Apple News: A Lesson to Be Repeated?

November 15, 2019

Many years ago, there was an online service called Predicasts. The company had offices in Cleveland, Ohio, a city notable for its burning river and an interesting American football team.

But in the world of online, Predicasts was famous. File 16 on Dialog would provide a summary of numerical data located in magazine and trade journal articles.

The company discussed creating its own service in order to disintermediate itself from the commercial online vendors. I assume that most of the gentle readers of this blog do not recall Dialog Information Services, SDC, ESA Quest, and other online intermediaries. Don’t worry. I can’t remember these gatekeeper companies. Think of these outfits as the equivalent of today’s cable companies. Instead of providing access to the vast wasteland of television, users paid to look at commercial databases like Predicasts.

The anecdotal evidence which filtered to me was that Predicasts wanted to set up its own online service. But the hurdles were technology, marketing, and the lack of information about the power of the brand. Predicasts online service went no place or, at least, no place that moved the needle in the online world.

Lesson: Online was hard in the 1980s. Online is hard today. Especially when one wants to make oodles of money.

There’s a lesson here, and it is one that Apple is now trying to understand. “Apple News+ Has Struggled to Add Subscribers Since First Week of Launch in March, Sources Say” makes clear that after the “must have” subscribers signed up, others (the “we don’t care” crowd) have stayed away.

The write up states:

Apple signed on 200,000 subscribers to Apple News+ in its first 48 hours in March, but has been stuck in neutral since that time, according to people familiar with the matter.

What does this tell us?

A bunch of customers are not interested in certain types of information when it costs more and requires extra steps. These steps can be tiny, but the anti step barrier is formidable. The costs more problem is different. Price cuts will not significantly increase sign ups.

The Predicasts’ thought process may be a precursor to what Apple assumed; that is, “We are so big, lots of people will sign up.”

Nope. They won’t.

That’s the problem online presents. A monopoly has to extract revenue in a number of ways, preferably selling something like a mobile phone and a big, juicy bundle of extras as part of the deal. Another approach to wait until there are no other choices, and then introduce a text centric online service that forces those who don’t want to pay to cross over into the “okay, we will pay” zone. There are other angles as well.

But the point is: Text requires mental effort to consume. Who wants to pay for extra work. Must have information is different. No one has a choice. A lawyer has to pay to see some data. A doctor has to pay to keep up with some medical information.

News? Maybe a broker, but there is Bloomberg, Factset, and other specialists.

General news?

Apple’s lesson is that more work is needed. The MBA assumptions, the nifty Keynote decks, and the confidence of a big sleek company—obviously wrong. Back to school and repeating a grade to catch up on what was missed the first time through the course.

Stephen E Arnold, November 15, 2019

Unusual Source, Useful Information

October 8, 2019

I want to give a thumbs up to Cool Smart Phone and its write up “Lies Everywhere. The Truth Is Dead.” The article does a very good job of explaining the basic mechanism for planting misinformation in online channels. Plus the article contains a number of examples.

DarkCyber noted this statement in the write up:

So as a test, I replied to every single one of these replies. I even replied to the original tweet itself, stating that the official advice was indeed to do just this. I thought I’d get some sort of response from the several dozen tweets but no, not one. Not one reply, no one angry response. No blocks. Then, if you look into a lot of these accounts, it’s apparent they’re bots. However, to the casual Twitter, they just see a tweet has 1.4 thousand “Likes”, nearly a thousand retweets and lots of people agreeing with the core message. The bots start things off – next it’s time for the media to chip in. Who knows, the media themselves may have even “planted” some of these stories on social media – just to have a juicy news item to cover.

The one issue I had with the write up was its defeatist approach; specifically:

We’re all being lied to. Social engineering is rife and none of us have the time or the inclination to check and investigate whether that short video on Facebook is real or if the tweet we read this morning is untrue. Like our “sheep” instincts at airports, we just go where we’re told and believe what we’re shown.

DarkCyber’s perception is that increasingly restrictive laws, demands for encryption backdoors, and tighter Internet controls are a response and a potential solution. Note that the fix may be brutal. When societal and personal constraints are removed in our digital era. the governments have limited tools to get civilized behavior back on track. The good old days are going to be imposed via a version of Chinafication.

