Posts tagged ‘transparency’


Putting on the breaks

20.06.2021

Being self-employed my whole adult life, I haven’t exactly been let go from actual employment, but there have been some gigs, paid and unpaid, that came to an end without me expecting it.
   I’ve never been sore about losing them, but I don’t agree with the way they were done.
   Gig 1. Did a quarterly task for these folks, which soon became a monthly one. Lasted 14 years and was either the longest-serving or second-longest-serving in that capacity. Let go in a group email.
   Gig 2. Voluntary one, told that I wouldn’t be needed because the organization was going in a new direction. I wouldn’t be replaced because of this new format. Found out later that there was no new format and I was replaced. Would it have hurt to tell the truth? After all, I replaced the previous person, and I would have been fine with them needing a fresh face. It’s not as though I made any money off them!
   Gig 3. Another voluntary one. Hadn’t heard anything but then I usually didn’t till pretty late in the game. Except this time I had to chase them up, given how late things got. When do you need me? Found out I was replaced and that the decision had been made months earlier. I was the last to know. Offered some inconsequential consolation, but no apology. Ironically this happened as my influence in this particular area grew substantially overseas, so the help I could have given them was immense, so bad luck and bad timing to that mob. Bridges burned.
   I’ve let a few people go in the past—one had so many allegations against him (theft, sexual harassment) that with hindsight I wonder why we took so long. Given the anonymous (and ineffective and illogical) letters he’s sent to some of my most loyal colleagues, I think he’s still sore. Others had to be let go when the financial winds blew against us. But I’m pretty sure they all knew why.
   The only mysterious one from our companies was one person who claimed I cut him off and stopped using his writing services. It was a complete lie—he just vanished. At one point we re-established contact. We agreed to put it down to an email glitch (although this person regularly phoned me and stopped doing so, but in the interests of moving on, I let it go). Years later, he did it again—just disappeared. He told a mutual friend of ours the same lie, that I ceased to have anything to do with him. I relayed the above story to that friend but I could see she didn’t believe me—till he did it to her a few years later!

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Posted in business, New Zealand, publishing, USA | No Comments »


NewTumbl takes things seriously

05.01.2021

I have to say I’m impressed with NewTumbl as they responded to my Tweets about potential censorship and post moderation.
   I think they will allow me to share a few points.
   First, they took me seriously. The fact they even bothered to look into it is well beyond what Yahoo, Amazon, Facebook and Google would normally do, and I’m talking about Yahoo in 1999. They also answered every point I made, rather than gloss over or ignore some. Out of their thousands or myriads of users, they were actually good enough to deal with me one on one.
   Secondly, they assure me there’s no censorship of the kind I suspected but think a temporary bug could have been behind Mbii’s inability to see my posts. They will delete illegal content, and that is the extent of it.
   Thirdly, if I may be so bold as to say this one, my understanding of the posts’ levels is correct and those moderators who objected to my content are incorrect.
   I won’t reveal more than that as some of the content refers to future actions.
   I’ve said I could put a toe in the water again over at NewTumbl, and, ‘I really appreciate you taking this seriously and certainly it all helps encourage me to return.’
   Being honest and up front really helps.
   The one thing preventing me from heading back in a flash is I’ve become rather used to adding to the gallery here. We’ll see: I felt it was ‘No way, José’ a month ago (although I always maintained a “never say never” position—I mean, it’s not Google Plus) and now it’s more ‘The jury is out.’ At the least I might pop by more regularly to see what’s in my feed.

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Posted in business, internet, technology, USA | 5 Comments »


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


Facebook and Cambridge Analytica: the signs were there for years, if one only looked

