Quotulatiousness

August 28, 2015

Google and the (bullshit) European “right to be forgotten”

Filed under: Europe, Law, Liberty, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Techdirt‘s Mike Masnick points and laughs at a self-described consumerist organization’s attempt to force Google to apply EU law to the rest of the world, by way of an FTC complaint:

If you want an understanding of my general philosophy on business and economics, it’s that companies should focus on serving their customers better. That’s it. It’s a very customer-centric view of capitalism. I think companies that screw over their customers and users will have it come back to bite them, and thus it’s a better strategy for everyone if companies focus on providing good products and services to consumers, without screwing them over. And, I’m super supportive of organizations that focus on holding companies’ feet to the fire when they fail to live up to that promise. Consumerist (owned by Consumer Reports) is really fantastic at this kind of thing, for example. Consumer Watchdog, on the other hand, despite its name, appears to have very little to do with actually protecting consumers’ interests. Instead, it seems like some crazy people who absolutely hate Google, and pretend that they’re “protecting” consumers from Google by attacking the company at every opportunity. If Consumer Watchdog actually had relevant points, that might be useful, but nearly every attack on Google is so ridiculous that all it does is make Consumer Watchdog look like a complete joke and undermine whatever credibility the organization might have.

In the past, we’ve covered an anti-Google video that company put out that contained so many factual errors that it was a complete joke (and was later revealed as nothing more than a stunt to sell some books). Then there was the attempt to argue that Gmail was an illegal wiretap. It’s hard to take the organization seriously when it does that kind of thing.

Its latest, however, takes the crazy to new levels. John Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s resident “old man yells at cloud” impersonator, recently filed a complaint with the FTC against Google. In it, he not only argues that Google should offer the “Right to be Forgotten” in the US, but says that the failure to do that is an “unfair and deceptive practice.” Really.

As you know by now, since an EU court ruling last year, Google has been forced to enable a right to be forgotten in the EU, in which it will “delink” certain results from the searches on certain names, if the people argue that the links are no longer “relevant.” Some in the EU have been pressing Google to make that “right to be forgotten” global — which Google refuses to do, noting that it would violate the First Amendment in the US and would allow the most restrictive, anti-free speech regime in the world to censor the global internet.

But, apparently John Simpson likes censorship and supporting free speech-destroying regimes. Because he argues Google must allow such censorship in the US. How could Google’s refusal to implement “right to be forgotten” possibly be “deceptive”? Well, in Simpson’s world, it’s because Google presents itself as “being deeply committed to privacy” but then doesn’t abide by a global right to be forgotten. Really.

June 29, 2015

Europe institutionalizes the “memory hole”

Filed under: Europe, Law, Liberty, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Brendan O’Neill on the European “right to be forgotten”:

“He stepped across the room. There was a memory hole in the opposite wall. O’Brien lifted the grating. Unseen, the frail slip of paper was whirling away on the current of warm air; it was vanishing in a flash of flame. O’Brien turned away from the wall. ‘Ashes,’ he said. ‘Not even identifiable ashes. Dust. It does not exist. It never existed.'”

This is the moment in Nineteen Eighty-Four when O’Brien, an agent of the Thought Police who tortures Winston Smith in Room 101, dumps into a memory hole an inconvenient news story. It’s an 11-year-old newspaper cutting which confirms that three Party members who were executed for treason could not have been guilty. “It does exist!” wails Winston. “It exists in memory. I remember it. You remember it.” O’Brien, mere seconds after plunging the item into the memory hole, replies: “I do not remember it.”

Of all the horrible things in Nineteen Eighty-Four that have come true in recent years — from rampant thought-policing to the spread of CCTV cameras — surely the memory hole, the institutionalisation of forgetting, will never make an appearance in our supposedly open, transparent young century? After all, ours is a “knowledge society,” where info is power and Googling is on pretty much every human’s list of favourite pastimes.

Think again. The memory hole is already here. In Europe, anyway. We might not have actual holes into which pesky facts are dropped so that they can be burnt in “enormous furnaces.” But the EU-enforced “right to be forgotten” does empower individual citizens in Europe, with the connivance of Google, to behave like little O’Briens, wiping from internet search engines any fact they would rather no longer existed.

