Quotulatiousness

January 13, 2018

The common factor of the Net Neutrality fight and the EpiPen price gouging scandal

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Economics, Government, Health, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Lili Carneglia explains what these two examples of “capitalist excess” are actually the result of regulatory failures:

Without net neutrality, regulations that prevent internet service providers (ISPs) from charging more for priority speeds and higher bandwidth-use sites would disappear. Most Americans are pretty confused by the revised rules but highly skeptical that this action could have any benefits. Many people, especially those living in the rural south where choices are limited, feel like these companies have been taking advantage of their customers for years, and loosening regulatory constraints on these companies seems like a terrible idea.

Net neutrality was a regulatory policy set under the Obama administration in 2015 that mandated ISPs to treat the internet like other utilities, such as highways and railroads, under laws established before most people had TVs. Under these rules, companies must act as neutral gateways to the internet without controlling the content or the speed of the content that passes through that gateway. Supporters of the rule argue that these regulations ensure the free flow of information, while those against the policy see net neutrality as a misapplication that stifles an industry that is more dynamic than other public utilities.

[…]

Yes, a handful of industry giants can and have abused their market power. Most consumers have limited ISPs to choose from in a given area, and options are more limited outside of big cities, where “three-quarters of American homes have no competitive choice for the essential infrastructure for 21st-century economics and democracy,” according to the former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler. It is important to consider how these circumstances came about before deciding that federal regulation might help consumers.

Governments, by and large, prefer to have fewer players in a given market as it makes that market easier to regulate, and the easiest market to regulate is a monopoly. When cable networks were beginning to spread across North America, many local governments were persuaded that a single cable provider would be the best option for their jurisdiction and the broadband internet market that came later was heavily shaped by the already carved-up markets for cable TV. For many, there were no competitive options because the local government had precluded the chance of competition for their already entrenched cable monopoly (or, in a few cases, tight oligopoly).

Competition is the best answer to monopolistic abuse of customers … if you get shitty service from the Blue Cable Company, you’ll be more likely to switch to the Red Cable Company. If you only have Red and Blue to choose from, your leverage is small, but if you have a full rainbow of competing options, Red and Blue are forced to make their services at least comparable to what Orange and Pink and Magenta are offering, or they lose too many customers. If there’s no threat of a competitor scooping up unhappy customers, there’s no incentive for the existing company to do more than the absolute minimum to keep customer complaints down to a dull roar. The customer’s only recourse — other than giving up the service or moving to a different jurisdiction — is to complain to the regulator.

The base problem with Mylan’s EpiPen price gouging is the same: an effective monopoly supported by the government:

The arguments against net neutrality repeals center around fears about what producers will do without regulation since they have significant market power and the ability to raise prices to levels that would not be sustainable under more competitive conditions. The concern about increased internet prices is similar to what happened in 2016 when a pharmaceutical company with market power, Mylan, increased the price of life-saving EpiPens by about 400 percent.

The “greedy” pharmaceutical companies were hung out to dry as Congress berated Mylan representatives in hearing after hearing. There were similar cries of outrage and demands that the federal government do something to prevent such selfish price-gouging, similar to what many consumers fear ISPs will do absent regulations.

Even (supposed) free-market advocates started supporting further regulation during the EpiPen debate. Most notably, then fiscal hawk representative and now Trump budget director Mick Mulvaney, defended further market intervention on the condition that, “If you want to come to the state capitols and lobby us to make us buy your stuff, this is what you get. You get a level of scrutiny and a level of treatment that would ordinarily curl my hair.”

However, in all of those hearings, almost no one bothered to unearth the problem that Mulvaney hinted at: Why was Mylan able to increase that price in the first place? Government intervention. Burdensome FDA regulations and other laws pressuring public schools to buy the drug essentially granted Mylan a monopoly. It was as misguided then as it is now to think that these same institutions can be trusted to clean up the mess they created.

Mylan had no effective competition, so there was nothing to stop the price gouging until it got so bad that even the regulator had to pay attention. If there were other pharmaceutical companies allowed to compete, do you think Mylan would have risked jacking up the price only to watch their competitors gaining market share?

Scott Alexander explained the Mylan monopoly quite expansively in 2016.