20.03.2018

Facebook’s woes over Cambridge Analytica have only prompted one reaction from me: I told you so. While I never seized upon this example, bravely revealed to us by whistleblower Christopher Wylie and reported by Carole Cadwalladr and Emma Graham-Harrison of The Guardian, Facebook has shown itself to be callous about private data, mining preferences even after users have opted out, as I have proved on more than one occasion on this blog. They don’t care what your preferences are, and for a long time changed them quietly when you weren’t looking.
   And it’s nothing new: in October 2010, Emily Steel wrote, in The Wall Street Journal, about a data firm called Rapleaf that harvested Facebook information to target political advertisements (hat tip here to Jack Martin Leith).
   Facebook knew of a data breach years ago and failed to report it as required under law. The firm never acts, as we have seen, when everyday people complain. It only acts when it faces potential bad press, such as finally ceasing, after nearly five years, its forced malware downloads after I tipped off Wired’s Louise Matsakis about them earlier this year. Soon after Louise’s article went live, the malware downloads ceased.
   Like all these problems, if the stick isn’t big enough, Facebook will just hope things go away, or complain, as it did today, that it’s the victim. Sorry, you’re not. You’ve been complicit more than once, and violating user privacy, as I have charged on this blog many times, is part of your business practice.
   In this environment, I am also not surprised that US$37,000 million has been wiped off Facebook’s value and CEO Mark Zuckerberg saw his net worth decline by US$5,000 million.
   Those who kept buying Facebook shares, I would argue, were unreasonably optimistic. The writing surely was on the wall in January at the very latest (though I would have said it was much earlier myself), when I wrote, ‘All these things should have been sending signals to the investor community a long time ago, and as we’ve discussed at Medinge Group for many years, companies would be more accurately valued if we examined their contribution to humanity, and measuring the ingredients of branding and relationships with people. Sooner or later, the truth will out, and finance will follow what brand already knew. Facebook’s record on this front, especially when you consider how we at Medinge value brands and a company’s promise-keeping, has been astonishingly poor. People do not trust Facebook, and in my book: no trust means poor brand equity.’
   This sounds like my going back to my very first Medinge meeting in 2002, when we concluded, at the end of the conference, three simple words: ‘Finance is broken.’ It’s not a useful measure of a company, certainly not the human relationships that exist within. But brand has been giving us this heads-up for a long time: if you can’t trust a company, then it follows that its brand equity is reduced. That means its overall value is reduced. And time after time, finance follows what brand already knew. Even those who tolerate dishonesty—and millions do—will find it easy to depart from a product or service along with the rest of the mob. There’s less and less for them to justify staying with it. The reasons get worn down one by one: I’m here because of my kids—till the kids depart; I’m here because of my friends—till the friends depart. If you don’t create transparency, you risk someone knocking back the wall.
   We always knew Facebook’s user numbers were bogus, considering how many bots there are on the system. It would be more when people wanted to buy advertising, and it would be less when US government panels charged with investigating Facebook were asking awkward questions. I would love to know how many people are really on there, and the truth probably lies between the two extremes. Facebook probably should revise its claimed numbers down by 50 per cent.
   It’s a very simplified analysis—of course brand equity is made up of far more than trust—and doubters will point to the fact Facebook’s stock had been rising through 2017.
   But, as I said, finance follows brand, and Facebook is fairly under assault from many quarters. It has ignored many problems for over a decade, its culture borne of arrogance, and you can only do this for so long before people wise up. In the Trump era, with the US ever more divided, there were political forces that even Facebook could not ignore. Zuckerberg won’t be poor, and Facebook, Inc. has plenty of assets, so they’re not going away. But Facebook, as we know it, isn’t the darling that it was a decade ago, and what we are seeing, and what I have been talking about for years, are just the tip of the iceberg.

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Posted in branding, business, culture, internet, leadership, media, politics, technology, UK, USA | 6 Comments »


Wired’s Louise Matsakis did what no other journalist could: break the story on Facebook’s forced malware scans

