Posts tagged ‘Facebook’


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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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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China in 2022: speak Cantonese, get banned from social media

08.10.2022

If you think some of us were being uppity about New Zealand Chinese Language Week, how’s this for a real-life report?

Speak Cantonese, get banned from a social media platform.

That’s what’s happening in China right now. And I had already mentioned schoolchildren being told off for using their reo.

The Google Translate translation is actually pretty good for a change, if you can’t read Chinese.

And here we are in New Zealand, kowtowing (derived from a Cantonese word, incidentally) to the Chinese Communist Party with its policy.
 

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Facebook saves private medical information despite saying it gets scrubbed

02.07.2022

As embedding from Mastodon is not working tonight, I’ll copy and paste Per Axbom’s post:

Nice bit of reporting from Swedish Radio. They built an online fake pharmacy and activated Facebook advertising tools. Thousands of simulated visits to the pharmacy were made each day, and the reporters could see all the sensitive, personal information being stored by Facebook.

Facebook sent no warnings to the pharmacy, despite saying they have tools in place to prevent this from happening.

A few weeks ago they revealed how this was happening with real pharmacies.

He links this article from Sveriges Radio.

So, how long has it been since Cambridge Analytica? We can safely conclude that this is all by design, as it has been from the start.

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Musings for today: back on Facebook, untracked ads, Autocade rankings

16.05.2022

It’d be unfair if I didn’t note that I managed to see a ‘Create post’ button today on Lucire’s Facebook page for the first time in weeks. I went crazy manually linking everything that was missed between April 25 and today.

Maybe I got it back as it would look even worse for Facebook, which still live-streams massacres as a matter of course in spite of its “promises” after March 15, 2019, if white supremacist murderers had more functions available to them on the site than honest business people.

The upshot still remains: get your supporters going to your website as much as possible, and wind down whatever presence you have on Facebook. You shouldn’t depend on it, because you never know when your page might disappear or when you lose access. Both are very real possibilities.
 
Bob Hoffman’s newsletter was gold this week. It usually is, especially as he touches on similar topics to me, but at a far higher level.

This week’s highlights: ‘Blogweasel calculations indicate that adtech-based targeting adds at least 100% to the cost of an online ad. In order for it to be more efficient it has to be more than twice as effective. I’m slightly skeptical.

An article in AppleInsider this week reported that, “Apple has revealed to advertisers that App Store search ads served in a non-targeted fashion are just as effective as those relying on targeting via first-party data.”’

Indeed, ads that might use the page content to inform their contents (contextual advertising) work even better. Why? The publisher might actually get paid for them.

I’ve seen so many ads not display at all, including on our own sites. Now, our firm doesn’t use trackers, but we know the ad networks we use do. And for whatever daft reason, there are ad networks that won’t show content if you block trackers. (Stuff is even worse: their home and contents’ pages don’t even display if you block certain cookies.)

If we went back to how things were before tracking got this bad, the ads would be less creepy, and I bet more of them would display—and that helps us publishers pay the bills. If you don’t like them, there are still ad blockers, but out of my own interests, I would prefer you didn’t.
 
I came across Drew Magarry’s 2021 article, ‘There’s No Middle Class of Cars Anymore’, in Road & Track’s online edition.

‘You’re either driving a really nice new car, a deeply unsatisfying new car, or a very old used car.’ Drew notes that there are nasty base models, and also fully loaded ones, and the former ‘treat you like absolute shit, and everyone on the road knows it.’

It seems what’s happening is that the middle—the “GLs” of this world, as opposed to the Ls and GLSs—is getting squeezed out.

It says something about our society and its inequality.

Interestingly, it’s not as bad here with base models, and that might reflect our society. But look at the US, as Drew does, or the European top 10, where cheap cars like the Dacia Sandero do exceptionally well.

This goes back many years, and I’ve seen plenty of base models in US rental fleets that would make a New Zealand entry-level car seem sumptuous.
 
Finally, the legacy pages are reasserting themselves on Autocade. When the latest version was installed on the server and the stats were reset, the top 20 included all the models that appeared on the home page, as Mediawiki recommenced its count. Search-engine spiders were visiting the site and hitting those the most.

Fast forward two months and the top 20 are exclusively older pages, as visits from regular people coming via search engines outnumber spiders.