June 26, 2015

The self-driving truck won’t displace many human truck drivers for years to come

Filed under: Business, Economics, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

I’m far from being a Luddite, but I find Megan McArdle‘s analysis of the low short-to-medium term risk of job losses due to self-driving vehicles to be pretty convincing:

… my objections are actually to the understanding of the trucking industry works and of self-driving vehicles. Fully automated trucks, with no drivers at all, are probably going to arrive later than Santens thinks, take longer to roll out than he projects, and displace fewer workers than he thinks they will. I’m not saying it will never happen. I’m just skeptical that this is going to be a major policy problem in the next two decades.

Why?

Start with what truckers do, and how many of them there are. Santens quotes the American Trucker Association to get 3.5 million. The Bureau of Labor Statistics puts that figure a bit lower, around 2.8 million. More importantly, only 1.6 million of those are long-haul truckers. The rest are “driver/sales” employees or “Light truck or delivery services drivers.” Those are short-haul services that will not quickly be replaced by automated cars, both because chaotic urban roads are harder for autonomous vehicles to handle and because part of the job is loading and unloading the truck (something that long haul drivers may also do).

Also: Why would we assume that the advent of driverless trucks would be bad for trucking support jobs? Those folks are doing stuff like maintenance or loading that still has to be done. Moreover, other jobs will be created, in designing and maintaining the new systems. Someone has to map all those roads.

But I think it will be a while before we get to a fully autonomous vehicle with no people in it. The “driverless truck” that Santens links is not actually driverless; it’s partially autonomous. If it foresees something it can’t deal with, such as heavy snow, it signals to the driver to take over; if the driver doesn’t respond, it slows to a stop. That’s an improvement in the lives of truck drivers, not a job killer.

May 29, 2015

QotD: Buying modern indulgences for Silicon Valley billionaires

Filed under: Business, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Silicon Valley is an American success story. At a time of supposed American decline, a gifted group of young entrepreneurs invented, merchandized, and institutionalized everything from smartphones and eBay to Google and Facebook. The collective genius within a small corridor from San Francisco to Stanford University somehow put hand-held electronics into over a billion households worldwide — and hundreds of billions of dollars in profits rolled into Northern California, and America at large.

Stranger yet, Silicon Valley excelled at 1950s-style profit-driven capitalism while projecting the image of hip and cool. The result is a bizarre 21st-century 1-percenter culture of $1,000-a-square-foot homes, $100,000 BMWs, and $500 loafers coexisting with left-wing politics and trendy pop culture. Silicon Valley valiantly tries to square the circle of driving a Mercedes or flying in a Gulfstream while lambasting those who produce its fuel.

But the paradox finally has reached its logically absurd end. In medieval times, rich sinners sought to save their souls by buying indulgences to wash away their sins. In the updated version, Silicon Valley crony capitalists and wheeler-dealers buy exemption for their conspicuous consumption with loud manifestations of cool left-wing politics.

Victor Davis Hanson, “The Valley of the Shadow: How mansion-dwelling, carbon-spewing cutthroat capitalists can still be politically correct”, National Review, 2014-07-22.

May 13, 2015

Google search history … and you

Filed under: Business, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

At Reason, Ed Krayewski points out that you now have a way of discovering (and modifying) what Google’s search engine will reveal about you:

In January Google quietly rolled out the capability to view your entire search history with the online service, download a copy of it, and even to delete it from Google’s servers. The new feature wasn’t widely reported online until earlier this month when an unofficial Google blog publicized it.

You can check out your search history here, including web and image searches, and links and images you clicked on as a result. There’s also an option to download under settings (the gear button on the top left of the page), as well as one to “remove items,” including the ability to remove your recent search history or your entire search history.

April 16, 2015

Measuring productivity in the modern economy

Filed under: Economics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Tim Worstall on how our traditional economic measurements are less and less accurate for the modern economic picture:

… in the developed countries there’s a problem which seems to me obvious (and Brad Delong has even said that I’m right here which is nice). Which is that we’re just not measuring the output of the digital economy correctly. For much of that output is not in fact priced: what Delong has called Andreessenian goods (and Marc Andreessen himself calls Mokyrian). For example, we take Google’s addition to the economy to be the value of advertising that Google sells, not the value in use of the Google search engine. Similarly, Facebook is valued at its advertising sales, not whatever value people gain from being part of a social network of 1.3 billion people. In the traditional economy that consumer surplus can be roughly taken to be twice the sales value of the goods. For these Andreessenian goods the consumer surplus could be 20 times (Delong) or even 100 times (my own, very controversial and back of envelope calculations) that sales value.

We are therefore, in my view, grossly underestimating output. And since we measure productivity as the residual of output and resources used to create it we’re therefore also grossly underestimating productivity growth. We’re in error by using measurements of the older, physical, economy as our metric for the newer, digital, one.

