Google Pixel: A Microcosm of the Company Itself

October 13, 2022

The reliable technology cheer squad tries to do one thing and delivers another. Let me explain my perception. I read “Why Google Pixels Aren’t As Popular As iPhones and Samsung Galaxy Phones.” The article tries quite hard to be an objective discussion of Google losing out in the hardware game.

The article describes several issues; to wit:

  • Early missteps with distribution
  • Silicon Valley supporters’ efforts fall short as Google played catch up
  • Hardware was just okay
  • Cameras were behind the cats in Cupertino’s gizmos
  • Google lacked and lacks a “strong identity”

The write up focuses on Google’s mobile efforts. However, these issues — strategic and tactical failures — are those which have plagued many of Alphabet’s efforts. There’s the wonderful “solving death” effort, the amusing creation of the glasshole meme, and the total craziness of Google Maps in its present incarnation.

What’s the point? We have an outfit which was greatly influenced by Yahoo, GoTo, and Overture and these firms’ approach to online advertising. We have an acquired product YouTube which challenges the GDP of many nations with its engineering costs, bandwidth costs, legal costs, and content moderation (such as it is) costs. We have a management approach which if it were not harmful to careers of those who disagree with senior management like something out of a Marx Brothers’ film.

Why aren’t Pixel popular? For starters, the phone is in the Google fractal. Each iteration mirrors the initial algorithm’s starting point. Clever? You bet. The cheerleaders have expressed a core truth: Gimme a C, gimme an H, gimme an A, gimme an O, gimme an S. What’s it spell? Chaos. Rah Rah Rah.

Stephen E Arnold, October 13, 2022

Wonderful Statement about Baked In Search Bias

October 12, 2022

I was scanning the comments related to the HackerNews’ post for this article: “Google’s Million’s of Search Results Are Not Being Served in the Later Pages Search Results.”

Sailfast made this comment at this link:

Yeah – as someone that has run production search clusters before on technologies like Elastic / open search, deep pagination is rarely used and an extremely annoying edge case that takes your cluster memory to zero. I found it best to optimize for whatever is a reasonable but useful for users while also preventing any really seriously resource intensive but low value queries (mostly bots / folks trying to mess with your site) to some number that will work with your server main node memory limits.

The comment outlines a facet of search which is not often discussed.

First, the search plumbing imposes certain constraints. The idea of “all” information is one that many carry around like a trusted portmanteau. What are the constraints of the actual search system available or in use?

Second, optimization is a fancy word that translates to one or more engineers deciding what to do; for example, change a Bayesian prior assumption, trim content based on server latency, filter results by domain, etc.

Third, manipulation of the search system itself by software scripts or “bots” force engineers to figure out what signals are okay and which are not okay. It is possible to inject poisoned numerical strings or phrases into a content stream and manipulate the search system. (Hey, thank you, search engine optimization researchers and information warfare professionals. Great work.)

When I meet a younger person who says, “I am a search expert”, I just shake my head. Even open source intelligence experts display that they live in a cloud of unknowing about search. Most of these professionals are unaware that their “research” comes from Google search and maps.

Net net: Search and retrieval systems manifest bias, from the engineers, from the content itself, from the algorithms, and from user interfaces themselves. That’s why I say in my lectures, “Life is easier if one just believes everything one encounters online.” Thinking in a different way is difficult, requires specialist knowledge, and a willingness to verify… everything.

Stephen E Arnold, October 12, 2022

The New York Times Discovers Misinformation

October 7, 2022

Fake news, misinformation, and conspiracy theories are never going to stop. In the past, fake news was limited to rumors, gossip, junk rags at the grocery store check-out counter, and weird newsletters. Now this formerly niche “news” industry is a lucrative market with the Internet and constant need to capture audiences. The New York Times braved the media trenches to discover new insights about this alluring and dangerous field in: “A Journey Into The Misinformation Fever Swamps.”

Several New York Times writers make their living tracking news fraudsters, such as Tiffany Hsu, Sheera Frenkel, and Stuart A. Thompson. The conversation between the author and these three centers around hot topic issues. When it comes to the new 2022 election cycle, the same misinformation spread during the 2016 election is circling. The topics include voter fraud and how foreign powers are interfering with the election process.

