Posts tagged ‘USA’


How Silicon Valley and the Soviet Union are alike

07.07.2018


Anton Troynikov’s banner on his Twitter account.

I really enjoy Yakov Smirnoff’s old jokes about the Soviet Union, and the Russian reversal that is often associated with him. In the 21st century, I’ve used the odd one, such as, ‘In Russia, Olympics game you!’ and ‘In America, internet watch you!’. I’m sure I’ve done wittier ones, but I’ve yet to post, ‘In America, president Tweet you!’
   Today on Twitter, Anton Troynikov, while not doing exactly the above, had a bunch of Tweets about how similar the USSR was to Silicon Valley today. Although he’s not pointing out opposites, it’s humour in the same spirit. In Tweeting, he outdid the few modernized Russian reversals I’ve used over the years.

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If you thought Facebook wasn’t creepy enough

01.07.2018

How much creepier can Facebook get? How about a patent filing where signals hidden in TV broadcasts will activate the mic on your phone, the recording sent to Facebook?
   Facebook claims that it might want this patent, but it will never use this technology.
   A bit like how Facebook claims it wouldn’t kick drag kings and queens off its service, or how Facebook claims that you can set your advertising preferences, or how Facebook claims that you can turn off ad preference tracking, or how Facebook claims your computer has malware. Wake up, people, Facebook claims means Facebook lies. Cambridge Analytica has nothing on Facebook.

Oh, if you’re blind, then Facebook are arseholes, too. (Hat tip to Holly Jahangiri.)

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Why you shouldn’t build projects on Google Cloud (or, why are we still having these conversations?)

01.07.2018

This story on Medium, about Google Cloud, is all too familiar to me (hat tip to Donkey). It mirrors my experiences with Google in 2009 and 2013.
   A company monitoring solar plants and wind turbines had Google pull their account twice. The Googlebot falsely claimed there was suspicious activity, with Google threatening to delete their account in three days. If their CFO, whose credit card was linked to the account, hadn’t replied in time, that would have been millions of dollars down the gurgler.
   The company’s warning: don’t build stuff on Google Cloud. Apparently AWS is safer.
   They were very lucky, because Google’s forums are littered with people whose accounts have also been unilaterally terminated, and they were never recovered. Some have lost income streams. Most went through the “proper channels”.
   My experience in helping a friend recover his blog nearly a decade ago showed just how unreliable these channels were, with a Google forum volunteer going out of his way to be obstructive, because you dared question the big G. Most volunteers actually seem offended you questioned Google, such is their adherence to the cult.
   Mind you, I’m still waiting, three years later, for an explanation about why our Amazon Associates’ account, nearly two decades old, was unilaterally deleted. Amazon claimed six months ago that the matter had been ‘escalated’. Still waiting. Google, too, gets back to you initially, but escalation results in nought.
   When things go wrong, US Big Tech doesn’t work, does it? We’ve actively avoided Google for nearly a decade, and began posting warnings about Facebook around that time, too.
   Thank goodness for companies like Zoho: in the 2010s, Indian tech works better, and people take greater responsibility.

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

11.06.2018

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

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


Facebook’s ‘clear history’ option: why should I begin believing them now?

04.05.2018


Maurizio Pesce/Creative Commons

At the F8 conference, Mark Zuckerberg says that Facebook will offer a ‘clear history’ option.
   Considering that opting out of Facebook ad tracking does nothing, individually deleting the ad preferences that Facebook claims it would not collect only sees them repopulated, and hiding categories of ads does nothing, why would I believe Zuckerberg now?
   What he probably means is a page that fools you into thinking your history has been cleared, but Facebook itself will still know, and you’ll be targeted as you always were.
   Here’s a parallel: your interface might say your password is secure, but Facebook knows, and the boss can still use your failed password attempts to hack your email account.
   At Facebook, it appears the deceptions are always the same, just the areas they deal with differ.

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Ford to stop selling passenger cars in the US and Canada, save for Mustang and Focus Active

26.04.2018


The Ford Focus Active: by the turn of the decade, this will be the only four-door passenger car Ford will sell in the US and Canada

