Posts tagged ‘Big Tech’


Bing increases Techdirt’s results, saving it some embarrassment

13.01.2023

After notifying Mike Masnick, the founder of Techdirt, about my findings about Bing, coincidentally, the search engine began spidering his latest articles. It claimed to have 150 results, and delivered 92, many of which were repeated from page to page as usual. Tonight it’s a claimed 249, delivering 173.

Techdirt is well respected and very popular, and disliked presently only by the Musk bros. What’s the likelihood that Microsoft knew about their shortcomings here and corrected things? I wasn’t exactly quiet, and I told more than Mike and the readers of this blog (I went on Reddit, for example), since it was so ridiculous that Bing could only deliver one result for such a major website. It’s embarrassing for them, so they decided to do the right thing. Like any Big Tech firm: do nothing unless you risk getting bad press. This is right out of the Facebook playbook, for example.

What a pity they could not do the right thing for the rest of us.

Just as a comparison, since I am nothing if not fair. Here are the claimed number of results versus the number delivered for site:techdirt.com:
 
Mojeek: 48,606/1,000
Google: 54,700/394
Bing: 249/173
Yandex: 2,000/250
Baidu: —/1
Gigablast: 0/0
Yep: —/10
 

In that context, it doesn’t look so bad, especially as a lot of Yandex results are of Techdirt’s various directories and largely useless.

It’s not so hot for site:lucire.com over at Bing:
 
Mojeek: 3,481/1,000
Google: 5,970/307
Bing: 2/10
Yandex: 2,000/250
Baidu: 1,480/400
Gigablast: 0/0
Yep: —/10
 

I’m not kidding: Bing claims it had 2 results and delivered 10. Looks like one of those rare times they underestimated. Well off the mark of the 55 they have been doing since mid-2022 and that was pathetic. There is nothing in the results from after 2007. Maybe fixing Techdirt’s results meant that Bing had so little computing power for every other site!

Well, I guess I can no longer claim that for a site:lucire.com search that Bing is repeating results from page to page, since it only has one page.
 


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An introduction to smart TVs for a complete novice

27.12.2022

Earlier in December, we decided to put a TV into our guest room. One catch: there is no aerial there, so initially we thought, ‘We have some great DVDs, let’s plug in the DVD player.’ But it didn’t quite feel right.

We’ve stayed at enough places with smart TVs, including some running the Android TV system. We’ve never really had a need to pursue this since most of the things I really love to watch have come out on DVD, and if Amanda and I wanted on-demand, there’s always the laptop with an HDMI cable. Simple.

I began looking into this and was intrigued by one suggestion on Mastodon for an Nvidia Shield, but alas, none were available in the time-frame (viz. before guests arrived). I was largely stuck with the Amazon Fire sticks, various Google-branded Chromecasts, and the DishTV Smartvu. The ever-knowledgeable Drew at PB Tech recommended the Smartvu, since he was in a similar boat: his place didn’t have an aerial, and he used the Smartvu to work as his regular TV. It also happened to be the most expensive of the lot.

My criteria were fairly basic. I wanted something that I could set up and sideload APKs on to, and never, ever go to a Google Play store. I began de-Googling in earnest at the end of 2009 and I sure as heck wasn’t going to intentionally invite the bastards back 13 years later—and actually pay to have their spyware in my home. The fact that Google’s offerings were more expensive than Amazon’s should be an affront to all consumers. Pay more to have them spy on you!

DishTV’s New Zealand distributor has comprehensive instructions on how to set it up, and sure enough, one of the first steps was it would take you to the Google Play store. No doubt that would be the same story with the Google Chromecasts. Which, unfortunately, left me with one choice: give Amazon money even though they owe me (and this is an ongoing dispute in which, since they are Big Tech, I believe they are lying).

But Amazon it was. PB was charging quite a lot more than Harvey Norman and Noël Leeming and, while Gerry Harvey might be a prized dick, he does seem to hire good people on the shop floor. I never had anyone at Leeming help. Nor could I even find the product at their Tory Street store.

Amazon does require an Amazon account, which I still have, despite all the BS; but once you are in, sideloading is not too difficult. And there’s no Google Play in sight, even if it is a reasonably stock Chromecast set-up.

Of course, I went through the privacy settings and made sure any data the gadget had collected to date were deleted.

I then proceeded to follow these instructions and enabled third-party apps.

The first method, sideloading from my phone using Apps2Fire, never worked. Waste of time. For whatever reason, the third method didn’t, either: ES File Explorer refused to sync with Dropbox despite all my credentials being correct. Of course I had to attempt the second one last—download the Downloader (yes, really), then go to the address where the APKs are.

It’s just as well, since some of the Amazon-hosted APKs don’t work (e.g. Euronews), so you need to find alternatives. Matt Huisman offers some New Zealand ones on his website, and getting the Freeview one was a no-brainer—the terrestrial channels are then all available, as though one had a normal TV. (I was very surprised to learn that this is not a common thing to do, and equally surprised that the APK was not available on Amazon; presumably it’s not on Google Play either.)
 