What the three interviewees and the author found alarming is how predominant misinformation is and how bad actors exploit it for profit. It is alarming how much power misinformation yearly gains:

“America’s own disinformation problem has only gotten much worse. About 70 percent of Republicans suspect fraud in the 2020 presidential election. That’s millions and millions of people. They are extremely devoted to these theories, based on hardly any evidence, and will not be easily swayed to another perspective. That belief created a cottage industry of influencers, conferences and organizations devoted to converting the conspiracy theory into political results, including running candidates in races from election board to governor and passing laws that limit voting access.

And it’s working.’

There is mutual agreement that social media companies are not in a good place with misinformation, but they should be responsible for moderating information posted on their platforms. Social media platforms assisted the spread of misinformation during COVID and the past two elections. They should invest in content moderation programs to keep facts clear.

Content moderation programs walk the fine line between freedom of speech and censorship, but the old example of crying wolf is apt. It would be great if loudmouth Karens and Kevins were shut down.

Whitney Grace, October 7, 2022

ISPs: The Tension Is Not Resolved

October 7, 2022

The deck is stacked against individual consumers, but sometimes the law favors them such as in a recent case in Maine. The Associate Press shared the good news in the story, “Internet Service Providers Drop Challenge Of Privacy Laws.” Maine has one of the strictest Internet privacy laws and it prevents service providers from using, selling, disclosing, or providing access to consumers’ personal information without their consent.

Industry associations and corporations armed with huge budgets and savvy lawyers sued the state claiming the law violated their First Amendment rights. A judge rejected the lawsuit, protecting the little guy. The industry associations agreed to pay $55,000 the state accrued protecting the law. The ACLU helped out as well:

“Supporters of Maine’s law include the ACLU of Maine, which filed court papers in the case in favor of keeping the law on the books. The ACLU said in court papers that the law was ‘narrowly drawn to directly advance Maine’s substantial interests in protecting consumers’ privacy, freedom of expression, and security.’

Democratic Gov. Janet Mills has also defended the law as “common sense.”

Maine is also the home of another privacy law that regulates the use of facial recognition technology. That law, which came on the books last year, has also been cited as the strictest of its kind in the U.S.

This is yet another example of corporate America thinking about profits over consumer rights and protections. There is a drawback, however: locating criminals. Many modern criminal cases are solved with access to a criminal’s Internet data. Bad actors forgo their rights when they commit crimes, so they should not be protected by these laws. The unfortunate part is that some people disagree.

How about we use this reasoning: the average person is protected by everyone that participates in sex trafficking, pedophilia, and stealing tons of money are not protected by the law. The basic black and white text should do to the truck

Whitney Grace, October 7, 2022

Standards: Just Lower Them Already

October 5, 2022

Snow flurries? Cancel grade school and high school classes. Covid? Cancel in person classes and shift to the “tech will solve it” approach to education. Algebraic identities? Talk about TikToks.

The clash of the dinobabies is illustrated in “NYU Chemistry Professor Fired After Students Said His Class Was Too Hard.” The subtitle to the article identifies one issue:

Students were misreading exam questions at an astonishing rate

The idea is an important one: Reading with comprehension.

A college professor expected students to read the course material, do the required exercises, read examination questions, and answer them. A failure to understand what one reads means that one does not ingest information, understand it, and explain what one has learned.

That seems to have been a problem at New York University, a school distinguished by its proximity to a thriving informal market in controlled substances.

How did the students react to the professor who expected the students to learn chemistry? The TikTok aficionados protested.

How did the university respond to the bleating students? The institution fired the professor. No tenure; therefore, no problem.

Several observations seem to be warranted:

  1. Learning can be fun, even easy, but in most cases, learning requires carving new pathways in the brain and forcing new connections therein. Focus, effort, are commitment required. TikTok learning and YouTube short cuts may not do the job.
  2. Reading is FUNdamental. Was, is, and will be. Can’t read? Flashing warning lights.
  3. Institutions tossing standards in the dumper ensure an accelerating decline in decision making, understanding, and sticking to a difficult task. Lose these skills, lose trust in education, government, people, and probably most touch points in life.
  4. Discipline is a valuable trait. No discipline and one’s life may wobble.

