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September 21, 2016

[iab] Privacy discussion

I’m at the IAB conference in Toronto. Canada has a privacy law, PIPEDA law (The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act) passed in 2001, based on OECD principles.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Barbara Bucknell
, the director of policy and research at Office of the Privacy Commissioner where she worries about how to protect privacy while being able to take advantage of all the good stuff data can do.

A recent large survey found that more than half of Canadians are more concerned about privacy than they were last year. Only 34% think the govt is doing enough to keep their privacy safe. Globally, 8 out of 10 are worried about their info being bought, sold, or monitored. “Control is the key concern here.” “They’re worried about surprises: ‘Oh, I didn’t know you were using my information that way!'”

Adam Kardash [this link
?] says that all the traditional approaches to privacy have be carefully reconsidered. E.g., data minimization says you only collect what you need. “It’s a basic principle that’s been around forever.” But data scientists, when asked how much data they need for innovation, will say “We need it all.” Also, it’s incredibly difficult to explain how your data is going to be used, especially at the grade 6-7 literacy rate that is required. And for data retention, we should keep medical info forever. Marketers will tell you the same thing so they can give you information about you what you really need.

Adam raises the difficulties with getting consent, which the OPC opened a discussion about. Often asking for consent is a negligible part of the privacy process. “The notion of consent is having an increasingly smaller role” while the question of control is growing.

He asks Barbara “How does PEPIDA facility trust?”

Barbara: It puts guardrails into the process. They may be hard implement but they’re there for a reason. The original guidelines from the OECD were prescient. “It’s good to remember there were reasons these guardrails were put in place.”

Consent remains important, she says, but there are also other components, including accountability. The organization has to protect data and be accountable for how it’s used. Privacy needs to be built into services and into how your company is organized. Are the people creating the cool tech talking to the privacy folks and to the legal folks? “Is this conversation happening at the front end?” You’d be surprised how many organizations don’t have those kind of programs in place.

Barbara: Can you talk to the ethical side of this?

Adam: Companies want to know how to be respectful as part of their trust framework, not just meeting the letter of the law. “We believe that the vast majority of Big Data processing can be done within the legal framework. And then we’re creating a set of questions” in order for organisations to feel comfortable that what they’re doing is ethical. This is very practical, because it forestalls law suits. PEPIDA says that organizations can only process data for purposes a reasonable person would consider appropriate. We think that includes the ethical concerns.

Adam: How can companies facilitate trust?

Barbara: It’s vital to get these privacy management programs into place that will help facilitate discussions of what’s not just legal but respectful. And companies have to do a better job of explaining to individuals how they’re using their data.

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February 1, 2016

Tung oil from a good vendor

We made the odd choice of replacing our miracle composite kitchen floor — zero upkeep — with a knotty pine floor. Pine is beautiful, and we think it helps make our kitchen look more inviting, but it’s very soft wood.

So we’re conditioning it with tung oil. Tung oil penetrates the wood and polymerizes, hardening it while enriching the color and giving it a satiny sheen. The floor will still be softer than our miracle composite, but you have to resign yourself to thinking of the dents and scratches as signs of its being lived in. Or on. Also, because tung oil penetrates the wood and isn’t a layer on top, you can sand out some dings, and you can always wipe on a little more oil. We may live to regret it, but we like it so far.

floor before and after

Unfortunately, tung oil is a pain in the tuchus when compared to, say, polyurethane. You brush poly on, you let it dry, you lightly scratch it up with brillo or sandpaper, and you do it again. Boom done. Tung oil takes several coats, it smells, it takes longer to dry before the next coat, and it takes much longer to fully polymerize.

After a lot of research — Thank you, Internet — we decided on going with Real Milk Paint tung products. The rational reasons are:

1. They seem to have high quality products. Since there are various types of tung oil pretenders on the market, that counts.

2. For the initial applications, the Internet recommends cutting the tung oil with a solvent. Real Milk has a pre-mixed prep called Half and Half that cuts the tung with citrus oil. True to the claims, we found that it dries quickly and doesn’t smell bad — sort of citrusy, unsurprisingly. (Nevertheless, we trained a fan over the floor while it dried to blow the odor away from us humans.)

But the real reason we went with Real Milk is that they seem like Real People who know their tung oil. I came to this conclusion by reading their discussion boards and watching their videos. They seem to be craftspeople who love finishes that bring out the beauty of the wood they have just worked. They are straightforward and non-defensive. They are on the side of their customers.

I confirmed this minutes ago by calling customer support with a question and talking with a couple of folks there. Our third coat wasn’t drying. They told me what to do about it (dry it) and reassured me that this is in fact a sign that the wood has been saturated. Now we just have to walk carefully on it for a month until it’s fully set.