In a surprise move, Ford has announced that it will cease selling passenger cars in the US and Canada by the early 2020s, excepting the Mustang and the Focus Active.
   The announcement was actually for ‘North America’ but as Ford of México does a reasonable trade on Figos and Fiestas, it’s hard to see the policy be uniform right across the continent.
   It’s a cost-cutting exercise, designed to save $25,500 million in five years, and trucks and SUVs simply make more money for them. Small cars mean small profits. In fact, car sales lag those of the F-series, Escape and Explorer in the US. Shares have risen on the news.
   That means Americans and Canadians will say goodbye to the Fiesta, Fusion (the four-door sedan counterpart to the Mondeo) and Taurus, the last of which is already superseded in China. If you liked the cooking RS and STs, then too bad. Lincolns are losing money for Ford, too, so maybe the Continental will vanish—given the Fusion is history, the MKZ will follow. That doesn’t leave much in the Lincoln line-up.
   My initial reaction was that the economies of scale would worsen: if you’re not developing for a global market, will development costs be successfully amortized in the same period? We have, however, seen the Japanese do reasonably well with products strictly for the North American market, e.g. certain Acuras and Hondas that are sold only in their neck of the woods. We also know most of the costs of the car are in the platform and architecture, and Ford has shown decent adaptability, particularly with the C519 Focus (the recently released Mk IV).
   Ford says the cuts will come from sales and marketing, engineering and product development, as well as material costs, manufacturing and IT, in that order, according to Automotive News.
   The fact that product development and engineering rank so highly there is worrying to me.
   They’re bandying the word efficiency about a lot, and that always has me worried. That’s the word you used to hear from corporate raiders like Slater Walker. Things can look efficient while they’re being weakened.
   CEO Jim Hackett says he’s feeding the healthy parts of the business, ‘and deal decisively with the parts that destroy value.’
   While it’s true that the crossover, SUV and truck markets are strong, as they are in many parts of the world, I can’t help but think that Ford isn’t preparing itself for tougher future scenarios.
   Energy crises can come unpredictably, for one. Ford was late to the downsizing game in the 1970s because it saw the dollar signs with big cars. By 1977, GM had stolen a real march on Ford. By the turn of the decade, Chrysler was back from the brink with fuel-efficient cars while Ford sailed into the red.
   Chrysler found itself too truck- and SUV-heavy with the recession of the late 2000s, and its entry-level nameplate Plymouth had already vanished, thanks to mismanagement by Daimler earlier in the century.
   While there’s not always a need for a full line—AMC taught us that extending yourself too far isn’t always wise—I wonder if Ford is leaving itself vulnerable.
   Crossovers like the Escape, which might outsell the Fusion, are being beaten in the market-place by the likes of the Toyota RAV4, so it’s not as though Ford is that strong in all the markets it wishes to remain in.
   GM, having pulled out of Europe and Russia, might be in better shape because of its position in China. Ford trails GM when it comes to its Chinese footprint, although it will remain in Europe.
   Ford’s Jim Farley says the company is looking at new types of vehicles that are spacious, versatile and economical, which hopefully will fill the gap should economic surprises surface. Because you need something cheap to hook buyers and get them to the brand. That’s not going to happen if Focus Active is the smallest car in the line-up.
   Ford is likely to have these on global platforms. But that signals to me a real need to remain strong in R&D. Failing that, Ford is looking to partner up with someone, and it may already have an idea who that is.
   I am speculating here, since I don’t have any figures outlining what proportion of revenue is devoted to that area.
   Nevertheless, this sounds like an appeasement of Wall Street.
   That leaves one concern over nameplates. Ford has successfully introduced nameplates over the years because the product was right: Cortina, Mustang, Escort, Capri, Fiesta and Focus among them. But it has also failed by killing nameplates and replacing them with ones that had no real goodwill, such as Five Hundred and Freestyle.
   Whatever Ford has in mind, I hope for their sake that the new product is compelling, as much as the Mustang and Fiesta were when they appeared on the market. Both emerged in the wake of economic recessions, with Ford innovating because it had to.
   In this century, Alan Mulally’s time at Ford had a measured, sensible approach, where you could understand the future. There are question marks over what Hackett has planned, and usually we have some clue what these new products will be four years out. All I know of is that the Ranger will make it to the US again, boosting truck sales, but that’s hardly an innovation. That’s just filling a market niche with familiar product.
   Will Ford do Brasil come up with something that can be sold in both North and South America? Perhaps the next-generation Ecosport?
   There are lessons in history that shouldn’t be ignored, and Ford has one of the most interesting pasts of any car maker. There is, however, a feeling from the announcement that this heralds a time of retrenchment, as its profits fall globally, and net income in the US rising for the first quarter in part due to a lower tax rate.
   Remember, Isuzu also once thought it was a good idea to stop selling passenger cars and focus on SUVs and trucks. And they’re no longer around in North America.

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Posted in business, cars, China, globalization, marketing, USA | 1 Comment »


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

17.04.2018

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

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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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Turned alcohol ads off in Facebook? Did you honestly think they’d respect that?