January 1, 2018

Blog traffic in 2017

Filed under: Administrivia, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

The annual statistics update on Quotulatiousness from January 1st through December 31st, 2017. The numbers will be a couple of thousand short of the full year, as I did the screen captures mid-morning on the 31st.

I stopped paying much attention to the blog stats years ago, but the jump in traffic from 2016 to 2017 is amazing! Going from a stable ~1.7 million visits per year to nearly 2.5 million last year is quite unexpected. That’s getting up toward the region where it might seem to make sense to try to monetize the blog … but I tried doing the Amazon affiliate thing earlier this year, and it generated exactly $0.00 in revenue for Amazon, and I got my full share of that revenue (as Jayne put it: “Let’s see, let me do the math: 10 per cent of nothing is, … (mumble) carry the zero …(mumble) … “)

December 14, 2017

Cognitive dissonance in action – Net Neutrality partisans want TRUMP to control the internet

Filed under: Government, Politics, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Jon Gabriel on the weird position Net Neutrality fans find themselves in … demanding that Il Donalduce himself, the most hated politician in Liberal America since Richard Nixon be the one to dictate how the internet is run:

If President Trump is some kind of digital facist, he sure has a funny way of going about it.

His FCC chairman is trying to remove government from the Internet, returning it to those dark, authoritarian days of 30 months ago — you know, when pretty much every website, app and online service we use was created.

Bizarrely, these net neutrality alarmists are demanding that Trump maintain control of the Internet, planting his administration firmly between citizens and whatever content they want to view or create.

Even if Democrats were running the show in Washington, how could federal meddling improve the Internet? Do they want the Web run by the bureaucrats who spent $2 billion to build a health care website that didn’t work? Do they want our privacy assured by those behind the National Security Agency?

Nevertheless, progressives insist that Trump regulate the Internet in the name of free speech. Perhaps he can do this between his tweets bashing the press.

[…]

If the FCC approves this new proposal, the worst of federal meddling online will be retired. Instead, the commission will simply require Internet service providers to be transparent about their service offerings. That way, tech innovators will have the information they need and consumers will know which plan works best for them.

In other words, Web users and creators will be back in control of the Internet instead of lawyers and bureaucrats. Just as they were for all but the past couple of years.

To ensure transparency, Pai made all his proposals public before the FCC vote Thursday. A big departure from the Obama administration’s methods, which kept its net neutrality rules secret until after they were approved.

Before the FCC’s heavy-handed intervention, we saw the creation of Amazon, Google and Twitter. If Washington removes these unnecessary regulations as expected, we’ll see the Internet continue to blossom.

And my daughters will get to watch their favorite YouTube celebrities complain about net neutrality for years to come.

December 12, 2017

“Well sir, there’s nothing on Earth like a genuine, bona-fide, electrified, six-car blockchain!”

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

The way blockchain technology is being hyped these days, you’d think it was being pushed by the monorail salesman on The Simpsons. At Catallaxy Files, this guest post by Peter Van Valkenburgh is another of their informative series on what blockchain tech can do:

“Blockchain” has become a buzzword in the technology and financial industries. It is often cited as a panacea for all manner business and governance problems. “Blockchain’s” popularity may be an encouraging sign for innovation, but it has also resulted in the word coming to mean too many things to too many people, and — ultimately — almost nothing at all.

The word “blockchain” is like the word “vehicle” in that they both describe a broad class of technology. But unlike the word “blockchain” no one ever asks you, “Hey, how do you feel about vehicle?” or excitedly exclaims, “I’ve got it! We can solve this problem with vehicle.” And while you and I might talk about “vehicle technology,” even that would be a strangely abstract conversation. We should probably talk about cars, trains, boats, or rocket ships, depending on what it is about vehicles that we are interested in. And “blockchain” is the same. There is no “The Blockchain” any more than there is “The Vehicle,” and the category “blockchain technology” is almost hopelessly broad.

There’s one thing that we definitely know is blockchain technology, and that’s Bitcoin. We know this for sure because the word was originally invented to name and describe the distributed ledger of bitcoin transactions that is created by the Bitcoin network. But since the invention of Bitcoin in 2008, there have been several individuals, companies, consortia, and nonprofits who have created new networks or software tools that borrow something from Bitcoin—maybe directly borrowing code from Bitcoin’s reference client or maybe just building on technological or game-theoretical ideas that Bitcoin’s emergence uncovered. You’ve probably heard about some of these technologies and companies or seen their logos.