Could I be wrong about the people and the company? Absolutely. I’m wrong about most things. Maybe they’ll turn out to be the robotic face of a Big Tung, a mega-corporation peddling relabeled motor oil drained from Chernobyl. But I will have at least been fooled for the right reasons.

And that counts for a lot.


December 13, 2015

From boosting the Net to remembering it

My role on the Net is going through a large swing: from explaining why the Internet is different, important, and (overall) good, to reminding us—especially college-age kids—how different and difficult so many things were before the Net existed.

For example, I gave an informal talk at Tufts last week and a few weeks ago at Emerson College. In both of them, and in the discussions afterwards, I did the Old Man thing of talking about how things were in the pre-Net days. For instance, it used to be that you’d read a newspaper article, have questions and want to know more, and there was no place you could go. You got whatever was in that rectangle of information and that’s all. Shocking! Outrageous!

The two roles are not unrelated: explaining what’s different about the Net and why we should overall be grateful and optimistic about the opportunities it has opened up. But what’s surprising to me is summed up by the comment by one of the Emerson students after the event was officially over: He thanked me for saying positive things about the Net since “All we ever hear is how dangerous it is.”

So, there’s still work to do. Hope over fear. Hope over fear.

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November 22, 2015

Bing can’t find Windows 10 Ten Cents sale…but Google can

I heard that Microsoft has some excellent $0.10 deals for Windows 10 owners like me. So I checked Bing:

bing listing

The top hit (an ad by Microsoft) takes you to a page for corporate sales of Windows phones.

The second hit (an ad by Microsoft) takes you to the generic Microsoft Store front page from which it is virtually impossible to find the $0.10 sales.

None of the rest of the results on the first page of the Bing search gets you anywhere close.

Same search at Google:

google listing

The top hit (a Microsoft ad) takes you to the same generic front page of the Microsoft Store as the second hit on Bing, which makes no mention of the $0.10 sales.

The following Google results take you to pages about the $0.10 sales from which you can actually get to the goddamn sale.

Yes, these sales are real. For example, this is from the site this afternoon:

google listing

I got there by going to the post listed in the Google results….although right now the Windows site is telling me that something is wrong and I should come back later.

PS: To get to the Hitman Go sale, my best advice is to go to the Windows Store on your Windows 10 machine. The $0.10 sales are featured there. Or search there for Hitman Go.

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October 6, 2015

Doc Searls’ "The Adblock War" series

Adblocking is, as Doc Searls claims, “the biggest boycott in human history.” Since August 12, Doc’s been posting what I can only call an in-depth, analytical, evidence-based rant. It is not to be missed.

  1. Separating advertising’s wheat and chaff (12 August 2015)
  2. Apple’s content blocking is chemo for the cancer of adtech (26 August 2015)
  3. Will content blocking push Apple into advertising’s wheat business? (29 August 2015)
  4. If marketing listened to markets, they’d hear what ad blocking is telling them (8 September 2015)
  5. Debugging adtext assumptions (18 September 2015)
  6. How adtech, not ad blocking, breaks the social contract (23 September 2015)
  7. A way to peace in the adblock war (21 September 2015, on the ProjectVRM blog)
  8. Beyond ad blocking — the biggest boycott in human history (28 Septemper 2015)
  9. Dealing with Boundary Issues (1 October 2015 in Linux Journal)

Doc says (in an email) he is “building the case for what ProjectVRMCustomer Commons and Mozilla (notably its Content Services group) are quietly doing to disable surveillance capitalism.”

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October 2, 2015

Reason #2,645 to love the Web

Back in the early 1980s—yes, children, it’s time for an anecdote from the Dark Ages—WordPerfect was my writing tool. I was a power user and was quite attached to it. But there were some things I thought they could do better. So, I wrote a four page letter that was (as I recall) very appreciative of the program overall — not a set of gripes, but a fan’s notes. I sent it to the WordPerfect corporation.

I never heard anything back. Not even the form letter I expected.

That was back then.

On my Mac I frequently use Sync2Folders “its techie rawness is one of the reasons I like it”to, well, sync two folders. It does exactly what I want, and it’s free, although donations are suggested. (I’ve donated the suggested €6 more than once.)

In terms of the look and feel, Sync2Folders isn’t slick, and in its functionality it tends towards the techie. But it’s simple enough that I can do the basic things that I want to do. In fact, its techie rawness is one of the reasons I like it: It does a job that’s not trendy, and it does it without gussying itself up.