24.02.2018

With how widespread Facebook’s false malware accusations were—Facebook itself claims millions were “helped” by them in a three-month period—it was surprising how no one in the tech press covered the story. I never understood why not, since it was one of many misdeeds that made Facebook such a basket case of a website. You’d think that after doing everything from experimenting on its users to intruding on users’ privacy with tracking preferences even after opting out, this would have been a story that followed suit. Peak Facebook has been and gone, so it amazed me that no journalist had ever covered this. Until now.
   Like Sarah Lacy at Pando, who took the principled stand to write about Über’s problems when no one else in the tech media was willing to, it appears to be a case of ‘You can trust a woman to get it right when no man has the guts,’ in this case social media and security writer for Wired, Louise Matsakis. I did provide Louise with a couple of quotes in her story, as did respondents in the US and Germany; she interviewed people on four continents. Facebook’s official responses read like the usual lies we’ve all heard before, going on the record with Louise with such straw-people arguments. Thank goodness for Louise’s and Wired’s reputations for getting past the usual wall of silence, and it demonstrates again how dishonest Facebook is.
   I highly recommend Louise’s article here—and please do check it out as she is the first journalist to write about something that has been deceiving Facebook users for four years.
   As some of you know, the latest development with Facebook’s fake malware warnings, and the accompanying forced downloads, is that Mac users were getting hit in a big way over the last fortnight. Except the downloads were Windows-only. Basically, Mac users were locked out of their Facebook accounts. We also know that these warnings have nothing to do with malware, as other people can sign on to the same “infected” machines without any issue (and I had asked a few of these Mac users to do just that—they confirmed I was right).
   Facebook has been blocking the means by which we can get around the forced downloads. Till April 2016, you could delete your cookies and get back in. You could also go and use a Linux or Mac PC. But steadily, Facebook has closed each avenue, leaving users with fewer and fewer options but to download their software. Louise notes, ‘Facebook tells users when they agree to conduct the scan that the data collected in the process will be used “to improve security on and off Facebook,” which is vague. The company did not immediately respond to a followup request for comment about how exactly it uses the data it collects from conducting malware checks.’ But we know data are being sent to Facebook without our consent.
   Facebook also told Louise that a Mac user might have been prompted to download a Windows program because of how malware spoofs different devices—now, since we all know these computers aren’t infected, we know that that’s a lie. Then a spokesman told Louise that Facebook didn’t collect enough information to know whether you really were infected. But, as she rightly asks, if they didn’t collect that info, why would they force you to download their software? And just what precedent is that setting, since scammers use the very same phishing techniques? Facebook seems to be normalizing this behaviour. I think they got themselves even deeper in the shit by their attempts at obfuscation.
   Facebook also doesn’t answer why many users can simply wait three days for their account to come right instead of downloading their software. Which brings me back to the database issues I discovered in 2014.
   Louise even interviewed ESET, which is one of the providers of the software, only to get a hackneyed response—which is better than what the rest of us managed, because the antivirus companies all are chatty on Twitter till you bring this topic up. Then they clam up. Again, thank goodness for the fourth estate and a journalist with an instinct for a great story.
   So please do give Louise some thanks for writing such an excellent piece by visiting her article, or send her a note via Twitter, to @lmatsakis. To think this all began one night in January 2016 …

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Posted in internet, media, publishing, technology, USA | 2 Comments »


Does TPPA redux protect Big Tech?

25.01.2018


SumOfUs/Creative Commons

Prof Jane Kelsey, in her critique of the still-secret Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement on Trans-Pacific Partnership (formerly the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement [TPPA]) notes in The Spinoff:

The most crucial area of the TPPA that has not received enough attention is the novel chapter on electronic commerce—basically, a set of rules that will cement the oligopoly of Big Tech for the indefinite future, allowing them to hold data offshore subject to the privacy and security laws of the country hosting the server, or not to disclose source codes, preventing effective scrutiny of anti-competitive or discriminatory practices. Other rules say offshore service providers don’t need to have a presence inside the country, thus undermining tax, consumer protection and labour laws, and governments can’t require locally established firms to use local content or services.

   If this new government is as digitally illiterate as the previous one, then we are in some serious trouble.
   I’m all for free trade but not at the expense of my own country’s interests, or at the expense of real competition, and the Green Party’s position (I assume in part operating out of caution due to the opaqueness of the negotiations) is understandable.
   Protecting a partly corrupt oligopoly is dangerous territory in a century that will rely more heavily on digital commerce.
   While there may be some valid IP reasons to protect source code, these need to be revealed in legal proceedings if it came to that—and one hopes there are provisions for dispute settlement that can lift the veil. But we don’t really know just how revised those dispute settlement procedures are. Let’s hope that Labour’s earlier stated position on this will hold.
   Google has already found itself in trouble for anticompetitive and discriminatory practices in Europe, and if observations over the last decade count for anything, it’s that they’ll stop at nothing to try it on. Are we giving them a free ride now?
   Despite Prof Kelsey’s concerns, I can accept that parties need not have a presence within a nation or be compelled to use local content or services. But the level of tax avoidance exhibited by Google, Facebook, Apple et al is staggering, and one hopes that our new government won’t bend over quite as easily. (While I realize the US isn’t part of this agreement, remember that big firms have subsidiaries in signatory countries through which they operate, and earlier trade agreements have shown just how they have taken on governments.)
   She claims that the technology minister, the Hon Clare Curran, has no information on the ecommerce chapter’s analysis—and if she doesn’t have it, then what are we signing up to?
   However, Labour’s inability to be transparent—something they criticized the previous government on—is a weak point after a generally favourable start to 2018. The Leader of the Opposition is right to call the government out on this when his comment was sought: basically, they were tough on us when we were in government, so we hope they’ll live up to their own standards. Right now, it doesn’t look like it. I suspect Kelsey is now the National Party fan’s best friend after being vilified for years. Bit like when Nicky Hager (whom one very respected MP in the last Labour government called a right-wing conspiracy theorist) wrote Seeds of Distrust.
   And the solutions that Kelsey proposes are so simple and elegant that it’s daft they weren’t followed, since they are consistent with the Labour brand. I know, trade agreements can stay confidential at this stage and this isn’t unprecedented. But that’s not what Labour said it wanted. At least these suggestions would have shown some consistency with Labour’s previous positions, and given some assurance that it’s in charge.