Aside from being in some way inspired by Bitcoin what do all of these technologies have in common? Is there anything we can say is always true about a blockchain technology? Yes.

All Blockchains Have…

All blockchain technologies should have three constituent parts: peer-to-peer networking, consensus mechanisms, and (yes) blockchains, A.K.A. hash-linked data structures. You might be wondering why we call them blockchain technologies if the blockchain is just one of three essential parts. It probably just comes down to good branding. Ever since Napster and BitTorrent, the general public has unfortunately come to associate peer-to-peer networks with piracy and copyright infringement. “Consensus mechanism” sounds very academic and a little too hard to explain a little too much of a mouthful to be a good brand. But “blockchain,” well that sounds interesting and new. It almost rolls off the tongue; at least compared to, say, “cryptography” which sounds like it happens in the basement of a church.

But understanding each of those three constituent parts makes blockchain technology suddenly easier to understand. And that’s because we can write a simple one sentence explanation about how the three parts achieve a useful result:

Connected computers reach agreement over shared data.

That’s what a blockchain technology should do; it should allow connected computers to reach agreement over shared data. And each part of that sentence corresponds to our three constituent technologies.

Connected Computers. The computers are connected in a peer-to-peer network. If your computer is a part of a blockchain network it is talking directly to other computers on that network, not through a central server owned by a corporation or other central party.

Reach Agreement. Agreement between all of the connected computers is facilitated by using a consensus mechanism. That means that there are rules written in software that the connected computers run, and those rules help ensure that all the computers on the network stay in sync and agree with each other.

Shared Data. And the thing they all agree on is this shared data called a blockchain. “Blockchain” just means the data is in a specific format (just like you can imagine data in the form of a word document or data in the form of an image file). The blockchain format simply makes data easy for machines to verify the consistency of a long and growing log of data. Later data entries must always reference earlier entries, creating a linked chain of data. Any attempt to alter an early entry will necessitate altering every subsequent entry; otherwise, digital signatures embedded in the data will reveal a mismatch. Specifically how that all works is beyond the scope of this backgrounder, but it mostly has to do with the science of cryptography and digital signatures. Some people might tell you that this makes blockchains “immutable;” that’s not really accurate. The blockchain data structure will make alterations evident, but if the people running the connected computers choose to accept or ignore the alterations then they will remain.

December 1, 2017

Censorship on the web

Filed under: Business, Liberty, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At City Journal, Aaron Renn explains why some of the concerns about censorship on the Internet are not so much wrong as misdirected:

The basic idea of net neutrality makes sense. When I get a phone, the phone company can’t decide whom I can call, or how good the call quality should be depending on who is on the other end of the line. Similarly, when I pay for my cable modem, I should be able to use the bandwidth I paid for to surf any website, not get a better or worse connection depending on whether my cable company cut some side deal to make Netflix perform better than Hulu.

The problem for net neutrality advocates is that the ISPs aren’t actually doing any of this; they really are providing an open Internet, as promised. The same is not true of the companies pushing net neutrality, however. As Pai suggests, the real threat to an open Internet doesn’t come from your cable company but from Google/YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and others. All these firms have aggressively censored.

For example, Google recently kicked would-be Twitter competitor Gab out of its app store, not for anything Gab did but for what it refused to do — censor content. Twitter is famous for censoring, as Pai observes. “I love Twitter, and I use it all the time,” he said. “But let’s not kid ourselves; when it comes to an open Internet, Twitter is part of the problem. The company has a viewpoint and uses that viewpoint to discriminate.” (Twitter’s censors have not gotten around to removing the abuse, some of it racist, being hurled at Pai, including messages like “Die faggot die” and “Hey go fuck yourself you Taliban-looking fuck.”)

Google’s YouTube unit also censors, setting the channel for Prager University to restricted mode, which limits access; Prager U. is suing Google and YouTube. YouTube has also “demonetized” videos from independent content creators, making these videos ineligible for advertising, their main source of revenue. Much of the complaining about censorship has come from political conservatives, but they’re not the only victims. The problem is broad-based.