In short, I simply don’t agree that growth is as slow as we are measuring it to be. Thus any predictions that rely upon taking our current “low” rate of growth as being a starting point must, logically, be wrong. And that also means that all the policy prescriptions that flow from such an analysis, that we must spend more on infrastructure, education, government support for innovation, must also be wrong.

March 7, 2015

Browser cosplay day

Filed under: Humour, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Joey deVilla posted an image which requires no further explanation:

browser-cosplay

February 24, 2015

The decline of teaching

Filed under: Britain, Bureaucracy, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Oh, I don’t mean the profession of teaching … I mean the actual practice of imparting knowledge. As Joanna Williams explains, it’s the practical part that’s in steep decline nowadays:

After almost two decades working in the British education system, I’m still shocked when I meet teachers and lecturers who recoil at the prospect of actually imparting knowledge to their students. I cringed when the headteacher at my daughter’s junior school gathered all the new parents together to watch a sharply edited film showing that knowledge was now so easily accessible and so quickly outdated that there was little point in teaching children anything other than how to Google. When I find myself discussing the purpose of higher education, my proposal that the pursuit and transmission of knowledge should be the primary concern of the university is mostly met by looks of incomprehension that swiftly turn to barely concealed horror.

Teaching knowledge, as has been discussed before on spiked, has rarely been popular among the Rousseau-inspired, supposedly child-centred progressives of the educational world. It began to go more seriously out of fashion in the 1970s. Today, when every 10-year-old has a smart phone in their back pocket, actually teaching them stuff is seen as an unnecessary imposition on their individual creativity, serving no other end than future pub-quiz success. Working with children, rather than teaching knowledge, is considered altogether nicer; what’s more, it conveniently avoids the need for complex decisions to be made about what is most important in any particular subject. Rather than imposing their authority on children, teachers can be simply ‘guides on the side’, creating a learning environment through which children can determine their own path. What lies behind many of these entrenched ideas is a fundamental misunderstanding of what knowledge actually is.

Unfortunately, as a few voices in the educational world are beginning to make clear, left to their own devices children generally learn little and creativity is stifled rather than unleashed. Michael Young has been making the case for ‘bringing knowledge back in’ for many years now. More recently, people like Daisy Christodoulou, Toby Young and Tom Bennett have joined those chipping away at the child-centred, anti-knowledge orthodoxy. This is definitely a trend to welcome. And when knowledge-centred teaching goes against everything the educational establishment stands for, it is important to get the arguments right.

William Kitchen’s book, Authority and the Teacher, is a useful addition to the debate. Kitchen makes a convincing case that ‘any education without knowledge transmission is not an education at all’. The central premise of his book is his claim that ‘the development of knowledge requires a submission to the authority of a master expert: the teacher’. Kitchen argues that it is the teacher’s authority that makes imparting knowledge possible; in the absence of authority, teaching becomes simply facilitation and knowledge becomes inaccessible. He is careful to delineate authority from power, and he locates teachers’ authority within their own subject knowledge, which in turn is substantiated and held in check through membership of a disciplinary community. Without ‘the authority of the community and the practice,’ he argues, the notion of ‘correctness’ loses its meaning and there is no longer any sense to the passing of educational judgements.

February 11, 2015

QotD: Driverless cars and their critics

Filed under: Quotations, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Google this week unveiled the latest iteration of its driverless-car experiment, a prototype vehicle with no steering wheel or brake pedal. Reactions came in three main modes: terror, in the case of traditional automobile manufacturers; gee-whiz enthusiasm among nerds such as yours truly; and, most important, withering criticism from assorted design and automotive critics, who denounced the vehicles’ 1998-iMac-on-wheels aesthetic as too cute by a (driverless) mile, an Edsel as reimagined by Jony Ive. Every wonder that comes (in this case literally) down the pike is met with a measure of scorn by various aficionados and sundry mavens, who are annoying but who also are, regardless of whether they intend or realize it, champions of civilization. The iterative, evolutionary process of product design and refinement is the main engine of progress in material standards of living on this planet, and every condescending, self-righteous snob who pronounces every innovation not quite good enough is making humanity better off.

The Google driverless car may turn out to be the iPod of the automotive world, or it may fail. It may be the case that another firm (though I would not bet on General Motors) will produce a better version; it is more likely that, as with traditional cars, dozens of firms will offer scores of competing products, each serving a different need or taste. It may be the case that the most economically consequential application of the technology is moving cargo rather than people. Or maybe people won’t like them; you never can tell. What is important is that the evolutionary process be allowed to play out with a minimum of political interference.

