Microsoft and Its Alleged Dark Patterns Aiding User Data Collection

December 15, 2018

We have a couple of Windows 10 machines. One is in the factory default mode, which means, “Take me, your lovable beast you.” The other computer is locked down reasonably well.

If you have not looked into the wild and crazy services and functions of Windows 10, you may want to read “Microsoft Accused of Collecting Data Even When You Opt Out in Windows 10.” We are not sure if the information is accurate. The source appears to be a potato, but we try to keep an open mind.

The argument is that certain privacy controls do not turn off the phone home mechanism for Timeline, for example.

We noted this statement:

On the one hand, one shouldn’t confuse incompetence with malice, and UI design has never been Microsoft’s forte. Given the fact that Windows 10’s basic control systems are still stretched between the XP-era Control Panel and the Fluent Settings panel, with some controls overlapping in both areas and some unique to one menu or the other, it’s not exactly surprising that the company would struggle to refine and centralize its UI. On the other hand, Microsoft is no stranger to the use of so-called dark patterns — patterns of behavior that mislead the user by implying that they are taking one kind of action when they actually aren’t. The wording under AH1 implies that disabling this stops such information from flowing to Microsoft. It doesn’t.

Microsoft cares about its customer experience. I am not sure I buy this particular line of fuzzy speak sophistry, but to each his or her own.

Stephen E Arnold, December 15, 2018

Publisher Morphs into Software Vendor

December 12, 2018

Just when we thought content management systems were dead, a publisher is jumping in with feet of Clay. That is the publishing platform Fast Company refers to in its headline, “Why New York Magazine is Selling Its Own Technology to Other Media Companies.” It has been some time since the magazine built its in-house platform, Clay, but recently it partnered with Slate to redesign that site’s CMS. That went so well that two other sites are following suit—Golf.com uses the tech for its large collection of data on U.S. golf courses, and it has been built into Radio.com, which streams music while users peruse the site. Writer Cale Guthrie Weissman reports:

“These features require their own bespoke functionalities—which Clay powers—but they weren’t part of an existing template, like the kind you would find in a conventional CMS. In fact, Clay goes against the model of template-based CMSs, and instead allows developers to use its code base and tools to build their own unique features. ‘What I think makes our CMS and model unique is that [clients are] not buying what we have,’ Hallac says. ‘The way Clay works is that licensees are part of a closed, open-sourced network.’ In a sense, all the customers are part of a consortium building their own things. The Clay codebase is shared among all of them, but they fork it and then build whatever they want atop it themselves.”

And search? Alas, it is not mentioned.

Weissman goes on to observe that selling such in-house software is becoming a trend, giving these examples:

“Vox Media, for instance, has been pushing its Chorus software—which offers both a CMS and an ad network. (New York Media is not selling any sort of advertising network products besides the ability to put ads on a site.) The Washington Post, too, has its own platform, called Arc, which is being licensed to newspapers around the world. Differences aside, the idea and price model is generally the same. Media companies find licensees who shell out monthly fees.”

This is indeed an interesting direction for the publishing industry. As for the Clay platform, Weissman suspects this timing may be an effort to make its parent company, New York Media, LLC, look tasty to potential buyers. The company is reported to have already fielded a few offers.

Cynthia Murrell, December 12, 2018

Microsoft and Facial Recognition: An Attempt to Parry Amazon?

December 7, 2018

Image recognition is widely used in many products, applications, and software systems. Most people don’t think too much about how a camera can read a license plate, figure out who has entered a building, or what “sign” indicates a potential problem like a gang attack.

Why would the average bear?

Microsoft is becoming more vocal about facial recognition. On the surface, the concern seems reasonable, almost a public service.

I read “Microsoft Sounds an Alarm over Facial Recognition Technology.” The write up seems okay, almost a good Samaritan effort. I noted this statement:

The AI Now researchers are particularly concerned about what’s called “affect recognition” — and attempt to identify people’s emotions, and possibly manipulate them, using machine learning.

Emotion analysis is interesting. But is the concern over facial recognition more of a business initiative, not a push to create awareness for a technology which has been around for decades. Sure facial recognition is getting better, faster, and cheaper. Like other technologies, facial recognition diffuses into other products, including those used by Ecuador, ZTE, and US analysts trying to make sense of imagery from a warzone.

Microsoft used the AI Now information to express concern for a race to the bottom. That’s interesting. A company which has facial recognition technology and a penchant for creating problems via a routine update to individual users’ computers is looking out for me. Yeah, right.

Imagine. The USSS wants to use facial recognition near the White House. Why not just hire another 200 agents to walk around or sit in surveillance suites looking for potential problems? Advanced technology is often useful to law enforcement and intelligence professionals. Expanding the use of that technology to safeguard those who work in certain US government facilities makes sense to me.