Yet sometimes Silicon Valley giants have adopted a see-no-evil approach to certain kinds of content. Facebook, for instance, has banned legitimate content but failed to stop Russian bots from going wild during last year’s presidential election, planting voluminous fake news stories. Advertisers recently started fleeing YouTube when reports surfaced that large numbers of child-exploitation videos were showing up on supposedly kid-friendly channels. One account, ToyFreaks, had 8 million subscribers — making it the 68th most-viewed YouTube channel — before the company shut it down. It’s not credible that YouTube didn’t know what was happening on a channel with millions of viewers. Other channels and videos featured content from pedophiles. More problems turned up within the last week. A search for “How do I …” on YouTube returned numerous auto-complete suggestions involving sex with children. Others have found a whole genre of “guess her age” videos, with preview images, printed in giant fonts, saying things like, “She’s only 9!” The videos may or may not have involved minors — I didn’t watch them—but at minimum, they trade on pedophilic language to generate views.

November 28, 2017

Evergreen headline – “FCC bureaucrats don’t know what they’re talking about”

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

Nick Gillespie on the heightening panic over the FCC’s reversal of the controversial Net Neutrality rules:

Current Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai memorably told Reason that “net neutrality” rules were “a solution that won’t work to a problem that doesn’t exist.”

Yet in 2015, despite a blessed lack of throttling of specific traffic streams, blocking of websites, and other feared behavior by internet service providers (ISPs) and mobile carriers, the FCC issued net neutrality rules that gave the federal government the right to punish business practices under Title II regulations designed for the old state-enabled Bell telephone monopoly.

Now that Pai, who became chairman earlier this year, has announced an FCC vote to repeal the Obama-era regulations, he is being pilloried by progressives, liberals, Democrats, and web giants ranging from Google to Netflix to Amazon to Facebook, often in the name of protecting an “open internet” that would let little companies and startups flourish like in the good old days before Google, Netflix, Amazon, and Facebook dominated everything. Even the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which back in 2009 called FCC attempts to claim jurisdiction over the internet a “Trojan Horse” for government control, is squarely against the repeal.

[…]

Yet the panic over the repeal of net neutrality is misguided for any number of reasons.

First and foremost, the repeal simply returns the internet back to pre-2015 rules where there were absolutely no systematic issues related to throttling and blocking of sites (and no, ISPs weren’t to blame for Netflix quality issues in 2013). As Pai stressed in an exclusive interview with Reason last week, one major impact of net neutrality regs was a historic decline in investment in internet infrastructure, which would ultimately make things worse for all users. Why bother building out more capacity if there’s a strong likelihood that the government will effectively nationalize your pipes? Despite fears, the fact is that in the run-up to government regulation, both the average speed and number of internet connections (especially mobile) continued to climb and the percentage of Americans without “advanced telecommunications capability” dropped from 20 percent to 10 percent between 2012 and 2014, according to the FCC (see table 7 in full report). Nobody likes paying for the internet or for cell service, but the fact is that services have been getting better and options have been growing for most people.

Second, as Reason contributor Thomas W. Hazlett, a former chief economist for the FCC, writes in The New York Daily News, even FCC bureaucrats don’t know what they’re talking about.

Hazlett notes that in a recent debate former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who implemented the 2015 net neutrality rules after explicit lobbying by President Obama, said the rise of AOL to dominance during the late 1990s proved the need for the sort of government regulation he imposed. But “AOL’s foray only became possible when regulators in the 1980s peeled back ‘Title II’ mandates, the very regulations that Wheeler’s FCC imposed on broadband providers in 2015,” writes Hazlett. “AOL’s experiment started small and grew huge, discovering progressively better ways to serve consumers. Wheeler’s chosen example of innovation demonstrates how dangerous it is to impose one particular platform, freezing business models in place.”

November 22, 2017

A damned odd canary in this particular coal mine

Filed under: Government, Media, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Megan McArdle on the imminent demise of the FCC’s “Net Neutrality”:

The internet will be filled today with denunciations of this move, threats of a dark future in which our access to content will be controlled by a few powerful companies. And sure, that may happen. But in fact, it may already have happened, led not by ISPs, but by the very companies that were fighting so hard for net neutrality.

Consider what happened to the Daily Stormer, the neo-Nazi publication, after Charlottesville. One by one, hosting companies refused to permit its content on their servers. The group was forced to effectively flee the country, and then other countries, too, shut it down.