Until last week, the most visited page since the March reset was the Renault Mégane II. It seems the Ford Taunus 80 has overtaken the Mégane II. Peugeot’s 206+ (207 in some markets) follows, then the Ford Fiesta Mk VII and Renault Mégane III.

Before the reset, the Ford Fiesta Mk VII was the top model page, followed by the Taunus 80, then the Mégane II, Opel Astra J, and Nissan Sunny (B14).

Probably no one cares, but as it’s my blog, here’s the old, just before the switchover:
 

 
And here’s where we are as of tonight:
 

 
You can see the ranking for yourself, as the stats are public, here.

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Facebook admits we’re experiencing a bug preventing us from managing Lucire’s page

08.05.2022

Last night’s hour-waster was chatting to Facebook Business Support. No, that’s unfair. I was actually assigned an incredibly good rep who took me seriously, and concluded that Facebook did indeed have a bug which means, of all the pages I can manage, the one for Lucire is alone in not allowing me, or any of its admins, to do anything. How coincidental, after losing Instagram and Twitter for periods during 2021.

Ironically, one editor can—of course someone who is supposed to have fewer privileges can do more. Such is Facebook.

A few things I learned. There’s a Meta Business Suite, which a whole bunch of pages got shoved into, whether you wanted it or not. My public page is there, for instance. It seems if you have Facebook and Instagram accounts for the same thing, you’re going to be in there.

Despite the two-factor authentication discussed in the previous post, I actually can get into the Business Suite, via another page I administer for a friend. From there I can get to Lucire’s tools.
 

 

I don’t need two-factor authentication for any of the other pages in there, including my own, and have full access.

Trisha, or Trish as she said I could call her, walked me through the steps, and asked me to get to the Suite page. Then she asked me to click ‘Create ad’, and I get this:
 

 
She asked me to check the account quality, and of course there are no issues:
 


 

She wrote: ‘Thanks for letting me know. It’s weird because I have checked all your assets here and it looks good. But, here’s what I suggest, Jack. We’ll need to report this to our Internal team so they can investigate. You might experience a bug or glitch.’

I theorized: ‘Just so you know, this page dates back to 2007 so maybe it is so old that Facebook’s servers can’t handle it?’

It wasn’t something she responded to, as she stayed on-subject, but it’s a theory worth entertaining, as it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve witnessed this.

So, for now, the one team member who can still go on Facebook for us posted this at my request:
 
All Lucire admins, all automated gadgets sending links to this page, and all Facebook-approved reposting sites, were blocked by Facebook on April 25. Therefore, till Facebook fixes this, there will be no more regular updates to this page other than a limited amount from one of our editors.
 

I doubt they’ll ever fix it, and two years ago I did say I wouldn’t really bother if Facebook went buggy and prevented us from updating again. Clearly I am bothering, as I know we have readers who use Facebook. But I have very little faith this will ever be fixed, since I have seen other reported bugs (some covered on this blog) get ignored for years, and this isn’t a fleeting bug, from what I can make out.

The lesson, as I have probably hinted at more than once, is never rely on a Big Tech service. The sites are so unwieldy that they get to a point where no one knows how to fix them. If earlier experiences are any indication, such as what I experienced at Vox, we have arrived at the end of Facebook pages.

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The end of Facebook pages?

01.05.2022

Some of the articles in Lucire are still manually designed in Dreamweaver, and those need to be added to the social networks in a similar way. There we use Zoho Social to update things.

In practice, we only do Twitter, as IFTTT then takes care of reposting our updates to Facebook. Today, I noticed that IFTTT has failed to take any of our Tweets to Facebook since April 25, for no reason I can work out.
 

 

We also cannot use Zoho Social to make Facebook page updates, so the fault does not lie with these individual services, but Facebook itself.

First Zoho Social said I needed permission from the page admin to add images, but I am the page admin; then it said I could not post at all.
 


 

I went to Facebook for the first time in goodness knows how long to discover there is no way to enter a post manually there, either!
 

 

I tried using the Meta Business Tools, but I can’t be authenticated, since they require you use an “app” (none of which I have heard of), a physical security key (strange to me as I have no idea what one looks like or where it goes), or a cellphone (yeah right, like I’m going to give Facebook that very personal detail for them to sell).
 

