Posts tagged ‘politics’


Big Tech and advertising: the con is being revealed

13.11.2019

People are waking up to the fact that online advertising isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.
   Last month, Bob Hoffman’s excellent The Ad Contrarian newsletter noted, ‘I believe the marketing industry has pissed away hundreds of billions of dollars on digital fairy tales and ad fraud over the past 10 years (in fact, I’m writing a book about it.) If I am right, and if the article in question is correct, we are in the midst of a business delusion unmatched in all of history.’ He linked to an article by Jesse Frederik and Mauritz Martin (also sent to me by another colleague), entitled ‘The new dot com bubble is here: it’s called online advertising’ in The Correspondent. In it, they cast doubt over the effectiveness of online ads, hidden behind buzzwords and the selection effect. If I understand the latter correctly, it means that people who are already predisposed to your offering are more likely to click on your ads, so the ads aren’t actually netting you new audiences.
   Here’s the example Frederik and Martin give:

Picture this. Luigi’s Pizzeria hires three teenagers to hand out coupons to passersby. After a few weeks of flyering, one of the three turns out to be a marketing genius. Customers keep showing up with coupons distributed by this particular kid. The other two can’t make any sense of it: how does he do it? When they ask him, he explains: “I stand in the waiting area of the pizzeria.”

   The summary is that despite these companies claiming there’s a correlation between advertising with them and some result, the truth is that no one actually knows.
   And the con is being perpetuated by the biggest names in the business.
   As Hoffman noted at the end of October:

A few decades ago the advertising industry decided they couldn’t trust the numbers they were being given by media. The result was the rise of third-party research, ratings, and auditing organizations.
   But there are still a few companies that refuse to allow independent, third-party auditing of their numbers.

   No surprises there. I’ve already talked about Facebook’s audience estimates having no relationship with the actual population, so we know they’re bogus.
   And, I imagine, they partly get away with it because of their scale. One result of the American economic orthodoxy these days is that monopolies are welcome—it’s the neoliberal school of thinking. Now, I went through law school being taught the Commerce Act 1986 and the Trade Practices Act 1974 over in Australia, and some US antitrust legislation. I was given all the economic arguments on why monopolies are bad, including the starvation of innovation in their sector.
   Roger McNamee put me right there in Zucked, essentially informing me that what I learned isn’t current practice in the US. And that is worrisome at the least.
   It does mean, in places like Europe which haven’t bought into this model, and who still have balls (as well as evidence), they’re happy to go after Google over their monopoly. And since our anti-monopoly legislation is still intact, and one hopes that we don’t suddenly change tack (since I know the Commerce Act is under review), we should fight those monopoly effects that Big Tech has in our country.
   What happens to monopolies? Well, if past behaviour is any indication, they can get broken up. Sen. Elizabeth Warren is simply recounting American history when she suggests that that’s what Facebook, Google and Amazon should endure. There was a time when Republicans and Democrats would have been united on this prospect, given the trusts that gave rise to their Sherman Act in 1890, protecting the public from market failures like these. Even a generation ago, they’d never have allowed companies to get this influential.
   Also a generation ago, we wouldn’t swallow the BS an advertising platform gave us without something to back it up. Right now, it seems we don’t have anything—and the industry is beginning to cry foul.


Lorie Shaull/Creative Commons Attribution–Share Alike 2·0

Regardless of your political stripes, Sen. Elizabeth Warren calling for the break-up of Big Tech made sense as recently as a generation ago.

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


The latest round of Facebook lies

26.10.2019

I believe one of the Democrat-leaning newspapers in the US compiles a list of lies by Donald Trump. I really think we should be doing one for Facebook, as it would make for impressive reading, though it would also take some time to compile.
   Founder Mark Zuckerberg claimed he talked to media from ‘across the spectrum’, but as The Intercept’s Jon Schwarz and Sam Biddle discovered, this is another lie: Zuckerberg cultivates relationships with US conservatives, not their liberals, based on the duo’s checks.

