Archive for the ‘technology’ category


Google’s advertising business is a negligence lawsuit waiting to be actioned

09.12.2022

Apparently the New Zealand government says Big Tech will pay a ‘fair price’ for local news content under new legislation.

Forget the newcomers like Stuff and The New Zealand Herald. The Fairfax Press, as the former was, was still running ‘The internet is scary’ stories at the turn of the century. What will Big Tech pay my firm? Any back pay? We have been in this game a long, long time. A lot longer than the newbies.

And what is the definition of ‘sharing’?

Because Google could be in for a lot.

Think about it this way: Google’s ad unit has enabled a lot of fake sites, scraped sites, spun sites, malware hosts, and the like, since anyone can sign up to be a publisher and start hosting their ads.

While Google will argue that they have nothing to do with the illegitimate usage of their services, some might look at it very differently.

Take the tort of negligence. To me this is classic Donahue v. Stevenson [1932] AC 562 territory and as we’re at 90 years since Lord Atkins’ judgement, it offers us some useful pointers.

Lord Atkin stated, ‘You must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbour. Who, then, in law is my neighbour? The answer seems to be—persons who are so closely and directly affected by my act that I ought reasonably to have them in contemplation as being so affected when I am directing my mind to the acts or omissions which are called in question.’

If you open up advertising to all actors (Google News also opens itself up to splogs), then is it foreseeable that unethical parties and bad faith actors will sign up? Yes. Is it foreseeable that they will host content illegally? Yes. Will this cause harm to the original copyright owner? Yes.

We also know a lot of these pirate sites are finding their content through Google News. Some have even told me so, since I tend to start with a softly, softly approach and send a polite request to a pirate.

I’d say a case in negligence is already shaping up.

If Google didn’t open up its advertising to all and sundry, then there would have been far fewer negative consequences—let’s not even get into surveillance, which is also a direct consequence of their policy and conduct.

Do companies that are online owe a duty of care to internet users? I’d say this is reasonable. I imagine some smaller firms might find it more difficult to get rid of a hacker, but overall, this seems reasonable.

Was this duty of care breached? Was there causation? By not vetting people signing up to the advertising programme, then yes. Pre-Google, ad networks were very careful, and I had the impression websites were approved on a case-by-case, manually reviewed basis. The mess the web is in, with people gaming search engines, with fake news sites (which really started as a way of making money), with advertising making pennies instead of dollars and scam artists all over the show, can all be traced to Google helping them monetize this conduct. There’s your obiter dicta right there. (Thanks to Amanda for remembering that term after all these years.)

Google hasn’t taken reasonable care, by design. And it’s done this for decades. And damages must be in the milliards to all legitimate publishers out there who have lost traffic to these unethical websites, who have seen advertising revenue plummet because of how Google has depressed the prices and how it feeds advertising to cheap websites that have cost their owners virtually nothing to run.

Make of this what you will. Now that governments are waking up after almost two decades, maybe Big Tech is only agreeing because it fears the rest of us will figure out that they owe way, way more than the pittance they’ll pay out under these legislative schemes?

Anyone with enough legal nous to give this a bash on behalf of the millions of legitimate publishers, past and present, directly harmed by Google and other Big Tech companies’ actions?

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Keybase: one failure after another

08.12.2022

Because I locked my Twitter, Keybase was unable to find its usual proof there. It told me to link a new one from their ‘app’. I’d love to, folks, but you don’t let me see anything.
 

 

That’s Keybase. I can’t see anything in the window, and I can’t move the window. I have reinstalled the program, to no avail.

These software people are all having a good laugh at regular people. I’d rather they spent that time making things that work.

Oh, look, they’re HQed in New York. What a surprise.
 
Eventually, right-clicking the Keybase icon in the tray (when it didn’t disappear) showed a link, ‘Keybase’. I clicked on that. So now I have this window.
 

 
Ah, but you can fix the Keybase thing from the website. Great!
 

 
Let me click that link!
 

 
It’s the same story if you use their command-line method, and the bin\bash method just gives lots of errors in red.

From the days of Yahoo!, to Vox at Six Apart, to years of Big Social BS (BSBS), nothing really changes with this lot. You’d hope they’d stop failing at their jobs, but you’re reminded that many won’t.
 
