Interesting Behavior: Is It a Leitmotif for Big Tech?

October 18, 2021

A leitmotif, if I remember the required music appreciation course in 1962 is a melodic figure that accompanies a person, a situation, or a character like Brünnhilde from a special someone’s favorite composer.

My question this morning on October 18, 2021, is:

“Is there a leitmotif associated with some of the Big Tech “we are not monopolies” outfits?”

You can decide from these three examples or what Stephen Toulmin called “data.” I will provide my own “warrant”, but that’s what the Toulmin’s model says to do.

Here we go. Data:

  1. The Wall Street Journal asserts that William “Bill” Gates learned from some Softie colleagues suggested Mr. Gates alter his email behavior to a female employee. Correctly or incorrectly, Mr. Gates has been associated with everyone’s favorite academic donor, Jeffrey Epstein, according to the mostly-accurate New York Times.
  2. Facebook does not agree with a Wall Street Journal report that the company is not doing a Class A job fighting hate speech. See “Facebook Disputes Report That Its AI Can’t Detect Hate Speech or Violence Consistently.”
  3. The trusty Thomson Reuters reports that “Amazon May Have Lied to Congress, Five US Lawmakers Say.” The operative word is lied; that is, not tell the “truth”, which is, of course, like “is” a word with fluid connotations.

Now the warrant:

With each of the Big Tech “we’re not monopolies” a high-profile individual defends a company’s action or protests that “reality” is different from the shaped information about the individual or the company.

Let’s concede that these are generally negative “data.” What’s interesting is that generally negative and the individuals and their associated organizations are allegedly behaving in a way that troubles some people.

That’s enough Stephen Toulmin for today. Back to Wagner.

Leitmotifs allowed that special someone’s favorite composer to create musical symbols. In that eminently terse and listenable Der Ring des Nibelungen, Wagner delivers dozens of distinct leitmotiv. These are possible used to represent many things.

In our modern Big Tech settings, perhaps the leitmotif is the fruits of no consequences, fancy dancing, and psychobabble.

Warrant? What does that mean? I think it means one thing to Stephen Toulmin and another thing to Stephen E Arnold.

Stephen E Arnold, October 18, 2021

Big Tech Defines Material: What Does That Really Mean to Oligopolistic-Type Outfits?

September 16, 2021

I noted a US government study called “Non HSR Reported Acquisitions by Select Technology Platforms: 2010-2019: FTC Study.” The report, assuming it is spot on, suggests that large companies interpreted the word “material” differently from what some financial / accountant types think it means; for example, “Items are considered to be material when they have an excessive impact on reported profits, or on individual line items within the financial statements.” [Source: The Google, of course.] Some MBAs and accountants have remarkably flexible connotative skills. Is this a Deloitte Touche-type touch?

The report states:

image

My hunch is that standard deviation is not a hot topic at Zoom happy hours. The standard deviations in the table above suggest that the big tech outfits in the study pretty much redefined “material,” bought stuff and did not make a big deal about it, and chugged along in their cheerfully unregulated state during the period of the study.

The report states:

The five technology platform 6(b) respondents identified 616 non-HSR reportable transactions above $1 million, in addition to 101 Hiring Events and 91 Patent Acquisitions. The respondents reported an additional approximate 60 transactions below $1 million and 160 financial investments. Voting Security (Control) and Asset acquisitions comprise 65% of all of the above transactions. When excluding Hiring Events, Patent Acquisitions, and transactions below $1 million, Voting Security (Control) and Asset acquisitions comprise 85% of the transactions.

I interpret this to mean that the big tech outfits in the sample decided what to report and what to ignore; that is, the deals were not material. There’s that MBA word again.

Here’s another passage I circled:

Most of the transactions that were classified into technology categories were concentrated in the categories of Mobility (mobile devices and device-based software and content, which comprised more than 10% of the acquired firms), Application Software (front-end applications such as CRM, ERP, SCM, BI, commerce and vertical business software, which comprised more than 9% of the acquired firms), and Internet Content & Commerce (internet destination and internet-enabled services, which comprised more than 6% of the acquired firms). In the Mobility and Application Software categories, the number of transactions peaked in 2015; in the Internet Content & Commerce category, the number of transactions peaked in 2011.

Observations:

  1. Fancy dancing is popular among the companies in the sample; notably, Alphabet/Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft
  2. Regulators, probably with MBAs, looked the other way
  3. The power of unregulated commercial enterprises makes clear who is in charge of many important technical and social activities.

Interesting stuff, and I am confident that a lawyer with an MBA can explain this misalignment about the meaning of “material.” I wonder if the hints about the behavior of the companies in the sample suggest that we now live in a digital banana republic with the centers of power concentrated among a few corporate entities in their plantation houses.