That shift is underway in many countries, and it will become more visible and forceful. Will news cease being fake? Probably not.

Stephen E Arnold, October 8, 2019

Today in Subjective Search: What Are You Not Allowed to Know

October 2, 2019

When you review information, is that information comprehensive, complete, and objectively displayed?




Let’s look at three examples.

First, Boris Johnson allegedly uses certain words to skew search results. This is the allegation of Remoaning Myrtle. You can find the assertion at this link. Does this mean that wordsmithing now fiddles search results on Bing, Google, and Yandex? Interesting question about an interesting person’s ability to use language as a weapon.

Second, Twitter has introduced new filters. “Twitter Rolls Out Filter for Potentially Offensive DMs” reports:

Twitter is quickly acting on plans to filter potentially offensive direct messages. It’s rolling out the filter to all users on Android, iOS and the web. As during the test, there isn’t much mystery to how this works. If a message contains questionable language or is likely spam, it’ll be tucked away in an “additional messages” folder.

Third, “YouTube Moderation Bots Punish Videos Tagged as ‘Gay’ or ‘Lesbian,’ Study Finds” bluntly asserts:

A new investigation from a coalition of YouTube creators and researchers is accusing YouTube of relying on a system of “bigoted bots” to determine whether certain content should be demonetized, specifically LGBTQ videos.

DarkCyber finds it interesting that shaping or alleged shaping of search results is now garnering attention. Researchers looking for historical information may discover that “old” information is either unindexed or not online. Investigators and analysts looking for facts like Cisco’s acquisition of certain firms requires manual review of SEC documents. Individuals looking for information about CMS contractors conducting medical fraud information may find that these data are very, very difficult to locate.


Reasons vary.

It is important for those who assert that “my team consists of expert online researchers” may be fooling themselves.

Stephen E Arnold, October 2, 2019

Google: A Big Play

October 1, 2019

Google’s walled garden is getting a glass roof. AMP was a good first step, but there is a world of other Internet-enabled services which are not likely to be AMP-lified. What’s the fix? DarkCyber believes that Google wants to become the Internet. Stopping Amazon is not working with the GOOG’s standard line up of services. “Why Big ISPs Aren’t Happy about Google’s Plans for Encrypted DNS.”

The write up states:

Google and Mozilla are trying to address these concerns by adding support in their browsers for sending DNS queries over the encrypted HTTPS protocol. But major Internet service providers have cried foul. In a September 19 letter to Congress, Big Cable and other telecom industry groups warned that Google’s support for DNS over HTTPS (DOH) “could interfere on a mass scale with critical Internet functions, as well as raise data-competition issues.”

Consider Google’s point of view. Google has user security in mind. Sure, there are others who see benefits in putting Google in a superordinate position with regards to DNS. What happens if Google filters certain addresses? An apology for sure.

The stakes are high. How will Amazon (an ISP of sorts) respond?

This will be interesting.

Stephen E Arnold, October 1. 2019

Information and the More Exposure Effect

October 1, 2019

The article “Why Do Older People Hate New Music?” caught my attention. Music is not a core interest at DarkCyber. We do mention in our Dark Web 2 lecture that beat sharing and selling sites which permit message exchange are an important source of social content.

This “oldsters hate new” angle is important. The write up contains this assertion:

One of the most researched laws of social psychology is something called the “mere exposure effect.” In a nutshell, it means that the more we’re exposed to something, the more we tend to like it. This happens with people we know, the advertisements we see and, yes, the songs we listen to.

Like many socio-psycho-econo assertions, this idea sounds plausible. Let’s assume that it is correct and apply the insight to online information.

Online news services purport to provide news for me, world news, and other categories. When I review outputs from several services like SmartNews, News360, and Google News, for example, it is clear that the information presented looks and conveys the same information.

If the exposure point is accurate, these services are conditioning me to accept and feel comfortable with specific information. SmartNews shows me soccer news, reports about cruise ship deaths, and write ups which underscore the antics of certain elected officials.

These services do not coordinate, but they do rely on widely used numerical recipes and feedback about what I click on or ignore. What’s interesting is that each of these services delivers a package of content which reflects each service’s view of what interests me.