Also, and perhaps more important, it looks like something that a developer created and put out in the world for free. Which is exactly what it is.

A couple of days ago I got an automated email from the developer, Thomas Robisson when I donated for the third time. I’d like to pretend that I’m just that generous, but the truth is that I’m just that forgetful. So, I appreciated that the developer noted the duplication, told me how to avoid the app’s request for fiscal aid, and reminded me that a single license can be used on multiple computers.

I responded by email to thank Thomas, and also to point out a feature that I’d like and that I’d thought was in an earlier version. I was confident that this was going to turn out to be a DUM— a dumb user mistake — and at least I was right about that.“ The Net occasions the generosity of people like Thomas” Over the course of a couple of emails in which Thomas asked for some basic debugging info, it turned out that, yes, I had simply missed the button that did what I was asking for. D’oh.

I know that the Internet is the defiler of youth and the death of civilization. But it also occasions the generosity and creativity of people like Thomas.

Further, before the Net, there was only the slightest chance that a user and a product creator could engage. And if they did it was likely to be in the stilted, inhuman voice of the Marketing department.

So, thank you, Thomas. And thank you, Internet.


September 22, 2015

Why I hate the Windows 10 ad

A close relative recently gushed about the Windows 10 ad with the montage of adorable toddlers, especially the boy (?) pressing his face up against a window. My reaction was visceral, guttural, and not for polite company. Until then I hadn’t realized how much I hate that ad.

It wasn’t obvious to me why.

A big part of it is, of course, its exploitation of the parenting part of our lizard brains. What makes it worse is that the ad is soooo good at it. Those are some lovable damn children! I get the heart feels when they call out Fatima by name. I get the same involuntary happiness reflex in the second version of the ad when it ends on the feminine pronoun: “We just have to make sure that she has what she needs.” (That’s approximate; I can’t find the second ad online.)

I don’t like being manipulated, even when it’s towards things I believe in. When it’s in a movie or a book, I just feel cheated. When it’s in persuasive discourse, I feel abused. That’s true when a President argues for a policy by recounting a moving anecdote about someone he met (“I met a woman in Iowa recently who told me…”), and it’s true when a company plays on my instincts to get me to buy a product that I wouldn’t have bought if I’d been addressed rationally.

Almost all ads do this sort of manipulation. The Windows 10 ad does it particularly well. That’s why I particularly hate it.

But that’s not the only reason.

It is an ad totally without substance. Well, that’s not quite true. It’s full of misleading substance. It consists of a list of functionality that Windows 10 does not have. No passwords? Every screen is to be touched? Someday Windows 10 may have this sort of functionality, but by then it will be Windows 30 or so. “Why are you running a Windows 30 ad to sell Windows 10? ” But The glory of Windows 30 is not much of an inducement to buy Windows 10. So, why are you running a Windows 30 ad to sell Windows 10? Is there nothing in it worth the free upgrade?

But of course this isn’t really an ad about Windows 10. It’s an advertisement for the Windows brand. And the argument it presents is Microsoft’s dream that Windows will be as dominant an operating system twenty years from now as it was twenty years ago.“It’s going to come from all of us, not from Microsoft, Google, the Pope or even Elon Musk” The tagline might as well be “Windows: It’s going to become inevitable again. Deal with it.”

And here’s the last bit of bile I need to drain from my gall bladder. The future is not going to bright because Windows is going to be its operating system. If the future of tech is going to remain bright it will because we — all of us — have secured control of our operating systems and are building great things for one another. It’s going to come from all of us, not from Microsoft, Google, the Pope or even Elon Musk (hallowed be his name).

So take your hands off our babies’ future, Microsoft!


September 18, 2015

Adblockers are not pirates

Mathew Ingram tweeted:

No, it is not. (Of course, talking about the illegal sharing of music as “piracy” is ridiculous, as would be obvious to anyone who’s ever met an actual, non-arrrrr pirate. Which I have not.)

Is turning a page in a magazine without reading the ad piracy? Is going to pee during a commercial piracy? Is keeping your eyes on the road instead of looking at the billboards piracy? Is it piracy when a TV show blurs the name of a product on the tee shirt of a passerby?


There’s only one difference between those acts of non-piracy and what happens when you run an ad blocker such as AdBlock Plus in your browser. When you turn the page on a magazine ad or fix yourself a big bowl of Soylent during a TV commercial, the magazine publishers and the TV station don’t know about it. That’s the only relevant difference. Whether the provider of the ad knows about it or not is not relevant to whether it’s piracy.

