An App Twist: Online Interaction and Dark Patterns May Pose a Threat to Users

May 12, 2021

I don’t know if this write up is spot on, but it does raise some interesting questions. Navigate to “Snapchat Can Be Sued over Its Speed Filter, Which Is Blamed in Death of 3.” The main point is that a popular app provides “points”. One reward is linked to moving rapidly. Examples include bike riding and walking one’s dog. The story points out:

The parents of two of the victims say the filter, which tells users how fast they are moving in real-time, encouraged users to drive recklessly in order to receive achievement points. Now, it appears the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agrees that a lawsuit should be permitted. In a ruling on Tuesday, the court argued that Snapchat was not shielded by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA), which protects social media companies from being held liable for the content posted by its users. The lawsuit was originally filed in 2019 and had been shot down just last year. But Circuit Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw agreed with the families this week who argued that the lawsuit was aimed at the app itself and not its content.

Was the issue judgment? No, according to the article:

Snapchat has been accused of “negligent design” for implementing the speed filter into its app.

The write up includes this statement from the court:

Their negligent design lawsuit treats Snap as a products manufacturer, accusing it of negligently designing a product (Snapchat) with a defect (the interplay between Snapchat’s reward system and the Speed Filter),” Wardlaw [the legal eagle hearing the case] wrote.

Here are the questions which crossed my mind:

  • Will “design” emerge as a factor in other litigation related to apps’ use?
  • Is the “reward” idea a Dark Pattern which is coded so that those using the apps are manipulated into certain behaviors?
  • How do innovators respond to “design” centric issues?
  • Are the parents responsible for their progenies’ judgment? Schools?

On the surface, it seems that app design can lead to tragic consequences.  Life, liberty, and the pursuit of rewards echoes in the Beyond Search office.

Stephen E Arnold, May 12, 2021

Facebook Tracking: Why Secrets Are Important to Some Digital Players

May 12, 2021

I read a headline which I assume was crafted to shock; to wit: “Analytics Suggest 96% of of Users Leave App Tracking Disabled in iOS 14.5.” The headline did not surprise me, nor did the fact that four out of 100 in the sample said, “Sure, follow, listen, and watch me 24×7.” The write up states:

According to the latest data from analytics firm Flurry, just 4% of ?iPhone? users in the U.S. have actively chosen to opt into app tracking after updating their device to iOS 14.5. The data is based on a sampling of 2.5 million daily mobile active users.

The article points out:

Facebook, a vociferous opponent of ATT [app tracking tech], has already started attempting to convince users that they must enable tracking in iOS 14.5 if they want to help keep Facebook and Instagram “free of charge.” That sentiment would seem to go against the social network’s earlier claim that ATT will have a “manageable” impact on its business and could even benefit Facebook in the long term.

Several observations:

  • Secrets work. Making certain behaviors “known” undermines a number of capabilities; for example, revenue, trust, and data collection
  • iPhone users appear to be interested in keeping some of their mobile centric behaviors within their span of control. (What about iPhone users in China and Russia? Alas, the write up did not include those data.)
  • Processing items of data across time and within the monitored datasphere may make it difficult for some entities to perform in the manner they did prior to the introduction of ATT.

Net net: Flowing information erodes certain beliefs, social constructs, and processes. Once weakened by bits, these beliefs, constructs, and processes may not be reconstructable. The Apple ATT may have unforeseen consequences.

Stephen E Arnold, May 12, 2021

Fixing Disinformation: Some Ideas

May 3, 2021

I read “2021 Rockman Award Winner Interview: Alison J. Head, Barbara Fister, and Margy MacMillan.” This was positioned as an interview, but it seems more like a report to a dean or provost to demonstrate “real” work in a critical academic niches. There were some interesting statements in the “interview.” For instance, here’s the passage I noted about helping students (people) think about the accuracy of information presented online:

Improve understanding of how a wider array of information, particularly the news, is produced and disseminated (beyond discussions of the peer review process), and (2) develop more reflective information habits that consider their roles as consumers, curators and creators of news, the relationships between news media and audiences, and the wider process through which media and society shape each other.

