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Brislen on Tech

Paul Brislen, Editor. 05 May 2017, 5:19 pm

Here's the weekly update on tech stuff from TechBlog editor Paul Brislen.

Spear phishing

This one will definitely leave a mark and I suspect we'll be seeing waves from it for years to come.

Google Docs have become a default mechanism for sharing and collaborating on single documents. For those of you not in the realm of writing stuff for a living, you possibly don't know about the special circle of hell reserved for those who don't track changes or for the group email that results in 50 different versions of the same document that need to be subsumed into one. Google Docs has meant everyone can work on the one piece at the same time and when they've exhausted their pedantic nit-picking about fonts, Oxford commas or whether Kiwi needs to be upper or lower case (upper case for New Zealanders, lower case for the bird or the dollar) then you can simply print it off and be done.

Now some bugger has gone and ruined it for all by releasing a nasty phishing attack which sends out a spam inviting you to edit a Google Doc, then raiding your contacts and spamming all of them with the same message.

By now it will have more email addresses than there are grains of sand on Whangapoua beach.

Google has rushed out the big guns to take on the phish and says it has managed to shut it down (I haven't seen it at all, so I'm pleased about that) but already the damage will be done.

These kinds of attacks simply undermine what makes the internet so useful - the openness of it all. One day soon the whole thing will be locked down (I see the newest version of Windows only allows apps to be installed from Microsoft's own app store) and the value and character that makes the internet what it is will be gone.

The Verge - Google Docs users hit with sophisticated phishing attack

Wired - Don't Open That Google Doc Unless You're Positive It's Legit

CNN - Major phishing attack targets Google Docs users


Google Doc


Not content with content

The merger of NZME (publisher of the New Zealand Herald and owner of NewstalkZB) and Fairfax New Zealand (publisher of Stuff and owner of about half the country's newspapers) was doomed from the start and now the Commerce Commission has driven the final stake through its heart.

The two want to merge because life in New Zealand media has become almost intolerably difficult in recent years. This has happened because of the internet. New players, free content, online advertising - all of it happened to newspapers and not once did the papers' owners stop to think "hang on, maybe we should embrace this and build our business on it rather than in opposition to it".

Only the niche specialised publications, such as the National Business Review, have managed to make a fist of charging for content and that's working because you can make the boss pay for it.

Any merger would have resulted in a catastrophic loss of voices from our media landscape and while that may still be up in the air (Fairfax seems hell bent on laying off half of its Australian staff) the outcome is a good one for consumers of content. A merger would have crushed any hope of new players emerging in the market - no merger may see life become even more difficult for the two companies but won't stop new media companies from setting up shop.

Having worked for both companies I can tell you the internet might well be stealing the advertising dollar from both, but both are complicit in enabling that to happen. NZME used to own classified advertising in New Zealand but did nothing to move online in any meaningful way, even once it became apparent that's what customers were doing. Fairfax bought TradeMe but then panicked and sold it again - I'm half expecting TradeMe to turn around and buy Stuff now for far less than last time the deal was done.

Both companies seem to think the only way to survive is to reduce the number of journalists producing content and to get rid of all those ancillary services like sub-editing and photographers. I've yet to see mass layoffs proposed for head office, or marketing, or sales, but reporters are apparently surplus to requirements and that speaks volumes to me.

It means the business managers still do not have the faintest idea what business they're in.

Just look at either site's homepage after lunch and you'll find wire copy out the wazoo. Tedious, dull, mindless stories that are little more than scuttlebutt and salacious celebrity gossip. I particularly dislike the "we found this Twitter discussion on the internet and will now describe it to you in detail, even though we're going to also print screen shots of the comments being made" school of reporting.

I have a handy plugin called Herald Syndication Snoop (thanks Ben!) which highlights which stories are taken from the wires so I can avoid clicking on them. The Daily Mail, The Telegraph, Sydney Morning Herald - all these stories are chosen for their sensationalism and have little or no relevance to the New Zealand reader.

On top of that, I see both sites like to include links to Outbrain stories - those ultimate click-bait bottom feeding links that take you to the parts of the internet nobody wants to go to. Why would you devalue your brand this way? It's beyond me.

So the merger is off and both will have to figure out a way forward. I hope we see a New Zealand company step up to buy Fairfax NZ's assets because being owned by an Aussie company means being treated as a cash cow to prop up a failing Aussie business and that's clearly not good for New Zealand media.

Either way, it's time the papers looked at the readership and asked what it is they really want and will pay for. I can tell you now, "things I read online yesterday" isn't high on my wish list.

Stuff- News is a privilege, not a right: Why the NZME-Fairfax merger decision is so catastrophically wrong (Ironically this story is written by the founder of independent media company The Spin Off which has a special relationship with the New Zealand Herald but is re-published in Stuff. M'lord, the defence rests)

The Spin Off - The NZME-Fairfax merger is dead. So what does New Zealand journalism do now?

The Spin Off - The great NZ media mega-merger was never a sustainable option

NBR - Two CEO reactions to Fairfax-NZME decision: one inspiring, one useless

The Guardian - Facebook Live: Zuckerberg adds 3,000 moderators in wake of murders


Techweek 17 kicks off on Saturday

It's a celebration of all things Kiwi and technical and after a successful launch last year, Techweek is back and this time it's bigger and brighter than ever before.

(NB: This writer is doing some PR work for Techweek - just so you know)

Techweek 17 has more than 100 events in 24 towns and cities across the country and aims to tell the world about New Zealand innovations as well as share international thought leaders with the locals.

Keynotes cover a wide range of topics including the future of food (!), blockchain, digital literacy, diversity and inclusion and plenty more topics. On top of that international speakers include Neal Stephenson, writer of Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon, The Diamond Age and many other novels that are unnervingly realistic in their portrayals of coding, cryptography, nanontechnology, digital payments and gun culture (that would be Reamde)

The full run down is in the link below and you'll see a heap of stories come out over the next nine days (it might be Techweek but we couldn't fit it all in to just seven days).

Techweek 17 - Techweek's home page

The Spin Off - The Spinoff's guide to Techweek'17 - Auckland edition


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Mike Dennehy 13 June 2017, 11:19 am

Re the non-merger and the parlous state of the old media business model, I couldn't agree more.

Yesterday's online news, "lifestyle articles" i.e. salacious non-stories, repeating twitter battles (seriously, nobody cares and nobody thinks somebody's "brutal takedown" was remotely interesting), even lifting things straight from Facebook, all these do is turn off the readership.

Every month I get an offer to take a free subscription for 6 weeks, I never take it up and haven't paid for a newspaper in years.

Like many, I look to Stuff or the Herald only or non-contentious facts - mostly sports scores - and look elsewhere for informed commentary on things that interest me.

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