It is, of course, relevant to whether the Web page gets paid for the ad. So the suggestion that we turn our ad blockers off to support the content that we appreciate — which on particular pages I in fact do — amounts to urging readers to conspire with websites to pretend that we’re reading the ads, wink wink, so that the website can get its cut…for delivering no value to the advertisers.

A business model based on a conspiracy to maintain a delusion is itself delusional.

In fact, as Doc Searls points out, it’s a delusion based on a falsehood: the belief that we are always shopping. We’re not, even though advertisers would like us to be always-on “consumers.”

And, by the way, here’s a related delusion: The idea that popup ads that obscure the content we’ve come to see are worth the ill-will they generate. That delusion depends upon ignoring the scientifically calculated FYR: the ratio of the Fuck You’s muttered by the recipients of these attentional muggings versus their intentional click-throughs.

I’d tell you what my personal FYR is, but you can’t divide by zero.


July 20, 2015

How far wrong has the Net gone? A podcast with Mitch Joel

My friend Mitch Joel and I talk for about an hour (sorry) about whether our hopes for the Net have proven to be forlorn. You can listen here.

The spur for this conversation was my recent article in The Atlantic, “The Net that Was (and Still Could Be).”

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July 3, 2015

Joining Reddit

Reddit is in flames. I can only see one way out of it that preserves the site’s unique value.

I say this as an old man who loves Reddit despite being way outside its main demographic. Of course there are outrageously objectionable subreddits—topical discussion boards—but you don’t have to visit those. Reddit at its best is wonderful. Inspiring, even. It is a self-regulated set of communities that is capable of great collective insight, humor, and kindness. (At its worst, it is one of the nightmares of the Internet.)

Because Reddit is so large, with 169M unique visitors each month, it is impossible to generalize accurately about what went on yesterday and is continuing today. Nevertheless, the precipitating cause was the termination of the employment of Victoria Taylor for reasons Reddit and she have not disclosed. Victoria was not only the wildly popular enabler of Reddit’s wildly popular AMA‘s (“Ask Me Anything”), she was the only Reddit employee visible to most redditors (Reddit users).

Victoria’s sudden dismissal was taken by many as a sign of the increasing misalignment of Reddit’s business goals and the culture of its communities. Reddit, it is feared, is going commercial. The volunteer moderators (“mods”) of some of the large subreddits have also complained that their requests for support over the past months have gone unanswered.

In protest, many of the large subreddits and a long list of smaller ones have gone private and are thus dark to most of the world. This will have some financial effect on Reddit, but it is better understood as a political protest, applying the technique used successfully in 2012 when Reddit, Wikipedia, and other major sites went dark to protest the SOPA/PIPA bills that would have limited Internet freedom. It is an assertion-by-deprivation of the cultural value of these subreddits.

It is, I believe, a mistake to view this uproar primarily in terms of economics or business. This is an attempt by a community to stay a community despite perceived attempts by the business underneath it to commercialize it. Up until now, Reddit the Company has understood the importance of accepting and promoting its community’s values. Advertising is unobtrusive, some of which lets users comment on the ad itself. Reddit makes money also from its users buying “Reddit gold” to bestow upon comments they find particularly valuable. Reddit gold has no monetary value, so users are consciously paying Reddit money for the privilege of paying another user a visible compliment. And Reddit has sternly defended the free speech of its users even when that speech is, well, horrible—although the management did controversially shut down some shaming and hating sites a few weeks ago.

Reddit is in bad shape today. The meme-making forces of sarcasm it’s famous for have been turned inwards.The most loyal users are feeling betrayed. Some of the communities that have driven Reddit forward as a cultural force are feeling abused. It’s hard to come back from that.

A big part of the problem is that Victoria, the face of Reddit to its own community, was accepted as “One of us! One of us!” as redditors sometime self-mockingly invoke the movie Freaks. Indeed, she embodied many of the virtues of Reddit at its best: curious, accepting, welcoming, helpful, funny. Many redditors saw themselves reflected in her.

Victoria was thereby an important part of Reddit’s support of what I call “The Gettysburg Principles“: She helped Reddit seem to be by, for, and of us. Now the face of Reddit is Ellen Pao, the interim CEO who is largely derided and detested at Reddit because she seems to be “One of them! One of them!”— a Silicon Valley player.

If we view this first and foremost as a problem in maintaining a community rather than strictly as a revenue issue, then I can only see one way forward: Pao should get off her executive horse, engage with the community in public, and show that she’s a redditor too. Alexis Ohanian, the co-founder, also should step forward with his best redditor face on. Alexis when free of corporate pressures is a redditor through and through.

There is still an opportunity for Reddit to show that it understands the source of all its value: communities trusted to run themselves, and a strong sense of shared cultures.


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