Who cares? TikTok and YouTube don’t. Why are falling standards in vogue? Ah, that’s an interesting question. Let’s Google it.

Stephen E Arnold, October 4, 2022

Attention and Science: Rotating the Idea Seven Degrees

October 4, 2022

I read a BigThink article called “The Credibility of Science Is Damaged When Universities Brag about Themselves.” The basic premise of the article is fine: Attention is what matters today. The “why” is not explored, but it is characterized: Payoff.

I noted this statement in the article:

Scientists have always wanted to have their work noticed. That’s not new. However, when attention becomes currency, the ecosystem changes. And that changing ecosystem encompasses universities, academic publishing, and the way science is communicated to the public.

I am not comfortable with categorical affirmatives like “always.” I know from my work in online information and systems that the enabler of being noticed is content which is not intermediated by an institution, commercial enterprise, or government agency with a semi-reliable moral and ethical compass.

Scientists, like any other group of humanoids, get a kick out of the fame payoff. Some cannot cope and end up spending some time under special observation like Kurt Gödel or André Bloch. Others are content to chug along with some cocktail party ammunition tucked in their pockets.

A larger issue underlies the analysis of scientists chasing attention (adulation, prizes, lecture opportunities, etc.) The inherent function of online information is to disintermediate. Hasta la vista judgment, bureaucratic barriers, and traditional procedures.

How are those airline schedules matching up with the reality of getting from A to B? What about the functionality of the US health care system and the individuals who need treatment? Are those children graduating from grade school, high school, and college unable to read at their grade level mapping to job opportunities? You can think of your own examples.

My point is that the devaluation of science manifests itself in the “attention economy.” The driver, however, is online information.

Welcome to the online revolution. Remediation will be difficult, perhaps impossible. As “knowledge” is vaporized by the flows of online data, those responsible for the fixing up of science, basic service delivery, and certain American automobiles will be less well equipped than previous generations’ wizards.

The future is now. Log on, absorb TikToks, and surf Amazon… scientifically, of course. Maybe that seven degrees rotation is not reproducible. Some is not either.

Stephen E Arnold, October 4, 2022

Libraries: A Target?

October 4, 2022

Reading is FUNdamental. I am not sure that’s an accurate slogan today. “Libraries Across The US Are Receiving Violent Threats” reports:

In the last two weeks, at least a dozen public libraries across the U.S. received threats that resulted in canceled events and system-wide closures. While bomb and active shooter threats to public library systems in Nashville, Fort Worth, Denver, Salt Lake City, and Boston and other cities across the country were ultimately deemed hoaxes, library workers and patrons say they are still reeling in the aftermath.


I grew up with the following impressions of libraries:

  1. My mother took me to the library each week so she could return the books she read from the previous week. She checked out books. I am not sure how old I was when I became aware of this library routine. Didn’t everyone go to the library once a week? Not to protest or make threats, but to get books and introduce a child to the “routine”?
  2. My sixth grade teacher, Ms. Costello, awarded a paper “flag” for each book read by a student. On the wall was a list of her students. The flags were pinned after each student’s name. One book received one white flag. Five books were converted to a white flag with a blue border. Ten books received a white flag with a red border. Twenty books were represented by a white flag with a yellow border. Each school year ended with Ms. Costello recognizing the students who read the most books. (Guess who won?) I made many trips to the Prospect Branch Library because I nuked the grade school library of books which interested me quickly.
  3. In high school, wearing my worn out sneakers, my cool plaid shirt, and my blue jeans with cuffs no less, I went to the downtown library which I reached via the bus. In my high school, English teachers assigned essays which had to have footnotes. The reference desk librarians were helpful and showed me the ropes of microfilm newspapers (wow, that technology sucked. Wasn’t there a better way to search?), the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature (wow, that print index sucked. Wasn’t there a better way to search and get access to the full text of the article?), the mysteries of the books behind the reference desk. (Oh, Constance Winchell, I loved you!)
  4. In college, I made the library my home away from home between classes. I had favorite tables at which to work. I loved the Library of Congress cataloging system. I knew exactly where certain book topics were shelved. I worked in the library on and off for a couple of years until I landed a higher paying job, but I learned how to get first crack at books professors put on reserve. I also located the COBOL instruction manuals and used them to do my first computer based indexed project for a professor named William Gillis. Believe it or not, that project was my ticket to the world of commercial database indexing and my first real job at Halliburton Nuclear in Washington, DC. I indexed nuclear information using good old PDP computers. Exciting? You bet.