Stephen E Arnold, September 16, 2021

When AI Goes Off the Rails: Who Gets Harmed?

September 13, 2021

One of the worst things about modern job hunting is the application process. Hiring systems require potential applicants to upload their resume, then retype their resume into specified fields. It is a harrowing process that would annoy anyone. What is even worse is that most resume are rejected thanks to resume-scanning software. The Verge details how bad automation harms job seekers in the story, “Automated Hiring Software Is Mistakenly Rejecting Millions of Viable Job Candidates.”

Automated resume-scanning software rejects viable candidates. The software accidentally rejecting the candidates created a new pocket of qualified workers, who are locked out of the job market. Seventy-five percent of US employers use resume software and it is one of the biggest factors harming job applicants. There are many problems with resume software and they appear to stem from how they are programmed to “evaluate” candidates:

“For example, some systems automatically reject candidates with gaps of longer than six months in their employment history, without ever asking the cause of this absence. It might be due to a pregnancy, because they were caring for an ill family member, or simply because of difficulty finding a job in a recession. More specific examples cited by one of the study’s author, Joseph Fuller, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal include hospitals who only accepted candidates with experience in “computer programming” on their CV, when all they needed were workers to enter patient data into a computer. Or, a company that rejected applicants for a retail clerk position if they didn’t list “floor-buffing” as one of their skills, even when candidates’ resumes matched every other desired criteria.”

Employers use rigid criteria to filter job applicants. On one hand, resume software was supposed to make hiring easier, but employers are inundated with hundreds of resumes with an average of 250 applicants per job. Automation in job hiring is not slowing down and the industry is projected to be worth $3.1 billion by 2025.

How will off-the-rails AI apps be avoided or ameliorated? My hunch is that they cannot.

Whitney Grace, September 13, 2021

A Sporty Xoogler: True or False?

August 26, 2021

I am not sure about the “real” journalists laboring at the New York Post. One thing is certain. Those folks can craft an interesting headline; specifically: “Google Founder Admits He Created Revenge Site Against Estranged Wife.”

Larry the Kiwi recluse? Sergey the glass lover for a while? Or Scott Hassan?

Who?

The write up says:

Scott Hassan, 51, who wrote much of the original code that powers the search giant, is embroiled in a nasty divorce battle that has raged for seven years and involves millions of dollars, claims of treating his children unfairly — and even a shocking online revenge campaign.

The article points out some interesting life details:

“Without Scott, there would be no Google,” Adam Fisher, author of “Valley of Genius,” told The Post. “He was at Stanford and employed to write code for people who were big thinkers. He got to know Sergey and Larry, rewrote their code and convinced them that this was a product. They sold him founders’ stock. That worked out pretty well.”

Sporty. Sporty indeed.

The “real” news outfit’s report asserts:

After being accused by his ex, he has admitted to launching the site AllisonHuynh.com earlier this year, seeding it with links to positive articles written about his ex — but also links to court documents from three embarrassing lawsuits that involve her.

The write up includes images which appear to be “real” or took someone a bit of time to craft.

Now who’s is the testosterone-charged person in this legal matter. I noted this passage:

Within the documents posted are sexual allegations related to Huynh’s wrongful termination suit against her former employer Samuel Ockman and Penguin Computing in 2000. They claim that Huynh threatened to “kill [Ockman] and then herself” if he ever left her and “kept track of when Ockman was out with a new girlfriend,” according to the cross complaint filed by Ockman and his attorney in response to Huynh’s suit.

True? False? I don’t know, but I recognize sporty behavior when presented in the “real” news style of the estimable New York Post.

Stephen E Arnold, August 26, 2021

It Is Official: Big Tech Outfits Are Empires

August 23, 2021

Who knew? The Electronic Frontier Foundation revealed a factoid which is designed to shock. My position has been that big tech outfits operate like countries. I was wrong. The FAANG-type operations are empires. I stand corrected.

I learned this in “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility: Platforms Want To Be Utilities, Self-Govern Like Empires.” The write up asserts:

The tech giants argue that they are entitled to run their businesses largely as they see fit: if you don’t like the house rules, just take your business elsewhere.

The write up omits that FAANG-type outfits are not harming the consumer. Plus these organizations operate in accordance with an invisible hand. (I like science fiction, don’t you.)

The problem is that we are now decades into the digital revolution, and the EFF like some other entities are beginning to realize that flows of digital information reconstitute the Great Chain of Being. At the top of the chain are the FAANG-type operations.