Kevin D. Williamson, “Race On, for Driverless Cars: On the beauty of putting the consumer in the driver’s seat”, National Review, 2014-06-01.

January 4, 2015

“Google self-driving cars are timid”

Filed under: Humour, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

The Oatmeal got a chance to ride in one of Google’s self-driving cars, and learned six things from his experience:

2. Google self-driving cars are timid.

The car we rode in did not strike me as dangerous. It struck me as cautious. It drove slowly and deliberately, and I got the impression that it’s more likely to annoy other drivers than to harm them. Google can adjust the level of aggression in the software, and the self-driving prototypes currently tooling around Mountain View are throttled to act like nervous student drivers.

In the early versions they tested on closed courses, the vehicles were programmed to be highly aggressive. Apparently during these aggression tests, which involved obstacle courses full of traffic cones and inflatable crash-test objects, there were a lot of screeching brakes and roaring engines and terrified interns. Although impractical on the open road, part of me wishes I could have experienced that version as well.

An abandoned Google car prototype

When companies bought into the open plan workspace model

Filed under: Business — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In the Washington Post, Lindsey Kaufman recounts her experience when her workplace changed to the “open-office model”:

A year ago, my boss announced that our large New York ad agency would be moving to an open office. After nine years as a senior writer, I was forced to trade in my private office for a seat at a long, shared table. It felt like my boss had ripped off my clothes and left me standing in my skivvies.

Our new, modern Tribeca office was beautifully airy, and yet remarkably oppressive. Nothing was private. On the first day, I took my seat at the table assigned to our creative department, next to a nice woman who I suspect was an air horn in a former life. All day, there was constant shuffling, yelling, and laughing, along with loud music piped through a PA system. As an excessive water drinker, I feared my co-workers were tallying my frequent bathroom trips. At day’s end, I bid adieu to the 12 pairs of eyes I felt judging my 5:04 p.m. departure time. I beelined to the Beats store to purchase their best noise-cancelling headphones in an unmistakably visible neon blue.

Despite its obvious problems, the open-office model has continued to encroach on workers across the country. Now, about 70 percent of U.S. offices have no or low partitions, according to the International Facility Management Association. Silicon Valley has been the leader in bringing down the dividers. Google, Yahoo, eBay, Goldman Sachs and American Express are all adherents. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg enlisted famed architect Frank Gehry to design the largest open floor plan in the world, housing nearly 3,000 engineers. And as a businessman, Michael Bloomberg was an early adopter of the open-space trend, saying it promoted transparency and fairness. He famously carried the model into city hall when he became mayor of New York, making “the Bullpen” a symbol of open communication and accessibility to the city’s chief.

These new floor plans are ideal for maximizing a company’s space while minimizing costs. Bosses love the ability to keep a closer eye on their employees, ensuring clandestine porn-watching, constant social media-browsing and unlimited personal cellphone use isn’t occupying billing hours. But employers are getting a false sense of improved productivity. A 2013 study found that many workers in open offices are frustrated by distractions that lead to poorer work performance. Nearly half of the surveyed workers in open offices said the lack of sound privacy was a significant problem for them and more than 30 percent complained about the lack of visual privacy. Meanwhile, “ease of interaction” with colleagues — the problem that open offices profess to fix — was cited as a problem by fewer than 10 percent of workers in any type of office setting. In fact, those with private offices were least likely to identify their ability to communicate with colleagues as an issue. In a previous study, researchers concluded that “the loss of productivity due to noise distraction … was doubled in open-plan offices compared to private offices.”

I work in the software industry and it’s been nearly 20 years since I last had a private office. Every company I’ve worked for since then has either consciously been moving in the open office direction, or unwilling to spend money to partition open space in whatever office space they had. Sometimes, I even get nostalgic for cube farms…

December 14, 2014

Google to Spain: “Buh-bye!”

Filed under: Business, Europe, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:04

Spanish legislation imposing a special tax on Google has resulted in Google erasing Spain from their Google News business plan altogether:

Back in October, we noted that Spain had passed a ridiculously bad Google News tax, in which it required any news aggregator to pay for snippets and actually went so far as to make it an “inalienable right” to be paid for snippets — meaning that no one could choose to let any aggregator post snippets for free. Publishers have to charge any aggregator. This is ridiculous and dangerous on many levels. As we noted, it would be deathly for digital commons projects or any sort of open access project, which thrive on making content reusable and encouraging the widespread sharing of such content.

