Online: Finding Info Is Easy or Another Dark Pattern?

May 7, 2021

When I attended meetings about online search, I found considerable amusement in comments like “Online makes finding information easy” and “I am an expert at finding information on Google.” Hoots for sure.

I read “How to Find a Buyer or Seller’s Facebook Profile on Marketplace.” According to the write up, at some time in the recent past “finding” information about a person offering something for sale on Facebook Marketplace was easy. Since I have never used Facebook Marketplace, I can accept the facile use of the word “easy” as something a normal thumbtyping Facebooker could do. Some investigators probably had the knowledge required to figure out who was pitching a product allegedly stolen from a bitcoin billionaire.

The write up identifies about nine steps in the process to navigate from a listing’s “seller handle” to the vendor’s Facebook profile. I thought this online search was easy.

I can think of several reasons why Facebook makes finding information difficult with weird words and wonky icons. (One of these was described as a “carrot” in the write up. A carrot? What’s up, Mark?

It is possible that Facebook wants to accrue clicks and stickiness. Since I don’t use Facebook, I am not a good judge of how sticky the site is. I do know that some individuals in government agencies think a lot about Facebook and the information the company’s databases contain.

Another possibility is that Facebook wants to make it more difficult for stalkers, miscreants, and investigators to move from a product listing to the seller information. The happy face side of me says, “Facebook cares about its users.” The frowny face says, “Facebook wants to make life difficult for anyone to get useful information because accountability is a bad thing.”

A third possibility is that Facebook’s engineers are just incompetent.

Net net: Finding information online is easy as long as one works at the organization with the data and the person doing the looking has root. Others get an opportunity to explore a Dark Pattern. Fun. Helpful even.

Stephen E Arnold, May 7, 2021

Xoogler Meredith Whittaker Explains How to Be Google Grade

May 7, 2021

I read the interview called “Ex-Googler Meredith Whittaker on Political Power in Tech, the Flaws of ‘The Social Dilemma,’ and More.” Very Silicon Valley. You will need to work through the transcript yourself. Here are the points I circled as checkpoints for being Google Grade. The phrase in my lingo means “How to keep your job at the GOOG.” I identified six behaviors; your mileage may vary.

  1. Be a white male.
  2. Float above the concerns of non-Google grade type people.
  3. Emulate senior Google leaders; for example, the affable, other directed Jeff Dean.
  4. Ethics. Ho ho ho. Embrace phenomenological existentialism within the Google context.
  5. Respond like a Pavlovian dog or pigeon when money and power are the payoff.
  6. Fight the impulse to be a contrarian.

And the interview ends on an interesting note. The Xoogler allegedly said:

It’s going to be really hard to repurpose that toward democratic, people-driven ends, given the consolidation of power that is right now dominating those infrastructures and given the neoliberal capitalist incentives that are driving those who dominate those infrastructures.

Maybe not hard, just too late.

Stephen E Arnold, May 7, 2021

Confirmed: Deloitte Cooperated with the DOJ on HPE Autonomy Case

April 22, 2021

The ghost of Arthur Andersen appeared I think.

Now we know why HPE (formerly HP) stopped making noise about suing auditing firm Deloitte for its role in the decision to buy Autonomy in 2011, which HPE famously came to regret. Forced to write down Autonomy’s value by $8.8 billion in 2012, HPE claimed the software firm and auditors at Deloitte had misrepresented its value. There were questions of whether HPE did its own due diligence before making its purchase, but the firm proceeded to take those it blamed to court. Autonomy’s CFO Sushovan Hussain was sentenced to five years in jail in 2019, and the case against CEO Mike Lynch is (oh so slowly) proceeding. Now The Register reveals, “Deloitte Settled HPE’s Autonomy Lawsuit for $45m Back in 2016 and Agreed to Cooperate with US DOJ.” Writer Gareth Corfield tells us:

“The amount of the settlement is less than 1 per cent of the $5bn for which HPE is pursuing Lynch and Hussain. Although HPE and Deloitte signed a confidentiality agreement over the $45m, its main details were hiding in plain sight inside the last ever accounts filed by Autonomy Corporation Ltd (ACL) before it was merged away into HPE’s corporate structure, becoming known as ACL Netherlands BV. A letter previously sent by HPE’s lawyers to Deloitte in 2014 alleged ‘there is evidence that Deloitte was complicit in aspects of the misstatements in Autonomy’s published information’. That allegation would never be tested in court, though Britain’s accounting regulator eventually found it proven. Public knowledge of the settlement sum also sheds light on why Deloitte was never a co-defendant with Lynch and Hussain in the High Court, despite the auditor being an obvious target for HPE following allegations of false accounting at Autonomy.”