Why have I isolated four library experiences?

None require terror threats, political actions, or any behavior other than respect for the professionals who assisted me. My wife has told me that I could have gone to work right after high school and skipped college. She’s wrong. I am not sure I learned too much in my college courses. The bulk of the information was repetitive or something with which I was familiar based on my reading.

What was valuable to me was the opportunity to spend significant time in the university library. Here’s a fun fact: I was thrilled when a college event took place on Friday nights. I knew I would be one of a very few students in the library when the event was underway. Silence, no delays at the photocopy machine, no waiting for a specific card catalog drawer, and no one clogging the space between the shelves.

What’s my view of libraries? Can’t figure it out? Perhaps you should consider what one can achieve by doing the library thing. Online is okay, but it sure isn’t the library thing.  I should know because I was involved and maybe instrumental in a number of very successful and widely used commercial databases. I knew paper indexes sucked, and I did something about it.

But libraries. The prime mover for me. Why be afraid of learning, knowledge, information, and different ideas? My answer is that those without a library “backbone” are lost in a digital world in which TikTok information imparts wisdom. Ho ho ho.

Stephen E Arnold, October 4, 2022

Repeating Ads: Good Business?

October 3, 2022

Ad tiers are a viable way to make streaming services affordable to more viewers, a reality even Netflix and Disney Plus have accepted. There is just one problem. The Verge implores, “Streaming Services Need to Stop Showing Me the Same Ad Over and Over (and Over).” Writer David Pierce describes an annoyance all too familiar to many of us: shows punctuated with the same ad so often one involuntarily memorizes it. A first-world problem to be sure, but maddening none the less. Advertisers bear the brunt of viewer annoyance—too much repetition and viewers may vow never to purchase the now overly familiar product. But it is not advertisers’ fault. The write-up explains:

“There’s a perfectly rational reason for why this happens, by the way. It’s all about ad targeting. Let’s just take my own recent example, CroppMetcalfe. I’m a new homeowner, in the company’s area of service, with a 20-year-old HVAC unit that we know is going to need to be replaced soon. There’s a pretty good chance CroppMetcalfe knows that, too! I’m absolutely the company’s target market. But there aren’t that many people in my exact situation, and Peacock surely promised the company a certain number of ad impressions. If there were a million people who fit the bill, no problem. But if there are 500 of us, and a million impressions to serve, I’m going to get an awful lot of that five-star jingle. Everybody involved has a reason to fix this, too. There’s evidence to show that people who see the same ad over and over and over actually become less likely to buy the thing being advertised, and customers have been complaining about repetitive ads for years. In a Morning Consult survey from last year, 69 percent of respondents said the ads on streaming services were either ‘very repetitive’ or ‘somewhat repetitive.'”

To make matters worse there is currently no way to coordinate ad campaigns across providers, which means the same repeated ads dog viewers from platform to platform. The important question is whether showing the same ad over and over again is a type of online advertising fraud. Annoyance is one thing; sucking down the advertiser’s money for zero payoff or even negative returns is quite another. Pierce offers a couple suggestions. He likes the rare practice of showing one long ad at the beginning of a show and leaving viewers to watch the rest in peace. Then there are ads that display on the pause screen when one has already interrupted oneself. Whatever the solution, it would be best to fix the problem before someone gets sued.

Could this repetition be a form of “soft” fraud?

Cynthia Murrell, October 3, 2022

Be an Information Warrior: Fun and Easy Too

September 16, 2022

I spotted an article in Politico. I won’t present the full title because the words in that title will trigger a range of smart software armed with stop words. Here’s the link if you want to access the source to which I shall refer.

I can paraphrase the title, however. Here’s my stab at avoiding digital tripwires: “Counter Propaganda Tailored to Neutralize Putin’s Propaganda.”

