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Brislen on Tech

Paul Brislen, Editor. 16 November 2018, 4:30 pm

Log off

This week I thought I'd rejoin Facebook just so I could quit again in rage. Something really needs to be done to rein in a company that has combined the utter decimation of the media landscape with the total abdication of responsibility for the content it pumps into people's lives.

It's billions of users, clicking through and seeing hundreds of millions of ads, don't appear to be enough for the juggernaut. Instead of being happy to serve advertising to the masses, the company has decided it needs to also serve up news and other forms of content and, instead of being happy with that, it would also enable wholesale sharing of propaganda and fake news stories.

And *then*, as if that and the tens of billions of dollars that all rakes in, the company decided to open up its borders to third parties and give them access to your viewing and reading habits, to your online lives, to every click and view and let them mine that data as well.

All this without anything beyond a cursory thought given to what this could mean for the democratic process, for accuracy, for ongoing relationships, for those people wanting to use the platform for its supposed intent - to stay in touch with friends and family and to share photos and stories.

The New York Times article linked below rips the scab off the the entire festering sore and makes it clear - none of this has happened by accident. Facebook has gone out of its way several times, and gone beyond its brief of neutral platform that simply provides space to being one of actively promoting deceitful information (and it would appear has also been making up some of the data about how many times people actually view videos or advertising to bolster its coffers even further).

I bailed out of Facebook some months ago although, as someone pointed out to me yesterday, the company still tracks users and non-users visiting sites that have ties with Facebook and so I'm still contributing to the coffers even though that literally is the last thing I want to do.

Facebook has long been the poster child of disruption, of online success, of dropping out of the career track to pursue your dreams, but it's also the poster child for 21st century abandonment of ideals, of moral standards and of leading by example. Soon it could well become the latest casualty in a long list of companies and organisations that take both users and customers for granted and which fail to secure the social licence needed to operate.

I just hope that's sooner rather than later because with the scale of Facebook today, the damage another round of this manipulative madness could cause is too great to consider.

New York Times - Delay, Deny and Deflect: How Facebook's Leaders Fought Through Crisis


Log off II

While we're speaking of the unspeakable, how about we revisit privacy and the exciting new world of giving all your data away for free whether you know about it or not.

I may have mentioned before that I have no problem sharing my medical health records. I've blogged about it, I've whined about it and if you're unlucky enough to be around when I have a head cold, you've suffered along with me as I list ailments, symptoms, quack remedies and why it is that I'm dying, etc.

But some folks detest the idea of having their medical records exposed for all to see and would fight it tooth and nail. Imagine their surprise to wake up and discover that DeepMind, a company set up to develop AI capability in the health sector, and which has access to huge amounts of UK's National Health Service data, is now being swept up into Google Health and will no longer be arm's length from the mother ship.

For some, this is just a consolidation, a branding exercise. The products will still exist, the company still exists, but it's now part of Google rather than Alphabet (the parent company to all Google and its ancillary organisations).

But for others it's yet more evidence of the ongoing move to commercialise a public resource that will then be sold back to the public for a fee, especially when you remember back (thanks, Google) to DeepMind's initial promise that it would never merge its products, and their associated data, into the Google parent company.

This is, of course, standard operating procedure for a lot of US companies. Acquire data based on one set of rules, slowly change the rules and then make a break from the old world order with nary a backward glance.

But of course it's not just the US companies that do it. Below you'll find a link to an amusing tale about the Australian telecommunications data retention regime and the way it has crept away from "we're using this to fight the worst crimes such as terrorism and paedophilia" and is now more a case of "give us your data or die in a ditch".

The Australian Communications Alliance has discovered that "scope creep" is now more like "scope landslide" with 80 different government bodies now asking for metadata on individuals' online movements.

Alongside the police and tax office we also find Australia Post's Corporate Security Group, a number of local councils, the Department of Agriculture, the Fair Work Building and Construction Commission and the Taxi Services Commission all of whom think it's OK to ask telcos for private data.

If only there were some rules, perhaps even laws, that were able to oversee such activity and ensure that private data isn't treated with a cavalier attitude. Some kind of Privacy Act or similar. Because once you've handed over the keys to your privacy kingdom, it's rather hard to get them back.

The Verge - Privacy advocates sound the alarm after Google grabs DeepMind UK health app

CNBC - The new Google Health unit is absorbing health business from DeepMind, Alphabet's AI research group

The Register - Oz telcos' club asks: Why the hell do Australia Post, rando councils, or Taxi Services Commission want comms metadata?

The Register - Alexa, cough up those always-on Echo audio recordings, says double-murder trial judge


The internet of things that shouldn't be on the internet

IOT bathroom

To round out this week's "old man shakes fist at clouds" column, my electric toothbrush has died. 

But fear not for my halitosis riddled corpse - I have been using a manual one while we research, source and purchase a replacement. So I'm good.

The replacement (highly recommended by Consumer New Zealand) was really just an updated version of the old electric toothbrush, and was ordered on the basis that what is familiar is good (and we have some toothbrush heads that will fit the new handle, so why waste them).

Unfortunately, I did not read the fine print.

This toothbrush is Bluetooth enabled, and comes equipped with an app that you download which will provide you not only with a handy timer, but also a pressure/angle of attack sensor capability, a toothbrush tracking schedule tool, some toothbrushing games for the kids (sorry, "kids") and an unpleasant eagerness to tell me news snippets carefully selected for me by … well, I can only presume by my toothbrush. It will send out tweets on my behalf, presumably to a breathless-with-anticipation audience.

I am appalled.

I've turned most of it off - no gamification of dental hygiene for me. I can't turn off all the little messages the app will push (although I got rid of the weather, sport, amusing factoids and toothbrushing tips which is good) but it still irks me that this giant leap forward is nothing more than a complete waste of everyone's time.

The dead toothbrush came with an external unit that would synch with the toothbrush and tell me how long I'd been brushing for.

That was fine, because when I'm brushing my teeth of a morning, my phone is occupied. It's playing music, plus I'm scrolling through emails and potentially making witty and cutting quips on Twitter, so there's not really any scope for it to also connect to my toothbrush to update me on stuff I don't care about.

But the new toothbrush really wants me to pay attention, and so it doesn't have the external unit, nor will it talk to the old one.

And so it is that this new, improved (and more expensive) brush has a host of features that I neither want, nor will use, and which at best have been turned off and at worst will get in the way.

Welcome to the Internet of Things and our new world order.

Trusted Reviews - Oral-B Genius 9000 Review

Rhodri GIlber has a problem similar to my own


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