Now of course, these are not nice people. Their website espoused vile hate. But the fact remains that what they were publishing was not illegal, merely immoral, and their immoral speech was effectively shut down by a small number of private companies who decided to exercise their considerable control over what we’re allowed to read. And what is to stop them from expanding this decision to other categories, forcing the rest of us to conform to Silicon Valley’s idea of what it is moral and right for us to see?

Fifteen years ago, when I started blogging, it was common to hear that “the internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” You don’t hear that so often anymore, because it’s not true. China has proven very effective at censoring the internet, and as market power has consolidated in the tech industry, so have private firms.

Meanwhile, our experience of the internet is increasingly controlled by a handful of firms, most especially Google and Facebook. The argument for regulating these companies as public utilities is arguably at least as strong as the argument for thus regulating ISPs, and very possibly much stronger; while cable monopolies may have local dominance, none of them has the ability that Google and Facebook have to unilaterally shape what Americans see, hear, and read.

In other words, we already live in the walled garden that activists worry about, and the walls are getting higher every day. Is this a problem? I think it is. But that doesn’t mean that the internet would get better if Google and Facebook and Apple and Amazon were required to make every decision with a regulator hanging over their shoulder to decide whether it was sufficiently “neutral.”

October 21, 2017

Canada’s equivalent to the NSA releases a malware detection tool

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

At The Register, Simon Sharwood looks at a new security tool (in open source) released by the Communications Security Establishment (CSE, formerly known as CSEC):

Canada’s Communications Security Establishment has open-sourced its own malware detection tool.

The Communications Security Establishment (CSE) is a signals intelligence agency roughly equivalent to the United Kingdom’s GCHQ, the USA’s NSA and Australia’s Signals Directorate. It has both intelligence-gathering and advisory roles.

It also has a tool called “Assemblyline” which it describes as a “scalable distributed file analysis framework” that can “detect and analyse malicious files as they are received.”

[…]

The tool was written in Python and can run on a single PC or in a cluster. CSE claims it can process millions of files a day. “Assemblyline was built using public domain and open-source software; however the majority of the code was developed by CSE.” Nothing in it is commercial technology and the CSE says it is “easily integrated in to existing cyber defence technologies.”

The tool’s been released under the MIT licence and is available here.

The organisation says it released the code because its job is to improve Canadian’s security, and it’s confident Assemblyline will help. The CSE’s head of IT security Scott Jones has also told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that the release has a secondary goal of demystifying the organisation.

QotD: Writing for the internet

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

It took me years of writing on the Internet to learn what is nearly an iron law of commentary: The better your message makes you feel about yourself, the less likely it is that you are convincing anyone else. The messages that make you feel great about yourself (and of course, your like-minded friends) are the ones that suggest you’re a moral giant striding boldly across the landscape, wielding your inescapable ethical logic. The messages that work are the ones that try to understand what the other side is thinking, on the assumption that they are no better or worse than you.

Megan McArdle, “How to Win Friends and Influence Refugee Policy”, Bloomberg View, 2015-11-20.

September 15, 2017

Will Google’s quasi-monopoly last as long as AOL’s did?

Filed under: Business, Liberty, Politics, Technology, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

In the big picture, I’m concerned with Google’s current market power and their ability to quash online freedom of speech almost at will (if not directly, through pressure on other companies to co-operate, or else: “Nice little business you’ve got here, Mr. Forbes. It’d be a shame if something happened to its Google search results…”). Google is huge and has fingers in an unimaginable number of pies, but it is still subject to market forces, as was an earlier behemoth of the online world:

The film [You’ve Got Mail] was released in 1998. Amazon was founded in 1994 and had its IPO in 1997. It was about to crush big discount bookstores — does anyone still remember the other big chain, Borders? — and nobody had a clue. There isn’t a single mention in the film of Amazon or online sales.

But the Internet is mentioned. It’s right there in the title of the movie. You’ve Got Mail, for those who are old enough to remember, was a tagline for America Online, the largest Internet service provider in the dial-up era of the 1990s. For millennials, let me explain: we had to connect our computers to a phone line, and an internal modem would place a phone call to a local data center from which it could download information at impossibly slow speeds. […]

AOL is there in the film’s title, because that’s how our protagonists are communicating: by trading e-mails on their dial-up AOL connections.