   This adds fuel to the fire that Zuckerberg dreads US senator Elizabeth Warren getting into the White House, and has said so, and we know the buck really stops with him when it comes to Facebook’s activities. Facebook even pulled Sen. Warren’s ads from their platform briefly: so much for impersonal algorithms, ‘We’re just a platform,’ and free speech. We also know from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s questioning of the Facebook founder that he claims he passes the buck on what media are considered legit to a conservative group, something he’ll have sanctioned, so be prepared to see Facebook reflect his (and Trump-supporting, Facebook board member Peter Thiel’s) right-wing political views.
   As Schwarz and Biddle also note, Facebook’s VP for US public policy is a George W. Bush aide and a board member for the former president’s museum.
   Jack Morse at Mashable, meanwhile, reported that Zuckerberg is attempting historical revisionism on why he started Facebook. Retconning might work with comic books but less so in real life. Apparently, instead of the truth—a website which scraped photos of students and asked people to rate who was hotter—Facebook is now something created to give people a voice after the Iraq war in 2003.
   Sorry, Mark, we know you didn’t have such noble intentions, regardless of what they eventually became.
   It’s an insult to all those entrepreneurs who actually did start businesses or ventures with noble intent or socially responsible purposes.
   Frankly, sticking to the truth, and saying you discovered the power of connecting people, is a far more compelling story.
   Except, of course, Facebook no longer connects people. It divides people by validating their own biases, including less savoury viewpoints. It stokes outrage because that’s worth more clicks and time spent on its site. At worst, it’s a tool used for genocide. It’s a shame Facebook refuses to acknowledge the Pandora’s box it has opened, because its top management has no desire to do a thing about it. And as such it loses my respect even further. Don’t want the likes of Warren calling for breaking your company up? The solution is actually quite simple, but you all have become too rich and too establishment to want to break things.
   I actually had to write this in my op–ed for Lucire’s 22nd anniversary last week: ‘In this respect, we see our mission as the opposite of social media: we want to bring people together, not usher them into silos and echo chambers.’ The narrative Facebook wishes to spin, like so many in its past, is an easily seen-through joke.

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Facebook: no change, business as usual

24.10.2019

I would have loved to have seen this go to trial, but Facebook and the plaintiffs—a group of advertising agencies alleging they had been swindled by the social network—settled.
   Excerpted from The Hollywood Reporter, ‘The suit accused Facebook of acknowledging miscalculations in metrics upon press reports, but still not taking responsibility for the breadth of the problem. “The average viewership metrics were not inflated by only 60%-80%; they were inflated by some 150 to 900%,” stated an amended complaint.’
   Facebook denies this and settled for US$40 million, which is really pocket change for the multi-milliard-dollar company. Just the price of doing business.
   Remember, Facebook has been shown to have lied about the number of people it can reach (it now admits that its population estimates have no basis in, well, the population), so I’m not surprised it lies about the number of people who watch their videos. And remember their platform has a lot of bots—I still have several thousand reported on Instagram that have yet to be touched—and Facebook itself isn’t exactly clean.
   Every time they get called out, there are a few noises, but nothing ever really happens.
   This exchange between Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Mark Zuckerberg is a further indication that nothing will ever happen at Facebook to make things right—there’s no will from top management for that to happen. There’s too much to be lost with monetization opportunities for questionable services to be shut down, while Facebook is all too happy to close ones that don’t make money (e.g. the old ‘View as’ feature). The divisions and “fake news” will continue, the tools used by all the wrong people.
   It’s your choice whether you want to be part of this.

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Posted in business, culture, internet, politics, TV, USA | 1 Comment »


What’s all this Johnny Foreigner type?

23.10.2019

After all that bollocks from the Hon J. Rees-Mogg, MP about banning the metric system from the Commons, I thought the Brexit-loving Tories would at least get this right.

   Strictly speaking, I realize it was Book Antiqua, though as we all know, that’s a Palatino clone.
   Since even English types like Baskerville were influenced by what was happening on the Continent, for official use, the UK really needs to go back to Old English. And yes, I realize that suggestion has unpleasant parallels to what was going on in Germany in the 1930s …
   There was a great follow-up to my Tweet, incidentally:

   And for some reason, this keeps coming to mind:

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Posted in culture, design, humour, internet, politics, publishing, typography, UK | No Comments »