PS.: The program window did load after a few hours. No idea how to add a Mastodon proof to it, so maybe it did me a favour by failing to load in a reasonable time. Their website offers zero clues on how to make this addition in the program—just that it can be done. Once again, there’s no thought given to regular people, only computer programmers.

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Avira dishonours paid subscription, blames it on the customer

08.12.2022

I see Avira has downgraded me to their free version despite my being paid up. As far as I can tell, this has been the case for months, and I remember Tweeting them back when Twitter was a thing.

I can’t log in at all, and it keeps showing a ‘Get Prime’ button to force you to pay again. No thanks.

I went to their website and fed in my issue. They then take me to this page, which is pretty typical for a lot of computer companies: blame it on the customer.

I take them at their word and clicked on their link to download the allegedly missing Microsoft .Net Framework 4.6.2. Only problem is, none of the download links on the Microsoft site work. (Because Microsoft.)

I still manage to get the MSI file from Microsoft and of course there was nothing ever wrong with my set-up. I already had the Framework installed:
 

 

Your move, Avira. And that move had better include fixing the problem and extending my subscription period by at least half a year.

I guess this is what happens when a big US company buys up what was a pretty decent German one.

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Tesla to a typeface designer, and a big missed target

03.12.2022

Now that the quartet has been launched, it’s evident that Tesla’s naming strategy is all wrong. This is what they should be called.
 

 
On a related note:
 

 

Since I haven’t seen the March 15 video now circulating on OnlyKlans, I mean, Twitter, I can’t use the DIA reporting form. But those who have, should.

If it were a New Zealand website doing the distribution, a warning would have been issued at the least; and I bet it would have been blocked by now. The person running the site would probably have been charged. Basically what our government is signalling is that a foreign fascist sympathizer has greater freedoms than the rest of us. And what the opposition parties are signalling is that that’s OK, too, because here’s a real thing that they can sink their teeth into, but they prefer to gaslight over other stuff.

The Christchurch Call website has not been updated since September.

Anyone in politics who actually has some bollocks?

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Life in the fediverse

21.11.2022

Nathan Griffiths finally answers why Facebook used to freeze on the 1st of each month. I think his theory is very plausible. Now I know, after over a decade!
 

 
Meanwhile, I see CBS News has suspended its Twitter account (after the likes of Balenciaga deleted theirs altogether). This was before Donald Trump was let back on after Musk (whose followers are probably 70 per cent bot) ran a poll approving of the former president’s return to what must now be called OnlyKlans. (MySpaceX seems passé now.)

CBS News’s words: ‘In light of the uncertainty around Twitter and out of an abundance of caution, CBS News is pausing its activity on the social media site as it continues to monitor the platform.’

It’s still live on Facebook, so I guess the genocide of Rohingya Muslims and abundant misinformation are fine.
 
We’ve already had an account be temporarily suspended over on Mastodon.art but there’s a very reasonable moderator there and the appeal was granted within hours. You can read up on this over at Lucire, which is now on a fashion-friendly instance at fashionsocial.host. (The art account remains open, probably to post covers and photography on, a bit like Lucire’s old Tumblr account.)
 
With all this fediverse talk, what a pity my Hubzilla account has gone. I was there in the 2010s, probably around the time I signed up for Mastodon in 2017, possibly before. I did get myself a Pixelfed this time, so spot me at [email protected], and Lucire is at [email protected]. Will I use them? Time will tell, but possibly not. I’d still prefer focusing on our own sites, unless we can figure out how to bring this in-house.

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On the verge of a change for the better

13.11.2022

I can’t find the original toot on Mastodon but I was led to this piece in the MIT Technology Review by Chris Stokel-Walker, ‘Here’s how a Twitter engineer says it will break in the coming weeks’.

As I’ve cut back on my Twitter usage, I haven’t witnessed any issues, but it does highlight the efforts Big Tech goes to in order to maintain their sites. If anything, it explains why Facebook failed so regularly and so often, as documented on this blog.

The prediction? An anonymous engineer tells the Review:

“Things will be broken. Things will be broken more often. Things will be broken for longer periods of time. Things will be broken in more severe ways,” he says. “Everything will compound until, eventually, it’s not usable.”