The problem is that I look at less and less content on these services. Familiarity means that I don’t need to know more about certain topics.

Consequently, as the services become smarter, I move way from these services.

The psychological write up reports:

Psychology research has shown that the emotions that we experience as teens seem more intense than those that comes later. We also know that intense emotions are associated with stronger memories and preferences. All of this might explain why the songs we listen to during this period become so memorable and beloved.

Is familiarity making me more content with online news? Sorry, no.

The familiarity makes it easier to recognize that significant content is not being presented. That’s an interesting issue if my reaction is not peculiar to me.

How does one find additional information about the unfamiliar? Search does not deliver effectively in my opinion.

Stephen E Arnold, October 2, 2019

Why Society Emulates Sheep: Quick Look That Up on Your Mobile Device

September 24, 2019

On a recent visit to Eastern Europe, I learned that in several countries, there was a hierarchy among shepherds. The job of watching sheep fell to those lower in the shepherd hierarchy. The person who could train horses and dogs, knew the ins and outs of the less-than-brilliant sheep, and showed some moxie — that individual was at the top of the sheep heap.

I read “The Distribution of Users’ Computer Skills: Worse Than You Think” and thought about shepherds and sheep. The Nielsen Norman Group reported:

Across 33 rich countries, only 5% of the population has high computer-related abilities, and only a third of people can complete medium-complexity tasks.

The idea is that those without expertise are likely to be sheep-like. Now sheepness is not a bad thing. Sheep are docile and seem content to go along with whatever the shepherd hierarchy decides. Even when getting shorn, the sheep can be controlled, and they don’t seem to form a group and wait for the person with the shears to turn his back so a stampede can nuke the individual with the shears.

But in today’s world with its technical hierarchy, the Nielsen Norman Group data suggest that a hierarchy exists for technology.

This is useful information for those at the top of the technology skill heap.

Think about the shepherd hierarchy. Which is better? The person with expertise or the freshly-shorn sheep? What is the likelihood that those with limited technical expertise can accurately perceive what today’s digital shepherds are doing.

Herding, shearing, or anticipating grilled lamb shank?

Stephen E Arnold, September 24, 2019

The Web at Risk

September 21, 2019

In early July 2019, Barry Adams spoke at the Nottingham Digital Summit. He held a lecture entitled “We Have Ruined The Web.” Instead of lambasting about the damage done, Adams proffered a solution to repair the Web. Hallam Internet shares Adams’s solution in the article, “We Have Ruined The Web! Let’s Try To Save It – Barry Adams, Polemic Digital – Nottingham Digital Summit.”

Instead of a feel good TED Talk, Adams runs down a short history of the World Wide Web and how key word rich anchor text with spammy links polluted digital marketing. The basic way to appear in the top of search results was to have a lot of links back linking to your Web site. Links are still important in SEO, but 84% of them are trash. Adams also claims that carousels and dark design patterns on Web sites are running the Web.

Marketers spend a lot of money on ads, but most of that money is wasted. The problem is marketers do not know which parts of their advertising budgets are wasted. Costs for mobile advertising are skyrocketing. Google is also shaping how accelerated mobile pages (AMP) rank and their loading speeds. Here is a hint: stay away from JavaScript.

“AMP means you have to play by Google’s rules, so people have mixed feelings about this, because while it can increase your page speeds, the web is essentially being shaped into what Google wants.Google has become a surveillance mechanism – it knows everything you do on the internet, from what you’re searching, to the sites you’ve visited, and what you’ve liked.

Hawthorne effect – as internet users, we know everything we do is being watched. This psychological effect makes us change our behavior because we know we’re being watched – we may even alter our behavior subconsciously. One of the worst offenders is Facebook – messages, likes… everything is being monitored, and has the potential to be leaked at any moment in time. However, if we act quickly, there’s a potential to save this – treat your customers as if they are precious, not just a commodity. Everything we do as marketers, we should do with customers at the front of our minds.”

Adams advocates for ethical design in Web sites that promote the human side of the Internet. Bots bad, humans good.

Adams touts bringing the humans back in advertising and Web pages. The human side, however, is still there, but it is covered up by bots and desire to make money. Is it time to say, “Farewell, open Internet”?