There were some statements in the article/interview which caught my attention. Here’s are a few examples:

  • They [students] didn’t believe their teachers had kept up with technological developments, including algorithms and tracking
  • … we [the researchers] were cheered by how deeply interested students were in learning more about what we have called the “age of algorithms”
  • Faculty interviews, too, suggested both a high degree of concern about algorithmic information systems and they had a desire for someone on campus to step up and take on a challenge they felt unequipped to tackle.
  • … students were often more aware of algorithms than faculty…

Net net: Neither students nor teachers are exactly sure about the online information disinformation, misinformation or info-reformation processes to use to figure out what’s accurate, what’s not, and what’s manipulation.

How does one guide students if faculty are adrift?

Stephen E Arnold, May 3, 2021

Do Tech Monopolies Have to Create Enforcement Units?

April 26, 2021

Two online enforcement articles struck me as thought provoking.

The first was the Amazon announcement that it would kick creators (people who stream on the Twitch service) off the service for missteps off the platform. This is an interesting statement, and you can get some color in “Twitch to Boot Users for Transgressions Elsewhere.” In my discussion with my research team about final changes to my Amazon policeware lecture, I asked the group about Twitch banning individuals who create video streams and push them to the Twitch platform.

There were several points of view. Here’s a summary of the comments:

  • Yep, definitely
  • No, free country
  • This has been an informal policy for a long time. (Example: SweetSaltyPeach, a streamer from South Africa who garnered attention by assembling toys whilst wearing interesting clothing. Note: She morphed into the more tractable persona RachelKay.

There’s may be a problem for Twitch, and I am not certain Amazon can solve it. Possibly Amazon – even with its robust policeware technology – cannot control certain activities off the platform. A good example is the persona on Twitch presented as iBabyRainbow. Here’s a snap of the Twitch personality providing baseball batting instructions to legions of fans by hitting eggs with her fans’ names on them:

baby 3 baseball

There is an interesting persona on the site NewRecs. It too features a persona which seems very similar to that of the Amazon persona. The colors are similar; the makeup conventions are similar; and the unicorn representation appears in both images. Even the swimming pool featured on Twitch appears in the NewRecs’ representation of the personal BabyRainbow.

baby newrecs filtered copy

What is different is that on NewRecs, the content creator is named “BabyRainbow.” Exploration of the BabyRainbow persona reveals some online lines which might raise some eyebrows in Okoboji, Iowa. One example is the link between BabyRainbow and the site Chaturbate.

My research team spotted the similarity quickly. Amazon, if it does know about the coincidence, has not taken action for the persona’s Twitch versus NewRecs versus Chaturbate and some other “interesting” services which exist.

So either Twitch enforcement is ignoring certain behavior whilst punishing other types of behavior. Neither Amazon or Twitch is talking much about iBabyRainbow or other parental or law enforcement-type of actions.

The second development is the article “Will YouTube Ever Properly Deal with Its Abusive Stars?” The write up states:

YouTube has long had a problem with acknowledging and dealing with the behavior of the celebrities it helped to create… YouTube is but one of many major platforms eager to distance themselves from the responsibility of their position by claiming that their hands-off approach and frequent ignorance over what they host is a free speech issue. Even though sites like YouTube, Twitter, Substack, and so on have rules of conduct and claim to be tough on harassment, the evidence speaks to the contrary.

The essay points out that YouTube has taken action against certain individuals whose off YouTube behavior was interesting, possibly inappropriate, and maybe in violation of certain government laws. But, the essay, asserts about a YouTuber who pranked people and allegedly bullied people:

Dobrik’s channel was eventually demonetized by YouTube, but actions like this feel too little too late given how much wealth he’s accumulated over the years. Jake Paul is still pulling in big bucks from his channel. Charles was recently demonetized, but his follower count remains pretty unscathed. And that doesn’t even include all the right-wing creeps pulling in big bucks from YouTube. Like with any good teary apology video, the notion of true accountability seems unreachable.

To what do these two example sum? The Big Tech companies may have to add law enforcement duties to their checklist of nation state behavior. When a government takes an action, there are individuals with whom one can speak. What rights does talent on an ad-based platform have. Generate money and get a free pass. Behave in a manner which might lead to a death penalty in some countries? Keep on truckin’? The online ad outfit struggles to make clear exactly what it is doing with censorship and other activities like changing the rules for APIs. It will be interesting to see what the GOOG tries to do.

