these guys go after, and neither was told just which Tweet netted them this “punishment”.
   I think it’s generally agreed that we have passed peak Twitter just as we have passed peak Facebook, but as it’s one of the original, mid-2000s social media services I still use, I’m disappointed that I can’t feel as happy being on there as I once did. After all, our presence is effectively our endorsement, and do we really endorse this sort of censorship against people because of either their politics, governmental pressure or reasons unknown? Twitter paints itself as a place where we can speak freely, provided we do so within certain rules, and the dick moves over the last 12 months make me wonder if it’s heading in the same direction as Google (tax-avoiding, hacking, lying about advertising tracking, allegedly pressuring think-tanks to fire someone over their viewpoints, biasing results in its own favour) and Facebook (forced downloads using the excuse of malware detection, kicking off drag queens and kings, tracking people after they have opted out, potential database issues that kick people off for days, endless bots and general ineffectiveness in removing them, lying about user numbers). Twitter always had bots and trolls, but we’re seeing what goes on inside nowadays, and it ain’t pretty.
   In 2018, we know Twitter is not a place for free speech, where rules apply differently depending on who you are, and where the identification of bots is not a priority.
   And even though we’ve had some happy news already this year (e.g. the prospect of Baby Clarcinda in five months’ time), these influential websites, whose actions and policies do affect us all, are “doing it all wrong”.

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


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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Drivetribe will be a mecca for motorheads—Autocade readers welcome

22.11.2016

Now that the first episode of The Grand Tour has aired, and we’re nearing the official launch of Drivetribe (November 28), we’re beginning to see just how good an investment £160 million was for Amazon when it picked up the cast of The Goodies, I mean, Top Gear (sorry, I get those BBC shows mixed up, and they do have the same initials), along with producer Andy Wilman (who himself presented Top Gear segments many years ago, but we are now spared his nude scenes).
   Essentially, you can’t do a show these days without an internet community, so what did the four men do? Create their own. They’ve put their money into Drivetribe, which has attracted an eight-figure investment from additional parties, chief among which is 21st Century Fox—that’s right, Rupert Murdoch. Amazon’s reportedly quite happy with the arrangement—and it certainly helps boost their show.
   There are already signs that Drivetribe is going to succeed as a motoring portal–social network, for those of us who have been playing with it. Maybe the Murdoch Press has learned from Myspace? Or, it’s put their money in, but it’s letting experts do their job–among whom is none other than Cate Sevilla, formerly of Buzzfeed UK, and whose blog I followed even before she arrived in the UK the good part of a decade ago. It isn’t a surprise that Cate would do well in social media—she had a knack for it, even back then.
   Car enthusiasts were invited to pitch their ideas for tribes some months back, recognizing that we’re not all the same. Additionally, there’s a bunch of us who work in some aspect of the industry, and looking through the tribes, we’re the ones whose ideas have been adopted. For those of you who use Autocade, there’s one linked to that very venture.
   As many of you who follow this blog know, I founded Autocade in 2008, a car encyclopædia that wouldn’t have the fictions of Wikipedia (or ‘Wikiality’, as Stephen Colbert calls it). Eventually, I succumbed to modern marketing trends and very lately started a Facebook page on it, at least to post some behind-the-scenes thinking and publicity photos. While it proved all right, my blog posts were here and things were all over the place.
   When I first proposed doing a Drivetribe tribe many months ago, I centred it around the marketing of cars, and the result, the Global Motorshow, can be found here. And now that it’s started, it’s become clear that I can put all the content in one place and have it appreciated by other motorheads. In a week and a half it’s grown to about a third of the following of the Facebook page, and Drivetribe hasn’t even officially launched yet. Those members are either other tribe leaders or those who signed up early on. The question must be asked: why on earth would I bother continuing with Facebook?
   In addition to Cate, Drivetribe is not faceless. The support crew respond, and there are humans working here. I’m impressed with how quickly they get back to us, and how the site is reasonably robust. On all these points, Drivetribe is the opposite of Facebook.
   Granted, I don’t know the other members there, and some I only know through reputation. But then I didn’t know a lot of the people I now find familiar on Facebook car groups. Nor did I know the people on Vox back in 2006, or some of the folks at Blogcozy in 2016. Communities build up, often thanks to common interests, and here’s one that already has a massive online community ready to flock to it. Having three celebrities helps, too, and all three Grand Tour presenters post to the site.
   If you’re interested, the scope of the Global Motorshow (originally without the definite article, but when I saw the GM initials in the icon, I rethought it) is a bit wider than Autocade. I thought it might be fun to post some of the marketing materials we come across, the odd industry analyses that have appeared at this blog (updated in some cases), and even commercial vehicles, which aren’t part of Autocade. I’ve chosen to keep the tribe public, so anyone can post if they find something interesting. Let’s hope Drivetribe can keep the spammers at bay: something that the old Vox.com failed to do, and Facebook is desperately failing to do now as well.
   Come November 28, we’ll know just how good things are looking, but I’m erring on the side of the positive—something I was not prepared to do for sites such as Ello or Google Plus.