When HPE filed its suit against Lynch and Hussain in 2015, it left open the option to include Deloitte but mysteriously withdrew that potential the next year. Now Corfield confirms that, as suspected, those at Deloitte who had worked on the account signed an agreement to cooperate with the Department of Justice. It specified that Deloitte admitted no wrongdoing or liability, and the firm granted HPE’s lawyers complete access to its Autonomy audit papers and emails. It is suspected that the court would have ruled against Deloitte had it not cooperated, and that by doing so the firm avoided damage to its reputation. Perhaps. But consider—whom do you want as your tax advisor?

Cynthia Murrell, April 22, 2021

MIT Deconstructs Language

April 14, 2021

I got a chuckle from the MIT Technology Review write up “Big Tech’s Guide to Talking about AI Ethics.” The core of the write up is a list of token words like “framework”, “transparency”, by design”, “progress”, and “trustworthy.” The idea is that instead of explaining the craziness of smart software with phrases like “yeah, the intern who set up the thresholds is now studying Zen in Denver” or “the lady in charge of that project left in weird circumstances but I don’t follow that human stuff.” The big tech outfits which have a generous dollop of grads from outfits like MIT string together token words to explain what 85 percent confidence means. Yeah, think about it when you ask your pediatrician if the antidote given your child will work. Here’s the answer most parents want to hear: “Ashton will be just fine.” Parents don’t want to hear, “probably 15 out of every 100 kids getting this drug will die. Close enough for horse shoes.”

The hoot is that I took a look at MIT’s statements about Jeffrey Epstein and the hoo-hah about the money this estimable person contributed to the MIT outfit. Here are some phrases I selected plus their source.

  • a thorough review of MIT’s engagements with Jeffrey Epstein (Link to source)
  • no role in approving MIT’s acceptance of the donations. (Link to source)
  • gifts to the Institute were approved under an informal framework (Link to source)
  • for all of us who love MIT and are dedicated to its mission (Link to source)
  • this situation demands openness and transparency (Link to source).

Yep, “framework”, “openness,” and “transparency.” Reassuring words like “thorough” and passive voice. Excellent.

Word tokens are worth what exactly?

Stephen E Arnold, April 14, 2021

No Joke: Academics Cheat Bit Time

April 1, 2021

It looks as though academic journals are finally addressing the scourge of fraudulent studies that plague their pages. Heck, that publisher Royal Society of Chemistry now publicly acknowledges the problem is a big step. Nature examines “The Fight Against Fake-Paper Factories that Churn Out Sham Science.” Prompted by outside investigations, journals have retracted hundreds of fraudulent papers since last January, with more under investigation. Nature has assembled a list of over 1,300 articles identified as possible paper-mill products over that time. Many of these suspect papers come from authors at Chinese hospitals, but China is not the only place fake research is churned out. Iran and Russia are also home to paper mills, for example. However, writers Holly Else and Richard Van Noorden report:

“China has long been known to have a problem with firms selling papers to researchers, says Xiaotian Chen, a librarian at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. As far back as 2010, a team led by Shen Yang, a management-studies researcher then at Wuhan University in China, warned of websites offering to ghostwrite papers on fictional research, or to bypass peer-review systems for payment. In 2013, Science reported on a market for authorships on research papers in China. In 2017, China’s Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) said it would crack down on misconduct after a scandal in which 107 papers were retracted at the journal Tumor Biology; their peer reviews had been fabricated and a MOST investigation concluded that some had been produced by third-party companies. Physicians in China are a particular target market because they typically need to publish research articles to gain promotions, but are so busy at hospitals that they might not have time to do the science, says Chen. Last August, the Beijing municipal health authority published a policy stipulating that an attending physician wanting to be promoted to deputy chief physician must have at least two first-author papers published in professional journals; three first-author papers are required to become a chief physician.”

Here’s a thought—maybe remove these requirements. We’re told reports produced by physicians in these positions are already widely suspect and not taken seriously, so where is the value in maintaining such hoops? See the lengthy article for more details on how the pros detect fraudulent papers and what the industry is planning to do about it.