Twitter’s collapse into an unusable wreck is some time off, the engineer says, but the telltale signs of process rot are already there. It starts with the small things: “Bugs in whatever part of whatever client they’re using; whatever service in the back end they’re trying to use. They’ll be small annoyances to start, but as the back-end fixes are being delayed, things will accumulate until people will eventually just give up.”

I wonder if they will give up, since I’ve encountered Facebook bugs almost since the day I joined, and there are still people there. In fact, like tech experts, some fellow users even blame me, saying that I encounter more bugs than anyone they know. I doubt this: I just remember the bugs better than they do. We’ve all been subject to the well publicized global outages—just that the majority don’t remember them.

While one contact of mine disagrees, I think Twitter won’t collapse on its own. Mastodon could be an alternative, encouraging people away, just as Google enticed Altavista users over; or Facebook saw to the end of Myspace. There seems to be a new era coming, sweeping away the old, especially as Big Tech falters. Twitter has lost a huge chunk of its staff, and Facebook has slashed its ranks by 11,000. Mojeek has emerged as a credible, privacy-respecting alternative to Google—as Microsoft Bing collapses, taking with it its proxies, Duck Duck Go, Ecosia, Yahoo! and others. The web’s future feels more open, more optimistic, with these technologies spurring civilized dialogue and sparking ideas. It could almost be time to bring back the day-glo on a Wired cover.

On the other hand, maybe Twitter can collapse on its own, with a fake blue-tick EIi LiIIy, looking to the world like Eli Lilly, announcing free insulin and sending Eli Lilly’s share price tumbling, wiping milliards off its value. With advertisers pulling out (little wonder if their Twitter account managers are fired) it may look very different come Christmas.

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I’ve left the data farms but occasionally revisit the Matrix

06.11.2022


Warner Bros.
 
Even though Twitter is now in its MySpaceX era, I won’t shut my account. I have scripts that run through it, and I don’t wish for some schmuck to come in later and claim my username. Mastodon has taken off this week, my Twitter notifications are at a low, and as I cross-post between them, Mastodon is likely going to become my main social network.

But I get those who don’t wish to leave outright. I have a 5,555-strong following including my personal interests on Twitter. However, it does seem that once a social medium becomes a personal-interest one, ironically I lose interest in it! It was the case with Instagram, and Pinterest never held my interest for that long because it encouraged you to post and browse based on your interests! Maybe it’s me, but I prefer to enjoy my interests in the real world, or using them to build up my own sites and publications, not someone else’s.

I’m not going to criticize anyone who chooses to stay on a platform for longer than its sell-by date, because that would make me a hypocrite.
 
Facebook
I don’t hide my disdain about Facebook, but it took me over a year—nearly two—between the time it forced me to download their malware (well, they said it was a malware scanner, but there were plenty of suspicious things about it) in 2016 and updating my wall for the last time in 2017. That incident did force me to reconsider using the site, but I hung in there, in part to investigate what was going on, but also because I was still fooled into thinking it could be good for business and our own site traffic. (Those algorithms will see to throttling any links for your work, as they have been doing for over a decade.)

But in late 2017, I wrote a farewell post and stopped updating my wall. People still tagged me, and those went up, but I haven’t posted anything on my own wall since. Some work pages still get the odd update but I can’t even remember when was the last time I headed in to do anything on my public page. I have frequented the occasional group and looked after client pages but those visits are infrequent.
 
Instagram
I began using Instagram more for cars and model cars, but by the end of 2019 I had had enough, even for things I was interested in. There were too many ads, and Instagram was still collecting (laughably incorrect) interests on me despite opting out. I went from a multiple-post-per-day user to someone who’d update with a month in between, then a quarter, and I barely bother now. The last time I visited, my most favoured filters had vanished as well, a long string of feature removals that began with the maps years before. There just wasn’t a point to the site any more. But it still took a long time between my initial boredom and frustration with the site to what is currently my last post. Might I go on once more? Maybe, to do a more fitting farewell or to test something.

It also didn’t help that Instagram locked Lucire out in 2021 for a week. Lucire’s ’Gram is still active, but not that active. We’ve never really been bothered with social media as a company, and thanks to Zoho Social, I don’t even need to go to Instagram in order to post to it.
 
Twitter
Twitter also locked Lucire out in 2021 and it took a threat addressed to their lawyers to get that reinstated. Their proper processes never worked, nor does knowing a senior member of staff at Twitter UK.