AOL’s high point was its merger with Time Warner in 2000. It was all downhill, rapidly, from there. Dial-up was quickly surpassed by broadband, and as the Web developed, nobody needed a “Web portal” any more. Again, for younger readers, let me explain. When you managed to get to this exciting new thing called the World Wide Web, how did you know what sites to go to or how to access information? Before the Google search, before Facebook, before Twitter, you went to a Web portal, a launching off point that gathered links and directed you to various sources for news, entertainment, shopping, etc. These Web portals had a huge amount of influence — until they didn’t.

Now here’s the fun part. At the same time nobody was paying much attention to Amazon because Barnes and Noble was going to crush all competitors and control the book business, there was widespread panic about the unstoppable monopoly power of AOL.

AOL was going to gain a monopoly because of its death grip on instant messaging. The “computer editor” for The Guardian worried that this was putting AOL “on its way to world domination.” The AOL-Time Warner deal raised “concerns that its merger would create a media powerhouse that would level competitors, dominate the Internet, and control consumer choice.”

A Wired podcast talked about fears of a Sun-AOL monopoly, but they didn’t call that sort of thing a “podcast” yet because the iPod hadn’t been invented. The audio clip was an MP3 file, and they suggested you listen to it on a Sonique MP3 player from Lycos. The Sonique stopped being produced about a year later. Lycos was a major Web portal, and according to Wikipedia, it was “the most visited online destination in the world in 1999.” It was bought by a multinational conglomerate for $12.5 billion at the peak of the dot-com bubble.

Whatever is left of Lycos was last sold for $36 million in 2010, though that deal seems to have collapsed in acrimony later on. Sic transit gloria mundi.

September 8, 2017

Google’s unbridled market power and ability to quash critics and competitors

Filed under: Business, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In Wired, Rowland Manthorpe reports on another case of Google roughing up someone for being critical of their current “be evil” business philosophy:

The latest allegation against Google? Jon von Tetzchner, creator of the web browser Opera, says the search giant deliberately undermined his new browser, Vivaldi.

In a blogpost titled, “My friends at Google: it is time to return to not being evil,” von Tetzchner accuses the US firm of blocking Vivaldi’s access to Google AdWords, the advertisements that run alongside search results, without warning or proper explanation.

According to Von Tetzchner, the problem started in late May. Speaking at the Oslo Freedom Forum, the Icelandic programmer criticised big tech companies’ attitude toward personal data, calling for a ban on location tracking on Facebook and Google. Two days later, he suddenly found Vivaldi’s Google AdWords campaigns had been suspended. “Was this just a coincidence?” he writes. “Or was it deliberate, a way of sending us a message?” He concludes: “Timing spoke volumes.”

Von Tetzchner got in touch with Google to try and resolve the issue. The result? What he calls “a clarification masqueraded in the form of vague terms and conditions.” The particular issue was the end-user license agreement (EULA), the legal contract between a software manufacturer and a user. Google wanted Vivaldi to add one to its website. So it did. But Google had further complaints.

According to emails shown to WIRED, Google wanted Vivaldi to add an EULA “within the frame of every download button”. The addition was small – a link below the button directing people to “terms” – but on the web, where every pixel matters, this was a potential competitive disadvantage. Most gallingly, Chrome, Google’s own web browser, didn’t display a EULA on its landing pages. Google also asked Vivaldi to add detailed information to help people uninstall it, with another link, also under the button.

The links Vivaldi says it was forced to add to comply with Google’s demands (image via Wired)

September 7, 2017

James May’s 80s internet EXTRAS – James May’s Q&A (Ep 19) – Head Squeeze

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

Published on 10 May 2013

James reflects on the lifetime of the internet… what was he doing on the web in 1988? What does he use it for most? And how will it banish all oppressive regimes?

Extra content from James May’s Q&A (Ep 19) http://youtu.be/C3sr7_0FyPA

James May’s Q&A: With his own unique spin, James May asks and answers the oddball questions we’ve all wondered about from ‘What Exactly Is One Second?’ to ‘Is Invisibility Possible?’