Whitney Grace, September 21, 2019

A Plea for Bing: Use It

September 14, 2019

Microsoft wants more people to use Bing and Microsoft wants them to use it now! Microsoft is desperate for more Bing users that they their trademarked search engine into the new Windows 10 update. Read the story at Win Buzzer, “Microsoft Builds Bing Search into Windows 10 20H1 Lock Screen.”

The Bing implementation is touted as a new search featured imbedded in the Windows lock screen, The feature was released with the new Windows 10 20H1 Preview Build 18932, but it remains hidden and can only be accessed with a tool. One tool is the Mach2. The integration of Bing into the lock screen is good design. The idea is giving users the option to conduct an Internet search without having to unlock their entire PC. It is for those, “Oh yeah, I need to look that up” moments. It is not stated where results will appear. If they are on the lock screen, it is a genius move, but if the results are only available by unlocking the PC it is stupid.

Since Microsoft placed Bing on the Start menu, it gets as much as 50% of its traffic through that direct link as the official Bing Web site. This is funny:

“At the moment, we just can’t see how the Bing feature on the lock screen would be useful. Of course, Microsoft may have some wider lock screen plans that we don’t know about yet.Whether this is Microsoft making a play to compete further with Google is unclear, but it probably won’t work. Bing is the default search tool on Windows PCs, but users continue to actively choose Google Search over it. Adding Bing to the lock screen will likely not change that. However, it will be interesting to see how Microsoft handles this new feature in the coming months.”

Apparently the author Luke Jones never has to figure out the name of that actor in that one movie or the name of that place where he ate lunch three weeks ago next to the good bakery. Ah, Luke Jones may want to consult a librarian.

Whitney Grace, MLS, September 14, 2019

Amazon AWS: Almost Perfect Cloud Failover Engineering

September 4, 2019

DarkCyber noted a tweet from Andy Hunt. The tweet stated:

Amazon AWS had a power failure, their backup generators failed, which killed their EBS servers, which took all of our data with it. Then it took them four days to figure this out and tell us about it.

We also noted this write up: “Strangelove Redux: US Experts Propose Having AI Control Nuclear Weapons.” Assume Amazon continues to make headway in the US government. What happens if an Amazon glitch occurs at a critical time?

Just an idle question.

Stephen E Arnold, September 4, 2019

Is Google Privacy Oriented?

August 28, 2019

Google may be like sugar. We love Google, so we consume a lot of its products. Eventually Google harms us in someway. Unlike Sugar, Google does not rot teeth, cause weight gain, nor contribute to numerous diseases.

Google instead collects private user information and shares it with advertisers to make a buck. Medium reports that Google does more to take advantage of its users: “Google Photo Is Making Your Photos Semi-Public And You Probably Don’t Realize.”

Millions of Google users upload, share, and store their photos on Google Photo. Little do these users know is that whenever is photo is shared on Google Photos it creates a link and anyone in the world can view said photo. You do not believe me? Article writer Robert Wiblin discovered that no one believed him either, until he showed them.

When you share a photo via Google Photo it creates a “secret link.” If the secret link is shared, anyone can view the photo until its manually deleted. People assume their photos are private, because Google lists who it is shared with, but that is not true. Wiblin and I both agree this is unacceptable:

Firstly it’s unacceptable because most users don’t realize it’s happening. The interface is so poorly designed that the most common reaction I’ve had when I tell Photos users about this is literal disbelief. The only way to convince people is to show them with their own eyes. If our private and potentially sensitive data is going to be revealed this way, it should be clear that it’s going on.

We also noted this statement:

It’s also unacceptable because it creates an excessive risk of sensitive data being exposed. People often take photos of things like private documents, or themselves naked. It’s very important only the right people get to see these things! Google is a data company that has a responsibility to its users to make sure that’s the case.”

You might not care, but think about this: any of these photos and the information they contain can be hacked, shared, or stolen. They can be posted publicly and perpetually exist online.

Is there an easy way to resolve this issue? Could alter the Google Photo interface to match Google Drive, which is mostly transparent and states exactly where information is shared? Could Google Photo notify users of this link visibility?

Over to you, Google.

Whitney Grace, August 28, 2019

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