Cynthia Murrell, April 1, 2021

Intellectual Cohesiveness: A Reading List

March 30, 2021

Why do liberal arts graduates struggle to understand the logic of a Facebook-type engineer or a Google-like wizard or the demeanor of a Twitter-like senior manager? Easy. The reading list for engineers includes books about math, physics, and programming. The well-rounded humanoid educated in the currents of Western culture read other books. Which other books? I am delighted you asked. You can find a list of the 1,138,841 most frequently assigned texts. Just click this link and view the Open Syllabus Galaxy. Yes, the diagram is not a list. Listicles are not popular with some of the thumbtypers, so behold a visualization.

image

Let’s return to the notion of intellectual cohesiveness, shall we? In order to build a shared knowledge base, educated individuals should have some familiarity with the most assigned college texts. That way, when someone references Napoleon and a winter walk, the others engaged in the conversation will know that the little emperor did skipped a lesson about winter in Eastern Europe.

Without a shared knowledge base, it is difficult to know what the other person is talking about. For a recent example, consider the questioning of big tech’s luminaries by the oh, so wise elected officials.

One observation. A person assigned a book to read does not guarantee that the book was read.

Cohesiveness must be obtained in some other way in our zip zip world I think.

Stephen E Arnold, March 30, 2021

Section 230: Just Flip the Regulation of Big Tech Around

March 30, 2021

I read “No One Agrees on How to Fix Big Tech.” The main point seems to be embodied in this quote from the article attributed to an elected US official:

The time for self-regulation is over. It’s time we legislate to hold you accountable.

Let’s look at the need for regulation in a different way.

Big tech is more democratic than some other systems. Big tech’s users are voting on its value, viability, and virtue with each click. Elected officials and the historical laws are essentially out of step with what people want.

The write up asserts:

You could suggest that each company’s statement on s230 is a reflection of their general values and attitude. Facebook wants to tweak the law to potentially weaken competitors, Google is hoping not to make waves, but won’t shout for the status quo too loudly, while Twitter is already mentally elsewhere. Unfortunately for Zuckerberg, Pichai and Dorsey, none of those positions are likely to sate politicians who understand that something needs to change, but aren’t sure what.

Another view is that big tech is a manifestation of the “new” democracy. The organizations are nation states, have support, and operate above the no longer meaningful laws of historical artifices.

It is increasingly clear that it is a thumbtyping world. Self regulation is not needed when the constituents vote to keep big tech in office.

Stephen E Arnold, March 30, 2021

Real News: Perhaps One Should Refine Real As Content Warranted by Existential Phenomena?

February 26, 2021

I got a kick out of the allegedly accurate story about “real” news outfits’ information. The story is called “Reuters, BBC, and Bellingcat Participated in Covert UK Foreign Office-Funded Programs to Weaken Russia, Leaked Docs Reveal.” I want to remind you, gentle reader, that Reuters’ news stories carry this footer: Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles. Years ago at a conference in London, a representative of the Beeb explained to me that its online behavior was governed by its Code of Conduct, which states:

OUR VALUES

We don’t just focus on what we do – we also care how we do it. So we have six values that everyone across the BBC shares. They’re what we expect from ourselves and each other. These values aren’t just words. We use them to guide our day-to-day decisions and the way we behave when we’re working with other people.

(I just heard chords from Mozart’s Requiem, did you?) And Bellingcat? A fine outfit lacking only taglines with the word “trust” and the rather thin code of conduct thing with a dead link to the “actual” code.

The write up reports in somber tones:

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) have sponsored Reuters and the BBC to conduct a series of covert programs aimed at promoting regime change inside Russia and undermining its government across Eastern Europe and Central Asia… The leaked materials show the Thomson Reuters Foundation and BBC Media Action participating in a covert information warfare campaign aimed at countering Russia. Working through a shadowy department within the UK FCO known as the Counter Disinformation & Media Development (CDMD), the media organizations operated alongside a collection of intelligence contractors in a secret entity known simply as “the Consortium.”

Let’s assume that the content in the source materials is spot on. Several observations are warranted:

  • The method seems like something from a Brian Freemantle novel. Perhaps the source?
  • Are the notions of “trust” and “codes of conduct” appear to be marketing yip yap?
  • What constitutes real news: Fake news from real outfits or real news from leaked documents?

Interesting story if accurate.