September 2, 2017

“Nice little business you’ve got here, Mr. Forbes. It’d be a shame if something happened to its Google search results…”

Filed under: Business, Liberty, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At Gizmodo, Kashmir Hill recounts the tale of what happens when Google decides to suppress media coverage it doesn’t like:

Six years ago, I was pressured to unpublish a critical piece about Google’s monopolistic practices after the company got upset about it. In my case, the post stayed unpublished.

I was working for Forbes at the time, and was new to my job. In addition to writing and reporting, I helped run social media there, so I got pulled into a meeting with Google salespeople about Google’s then-new social network, Plus.

The Google salespeople were encouraging Forbes to add Plus’s “+1″ social buttons to articles on the site, alongside the Facebook Like button and the Reddit share button. They said it was important to do because the Plus recommendations would be a factor in search results — a crucial source of traffic to publishers.

This sounded like a news story to me. Google’s dominance in search and news give it tremendous power over publishers. By tying search results to the use of Plus, Google was using that muscle to force people to promote its social network.

I asked the Google people if I understood correctly: If a publisher didn’t put a +1 button on the page, its search results would suffer? The answer was yes.

After the meeting, I approached Google’s public relations team as a reporter, told them I’d been in the meeting, and asked if I understood correctly. The press office confirmed it, though they preferred to say the Plus button “influences the ranking.” They didn’t deny what their sales people told me: If you don’t feature the +1 button, your stories will be harder to find with Google.

With that, I published a story headlined, “Stick Google Plus Buttons On Your Pages, Or Your Search Traffic Suffers,” that included bits of conversation from the meeting.

    The Google guys explained how the new recommendation system will be a factor in search. “Universally, or just among Google Plus friends?” I asked. ‘Universal’ was the answer. “So if Forbes doesn’t put +1 buttons on its pages, it will suffer in search rankings?” I asked. Google guy says he wouldn’t phrase it that way, but basically yes.

(An internet marketing group scraped the story after it was published and a version can still be found here.)

This article reminded me that I was still showing a “Google+” share button on my postings … it’s still available for all three of you that still use that service, but it’s now in the “More” group instead.

August 13, 2017

CBC Comedy exists to make us appreciate private-sector comedians that much more

Filed under: Cancon, Humour, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the National Post, Tristin Hopper gently points out that the taxpayers are not getting positive results from their involuntary funding of yet another Canadian Broadcasting Corporation “comedy”:

If there was ever a textbook example of the terrible, bone-chilling things a government can do to humour, it’s CBC Comedy.

To be clear, I’m not talking about the general phenomenon of comedy appearing on CBC. I’m talking instead about cbc.ca/comedy, a section of the CBC website devoted in part to publishing satirical news headlines.

Although it’s existed for three years, chances are you’ve never heard of it. Because while CBC doesn’t publicly release its website analytics, all signs point to the site having utterly dismal traffic.

CBC Comedy’s social media accounts are embarrassingly devoid of attention. On Twitter, posts will commonly fail to attract a single retweet or like — meaning that they aren’t even being promoted by the writers who created them.

On Facebook, a sample of 53 recent satirical news posts found that they averaged 65 reactions apiece — a standard routinely bested by Newfoundland grandmothers.

So where can you go to get your regular ration of full maple-flavoured online comedy? That is, something actually funny, unlike CBC “Comedy”.

Of course, there already is a Canadian Onion: The Beaverton, an online satire site founded in 2010.

The Beaverton became so widely read that its producers secured a show on the Comedy Network. Meanwhile, their posts routinely tear up social media, constantly topping 1,000 likes on Facebook and dominating the Canada sub-forum on Reddit.

They are a motivated, private sector venture that has arguably mastered the form — and yet our public broadcaster insists on propping up a piss poor competitor.

In head-to-head competition, The Beaverton routinely spanks anything that comes out of CBC Comedy offices.

H/T to Chris Myrick for the link.

August 12, 2017

Why The Government Shouldn’t Break WhatsApp

Filed under: Britain, Government, Law, Liberty, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 3 Jul 2017

Encryption backdoors – breaking WhatsApp and iMessage’s security to let the government stop Bad Things – sounds like a reasonable idea. Here’s why it isn’t.

A transcript of this video’s available here: https://www.facebook.com/notes/tom-scott/why-the-government-shouldnt-break-whatsapp/1378434365572557/

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