What should a Labour-led government have done differently? First, it should have commissioned the revised independent economic assessment and health impact analyses it called for in opposition. Second, it should have shown a political backbone, like the Canadian government that also inherited the deal. Canada played hardball and successful demanded side-letters to alter its obligations relating to investment and auto-parts. Not great, but something. New Zealand should have demanded similar side-letters excluding it from ISDS as a pre-requisite for continued participation. Third, it should have sought the suspension of the UPOV 1991 obligation, which has serious Treaty implications, and engaged with Māori to strengthen the Treaty of Waitangi exception, as the Waitangi Tribunal advised. Fourth, it should have withdrawn its agreement to the secrecy pact.

   I once joked that National and Labour were basically the same, plus or minus 10 per cent. On days like this, I wonder if I was right.

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Posted in business, globalization, New Zealand, politics, technology | 1 Comment »


Zuckerberg wants to fix Facebook: too little, too late

14.01.2018


WTF: welcome to Facebook. (Creative Commons photograph.)

Mark Zuckerberg’s promise to fix Facebook in 2018 is, in my opinion, too little, too late.
   However, since I ceased updating my Facebook profile last month, I’ve come across many people who tell me the only reason they stay on it is to keep in touch with family and friends, so Zuckerberg’s intention to refocus his site on that is the right thing to do. He’s also right to admit that Facebook has made ‘errors enforcing our policies and preventing misuse of our tools.’
   Interestingly, Facebook’s stock has fallen since his announcement, wiping milliards off Zuckerberg’s own fortune. Investors are likely nervous that this refocusing will hurt brands who pay to advertise on the platform, who might now reconsider using it. It’s a decidedly short-term outlook based on short-term memory, but that’s Wall Street for you. Come to think of it, that’s humanity for you.
   But let’s look at this a bit more dispassionately. Despite my no longer updating Facebook, I’m continuing to get a lot of friend requests. And those requests are coming from bots. Facebook hasn’t fixed its bot problem—far from it. This reached epidemic levels in 2014, and it’s continued in 2018—four years and one US presidential election later. As discussed earlier on this blog, Facebook has been found to have lied about user numbers: it claims more people in certain demographics than there are people. If its stock was to fall, that should have done it. But nothing happened: investors are keen to maintain delusions if it helps their interests. But it needs to be fixed.
   If Zuckerberg is sincere, Facebook also needs to fix its endless databasing issues and to come clean on its bogus malware warnings, forcing people to download “scanners” that are hidden on their computers. This should have hit the tech media but no one seems to have the guts to report on it. That’s not a huge deal, I suppose, since it has meant tens of thousands have come to my blog instead, but again, that was a big red flag that, if reported, should have had investors worried. And that needs to be fixed.
   Others I’ve discussed this with inform me that Facebook needs to do a far better job of removing porn, including kiddie porn, and if it weren’t for a lot of pressure, it tends to leave bullying and sexist comments up as well.
   All these things should have been sending signals to the investor community a long time ago, and as we’ve discussed at Medinge Group for many years, companies would be more accurately valued if we examined their contribution to humanity, and measuring the ingredients of branding and relationships with people. Sooner or later, the truth will out, and finance will follow what brand already knew. Facebook’s record on this front, especially when you consider how we at Medinge value brands and a company’s promise-keeping, has been astonishingly poor. People do not trust Facebook, and in my book: no trust means poor brand equity.
   But the notion that businesses will suddenly desert Facebook is an interesting one to me, because, frankly, Facebook has been a lousy referrer of traffic, and has been for years. We have little financial incentive to remain on the site for some of our ventures.
   Those of us with functioning memories will remember when Facebook killed the sharing from our fan pages by 90 per cent overnight some years ago. The aim was to get us to pay for sharing, and for many businesses, that worked.
   But it meant users who wanted to hear from these brands no longer did, and I believe that’s where the one of the first declines began.
   People support brands for many reasons but I’m willing to bet that their respective advertising budgets isn’t one of them. They follow them for their values and what they represent. Or they follow them for their products and services. Those who couldn’t afford to advertise, or opted to spend outside social media, lost a link with those users. And I believe users lost one of their reasons for remaining on Facebook, because their favourite brands were no longer showing up in their news feeds.
   (Instagram, incidentally, has the opposite problem: thanks to Facebook’s suspect profiling, users are being bombarded with promotions from companies they are not fans of; Instagram’s claim that they rely on Facebook’s ad preferences, and Facebook’s claim that you can opt out of these, are also highly questionable. I get that people should be shown ads from companies they could become fans of; but why annoy them to this extent? Instagram also tracks the IP where you are surfing from, and ignores the geographical location you freely give either Instagram or Facebook for advertising purposes.)
   What then surfaced in news feeds? Since Facebook became Digg, namely a repository of links (something I also said many years ago, long before the term ‘fake news’ was coined), feeds became littered with news articles (real and bogus) and people began to be “bubbled”, seeing things that supported their own world-views, because Facebook’s profiling sent those things to them. As T. S. Eliot once wrote, ‘Nothing pleases people more than to go on thinking what they have always thought, and at the same time imagine that they are thinking something new and daring: it combines the advantage of security and the delight of adventure.’
   This, as Facebook has discovered, was dangerous to democracy and entire groups—people have died because of it—and thinking people questioned whether there was much value staying on the site.
   From memory, and speaking for myself, Facebook probably had the balance of personal, brand and news right in 2010.
   But I doubt that even if Facebook were to go back to something like the turn of the decade, it will entice me back. It’s a thing of the past, something that might have been fun once, like Myspace. It didn’t take long to wean me off that.
   Even Zuckerberg notes that technology should decentralize and democratize, and that big tech has failed people on this front. I can foresee an attempt to decentralize Facebook, but with a caveat: they’ll want to continue gathering data on us as part of the deal. It’ll be an interesting gamble to take, unless it’s willing to give up its biggest asset: its claim to understanding individual profiles, even if many of its accounts aren’t human.
   To me, the brand is tarnished. Every measure we have at Medinge Group suggests to me Facebook is a poor corporate citizen, and it’s going to take not just a turnaround in database stability or the enforcement of T&Cs, but a whole reconsideration of its raison d’être to serve the masses. Honesty and transparency can save it—two things that I haven’t seen Facebook exhibit much of in the 10-plus years I have used it.