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Posted in business, cars, internet, marketing, media, TV, UK, USA | No Comments »


How can we help those fooled into believing what their local brands are?

06.01.2016

How interesting to see a silly Tweet of mine make the Murdoch Press and lead an opinion column—I’m told it even hit the news.com.au home page.
   It’s a very old joke that I’ve told since 2002, when I walked along Bay Road in Kilbirnie and saw a locksmith sign in Futura. Back then, Dick Smith Electronics had its logotype set in ITC Avant Garde Gothic. I really thought it was a Dick Smith sign at a first, fleeting glance, seeing CKSMITH. The joke was born.
   Most in my social media streams got it except a couple of Australians who had likely come across it via Murdochs a day late, one calling me ignorant (not sure how you can get that from one Tweet), and another ‘ahole’ (is this a misspelling of aloha?). As the funniest guy in their media is John Clarke, who was born in New Zealand, maybe humour doesn’t reach a couple of households there if it has to be imported. And the number of times John’s taken the piss about us, to my thorough enjoyment, means that some of us can take a joke. Perhaps we just have a sense of humour. We have to: it was the only way we could deal with our PM appearing on The Late Show with David Letterman. It is, to quote the man, ‘a bit of banter. No drama.’
   The false indignation “on behalf of others” is always a comical one, because it’s usually founded on a misplaced and unjustified sense of superiority. During a political campaign, they’re the ones I find the most humorous and least authoritative. Thick skin came with that territory.
   Neither deserves a response beyond what I said on Twitter, but the second one (with a fresh new account to troll from, always a good sign of someone who won’t stand by their words) highlights a point that I have made on this blog before.
   “Ruby Pond” notes, ‘The guy is pure Oz and started when you were in nappies and tried! Stick to your foreign companies, they really help Oz.’ I’m not sure what I was tried about, not having been to court while I was in nappies, but maybe she’s depending on the fact that not everyone remembers back to their infancy.
   Well done. She got this from an American-owned newspaper website (remember, Rupert’s no longer an Australian, nor is the HQ in Australia and hasn’t been for a long, long time), and, for the record, I’m not as old as the business that Dick founded. There’s also a suggestion that I must be Australian, because, after all, everyone on the planet must be. No other countries exist. I didn’t want to get into trans-Tasman rivalry in such a situation, nor was it appropriate to give a list of Australian corporate misdeeds in New Zealand. The term off-topic springs to mind.
   I told her, ‘Stick to your foreign media, they really help Oz.’
   Hers is that simplistic thinking that gets people supporting foreign-owned businesses when they believe they are supporting local ones.
   Dick’s been one of my personal heroes since his solo helicopter flight and I’ve been a customer of the chain he founded since I was old enough to buy my own tech gear. Entrepreneurs like him are the ones I’ve always encouraged, through mentoring and through my policies. However, the sad story of the company, no longer owned by Dick, is one of corporate greed—which the founder himself has been critical of. We haven’t learned the lessons of so many economic crises: Gordon Gecko’s mantra of ‘greed is good’ continues to drive the corporate world.
   The reason so many multinationals buy local brands is to fool the public into thinking they’re supporting their own. We’re guilty of it ourselves, and I recall using the examples of Just Juice and most of our local newspapers on this blog. People closed accounts at the National Bank when it became ANZ here, because of a suspicion of, dislike of, or rivalry with Australia, perceiving National to be a local bank. The problem there: ANZ had owned the National Bank for years before the rebranding of its own subsidiary, and prior to that it was part of Lloyds TSB in the UK. A lot of Australians think Ford and Holden are domestic players (though, oddly, not Toyota, which probably builds as many, if not more, cars there), just as many Britons still think they are buying British when they shop at Ford and Vauxhall.
   The situation with news.com.au differs slightly in that that business was started in Australia by Rupert Murdoch’s Dad, and it has grown from there—but the fact remains that its HQ is overseas and that’s where it pays its tax. Help to Australians: not a lot. The Murdoch Press’s globalization agenda won’t be one that the “buy Australian” crowd would support for the most part.
   But this is how brands work, because they encourage us to make mental shortcuts for the products and services we consume. I’ve devoted a good deal of my professional life to it. Some should encourage scrutiny because of the power they have (Wally Olins noted, many years ago, how some brands need to adopt notions that were once reserved for states), and it was hoped that, post-No Logo, we would be more inquisitive about the backgrounds to the organizations we support.
   Even though it’s our money and time, the sad thing is that this level of inquiry remains the province of the few, those people who are willing to scrutinize their own behaviour and practise what they preach. Social media have helped spread news of corporate misbehaviours (Volkswagen will attest to that) and more people are aware; but to counter that we get more information than we ever used to, and unless something resonates, will we just forget it?
   Therefore, it can only be something where people who have done the proper investigation get to have a say. And like all human endeavours, it can be scammed, so safeguards have to be built in.
   One of the reasons the Medinge Group awarded its Brands with a Conscience accolades for close to a decade was to champion the organizations that were getting it right, inviting transparency and scrutiny, championing good corporate citizenship, and engaging in socially responsible programmes. Among them were companies devoted to doing things right by the communities they were present in, whether it was Dilmah Tea, Tata Steel or Hennes & Mauritz.
   By our championing them, selected by a think-tank of leading brand professionals, we would be able to highlight shining examples of branding, as well as give them the sort of boost they deserved. If positive companies could increase their custom, and if positive non-profits could increase their influence, then we can do some good in the world.
   As people rightly want shortcuts in their busy daily lives, then the work at Medinge, if seen as an endorsement, would help them make a decision about whether to deal with that organization or not.
   It’s nice to be in that bubble, which makes me ever-grateful to get reminders that we still have a lot of work to do. If you’re genuinely desirous of helping your own, then we need to help create more ways of reminding people which organizations do just that. The Brands with a Conscience programme was definitely a very good way of doing it. What shall we do, in the post-peak-Facebook world of the second part of this decade, to get word out? Is it through video, thanks to greater bandwidth, that allows us to experience and understand more? Is this the coming of age of some form of virtual reality? Or, as we did when we first started exploring bulletin boards and email, time again for us to reach out to people in communities very foreign and different to ours through video chats—something like Google Hangouts but actually with people? (Yes, I know, Google fans, I was taking the piss.) Is Skype the service on which this can be built?
   I would have said that technology is the great democratizer, and maybe more of us should be giving out awards to truly deserving organizations, voted on by more of the public. But we come across the issue of quality versus quantity again: the Reputation Institute surveyed 60,000 people in 15 countries and still wound up with Nestlé among the most reputable firms in the world. Nestlé may do very good things in some quarters, but it hasn’t been able to avoid a lawsuit by environmental and public interests groups in California over its water-bottling operation there, or accusations by activists who believe the company wants to privatize water at the expense of public health. Volkswagen was there in the 2014 survey. We decide on image, and that image is the very thing that gets us making bad choices.
   The next innovators are already on to it, and we don’t even know that we seek it. But, in order to self-actualize, maybe organizing us—individuals, not corporations—into global communities is the next stage. We have seen Kiva work so positively, so how about making it more interactive? Naturally we will tend to choose to help those in our own countries first—crowdfunding campaigns show us that—but allowing us to understand another human being’s situation could be the challenge in a time when governments pursue their austerity agenda. Somehow, we can restore, at least to some degree, the optimism we had when we in the first world accessed the World Wide Web for the first time.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, culture, globalization, humour, internet, marketing, media, social responsibility, technology, UK, USA | No Comments »