But it is a place that’s polarizing and unpleasant. I’m all for diverse viewpoints but I’d like the other party to consider mine as much as I consider theirs. That doesn’t happen as often any more. And with Mastodon holding up (only one abusive message so far, unprompted, from a total stranger in Portland, Oregon) why would we stay on Twitter? But it’s only November 2022, Musk has only taken ownership, and I saw the April–May 2022 influx eventually go quiet, too.

Nevertheless, I feel Twitter’s days as my main social media site are coming to a close, with cross-posting between Mastodon and Twitter a breeze. Before, I’d post mainly on Twitter and let things flow to Mastodon, and check both. In April I began originating posts on both sites. Now in November, there doesn’t seem to be much call to originate anything on Twitter, with my own follower count going from 330-odd to over 550. It may be a tenth of what I have at Twitter, but the unpleasantness is gone, for now. My regret is that my personal interests—in the last year Twitter became my place for interacting with other car enthusiasts, especially in Ireland and Scotland—aren’t really on Mastodon, but it follows the earlier patterns. Once personal interests become a big part, for some reason I don’t feel I need the fix any more.

Then there were Tumblr and NewTumbl, discussed in earlier posts, where censorship based around some 1950s US puritanical standards became problems.

Overall, as someone who owns sites, I would prefer to create something for my readers. That gives me an infinitely bigger thrill than participating in most social media threads. And if I were to participate in social media, it seems fairer to be in the federated system, owning my own data, than being part of a plutocrat’s plaything where you hand him a perpetual licence to your mahi.

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Twitter pushes the near future to look more bipolar than multipolar

01.11.2022

Dave Troy’s analysis of the Elon Musk takeover of Twitter makes for interesting reading, since Troy has actually spoken to Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey and has a bit more of the inside track than most.

For starters, Troy reminds us that Dorsey trusts Musk, in order to keep Twitter away from Wall Street investors. Dorsey has said this publicly in a Tweet. He believes this acquisition is about ideology, so Musk doesn’t care if Twitter doesn’t make money—or at least, money will come if the technology is opened up and they can charge for other things built on top of it. Getting data on all of us helps Musk in a big way, too.

Troy posits that Musk believes we need to be on other planets, so we shouldn’t help the poor in our quest to get off this rock; but another interesting one is that he believes in a multipolar world order, something Vladimir Putin has talked about. Musk believes in rule by technocracy, Troy theorizes, not by politics. He also believes Musk is a sociopath.

All this is quite fascinating to read. Taking Troy’s words on Putin, Musk and Dorsey sharing the same vision:

All seem to think a “multipolar world” is a good thing, because after all, shouldn’t Russia get to do its thing and not be bothered by anyone else? That’s “free speech” and opposes “cancel culture,” right? So yeah, that’s aligned with Putin. But Putin himself doesn’t support free speech; his government censors wildly, but it does support speech that breaks the hegemony of the Western elites. As do Musk and friends. This is internally inconsistent.

Because of these shared values, Troy foresees Musk teaming up with D. J. Trump at Truth Social and Kanye West at Parler to control the information space.

It points to a pretty dark outcome and a polarizing world, but one which has been brewing for a long time.

We could talk about the failure of neoliberal economics and, therefore, the western hegemony. With all the figure-massaging by China when it reports its GDP, there’s still no denying that the country has risen vastly in mere decades. And Putin has said as much about wanting to fight back against western hegemony.

It’s incredibly easy to fall back on “them and us” as a concept. Dictators might find it easier to make their positions official (even if there is internal dissent that is driven underground), while the west can broadly talk about diversity while not truly breaking ranks with the neoliberal order. Our Blairite government here is positioned as such while having a social veneer (and a modicum of restraint) based on history and market positioning, while the Opposition will make things that much harder and is more blatant at wanting to do so.

I would have once said China had the potential to be an outlier, raising its educational standards and embracing Confucianism, which has its foundations in free thought and liberalism, balanced with preserving a relationship between state and subject. Perhaps with Hu and Wen things could have gone that way. Under Xi Jinping the aims have changed, and at least one China-watcher I know (who knew Xi’s father and knew of Xi from 1982) tell me that they foresaw this.