What’s really pushing Microsoft to become the champion for facial recognition controls?

In my view, Amazon is. Check out Amazon’s patents for facial recognition. These are examples of what I call “policeware” and the innovations have other applications as well. A good place to begin is with US9465994B1.

My view is that Microsoft’s concern about facial recognition has more to do with adding friction to Amazon’s progress than it does with a concern for me and my beloved Beyond Search goose here in Harrod’s Creek, Kentucky. For more about Amazon’s policeware technologies, navigate to YouTube.com and search for DarkCyber Amazon.

Stephen E Arnold, December 7, 2018

2019: Another Cycle of IPOs?

December 7, 2018

With so much money constantly flying around Silicon Valley, it’s no surprise that venture capitalists and stock IPOs can often be the source of fraud. We never realized how simple it could be until reading a recent Bloomberg story, “Paying for Popularity Can Be Fraud.”

According to the story, anyone with a little seed money can pay someone to buy up imaginary product, so that it looks like a startup is turning record profits. Even more frightening, it can be done out of thin air:

“[Y]ou can now build valuable products—iPhone apps, crypto currencies, newsletters, etc.—at zero marginal cost, which makes this fraud much easier and more efficient to pull off: You can just give your buddy the money to buy your product and then sell it to him for that money, shuffling money in circles without having to spend any to build more products.”

Here’s an ironic idea: What if some enterprising soul turned technology against some of the more highly anticipated IPOs? Or will enforcement authorities pull off a “look in the rear view mirror” approach in the new year?

Patrick Roland, December 7, 2018

Thomson Reuters: Content Slicing and Dicing Chops People

December 6, 2018

A certain database company raked in the dough by pitching XML slicing and dicing as the way to piles of cash, happy customers, and reduced editorial costs. Thomson Reuters was “into” XML inspired slicing and dicing. Now the chopping up has moved from disparate content to staff.

According to a real news organization, the article “Thomson Reuters to cut 3,200 jobs by 2020, offer fewer products” states:

Thomson Reuters said it plans to cut its workforce by 12 percent, or 3,200 positions, by 2020 as part of a push to reduce spending.

Capital outlays as a share of revenue will be down about 30 percent by 2020, Thomson Reuters said Tuesday in a presentation for investors. By that year, Thomson Reuters expects to have about 11 percent fewer products and pare its number of locations by 30 percent. The pullback underscores efforts to exert cost discipline after third-quarter revenue came in 2.3 percent less than analysts had expected.

TR revenues have been less than exciting. Despite management’s heroic efforts, the company has not been able to shake the money tree with the vigor some stakeholders expect.

Thus, slicing and dicing of staff and products is underway. Nothing like a hefty reduction in force or RIF to brighten the individuals who can now look forward to finding their future elsewhere.

The larger question is, “What will TR do if the staff reductions and new points of focus do not generate revenue?” The account, lawyer, and MBA infused senior management may have to look for different sources of inspiration; for example:

  1. Seeking to pull the company into new markets with must have products and services. Not easy, I know, but TR will have to do more than follow the well worn grooves in the business models which are like the streets of Pompeii
  2. Selling itself to another large professional publishing outfit. What about a Thomson Elsevier or (perish the thought) an Ebsco Thomson?
  3. Selling the bits and pieces to investment banks or small companies eager to capitalize on TR’s missed penalty kicks. What would Bloomberg pay for the terminal business and maybe the Palantir inspired services? Perhaps Factset would toss a soccer boot on the pitch?
  4. Modifying its executive compensation methods so that TR unit managers actually cooperate on certain opportunities and initiatives.

There are, of course, other options, but many of these have been tried before; for instance, new units, new senior managers, new acquisitions, and new technologies.

Net net: TR may have to start thinking about life as a smaller, leaner, less profitable operation. Lord Thomson of Fleet may not be able to return and infuse the company. He’s needed in my opinion.

Stephen E Arnold, December 6, 2018

Google and AltaVista

December 5, 2018

I read “The Friendship That Made Google Huge.” Interesting. I would like to ask,

Why isn’t AltaVista’s contribution to Google search put front and center?

And

Were other AltaVista’s veterans hired by the Google to jump start the engineering of the system?

Google was “clever”, and the company surfed on the missteps of Hewlett Packard. Google also borrowed some inspiration from GoTo-Overture-Yahoo. In short, Google’s story is more nuanced than some retellings of history suggest.

Stephen E Arnold, December 5, 2018

Calibrating the Ethical Compass: Kid Ads

December 5, 2018

I read “Oath Agrees to $5 Million Settlement Over Children’s Privacy Online.” No big deal. Ads to kids. Hey, makes sense. Ah, Yahoo, your spirit lives on.