The greatest political speech, by Jim Hacker, MP

30.12.2014

You’ve run for office, Jack. What is your favourite political speech? Something from MLK? JFK in Berlin?
   No, it was a completely fictional one, from the minds of Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn:

I’m a good European. I believe in Europe. I believe in the European ideal! Never again shall we repeat the bloodshed of two world wars. Europe is here to stay.
   But this does not mean that we have to bow the knee to every directive from every bureaucratic Bonaparte in Brussels. We are a sovereign nation still and proud of it.
   We have made enough concessions to the European commissar for agriculture. And when I say commissar, I use the word advisedly. We have swallowed the wine lake, we have swallowed the butter mountain, we have watched our French friends beating up British lorry drivers carrying good British lamb to the French public. We have bowed and scraped, doffed our caps, tugged our forelocks and turned the other cheek. But I say enough is enough!
   The Europeans have gone too far. They are now threatening the British sausage. They want to standardize it, by which they mean they’ll force the British people to eat salami and bratwurst and other garlic-ridden greasy foods that are totally alien to the British way of life.
   Do you want to eat salami for breakfast with your egg and bacon? I don’t. And I won’t!
   They’ve turned our pints into litres and our yards into metres, we gave up the tanner and the threepenny bit, the two bob and the half-crown. But they cannot and will not destroy the British sausage! Not while I’m here.
   In the words of Martin Luther: Here I stand, I can do no other.