I’m not going to make any bold predictions myself, but the world looks like a place that won’t become multipolar but bipolar, and Twitter is one tool that is going to accelerate this trend—building on top of what Facebook and Google have already done by forcing users into silos. Meanwhile, Baidu et al will no doubt reflect the official positions of their governments.

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About me (according to libraries)

28.10.2022

I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me that I have a US Library of Congress entry, as a published author, though if I am reading it correctly, it relates to my 2010 mayoral campaign.

Following the links there, I arrived at a Virtual International Authority File but the data there seem to relate to my Wikipedia entries. Disappointing.

Keep going, and there’s an entry at OCLC, a non-profit library collective, also linking to Wikipedia.

But from there I have a WorldCat identity that OCLC manages, and this is where things get a little more interesting.

There’s some 2010 mayoral campaign stuff, five references to academic papers I wrote (nice to see they are ‘held by 2 WorldCat member libraries worldwide’), an early book I wrote, Typography & Branding (though I don’t recall having written it in 2002 as they claim), and a book I didn’t author but am credited in the colophon as the body typeface family’s designer, Mainland Island from Wai-te-ata Press.

I’m flattered that Typography & Branding is held at two Australian locations, the University of Newcastle Auchmuty Library and the Curtin University Library. I hope their students are getting a lot out of this early book of mine.

I admit I like this tag cloud:
 

 
Commiserations to my namesake, Jack Yan, on not winning the Toronto mayoral election. I was getting a lot of news hits from Toronto and Ontario, far more than our media here managed back in the day. I also thought he did rather well in the televised debates. We only had one episode of Back Benches in 2010 that wasn’t really a debate. But there was a fun quiz, which I won—some of us know more about this city than others.

In a very crowded field, Jack managed seventh out of 31, with incumbent John Tory holding on to his gig with 62 per cent of the vote.

I hope he has another crack at it if he feels he has something to offer. I found him a really great guy to deal with.

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Lucire at 25: how things have changed

21.10.2022

The below was originally posted in Lucire. We have made it to 25 years of age there, and rather than reinvent the wheel, this little piece—as well as the one I uploaded yesterday hours after we turned exactly 25—reflect how I feel upon reaching this milestone.
 

Olivia Macklin, photographed by Josh Fogel, make-up by Beth Follert, hair by Erika Vanessa using T3 Micro, styled by Karlee Parrish, and photography assisted by Nick Sutjongdro. Click through to see full credits.
 
Today we decided to upload a story about Olivia Macklin—the actress who you’ll have seen in Netflix’s Pretty Smart last year and, before that, the US remake of Kiwi series Filthy Rich—in part because it’s so unlike what happened on day one of Lucire 25 years ago.

Here is a wonderful story about a well connected, theatre-trained Hollywood actress, shot beautifully in the US by an outstanding team there, with me doing the writing and interviewing.

The story has already run in our print editions.

The fact we even have print editions is something remarkable to me, and if I hadn’t made the decision to do so in the early 2000s, spurred on by a mixture of desire and naïveté, I couldn’t even type that previous paragraph.

The fact we have a group of generous and talented colleagues around the world is also not lost on me. I know I am very fortunate to have them around me.

While it’s not the first time that Lucire has been published in something other than English, I take some pride in seeing our story in French, a language I have learned since I was six. That, too, is vastly different to where we were in 1997.

Twenty-five years ago, I keenly watched the statistics as visitors came to see a website I had built with my own code, using what were then pretty clever techniques to ape the feel of a glossy printed fashion magazine. But I didn’t have any new stories lined up because my enquiries to designers weren’t getting any replies.

Nowadays, I have a sense of the stories to come as we plan quite a few numbers ahead.

I enjoy balancing the needs of print and web around the world and know I am blessed to be able to do something I love.

I’m grateful to all those who have worked on Lucire and stayed on the side of good, building up a magazine brand which, I hope, stands for something positive in this world. You know who you are.

I’ve spent half my lifetime building it up so far, and know it could be even greater.

I’m no Mystic Meg so I don’t know what’s to come, nor would I want to hazard a guess. But where we are now was not something I could have even guessed in 1997. Given such a big leap forward to 2022, I won’t even attempt to contemplate 2047 just yet. I simply remain hopeful.

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