10.04.2018

Steve Wozniak has quit Facebook, and apparently was surprised at the advertising preferences that the company had built up on him. Like me, Woz had been deleting the ad preferences and advertisers one at a time. Now, if Woz is surprised, then it shows you how serious it is. As I noted in my last post, Facebook even lies about those: on the public ad preferences page it might show none, in the big Facebook data dump it shows some. I believe it might even lie to advertisers about our activity.
   Here’s something else I can tell you first-hand. When you see ads on Instagram, a Facebook subsidiary, they claim that the preferences are controlled within Facebook.
   Inside the ad preferences, all alcohol ads are turned off. Guess what appeared in my Instagram? An ad for Heineken.
   Unless Heineken has launched a non-alcoholic beer under that brand, then Facebook has lied once again.



Facebook’s ad preferences mean nothing. I saw a beer ad in Instagram, then checked my Facebook ad preferences, which Instagram claims control what ads I see. That’s a load of old bollocks (i.e. business as usual at Facebook Inc.).

   And remember, throughout all of this, I had already opted out of ad customization on another Facebook page, so there’s no reason for Facebook to compile anything on me. Yet, regardless of that setting, it will compile and compile. It will even repopulate, with thousands of preferences, freshly deleted pages.
   Now we know that there’s a possibility, if you weren’t clued up about your privacy settings, that these preferences were sold to others. The latest revelation is that CubeYou had sold user data also gathered under the guise of ‘academic research’. Remember, Facebook knew about the Cambridge Analytica leak in 2015 and sought to bury the story. The new CubeYou story proves that that was not isolated. But then, if you go back through what I have been writing in this blog for a good part of this decade, you really wouldn’t be surprised about any of this. In fact, you can probably make an educated guess and say that this was normal practice at Facebook: have money, will sell. Even President Duterte of the Philippines benefited from these practices, with 1·2 million Filipinos’ data harvested, and the list goes on. In New Zealand, Facebook has said that up to 63,714 Kiwis’ profiles were harvested. And now, it appears there’s even a link with US businessman Peter Thiel, who gained New Zealand residency after spending less than 1 per cent of the time required here, and whose companies, as defence contractors, have received millions of dollars of New Zealand taxpayer funds.
   Thanks to Facebook, governments have a lot on us, something Edward Snowden has been saying for years. The difference in the 2000s and 2010s is, thanks to digital narcissism, we’re the ones willingly providing this information, while Facebook milks it for all it’s worth, before its enriched CEO pretends to play victim, and his people try to use legal means to shut down the negative media stories.

PS., April 14: If you thought the above was isolated, you’d be quite wrong:

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Business as usual at Facebook: Mark Zuckerberg comes forth, tells us nothing we didn’t already know

22.03.2018

Yesterday, Mark Zuckerberg came out and made a statement on Facebook that had no apology (though he gave a personal one later on CNN) and, at a time when people demanded transparency, he continued with opaqueness.
   First, he told us nothing we didn’t already know about the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
   Secondly, he avoided the most pressing points.
   No mention that Facebook had covered this up for two years. No explanation of why he failed to answer journalists about this for two years. No explanation on why Facebook tried to gag the story in The Observer by threatening legal action. No mention that it had failed, by law, to report a data breach that it knew about.
   From the clips I saw on CNN, Zuckerberg claims he wants to restrict access to developers, and he still doesn’t know if there are other Cambridge Analyticas out there. Nothing about Facebook gathering more and more data on you and using it improperly themselves, which has actually been an ongoing issue. From the clips online provided by CNN, it wasn’t a hard-hitting interview, with the journalist going very easy on the milliardaire in what amounted to a puff piece. I really hope there was more meat than what we were shown, given how much ammo there is.
   The site has countless more failings, including its bots and its bugs, but I’ve mentioned them before.
   I’m unimpressed and for once, the market agreed, with shares dipping 2·7 per cent after Zuckerberg’s first comments in the wake of the scandal.
   However, CNN Money thinks Cambridge Analytica is an anomaly, even when Facebook’s own boss says they are still to ‘make sure’ whether there are other firms out there in the same boat. ‘We’re going to go now and investigate every app that has access to a large amount of information.’ In other words, it hasn’t been done, and yet Facebook knew about this since 2015.
   In other words, the world is seeing what I and others have talked about for years: Facebook is irresponsible, it does nothing till it’s embarrassed into it, and it collects a lot of data on you even after you’ve opted out of certain features on their site.
   Not a lot has changed since 2009, when he gave this interview with the BBC. Say one thing, do another.

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