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Posted in branding, business, internet, marketing, technology, USA | 12 Comments »


The perfect storm: there’s a spike in users being told by Facebook they have malware today

30.12.2017

Many years ago, I was locked out of Facebook for 69 hours. It was completely a Facebook database problem, but in those days, they just locked you out without any explanation. It happened on a Friday. I believed I would not get back in till Facebook staff got back to work on Monday—and I was right. This is a company that seems to close down for the weekend, and the important techs don’t get back till afterwards. It also doesn’t understand the concept of time zones, as six years ago, Facebook walls stopped working on the 1st of each month in every time zone ahead of Pacific Standard Time.
   As it’s the weekend before the Gregorian New Year, Facebook’s probably closed again, so if their databases mess up, you could be stuck till Monday. Maybe later.
   Except these days, I believe they run another con altogether, as I explained in 2016.
   The theory: they now shift the blame to their users, by saying their computers are infected with malware, and forcing a malware scanner download on us. No one knows what this scanner actually does, but I know first-hand that it wrecks your real anti-virus program. I know first-hand that when Facebook and its scanner providers (which once included Kaspersky) are questioned on it, they clam up or they delete comments. I also know for a fact that others can log in to their Facebook accounts on the same “infected” PCs. All this is in earlier posts.
   Some affected users over the last few years have said that they could wait this out, and three days seem to be the standard period (though some were out for a month). That sounds awfully close to 69 hours, which I was out for in 2014.
   If word got out that their databases were this fragile, their share price would tumble.
   In a year when Apple has had to apologize for short battery life on their Iphones, and sexual predators in Hollywood got outed, maybe we could finish off 2017 with Facebook having to apologize for lying to its users about just what this scanner does. Because we also know that people who have legitimate malware scanners—including ones supplied by Facebook’s “partners”—have usually reported their PCs were clean.
   Today is the day of the perfect storm: if there is a big database outage at Facebook, it’s the weekend, and no one is around to fix it. For whatever reason, thousands of people have been receiving Facebook’s malware-scan message, telling them their computers are infected: today has seen the biggest spike ever in users getting this, beginning 14 hours ago.
   In my two years following this bug, I haven’t noticed any real common thread between affected users.
   With Facebook’s old bug, where walls stopped working on the 1st of each month, there was a particularly noticeable rise in reports on Getsatisfaction when 2011 ticked over to 2012—probably because no one was at work at Facebook to switch 2011 over to 2012. (I wonder if it had to be done manually. It honestly wouldn’t surprise me.)
   While some of this is admittedly guesswork, because none of the companies involved are saying a thing, there are just too many coincidences.
   Let’s sum up again.