 

Amazon did suggest getting the Fire TV app for my phone, but when you scan the bar code, it offers two destinations from which to download it: Google Play and Apple Appstore (I still want to call it Ishop). This is pretty senseless, since Amazon has gone to the trouble of hosting so many APKs itself, why not its own one?

Maybe … it’s because it’s a lemon and doesn’t work. I grabbed the one at APK Mirror, and it was about as useless as a milliardaire running a social network. (I don’t believe it even installed.) No biggie, once everything was set up I had zero use for it.

Which leaves Alexa, which interested me from a technological point of view. The original Alexa will stop working on December 31, so I might as well shift to using the thing that Amazon now calls Alexa. And to ask it to make fart noises, which seems to be its only utility if you don’t have other gadgets wired into the network. Only problem: how does it work? Where do you talk into? The stick? The remote?

Strangely, Amazon does not say when I searched for information on its own site, so I guess everyone else automatically worked it out by telepathy.

All I know is when I pressed the button, as per the very few instructions provided in the box, the TV said to wait for the tone, then speak. Nothing ever happened, whether I spoke to the remote or to the stick.

One Mastodon user told me that I had to talk into the slot in the remote.

It was a week later that I tried keeping the button pressed down after the tone. Only then did it work.

I’m not sure how anyone is supposed to know that, especially as Amazon’s own instructions just instruct you to speak after the tone. There’s no instruction to keep the button pressed down. I would even say that implicitly, you’re instructed to let go of the button. You hear a strange noise, you release the button. That seems like a natural reaction to me.

Again we come to the usual conclusion that tech people make a lot of presumptions about how tech-savvy the public is. Folks, you need to assume that we are coming to these gadgets with zero knowledge about them. Yes, I realize Walter Matthau had to press the button on his mic to talk to Robert Shaw in The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, but Walt never had a computer tone beep back at him.

Now with hundreds of channels, there’s still barely anything to watch, though I did find the Jackie Chan movie Wheels on Meals in the original Cantonese. Once I finish watching that, it’s back to the DVDs for me. I just hope our guests are happy.


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For the web, the glass is half full

12.12.2022


Manu Schwendener/Unsplash
 
I like what Robin Sloan had to say in his blog post, ‘A Year of New Avenues’. It’s typeset in Filosofia, which is another great reason to read it.

I’ve often said the trends of a new decade, or century, don’t emerge on the dot. You’ve got to get a few years in for them to become apparent. (Some even argue that we should look at decades beginning midway, e.g. 1975 to 1984, to identify groups of trends.)

Robin believes that the platforms of the 2010s are history.

And just as I’ve drawn parallels between 1973 and 2022, Robin feels that 2023 is going to have some of the energy of 2003, as far as the internet is concerned:

It is 2003 again. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram haven’t been invented yet … except, it’s also 2023, and they have, so you can learn from their rise and ruin …

As the platforms of the last decade crumble, we might put “founder” culture back on the shelf …

I want to insist on an amateur internet; a garage internet; a public library internet; a kitchen table internet. At last, in 2023, I want to tell the tech CEOs and venture capitalists: pipe down. Buzz off. Go fave each other’s tweets.

There’s more good stuff after that, which I’ll leave you to read. It’s a glass-half-full world of where the web can head, and if Robin’s even half-right, then it’s going to be an upbeat time for creative people.


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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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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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Kissing that Disqus advertising money goodbye (webmasters beware)

14.07.2022

I’m going to have to write off what Disqus owes us. No response to this thread, and no response to a DM I sent at their request.

I assume it’s a bit like Amazon, where they just ignore you regardless of what you’ve actually earned.

I think the rule is if it’s a big US tech firm, they’re going to BS you—especially when it comes to money.

Maybe it’s time to threaten them as I did with Twitter?


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Back, on the new box

28.03.2022

There are a few experiments going on here now that this blog is on the new server. Massive thanks to my friend who has been working tirelessly to get us on to the new box and into the 2020s.

First, there’s a post counter, though as it’s freshly installed, it doesn’t show a true count. There is a way to get the data out of Yuzo Related Posts into the counter—even though that’s not entirely accurate, either, it would be nice to show the record counts I had back in 2016 on the two posts revealing Facebook’s highly questionable “malware scanner”.
 

 

Secondly, we haven’t found a good related post plug-in to replace Yuzo. You’ll see two sets of related posts here. The second is by another company who claims their software will pick up the first image in each post in the event that I have not set up a featured image or thumbnail; as you can see, it doesn’t do what it says on the tin.

Some of you will have seen a bunch of links from this blog sent out via social media as the new installation became live, and I apologize for those.

Please bear with us while we work through it all. The related post plug-in issue has been the big one: there are many, but they either don’t do as they claimed, or they have terrible design. Even Wordpress’s native one cannot do the simple task of taking the first image from a post, which Yuzo does with ease.
 
Recently a friend recommended a Google service to me, and of course I responded that I would never touch anything of theirs, at least not willingly. The following isn’t addressed to him, but the many who have taken exception to my justified concerns about the company, and about Facebook, and their regular privacy breaches and apparent lack of ethics.