Stephen E Arnold, February 26, 2021

McKinsey: MBAs Are a Fascinating Group to Observe

February 5, 2021

Watching blue chip consulting firms is more enjoyable than visiting a zoo. Here’s a good example of the entertainment value of individuals who strive to apply logic to business. Logic is definitely good, right?

AP Source: McKinsey to Pay $573M for Role in Opioid Crisis” explains that the McKinsey wizards somehow became involved in the “opioid crisis.” Crisis is self explanatory because most people have been ensnared in the Covid Rona thing. But opioid is difficult to appreciate. Think of addiction, crime, prostitution, trashed families, abandoned children, etc. You get the idea.

How could a blue chip consulting firm become involved in crimes which do not appear in the McKinsey collateral, on its Web site, or in its presentations to potential and current clients?

The write up says in the manner of “real” news outfits:

The global business consulting firm McKinsey & Company has agreed to a $573 million settlement over its role in advising companies on how to “supercharge” opioid sales amid an overdose crisis…

I interpret this to mean that the MBAs used their expertise to incentivize those in the legal pharma chain to move product. “Moving product” is a phrase used by narcotics dealers and MBAs alike, I believe.

The “real” news item reports:

McKinsey provided documents used in legal proceedings regarding OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, including some that describe its efforts to help the company try to “supercharge” opioid sales in 2013, as reaction to the overdose crisis was taking a toll on prescribing. Documents made public in Purdue proceedings last year include include emails among McKinsey.

A wonderful engagement until it wasn’t. Blue chip consulting firms like to write checks to those who generate billable hours. My understanding is that writing checks for unbillable work irritates partners who expect bonuses and adulation for their business acumen.

An allegation of “supercharging” addictive products and producing the secondary effects itemize by me in paragraph two of this post is a bit of a negative. Even worse, the desired secondary effect like a zippy new Porsche conjured up on the Porsche Car Configurator, a position in a new investment fund, or a nice house and land in New Zealand does not arrive.

No word on jail time, but there’s a new administration now. The prostitution, child abandonment, and crime issues may become more consequential now.

Will this become a Harvard case? Who am I kidding? McKinsey in numero uno. Do los narcotraficantes operate with McKinsey’s acumen, logic, and efficiency. Good question.

Stephen E Arnold, February 5, 2021

Security Vendors: Despite Marketing Claims for Smart Software Knee Jerk Response Is the Name of the Game

December 16, 2020

Update 3, December 16, 2020 at 1005 am US Eastern, the White House has activate its cyber emergency response protocol. Source: “White House Quietly Activates Cyber Emergency Response” at Cyberscoop.com. The directive is located at this link and verified at 1009 am US Eastern as online.

Update 2, December 16, 2020 at 1002 am US Eastern. The Department of Treasury has been identified as a entity compromised by the SolarWinds’ misstep. Source: US “Treasury, Commerce Depts. Hacked through SolarWinds Compromise” at KrebsonSecurity.com

Update 1, December 16, 2020, at 950 am US Eastern. The SolarWinds’ security misstep may have taken place in 2018. Source: “SolarWinds Leaked FTP Credentials through a Public GitHub Repo “mib-importer” Since 2018” at SaveBreach.com

I talked about security theater in a short interview/conversation with a former CIA professional. The original video of that conversation is here. My use of the term security theater is intended to convey the showmanship that vendors of cyber security software have embraced for the last five years, maybe more. The claims of Dark Web threat intelligence, the efficacy of investigative software with automated data feeds, and Bayesian methods which inoculate a client from bad actors— maybe this is just Madison Avenue gone mad. On the other hand, maybe these products and services don’t work particularly well. Maybe these products and services are anchored in what bad actors did yesterday and are blind to the here and now of dudes and dudettes with clever names?

Evidence of this approach to a spectacular security failure is documented in the estimable Wall Street Journal (hello, Mr. Murdoch) and the former Ziff entity ZDNet. Numerous online publications have reported, commented, and opined about the issue. One outfit with a bit of first hand experience with security challenges (yes, I am thinking about Microsoft) reported “SolarWinds Says Hack Affected 18,000 Customers, Including Two Major Government Agencies.”

One point seems to be sidestepped in the coverage of this “concern.” The corrective measures kicked in after the bad actors had compromised and accessed what may be sensitive data. Just a mere 18,000 customers were affected. Who were these “customers”? The list seems to have been disappeared from the SolarWinds’ Web site and from the Google cache. But Newsweek, an online information service, posted this which may, of course, be horse feathers (sort of like security vendors’ security systems?):

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