• When certain Facebook accounts died three to four years ago, you were locked out, and this took roughly three days to fix (in my case, I got hit at a weekend, so nothing happened till Monday after a Friday bug). These bugs were account-specific.
• On January 1, 2012, Facebook walls around the world stopped working and would not show any entries from the new day—till it became January 1, 2012 in California, 21 hours behind the first group of people affected. It seems there is some manual tinkering that needs to go on with Facebook.
• Today, Facebook accuses people of having malware on their systems and demands they download a scanner. Yet we also know that others can log in to their Facebook accounts on the same “infected” machines. Conclusion: those computers are probably not infected as the lock-outs are account-specific. If it’s account-specific, then that leads me to believe it’s a database relating to that person.
• When people refuse to download Facebook’s scanner, many of their accounts come back online after—you guessed it—three days. Ergo, they were probably never infected: Facebook lied to them.
• Those that do download the scanner cannot find it in their installed programs’ lists. Neither Facebook nor their scanner partners have ever come clean about what this program actually does or why it needs to reside in a hidden directory on Windows.
• It is December 30, 2017, and it’s a weekend, and there’s a spike in users getting this warning. It began, noticeably, 14 hours ago. It’s very hard to believe so many got infected at the same time by the same bug: even a regular virus, or the real malware that gets spread through Facebook, doesn’t have this pattern. It all points back to something happening on Facebook. My reckoning is that this won’t be fixed till January 1, 2018 or afterwards.
• Facebook is the home of fake accounts—it’s very easy to find bots and spammers. Logically, if resources are used to host the bots, then that means fewer resources for the rest of us, and potential database problems.

   If you are stuck, I recommend you read the postscripts and relevant comments to my earlier posts: here and here.

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Posted in internet, technology, USA | 8 Comments »