 

It looks like another massively stupid decision on Facebook’s part, so odds are we’ll cease to update any of our Facebook pages going forward. It will take too much effort to figure out how to fix this. Even if we could type into Facebook, we don’t want to be feeding in every headline and link manually.

I ceased to have any respect for Facebook many years ago, but kept things going there for the sake of our readers. But if they are shutting down the pages—certainly all their functionality is disappearing—then we will have no choice but to end our updates there.
 
PS.: If any of you are wondering, I am definitely the admin, but I can’t do any of the things Facebook says I can:
 

 

If I access the options under ‘Page Owner’, apparently I can report ourselves, but nothing more!
 

 

Looks I still can post to a page where I’m not the owner but a contributor, but I can’t post to one where I’m the owner and admin:
 

 

Remember how a page settings’ page usually looks?
 

 
Here’s Lucire’s:
 

 
The only options I have as admin are:
 

 

And before you ask, there are no page ‘violations’ other than one post from years ago, because US sites can’t handle artistic nudity where you can’t see anything inappropriate. Genocide and misinformation are fine, though.

I think what Facebook does is let you work on pages that aren’t yours(!)—it wouldn’t be the first time—but not your own! It really is this daft there.

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How to end social media censorship

16.04.2022


Kristina Flour/Unsplash
 
This Twitter thread by Yishan Wong is one of the most interesting I’ve come across. Not because it’s about Elon Musk (who he begins with), but because it’s about the history of the web, censorship, and the reality of running a social platform.

Here are some highlights (emphases in the original):

There is this old culture of the internet, roughly Web 1.0 (late 90s) and early Web 2.0, pre-Facebook (pre-2005), that had a very strong free speech culture.

This free speech idea arose out of a culture of late-90s America where the main people who were interested in censorship were religious conservatives. In practical terms, this meant that they would try to ban porn (or other imagined moral degeneracy) on the internet …

Many of the older tech leaders today … grew up with that internet. To them, the internet represented freedom, a new frontier, a flowering of the human spirit, and a great optimism that technology could birth a new golden age of mankind.

Fast forward to the reality of the 2020s:

The internet is not a “frontier” where people can go “to be free,” it’s where the entire world is now, and every culture war is being fought on it.

It’s the main battlefield for our culture wars.

Yishan points out that left-wingers can point to where right-wingers get more freedom to say their piece, and that right-wingers can point to where left-wingers get more. ‘Both sides think the platform is institutionally biased against them.’

The reality:

They would like you (the users) to stop squabbling over stupid shit and causing drama so that they can spend their time writing more features and not have to adjudicate your stupid little fights.

That’s all.

They don’t care about politics. They really don’t.

He concedes that people can be their worst selves online, and that the platforms struggle to keep things civil.

They have to pretend to enforce fairness. They have to adopt “principles.”

Let me tell you: There are no real principles. They are just trying to be fair because if they weren’t, everyone would yell louder and the problem would be worse …

You really want to avoid censorship on social networks? Here is the solution:

Stop arguing. Play nice. The catch: everyone has to do it at once.

I guarantee you, if you do that, there will be no censorship of any topic on any social network.

Because it is not topics that are censored. It is behavior.

I think Yishan’s right to some degree. There are leanings that the leaders of these social networks have, and I think that can affect the overall decisions. But he’s also right that both left and right feel aggrieved. I warned as much when I wrote about social media and their decision about Donald Trump in the wake of the incidents of January 6, 2021. I’ve seen left- and right-wing accounts get taken down, and often for no discernible reason I can fathom.

Generally, however, civil discourse is a perfectly fine way to go, and for most things that doesn’t invite censorship or account removal. Wouldn’t it be nice if people took him up on this, to see what would happen?

Sadly, that could well be as idealistic as the ‘new frontier’ which many of us who got into the dot com world in the 1990s believed in.

But maybe he’s woken up some folks. And with c. 50,000 followers, he has a darn sight better chance than I have reaching just over a tenth of that on Twitter, and the 1,000 or so of you who will read this blog post.
 
During the writing of this post, Vivaldi crashed again, when I attempted to enter form data—a bug that they believed was fixed a few revisions ago. It appears not. I’ll still send over a bug report, but everything is pointing at my abandoning it in favour of Opera GX. Five years is a very good run for a browser.

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