At the bottom are the thumbtypers. In the middle, those who are unable to ascend and unwilling to become data serfs are experts like those at the EFF.

“Fixes” are the way forward. From my point of view, the problems have been fixed when those lower in the chain complain, upgrade to a new mobile device, suck down some TikToks, and chill with “content.”

The future has arrived, and it is quite difficult to change the status quo and probably an Afghanistanian task to alter the near-term future.

Empires, not countries. Sounds about right.

Stephen E Arnold, August 23, 2021

Facebook: A Force for Good. Now What Does Good Mean?

August 17, 2021

I read Preston Byrne’s essay about the Taliban’s use of WhatsApp. You can find that very good write up at this link. Mr. Byrne asks an important question: Did America just lose Afghanistan because of WhatsApp?

I also read “WhatsApp Can’t Ban the Taliban Because It Can’t Read Their Texts.” The main point of the write up is to point out that Facebook’s encrypted message system makes blocking users really difficult, like impossible almost.

I noted this statement:

the Taliban used Facebook-owned chat app WhatsApp to spread its message and gain favor among local citizens…

Seems obvious, right. Free service. Widely available. Encrypted. Why the heck not?

Here’s a statement in the Vice write up which caught my attention:

The company spokesperson said that WhatsApp complies with U.S. sanctions law, so if it encounters any sanctioned people or organizations using the app, it will take action, including banning the accounts. This obviously depends on identifying who uses WhatsApp, without having access to any of the messages sent through the platform, given that the app uses end-to-end encryption. This would explain why WhatsApp hasn’t taken action against some account spreading the Taliban’s message in Afghanistan.

Let me ask a pointed question: Is it time to shut down Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram? Failing that, why not use existing laws to bring a measure of control over access, message content, and service availability?

Purposeful action is needed. If Facebook cannot figure out what to do to contain and blunt the corrosive effects of the “free” service, outsource the task to an entity which will make an effort. That approach seems to be what is looming for the NSO Group. Perhaps purposeful action is motivating Apple to try and control the less salubrious uses of the iPhone ecosystem?

Dancing around the Facebook earnings report is fine entertainment. Is it time to add some supervision to the largely unregulated, uncontrolled, and frat boy bash? One can serve a treat like Bore Palaw too.

Stephen E Arnold, August 17, 2021

NSO Group: Origins

August 11, 2021

I read “Israel Tries to Limit Fallout from the Pegasus Spyware Scandal.”

I noted this statement which is has been previously bandied about:

Israel has been trying to limit the damage the Pegasus spyware scandal is threatening to do to France-Israel relations. The Moroccan intelligence service used the software, made by an Israeli company with close ties to Israel’s defense and intelligence establishments, to spy on dozens of French officials, including fourteen current and former cabinet ministers, among them President Emmanuel Macron and former prime minister Edouard Phillipe.

The write up reports:

There were reasons for Macron’s irritation: The NSO Group was established in 2009 by three Israelis — Niv Carmi, Shalev Hulio, and Omri Lavie. Contrary to popular belief, the three were not veterans of the vaunted Unit 8200, the IDF’s signal intelligence branch (although many of the company’s employees are). It is generally accepted by intelligence services around the world that many Israeli high-tech companies share information they glean from their contracts abroad with the Israeli security services, if they think such information is vital to Israel’s security (this is why the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS, has been reluctant to allow Israeli cyber companies access to the U.S. market).

Interesting.

Stephen E Arnold, August 11, 2021

Why Messrs Brin and Page Said Adios

June 22, 2021

Years ago I signed a document saying I could not reveal any information obtained, intuited, learned, or received by any means electrical or mechanical from an interesting company for which I did some trivial work. I have been a good person, and I will continue of that path in this short blog post based on open source info and my own cogitations.

Yes, the GOOG. I want to remind readers that in 2019, the dynamic duo, the creators of Backrub, and the beneficiaries of some possible inspiration from Yahoo, GoTo.com, and Overture stepped away from their mom and pop online advertising store. With lots of money and eternal fame in the pantheon of online superstars, this was a good decision. Based on my understanding of information in open sources, the two decades of unparalleled fun was drawing to a close. Thus, hasta la vista. From my point of view, these visionaries who understood the opportunities to sell ads rendered silly ideas like doing good toothless. Go for the gold because there was no meaningful regulation as long as their was blood lust for tchotchkes like blinking Google pins or mouse pads with the Google logo.