Being an optimist for a better post-Google, post-Facebook era

15.12.2017

Interesting to get this perspective on ‘Big Tech’ from The Guardian, on how it’s become tempting to blame the big Silicon Valley players for some of the problems we have today. The angle Moira Weigel takes is that there needs to be more democracy in the system, where workers need to unite and respecting those who shape the technologies that are being used.
   I want to add a few far simpler thoughts.
   At the turn of the century, our branding profession was under assault from No Logo and others, showing that certain brands were not what they were cracked up to be. Medinge Group was formed in part because we, as practitioners, saw nothing wrong with branding per se, and that the tools could be used for good. Not everyone was Enron or Nike. There are Patagonia and Dilmah. That led to the original brand manifesto, on what branding should accomplish. (I was generously given credit for authoring this at one point, but I was simply the person who put the thoughts of my colleagues into eight points. In fact, we collectively gathered our ideas into eight groups, so I can’t even take credit for the fact there are eight points.)
   In 2017, we may look at Über’s sexism or Facebook’s willingness to accept and distribute malware-laden ads, and charge tech with damaging the fabric of society. Those who dislike President Trump in the US want someone to blame, and Facebook’s and Google’s contributions to their election in 2016 are a matter of record. But it’s not that online advertising is a bad thing. Or that social media are bad things. The issue is that the players aren’t socially responsible: none of them exist for any other purpose than to make their owners and shareholders rich, and the odd concession to not doing evil doesn’t really make up for the list of misdeeds that these firms add to. Many of them have been recorded over the years on this very blog.
   Much of what we have been working toward at Medinge is showing that socially responsible organizations actually do better, because they find accord with their consumers, who want to do business or engage with those who share their values; and, as Nicholas Ind has been showing in his latest book, Branding Inside Out, these players are more harmonious internally. In the case of Stella McCartney, sticking to socially responsible values earns her brand a premium—and she’s one of the wealthiest fashion designers in the world.
   I just can’t see some of the big tech players acting the same way. Google doesn’t pay much tax, for instance, and the misuse of Adwords aside, there are allegations that it hasn’t done enough to combat child exploitation and it has not been a fair player when it comes to rewarding and acknowledging media outlets that break the news, instead siding with corporate media. Google may have open-source projects out there, but its behaviour is old-school corporatism these days, a far cry from its first five years when even I would have said they were one of the good guys.
   Facebook’s problems are too numerous to list, though I attempted to do so here, but it can be summed up as: a company that will do nothing unless it faces embarrassment from enough people in a position of power. We’ve seen it tolerate kiddie porn and sexual harassment, giving both a “pass” when reported.
   Yet, for all that they make, it would be reasonable to expect that they put more people on the job in places where it mattered. The notion that three volunteers monitor complaints of child exploitation videos at YouTube is ridiculous but, for anyone who has complained about removing offensive content online, instantly believable; why there were not more is open to question. Anyone who has ventured on to a Google forum to complain about a Google product will also know that inaction is the norm there, unless you happen to get to someone senior and caring enough. Similarly, increasing resources toward monitoring advertising, and ensuring that complaints are properly dealt with would be helpful.
   Google’s failure to remove content mills from its News is contributing to “fake news”, yet its method of combatting that appears to be taking people away from legitimate media and ranking corporate players more highly.
   None of these are the actions of companies that want to do right by netizens.
   As Weigel notes, there’s a cost to abandoning Facebook and Google. But equally there are opportunities if these firms cannot provide the sort of moral, socially responsible leadership modern audiences demand. In my opinion, they do not actually command brand loyalty—a key ingredient of brand equity—if true alternatives existed.
   Duck Duck Go might only have a fraction of the traffic Google gets in search, but despite a good mission its results aren’t always as good, and its search index is smaller. But we probably should look to it as a real alternative to search, knowing that our support can help it grow and attract more investment. There is room for a rival to Google News that allows legitimate media and takes reports of fake news sites more seriously. If social media are democratizing—and there are signs that they are, certainly with some of the writings by Doc Searls and Richard MacManus—then there is room for people to form their own social networks that are decentralized, and where we hold the keys to our identity, able to take them wherever we please (Hubzilla is a prime example; you can read more about its protocol here). The internet can be a place which serves society.
   It might all come back to education; in fact, we might even say Confucius was right. If you’re smart enough, you’ll see a positive resource and decide that it would not be in the best interests of society to debase it. Civility and respect should be the order of the day. If these tools hadn’t been used by the privileged few to line their pockets at the expense of the many—or, for that matter, the democratic processes of their nations—wouldn’t we be in a better place? They capitalized on divisions in society (and even deepened them), when there is far more for all of us to gain if we looked to unity. Why should we allow the concentration of power (and wealth) to rest at the top of tech’s food chain? Right now, all I see of Google and Facebook’s brands are faceless, impersonal and detached giants, with no human accountability, humming on algorithms that are broken, and in Facebook’s case, potentially having databases that have been built on so much, that it doesn’t function properly any more. Yet they could have been so much more to society.
   Not possible to unseat such big players? We might have thought once that Altavista would remain the world’s biggest website; who knew Google would topple it in such a short time? But closer to home, and speaking for myself, I see The Spinoff and Newsroom as two news media brands that engender far greater trust than Fairfax’s Stuff or The New Zealand Herald. I am more likely to click on a link on Twitter if I see it is to one of the newer sites. They, too, have challenged the status quo in a short space of time, something which I didn’t believe would be possible a decade ago when a couple of people proposed that I create a locally owned alternative.
   We don’t say email is bad because there is spam. We accept that the good outweighs the bad and, for the most part, we have succeeded in building filters that get rid of the unwanted. We don’t say the web is bad because it has allowed piracy or pornography; its legitimate uses far outweigh its shady ones. But we should be supporting, or trying to find, new ways to advertise, innovate and network (socially or otherwise). Right now, I’m willing to bet that the next big thing (and it might not even be one player, but a multitude of individuals working in unison) is one where its values are so clear and transparent that they inspire us to live our full potential. I remain an optimist when it comes to human potential, if we set our sights on making something better.

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Posted in branding, business, internet, leadership, politics, publishing, social responsibility, technology, USA | 3 Comments »


No surprises as Facebook slips to third in Alexa, but tech press misses it

17.04.2016


Above: Facebook’s latest move: ensuring that notifications for messages go to its own app. If you choose not to install it, tough. (Actually, you can reach your messages if you had bookmarked your old message index, and through some digging you can still get there. However, your old habit of clicking on the number won’t work any more.)