Stephen E Arnold, December 5, 2018

Amazon Opens a New Front in the Cloud Wars

November 30, 2018

A Microsoft “expert” has explained why Azure, the Microsoft cloud service, why the Azure cloud failed Thanksgiving week. Like the explanation for the neutralizing of some customers’ Windows 10 machines, three problems arose. You can work through the explanation at this link, but you may, like me, remain skeptical about Microsoft’s ability to keep its cloud sunny. Key point: Microsoft apologizes for its mistakes. Yada yada yada.

At about the same time, Amazon announced that its cloud service uses its own custom designed Arm server processors. How will Microsoft compete with a service that is not without flaws but promises lower costs? The GeekWire write up states:

Vice president of infrastructure Peter DeSantis introduced the AWS Graviton Processor Monday night, adding a third chip option for cloud customers alongside instances that use processors from Intel and AMD. The company did not provide a lot of details about the processor itself, but DeSantis said that it was designed for scale-out workloads that benefit from a lot of servers chipping away at a problem.

From our vantage point in Harrod’s Creek, the Amazon approach seems useful for certain types of data mining and data analytics tasks. Could these be the type of tasks which are common when using systems like Palantir Gotham’s?

The key point, however, is “low cost.”

But the important strategic move is that Amazon is now in the chip business. What other hardware are the folks at the ecommerce site exploring? Amazon network hardware?

Microsoft makes fuzzy tablet-laptops, right?

Stephen E Arnold, November 30, 2018

Amazon: Making the Fuzzy Laptop Maker Look Silly

November 29, 2018

In an upcoming DarkCyber and in my new series of lectures for LE and intel professionals, I will be exploring the implications of Amazon’s public admissions that the company is the beastie in the policeware kennel. The “few words are better” Jeff Barr  has summarized some of the more public announcements in “AWS launches, Previews, and Pre-Announcements” which is a useful, if incomplete, checklist of what’s happening at the Zon. (Where is that policeware info by the way?)

But for Beyond Search and its handful of very gentle readers I want to point out that Microsoft’s furry laptop, Azure outages, and the ineptitude of updating Windows 10 looks bad.

Consider what Amazon has been doing for the past five years or so: Developing not one but two different custom chips, building a range of machine learning tools including free for now training programs, and rolling out features and function to keep the often creaky Amazon Web Services engine chugging along.

Microsoft has the furry laptop thing. Oh, I almost forgot. Microsoft brought back the Microsoft “IntelliMouse Explorer.” Plus Microsoft continues to play more nicely with Amazon Alexa as it tries to make sure it can be Number Two in the big cloud game. Google, HP, IBM, and a number of companies whose names I struggle to remember want to knock of the big dog. The breed is a Bezos I believe.

Net net: Amazon seems to be taking bits and pieces from the Google, Palantir, and IBM playbook. Chef Bezos mixes the ingredients and rolls out a mind boggling array of new stuff.

But which company looks a little behind the times? Here in Harrod’s Creek we see Microsoft and its fuzzy laptop tablet thing. By the way, how does one keep fuzzy stuff free from dirt, bacteria, and burrito juice?

Amazon probably sells some type of cleaner. Why not do a product search on Amazon. Product searches account for a hefty chuck of online search action. Perhaps there is an Amazon Basics to clean the furry gizmo? Better yet, there are ads on Amazon. Ads which once were the exclusive domain of the Google.

Google. That’s another story one can research on a furry Microsoft device using an “old is new mouse” too.

Stephen E Arnold, November 29, 2018

Facebook and Phone Numbers: Money Is Money

November 27, 2018

There are two ways to log into Facebook. One is to use your email address and the other is to use your phone number. People tend to remember their phone numbers over which email they use for Facebook. Facebook also uses phone numbers as a security feature, so it is not surprising that people use it as their primary login. One of the problems with that is Facebook has sold that piece of information. According to WND’s article, “Facebook Confirms Giving Advertisers Users’ Phone Numbers.”

Facebook confirmed that it allowed advertisers to access users’ phone numbers and contact lists. The social media company’s defense is that by allowing advertisers to access user information, they are creating a more personalized Facebook experience that includes ads. Facebook said:

“ ‘We are clear about how we use the information we collect, including the contact information that people upload or add to their own accounts.’ In a Gizmodo report published Wednesday, two studies found that the social network was giving advertisers access to data sources that users did not explicitly permit could be used.”

Does it really come as a surprise that a billion dollar company sold consumer information for a higher profit margin? If it does, then you really need to do some reading and research. Facebook does not care about relationships and communication. They care about the bottom line. Is Facebook really as secure as we hope to believe it? Also we can thank them for the recent rash of spam calls on cell phones. Ah, Facebook. We admire your business acumen.

Whitney Grace, November 27, 2018

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