The idea is that a “community” has formed to pump out North Atlantic Fellas’ Organization weaponized and targeted information. The source article says:

NAFO “fellas,” as they prefer to be called, emblazon their Twitter accounts with the Shiba Inu avatar. They overlay the image on TikTok-style videos of Ukrainian troops set to dance music soundtracks. They pile onto Russian propaganda via coordinated social media attacks that rely on humor — it’s hard to take a badly-drawn dog meme seriously — to poke fun at the Kremlin and undermine its online messaging.

The idea is that NAFO is “weaponizing meme culture.” The icon for the informal group is Elon Musk’s favorite digital creature.

See related image detail

The image works well with a number of other images in my opinion. The source write up contains a number of examples.

My thought is that if one has relatives or friends in Russia, joining the NAFO outfit might have some knock on consequences.

From my point of view, once secret and little known information warfare methods are now like Elon Musk. Everywhere.

Stephen E Arnold, September 16, 2022

Is Fresh Thinking about ISPs and Network Providers Needed?

September 14, 2022

Today (September 14, 2022) I reviewed some of our research related to what I call the “new” Dark Web. Specifically, I called attention to Internet Service Providers and Network Providers who operate mostly as background services. What gets the attention are the amazing failures of high profile systems like Microsoft and Google Cloud, among others. When I hear talk about “service providers”, the comments fall into two categories:

  1. The giant regulated outfits some of which are government controlled and owned and others which are commercial enterprises with stakeholders and high profiles. The question, “Does cloud provider X allow its platform to deliver CSAM or phishing attacks?” is not top of mind.
  2. Local Internet operations which resell connectivity provided by outfits in Category 1 above or who operate servers or lease “virtual” servers on Category 1’s equipment. Most of these outfits have visibility in a specific geographic area; for example, Louisville, not far from my hovel in a hollow.

Are these two categories sufficient? Do bad actors actually do bad things on systems owned, operated and managed by Category 1 companies? Is that local company really hosting CSAM or delivering malware for a client in Hazard County, Kentucky?

The answer to these questions is, “Yes.” However, technology is available, often as open source or purpose built by some ISP/network providers to make it difficult to determine who is operating a specific “service” on third party equipment. Encryption is only part of the challenge. Basic security methods play a role. Plus, there are some specialized open source software designed to make it difficult for government authorities to track down bad actors. (I identified some of these tools in my lecture today, but I will not include that information in this free blog post. Hey, life is cruel sometimes.)

I mention the ISP/Network Provider issue because the stakes are rising and the likelihood of speeding up some investigative processes is decreasing. In this post, I want to point you to one article, which I think is important to read and think about.

Navigate to “Naver Z Teams Up with Thai Telecom Giant to Build Global Metaverse Hub.” Naver is in South Korea. True is in Thailand. South Korea has some interesting approaches to law enforcement. Thailand is one of the countries with a bureaucratic method that can make French procedures look like an SR 71 flying over a Cessna 172. (Yes, this actually happened when the SR 71 was moving at about three times the speed of sound and the Cessna 172 was zipping along at a more leisurely 120 knots.)

The write up states:

Naver Z, the metaverse unit of South Korean internet giant Naver, has partnered with Thai telecom conglomerate True to build a global metaverse hub for creators.

The new service will build on the Zepeto metaverse platform. Never heard of it? The service has 20 million monthly active users.

Here’s a key point:

The platform is particularly attractive for K-pop fans. Zepeto recently collaborated with Lisa, a member of the popular South Korean girl group Blackpink, to host a virtual event where her fans could take selfies with her avatar on Zepeto.

So what?

What if a CSAM vendor uses the platform to distribute objectionable materials? What if the bad actor operates from the US?

What type of training and expertise are required to identify the offending content, track the source of the data, and pursue the bad actor?

Keep in mind that these are two big outfits. The metaverse is a digital datasphere. Much of that environment will be virtualized and make use of distributed services. Obfuscation adds some friction to the investigative processes.

For those charged with enforcing the law, the ISPs/and Network Providers — whether large or small — will become more important factors in some types of investigations.

Is CSAM going to find its way into the “metaverse”?

I think you know the answer to the question. Now do you know what information is needed to investigate an allegation about possibly illegal behavior in Zepeto or another metaverse?

Think about your answer, please.

Stephen E Arnold, September 14, 2022

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