Apparently, it’s also deathly for Google News in Spain. A few hours ago, Google announced that due to this law, it was shutting down Google News in Spain, and further that it would be removing all Spanish publications from the rest of Google News. In short, Google went for the nuclear option in the face of a ridiculously bad law:

    But sadly, as a result of a new Spanish law, we’ll shortly have to close Google News in Spain. Let me explain why. This new legislation requires every Spanish publication to charge services like Google News for showing even the smallest snippet from their publications, whether they want to or not. As Google News itself makes no money (we do not show any advertising on the site) this new approach is simply not sustainable. So it’s with real sadness that on 16 December (before the new law comes into effect in January) we’ll remove Spanish publishers from Google News, and close Google News in Spain.

Every time there have been attempts to get Google to cough up some money to publishers in this or that country, people (often in our comments) suggest that Google should just “turn off” Google News in those countries. Google has always resisted such calls. Even in the most extreme circumstances, it’s just done things like removing complaining publications from Google News, or posting the articles without snippets. In both cases, publishers quickly realized how useful Google News was in driving traffic and capitulated. In this case, though, it’s not up to the publishers. It’s entirely up to the law.

October 24, 2014

Google Design open sources some icons

Filed under: Media, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:19

If you have a need for system icons and don’t want to create your own (or, like me, you have no artistic skills), you might want to look at a recent Google Design set that is now open source:

Today, Google Design are open-sourcing 750 glyphs as part of the Material Design system icons pack. The system icons contain icons commonly used across different apps, such as icons used for media playback, communication, content editing, connectivity, and so on. They’re equally useful when building for the web, Android or iOS.

Google Design open source icons

October 7, 2014

When the “right to be forgotten” encounters the Streisand Effect

Filed under: Europe, Law, Liberty, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:58

At Techdirt, Mike Masnick reports on the first New York Times articles to be removed from Google‘s search indices under the European “right to be forgotten” regulations:

Over the weekend, the NY Times revealed that it is the latest publication to receive notification from Google that some of its results will no longer show up for searches on certain people’s names, under the whole “right to be forgotten” nuttiness going on in Europe these days. As people in our comments have pointed out in the past, it’s important to note that the stories themselves aren’t erased from Google‘s index entirely — they just won’t show up when someone searches on the particular name of the person who complained. Still, the whole effort is creating a bit of a Streisand Effect in calling new attention to the impacted articles.

In this case, the NY Times was notified of five articles that were caught up in the right to be forgotten process. Three of the five involved semi-personal stuff, so the Times decided not to reveal what those stories were (even as it gently mocks Europe for not believing in free speech):

    Of the five articles that Google informed The Times about, three are intensely personal — two wedding announcements from years ago and a brief paid death notice from 2001. Presumably, the people involved had privacy reasons for asking for the material to be hidden.

I can understand the Times‘ decision not to reveal those articles, but it still does seem odd. You can understand why people might not want their wedding announcements findable, but they were accurate at the time, so it seems bizarre to have them no longer associated with your name.

October 3, 2014

Tour the only surviving WW2 Royal Navy destroyer with Google Maps

Filed under: Britain, History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

This is rather cool:

HMS Cavalier virtual tour (via Google Maps)

HMS Cavalier virtual tour (via Google Maps)

CInsideMedia has done it again with exclusive access to the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Cavalier at the Historic Dockyard, Chatham.

The class C/A destroyer celebrated her 70th anniversary on 5th April 2014, having served during World War II and then subsequently being refitted in 1957 to remove the mid-ship torpedoes and replacing them with anti-submarine squid mortars.

Following on from the massive success of CInsideMedia’s Google Maps Business View tour of HMS Ocelot, The Historic Dockyard Chatham is making it possible for anyone in the world to ‘virtually visit’ this National Destroyer Memorial and last surviving Royal Navy Second World War Destroyer.

Over two days of exclusive access, the CInsideMedia team were guided around the destroyer by the Dockyard’s Scott Belcher (Duty Manager: Visitor Operations, Security and Health and Safety) and Chris Tutt (Marketing).

The team captured over 350 panoramas meticulously capturing almost every deck of the 363 ft, 1.7 ton former Arctic Convoy vessel, including the gear room and engine room which are normally only accessible on special request due to Health & Safety and limited accessibility.

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