Wikipedia acts swiftly when criticized, bans an editor for life

05.10.2019

When I wrote this post in May 2018, ‘People are waking up to Wikipedia’s abuses’, even I didn’t expect that Wikipedia would act so harshly when it gets criticized on its own platform.
   One editor decided to create a page on Philip Cross, who (or which) received a great deal of attention that month, and was probably deserving of a page detailing his notoriety. Cross, as I detailed in May 2018, is a person or entity that is anti-Jeremy Corbyn and favourable toward right-wing figures. He ‘has not had a single day off from editing Wikipedia between August 29, 2013 and May 14, 2018, including Christmas Days.’
   Wikipedia’s reaction? Delete the page, and subject its creator to a lifetime ban. Then, any record of the Philip Cross page was scrubbed clean—forget page histories. The story is detailed at Off-Guardian here.
   In other words, Wikipedia was complicit in biased editing. I’ve been saying Wikipedia was questionable for over a decade, but to actually protect someone who engages in what some might call libel?
   It’s entirely consistent with Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales’s attitude to the whole thing, as Craig Murray detailed at the time.
   After five years of Cross’s inputs to Wikipedia, he was finally discussed by Wikipedia by a principled editor, KalHolmann, though not without opposition (KalHolmann was initially “punished” for even bringing it up). Like all big sites, Wikipedia decided to show people that it has some form of governance only after it had been outed (including a BBC World Service radio story that went out during the arbitration process) for allowing abuse.
   And by means of a postscript to these events of mid-2018 that I missed till now, George Galloway, a regular target of Philip Cross’s Wikipedia activity, claims he has identified the man, and knows the background behind him.

Additional links: wikipedia.fivefilters.org/agenda.html, wikipedia.fivefilters.org/evidence/, www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/w3csws6q, www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2018/05/emma-barnett-a-classic-philip-cross-wikipedia-operation/, and everipedia.org/wiki/lang_en/philip-cross-wikipedian/.

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Posted in culture, internet, politics, UK, USA | No Comments »


How to come third in a mayoral election

14.09.2019

One mayoral candidate recently asked me for my advice. I won’t name who it is, since I want those who contact me to know I’ll keep their communications in confidence.
   Now, the first thing to do is to get a time machine and ask me the same question 18 months earlier.
   But I can only provide tips for coming third in Wellington:

• have forward-thinking policies;
• appeal to thinking voters of all ages;
• resonate with younger voters who are most affected by them;
• frighten the establishment with common sense.

   I can’t advise how to win since I didn’t. Presumably it is to do the opposite of my approach?

• Use rose-coloured glasses;
• appeal to non-thinking voters of all ages;
• resonate with older voters more likely to vote;
• suck up to the establishment.

   This is with the greatest respect to many previous winners, who actually didn’t do all these things. But they make for a couple of fun Tweets.
   I repeat the call to administer the Voigt-Kampff test to all candidates.

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Posted in humour, internet, leadership, New Zealand, politics, Wellington | No Comments »


On Boris Johnson’s strategy, Ken Clarke nails it

03.09.2019

Ken Clarke has been around long enough (indeed, as the Father of the House, he has been in Parliament for longer than my lifetime) to see through political shenanigans, and Bojo and Brexit are no exception. (Yes, Minister is also instructive.)

   Subsequently, Jacob Rees-Mogg, who lives in a dream world detached from understanding others, inspired even more rebellion, and with the PM’s speech, it played out exactly as Clarke predicted. Not predicted: Iain Duncan-Smith picking his nose.
   Johnson is acting like the schoolboy who hasn’t done his homework and is trying to hide it in a myriad of excuses. The UK doesn’t even have a negotiating team, according to former Chancellor Philip Hammond, and the PM’s claims of ‘progress’ are a mystery to those in Brussels. There is only so much nationalistic bluster will get you if you don’t actually do the work—even if you voted leave, you would expect this government to have advanced your interests even slightly. It appears that that was never its aim. It feels a bit like the last days of Mao: keep it messy in a hope to hold on a little longer.

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An expat’s thoughts about Hong Kong

01.09.2019


Studio Incendo/Creative Commons 2·0

As an expat, I’ve been asked a few times about what I think of the Hong Kong protests. There’s no straight answer to this. Here are a few thoughts, in no particular order.