I notice that Facebook has dropped to third in Alexa this week, but none of the tech press has covered it.
   I know the usual arguments: Alexa isn’t the best way of measuring audience stats; everyone (including us) has dropped because of the way Firefox has changed its status bar, thereby omitting a lot of users from its sample; Facebook itself will have recorded no real drop in user numbers (though we also know a lot of these so-called active users are bots and spammers, as we see heaps each day); and that Alexa doesn’t capture mobile data, where people are spending far more time these days.
   It does seem rather hypocritical, however, given that the same tech press applauded and wrote heaps of articles when Facebook overtook Google in Alexa. Some hailed it as the rise and rise of Facebook. There were tones of how unassailable it had become.
   However, its number-one position was remarkably fleeting and it quickly dropped back to second, where it has been for years, apart from that one blip.
   Facebook’s position has been usurped by Google’s YouTube. I make no predictions on whether this is fleeting or not, but it doesn’t look good for Facebook. I just don’t see any YouTube hate out there. If you dislike reading the comments from the world’s keyboard warriors sitting in their underwear at home, a few cookie settings will render them invisible. YouTube becomes a remarkably tolerable site.
   Earlier this month, a report found by my friend William Shepherd showed that personal sharing on Facebook had dipped by 21 per cent.
   I have said for years that ‘Facebook is the new Digg,’ a place where news is shared, not personal updates, though it appears it has taken a while for the company to realize this. Looking at some of the bugs on the site over the years, I’m not surprised Facebook missed it: for months it acted as though its entire user base was in California, with the website stuck at the end of each month till it got to the 1st in its home state. Now it is kicking users off over fake malware accusations when it’s more likely, and this is my guess based on how the site has behaved over the years, that its databases are dying. Liking, sharing and commenting fail from time to time.
   Given this, and its many other problems—including the breach of policies outlined by some of the groups it participates in, impacting on user privacy—no wonder it’s experiencing this drop.
   I see personal updates again that I saw a day before, because relatively few of my 2,300 friends write them any more. The trend has shifted, and a lot of users must have noticed what I did many years ago.
   At Medinge Group we have long advocated transparency in brands, and Facebook’s actions run counter to a lot of what we have proposed.
   We believe that sooner or later, people wise up—something we said about Enron at one of the first meetings I attended in 2002.
   In fact, the way Facebook behaves tends to be combative, and for a 21st-century firm, its attitudes toward its user base is very 20th-century, a “them and us” model. It’s not alone in this: I’ve levelled similar accusations against Google and I stand by them. Since my own battle with them over malware, and a more recent one over intellectual property (where I was talking to a Facebook employee who eventually gave up when things got into the “too hard” basket), I’ve found dozens of other users via Twitter who have been kicked off the service, yet are running clean, malware-free machines. The blog post I wrote on the subject has been the most-read of the pieces I have authored in 2016, and certainly the most commented, as others face the same issue.
   While both giants will claim that they could not possibly have the sort of one-to-one relationship with their user bases in the same way as a small business can, it’s clear to me that big issues aren’t being flagged and dealt with at Facebook. When I read the link Bill sent me, my first reaction was, ‘Why did it take so long for someone there to realize this?’
   Let’s not even get started on the way both companies treat paying their fair share of tax.
   It’s not about the number of people experiencing any given issue, it’s about the severity of the issue that a small number of people experience. By the time a larger vocal minority experiences it, the damage has gone a lot further.
   Facebook does listen to some of these cases: I remember when it limited bot reports to 40–50 a day, at a time when it was not uncommon to find hundreds a day on the site. I complained, and after a few months, Facebook did indeed remove this limit.
   But I regard that as an exception.
   Its forced downloads of so-called malware scans that even its supplier refuses to answer for (could they have nefarious purposes?), and now the latest last week—ensuring that all message notifications in a mobile browser link to its Messenger app, resulting in a 404 for anyone who does not have it installed—are rendering the website less and less useful. In my case, I just use it less. We’re not going to download privacy-invading apps on our phone—we’re busy enough. We want to manage our time and if that means we only get to Facebook messages when we are at our desks, then so be it. Some might abandon it altogether.
   Its other move is ceasing the forwarding from www.facebook.com to m.facebook.com on mobile devices, so if you had the former bookmarked, you’re not going to see anything any more. Some browsers (like Dolphin) came with the former bookmarked. Result: a few more legit users, who might not know the difference, gone.
   If there’s no trust, then regardless of the money you have, you’re not a top brand, nor one that people really wish to associate with.
   Facebook, of course, knows some of this, which is why it has bought so many other firms where there’s still personal sharing, such as Instagram and Whatsapp.
   It knows if there’s another site that comes along that gets public support, as it did when it first started, people will abandon Facebook en masse.
   Curiously, even this past week alone, it seems intent to hurry them along. There must be some sort of corporate goal to see if it can reach fourth, just like Flight of the Conchords.

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Posted in branding, culture, internet, USA | 1 Comment »