In short: I don’t get you.

And I try to have empathy.

When I make my arguments, they aren’t pulled out of the ether. I try to back up what I’ve said. When I make an attack in social media, or even in media, there’s a wealth of reasons, many of which have been detailed on this blog.

Of course there are always opposing viewpoints, so it’s fine if you state your case. And of course it’s fine if you point out faults in my argument.

But to point the “tut tut” finger at me and imply that I either shouldn’t or I’m mistaken, without backing yourselves up?

So where are you coming from?

In the absence of any supporting argument, there are only a handful of potential conclusions.

1. You’re corrupt or you like corruption. You don’t mind that these companies work outside the law, never do as they claim, invade people’s privacy, and place society in jeopardy.

2. You love the establishment and you don’t like people rocking the boat. It doesn’t matter what they do, they’re the establishment. They’re above us, and that’s fine.

3. You don’t accept others’ viewpoints, or you’re unable to grasp them due to your own limitations.

4. You’re blind to what’s been happening or you choose to turn a blind eye.

I’ve heard this bullshit my entire life.

When I did my first case at 22, representing myself, suing someone over an unpaid bill, I heard similar things.

‘Maybe there’s a reason he hasn’t paid you.’

‘They never signed a contract, so no contract exists.’

As far as I can tell, they were a variant of those four, since one of the defendants was the president of a political party.

I won the case since I was in the right, and a bunch of con artists didn’t get away with their grift.

The tightwad paid on the last possible day. I was at the District Court with a warrant of arrest for the registrar to sign when he advised me that the money had been paid in that morning.

I did this case in the wake of my mother’s passing.

It amazed me that there were people who assumed I was in the wrong in the setting of a law student versus an establishment white guy.

Their defence was full of contradictions because they never had any truth backing it up.

I also learned just because Simpson Grierson represented them that no one should be scared of big-name law firms. Later on, as I served as an expert witness in many cases, that belief became more cemented.

Equally, no one should put any weight on what Mark Zuckerberg says since history keeps showing that he never means it; and we should believe Google will try one on, trying to snoop wherever they can, because history shows that they will.
 
Ancient history with Google? Here’s what its CEO said, as quoted in CNBC, in February. People lap this up without question (apart from the likes of Bob Hoffman, who has his eyes open, and a few others). How many people on this planet again? It wasn’t even this populated in Soylent Green (which supposedly takes place in 2022, if you’re looking at the cinematic version).
 


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Amazon: as dodgy as the rest of them

28.11.2021

Jane Pendry in the UK Tweeted this in response to a Tweet about Amazon, and I had to reply:

   Jane helpfully elaborated:

   You read correctly: Amazon is just as dodgy as the others I’ve criticized publicly. Just that I hadn’t got around to them on this blog, because there had been a lengthy dialogue and I wanted to get more facts. But above is where I’ve got to so far, and it seems I’m not alone.


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That’s the hat-trick: Twitter has locked Lucire’s account

24.10.2021


Pixabay

In the space of less than a month, another US social network has shut Lucire’s account down. This time it’s Twitter.
   When going through the settings to see if Lucire could be verified, Twitter requested that we complete all the information. It specifically states that the date of birth should be entered, even for companies.
   It only seemed logical to put in Lucire’s founding date, October 20, 1997.
   That was enough to have the account locked. As we started the account in the 2000s, it stated we were under age when that happened.
   We’re not sure why an event in the 2000s would have an impact in the 2020s, but more importantly, Twitter should have worded its request far better.
   As a company account, any number of people could be managing it. It so happened that I set up the account, so I provided them with my driver’s licence as proof of my age—but that’s not the age of the company. What if I had assigned a social media manager in their early 20s to do the job? Isn’t it conceivable that they would then inadvertently lock the account if they put in their own date of birth?
   Not even Facebook or Instagram are daft enough to lock an account based on a company’s foundation date. What other date would a reasonable person have put down when the company’s birthday is requested? The date of first operation? The date the idea was conceived? The date of incorporation? All of those would have fallen foul of Twitter’s systems.
   For a company that made US$3·7 milliard in revenue last year, it does seem a rather major error.
   After I noted this on my personal account, spammers and bots began replying—accounts that no doubt have been reported but are permitted to remain.
   We remain in the dark on why Instagram locked us out and deactivated our account less than a month ago.
   It is perhaps best to either lie to these US social media giants (in the case of some, it’s the behaviour their own leadership exhibits), or to not provide them information at all. Or, better yet, to not rely on them at all and to focus on one’s own proprietary web presences. It is no coincidence that with our redesign, we left off all social media links, ironically with the exception of Twitter on our home page.—Jack Yan, Founder and Publisher

Originally published in Lucire.

PS.: The title refers to the fact that all three US Big Tech players have locked us out at some stage. In 2013, Google blacklisted all our sites. In September, Instagram deactivated Lucire’s account. And now, it’s Twitter’s turn.


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