But there were in open source information hints of impending trouble; for example:

  • Management issues, both personal and company centric. Who can forget drug overdoses, attempted suicides, and baby daddies in the legal department? Certainly not the online indexes which provide valid links here, here, and here. Keep in mind, gentle reader, that these items are from open sources.
  • Grousing from Web site owners, partners, and developers. The Foundem persistence gave hope to many that others would speak up despite Google’s power, money, and flotillas of legal destroyers.
  • Annoying bleats about competition were emitted with ever increasing stridency from those clueless EU officials. Example number one: Margrethe Vestager. Danes fouled up taking over England, other Scandinavia countries, and lost the lead in ham to the questionable Spanish who fed cinco jota pigs acorns.

Nope, bail out time.

I offer these prefatory sentences because those commenting, tweeting, and blogging about “Google Executives See Cracks in Their Company’s Success” seem to have forgotten the glorious past of the Google. I noted this statement which is eerily without historical context and presented as a novel idea:

But a restive class of Google executives worry that the company is showing cracks. They say Google’s work force is increasingly outspoken. Personnel problems are spilling into the public. Decisive leadership and big ideas have given way to risk aversion and incrementalism. And some of those executives are leaving and letting everyone know exactly why.

Okay. But Messrs Brin and Page left. This is a surprise? Why? The high school science club management method is no longer fun. The crazy technology is expensive and old. The Foosball table needs resurfacing. The bean bags smell. And — news flash — when Elvis left the building, the show was over.

Messrs Brin and Page left the building. Got the picture?

Stephen E Arnold, June 22, 2021

Microsoft: Corporate Athleticism and Missing Pro Day

June 9, 2021

Yep, now it is a “new” Windows. And Teams, the feature rich Word software which struggles to number stuff and keep text and images where the author put them. Plus the security system that will prevent SolarWinds’ missteps and Exchange Server from becoming the lap dog of bad actors. “How Microsoft Fumbled Skype – and Let Zoom Flourish” is an interesting article. The implicit messages in the document are intriguing: Microsoft is big but not really able to handle opportunities like Skype in a way that avoids head shaking and hand wringing.

I marked this passage in the source document:

Although Skype, launched in 2003, has been available nine years longer than Zoom and is owned by tech titan Microsoft, Zoom has effectively left it in its dust. People don’t say “I’ll Skype you” as often as they say “I’ll Zoom you” anymore.

The write up provides some historical color but nailed the reason for Microsoft’s Skype fumble:

In 2011, when Microsoft acquired Skype for US$8.5-billion, Zoom had just launched and Skype already had 100 million users. By 2014, Skype was popular enough to merit inclusion as a verb in the Oxford English Dictionary. And by 2015, it had 300 million users. But Skype’s technology wasn’t well-suited to mobile devices. When Microsoft set about to address that problem, it introduced a host of reliability nightmares for users. It gave them further headaches by redesigning Skype frequently and haphazardly while integrating messaging and video functions.

My experience with the new Skype is that the Teams’ environment is pretty darned confusing. This comment illustrates what happens when management guard rails are not in place for programmers who may have good ideas but cannot cope with the outstanding Microsoft operating systems:

When Microsoft set about to address that problem, it introduced a host of reliability nightmares for users. It gave them further headaches by redesigning Skype frequently and haphazardly while integrating messaging and video functions.

Could this Skype example provide some insight into the security issues Microsoft’s core systems face. I know which company will win the prize for most loved software from a coalition of Eastern European bad actors. Do you? Let’s ask a JEDI knight.

Stephen E Arnold, June 9, 2021

Amazon: Possibly Going for TikTok Clicks?

June 8, 2021

I don’t know if this story is true. For all I know, this could be the work of some TikTok wannabes who need clicks. Perhaps a large competitor of the online bookstore set up this incident? Despite my doubts, I find the information in “Video Shows Amazon Driver Punching 67-Year-Old Woman Who Reportedly Called Her a B*tch.” The main idea is that a person who could fight Logan Paul battled a 67 year old woman. That’s no thumbtyper. That’s a person who writes with a pencil on paper. The outrage.

According the the “real” news report:

SHOCKING VIDEO shows an Amazon Driver giving a 67 year old Castro Valley woman a beat down after words were exchanged. 21 year old woman arrested by Alco Sherriff…who says suspect claims self defense.

Yes, it is clear that the 67 year old confused the Amazon professional with a boxing performer. After a “verbal confrontation,” the individuals turned to the sweet science.

Pretty exciting and the event was captured on video and appears to be streaming without problems. That’s something that could not be said about the Showtime exhibition or Amazon and Amazon Twitch a few hours ago. (It is Tuesday, June 8, 2021, and Amazon was a helpless victim of another feisty Internet athlete.)

Exciting stuff. Will there be a rematch?

Stephen E Arnold, June 8, 2021

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