   ‘Party Games’ is one of the most instructive Yes, Minister episodes ever. Thanks to this incident on Fox News for inspiring this post.

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Posted in humour, politics, TV, UK | No Comments »


How brands fool us

13.04.2013

The Google experience over the last week—and I can say ‘week’ because there were still a few browsers showing blocks yesterday—reminds me of how brands can be resilient.
   First, I know it’s hard for most people to believe that Google is so incompetent—or even downright corrupt, when it came to its bypassing Safari users’ preferences and using Doubleclick to do it (but we already know how Doubleclick bypassed every browser a couple of years ago). People rely on Google, Google Docs, Google Image Search, or any of its other products. But there’s something to be said for a well communicated slogan, ‘Don’t be evil.’ Those who work in computing, or those who have experienced the negative side of the company, know otherwise. But, to most people, guys like me documenting the bad side are shit-stirrers—until they begin experiencing the same.
   Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s OK for a small publication to get blacklisted, or people tracked on the internet despite their requests not to be. But I don’t think we can let these companies off quite so easily, because there is something rotten in a lot of its conduct.
   By the same token, maybe it doesn’t matter that we can’t easily buy a regularly priced orange juice from a New Zealand-owned company in our own supermarkets. Most, if not all, of that sector is owned by the Japanese or the Americans. We haven’t encouraged domestic enterprises to be global players, excepting the obvious ones such as Fonterra.
   However, most people don’t notice it, because brands have shielded it. The ones we buy most started in this country, by the Apple and Pear Marketing Board.
   And like the National Bank, which hasn’t been New Zealand-owned for decades, people are happy to believe they are local. It was only when the National Bank changed its name to ANZ, the parent company, that some consumers balked and left—even though it was owned and run by ANZ for the good part of the past decade.
   Or we like to think that Holden is Australian when a good part of the range is designed and built in Korea by what used to be Daewoo—and brand that died out here in 2003. Holden hasn’t been Australian since the 1930s, when it became part of GM—an American company. However, for years it had the slogan, ‘Australia’s own car,’ but even the 48-215, the ur-Holden, was American-financed and developed along Oldsmobile lines.
   Similarly, Lemon & Paeroa has been, for a generation, American.
   Maybe it’s my own biases here, but I like seeing a strong New Zealand, with strong, Kiwi-owned firms having the nous and the strength to take on the big players at a global level.
   We can out-think the competition, so while we might not have the finances, we often have the know-how, that can grow if we are given the right opportunities and the right exposure. And, as we’ve seen, the right brands that can enter other markets and be aspirational, whether they play on their country of origin or not.
   Stripping away one of the layers when it comes to ownership might get us thinking about which are the locally owned firms—and which ones we want to support if we, too, agree that our own lot are better and should be stronger.
   And when it came to Google, it’s important to know that it has it in for the little guy. It’s less responsive, and it will fence with you until you can bring a bigger party to the table who might risk damaging its informal, well maintained and largely illusionary corporate motto.
   We only had Blogger doing the right thing when we piggy-backed off John Hempton having his blog unjustifiably deleted by Google, and the bad press it got via Reuter’s Felix Salmon on that occasion.
   We only had Google’s Ads Preferences Manager doing the right thing when we had the Network Advertising Initiative involved.
   Google only stopped tracking Iphone users using a hack via Doubleclick (I would classify it malware, thank you) on Safari when the Murdoch Press busted it.
   That’s the hat-trick right there. Something about the culture needs to change. It’s obviously not transparent.
   I don’t know what had Google lift the boycott after six days but we know it cleans itself up considerably more quickly when it has accidentally blacklisted The New York Times or its own YouTube. One thought I had is that the notion that Google re-evaluates your site in five hours is false. Even on the last analysis it did after I resubmitted Lucire took at least 16 hours, and that the whole matter took six days.
   But it should be a matter of concern for small businesses, especially in a country with a lot of SMEs, because Google will ride rough-shod over them based on its own faulty analyses. Reality shows that it happens, and when it does happen, you haven’t much recourse—unless you can find a lever to give it really bad publicity.
   We weren’t far off from issuing a press statement, and the one-week mark was the trigger. Others might not be so patient.
   If we had done that, I wonder if it would help people see more of the reality.
   Or should we support other search engines such as Duck Duck Go instead, and help the little guy out-think the big guys? Should there be a Kiwi search engine that actually doesn’t do evil?
   Or do we need to grow or work with some bigger firms here to prevent us being bullied by Google’s, and others’, incompetence?

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Posted in branding, business, culture, internet, marketing, media, New Zealand, publishing, USA | 5 Comments »