  • The British never gave us universal suffrage, so the notion that it was all roses before 1997 is BS. The best the Brits managed was half of LegCo toward the end, but before that it was pitiful. And the express reasons they didn’t give it to us, certainly in the mid-20th century, were racist.
  • Having said that, I’d love to see half of LegCo up for grabs, if not more.
  • The extradition bill is, in the grand scheme, pretty minor. If the PRC really wants to grab you, they will.
  • However, I totally get that codifying it into law gives them greater authority, or is perceived to give them that.
  • It wouldn’t be the first time the US State Department and others meddled in our affairs, and I don’t believe this is an exception.
  • Expecting the British to help out is a hiding to nothing. The Shadow Cabinet was critical of John Major’s Conservatives in the 1990s over Hong Kong, and when in office, months before the handover, was arguably even less effective. There’ll be the occasional op-ed from Chris Patten. Not much else. The UK is too mired in its own issues anyway, looking more and more like the sort of failed state that it professes to “help” right now.
  • It hasn’t helped that HK Chinese feel that our culture is under threat, including our language, and there hasn’t been any indication from the PRC of alleviating this (the old playbook again). Observers inside China may see HKers’ embrace of its internationalist culture as colonial and subservient to foreigners; HKers see it as a direct contrast to the lack of openness within the PRC between 1949 and the early 1980s and as a “freer” expression of Chineseness. Arguments could be made either way on the merits of both positions. That resentment has been stoked for some time, and HKers will only need to point to the Uighurs as an indication of their fears.
  • Withdrawal of the bill, even temporarily, would have been wiser, as it’s not a time for the PRC to get hard-line over this. This shouldn’t be a case of us v. them. This is, however, a perfect opportunity to have dialogue over reinterpreting “one country, two systems”, and persuade the ROC of its merit—the Chinese commonwealth idea that has been in my thoughts for a long time. However, Xi is one of the old-school tough guys, and this mightn’t be on his agenda. China hasn’t exactly gone to young people to ask them what they think—we never have, whether you’re talking about the imperial times, the period between 1911 and 1949, or afterwards.
  • This might be my romantic notions of Hong Kong coloured by childhood memories, but the place thrived when the young could express themselves freely through music and other arts. They felt they had a voice and an identity.
  • Right now there’s a huge uncertainty about who we are. I think we’re proudly Chinese in terms of our ethnicity and heritage, and we might even think our ideas of what this means are superior to others’. Rose-coloured glasses are dangerous to don because they don’t tell us the truth. But we might be nostalgic for pre-1997 because the expression of our identity was so much clearer when the ruling power was nothing like us. Who cares if they thought we were a bunch of piccaninnies if they just let us get on with our shit? Now there’s a battle between “our Chineseness” versus “their Chineseness” in the eyes of some HKers. Thanks to certain forces stoking the tensions, and probably using the resentment HK Chinese feel, there isn’t a comfortable, foreseeable way out any time soon.

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Posted in China, culture, Hong Kong, politics, UK, USA | No Comments »


Facebook is getting away with it again—even though it knew about Cambridge Analytica

25.07.2019

Thanks to my friend Bill Shepherd, I’ve now subscribed to The Ad Contrarian newsletter. Bob Hoffman is one of the few who gets it when it comes to how insignificant the FTC’s Facebook fine is.
   Five (American) billion (American) dollars sounds like a lot to you and me, but considering Facebook’s stock rose on the news, they’ve more than covered the fine on the rise alone.
   Bob writes: ‘The travesty of this settlement guarantees that no tech company CEO will take consumer privacy or data security seriously. Nothing will change till someone either has to pay personally or go to jail. Paying insignificant fines with corporate money is now an officially established cost of doing business in techland and—who knows?—a jolly good way to boost share prices.’
   There’s something very messed up about this scenario, particularly as some of the US’s authorities are constantly being shown up by the EU (over Google’s monopoly actions) and the UK’s Damian Collins, MP (over the questions being asked of Facebook—unlike US politicians’, his aren’t toothless).
   The US SEC, meanwhile, has released its report on Facebook, showing that Facebook knew what was happening with Cambridge Analytica in 2015–16, and that the company willingly sold user data to the firm. SEC’s Stephanie Avakian noted, ‘As alleged in our complaint, Facebook presented the risk of misuse of user data as hypothetical when they knew user data had in fact been misused.’ You can read the entire action as filed by the SEC here.

In its quarterly and annual reports filed between January 28, 2016 and March 16, 2018 (the “relevant period”), Facebook did not disclose that a researcher had, in violation of the company’s policies, transferred data relating to approximately 30 million Facebook users to Cambridge Analytica. Instead, Facebook misleadingly presented the potential for misuse of user data as merely a hypothetical investment risk. Moreover, when asked by reporters in 2017 about its investigation into the Cambridge Analytica matter, Facebook falsely claimed the company found no evidence of wrongdoing, thereby reinforcing the misleading statements in its periodic filings.

   As I have been hashtagging, #Facebooklies. This is standard practice for the firm, as has been evidenced countless times for over a decade. The settlement: US$100 million. Pocket change.

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


I’m still doing election campaign posters, just not what you thought

24.06.2019

If I think so little of Big Tech, why do I remain on Twitter?
   Because of some great people. Like Dan, who Tweeted:

Followed by:

   My response: ‘Awesome, I just got hired as the graphic designer!’

   I still maintain that the idea of PM Boris Johnson makes as much sense as Rabbi Mel Gibson.

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Posted in design, humour, interests, internet, politics, UK | No Comments »