Consider this: What if Mr. Dobrik and iBabyRainbow team up and do a podcast? Would Apple and Spotify bid for rights? How would the tech giants Amazon and Google respond? These are questions unthinkable prior to the unregulated, ethics free online world of 2021.

Stephen E Arnold, April 26, 2021

Google and Microsoft Are Fighting. But a Battle May Loom between Coveo and Service Now

March 18, 2021

The 2021 cage match line ups are interesting. The Google – Microsoft dust up is a big deal. Google says Microsoft is using its posture on news as a way to blast rock and roll fog around the egregious security breaches for SolarWinds and Exchange Server.

But that fog could obscure a bout between Coveo (a smart search company) and Service Now (a Swiss Army knife of middleware, including Attivio search. Both companies invoke the artificial intelligence moniker. Both covet enterprise customers. Both want to extend their software into large organizations.

Service Now makes it plans clear in “Service Now Adds New AI and Low-Code Development Features.” The write up states:

[A user conference in Quebec] … also introduces AI Search, underpinned by technology acquired in ServiceNow’s purchase of Attivio. AI Search delivers intelligent search results and actionable information, complementing Quebec’s Engagement Messenger that extends self-service to third-party portals to enable AI search, knowledge management, and case interactions. Also new in Quebec is the aforementioned virtual agent, which delivers AI-powered conversational experiences for IT incident resolution.

From my vantage point, the AI is hand waving. Search has quite a few moving parts, and human involvement is necessary whether smart software is involved or not.

What Service Now has, however, is a meta-play; that is, it offers numerous management services. If properly set up and resourced could reduce the pain of some utility functions. Search is the mother of all utility services.

Coveo is a traditional enterprise search vendor. The company has targeted numerous business functions as likely customers; for example, customer support and marketing.

But niche vendors of utilities have to be like the “little engine that could.”

This may not be the main event like Google versus Microsoft, but it will be an event to watch.

Stephen E Arnold, March 18, 2021

IA Scholar: A Reminder That Existing Online Resources Are Not Comprehensive

March 10, 2021

We spotted this announcement from the Internet Archive in “Search Scholarly Materials Preserved in the Internet Archive.”

IA Scholar is a simple, access-oriented interface to content identified across several Internet Archive collections, including web archives, archive.org files, and digitized print materials. The full text of articles is searchable for users that are hunting for particular phrases or keywords. This complements our existing full-text search index of millions of digitized books and other documents on archive.org. The service builds on Fatcat, an open catalog we have developed to identify at-risk and web-published open scholarly outputs that can benefit from long-term preservation, additional metadata, and perpetual access. Fatcat includes resources that may be useful to librarians and archivists, such as bulk metadata dumps, a read/write API, command-line tool, and file-level archival metadata. If you are interested in collaborating with us, or are a researcher interested in text analysis applications, we have a public chat channel or can be contacted by email at info@archive.org.

I ran several queries. The system is set up to respond to a conference name, but free text entries worked find; for example, NLP. Here are the results:

image

Worth checking out. In my experience people who are “experts” in online often forget that no online service is up to date, comprehensive, and set up to deliver full text. One other point: Corrections to online content are rarely, if ever made. Business Dateline, produced by the Courier Journal and Louisville Times in the early 1980s was one of the first commercial databases to include corrections. Thumbtypers may not care, but that’s the zippy modern world.

Stephen E Arnold, March 10, 2021

Old People, Vaccine Registration, and Online: What Could Be Overlooked by Thumbtypers? The Obvious

March 2, 2021

I heard over talkers on the Pivot podcast explain that old people struggled to use the Internet to register to get a Rona jab. Fascinating. I think I heard one of the stars of the wildly thrilling program express that despite computer expertise, the darned sign up site was difficult to use. Insightful. Then I read “Seniors Seeking Vaccines Have a Problem: They Can’t Use the Internet” in the online superstar New York Times. (Yep, I was able to locate the story online. Get your credit card ready, gentle reader. There is no free lunch provided by the Gray Lady.)

The estimable New York Times stated what the over talkers said; namely:

The chaotic vaccine rollout has come with a maze of confusing registration pages and clunky health care websites. And the technological savvy required to navigate the text alerts, push notifications and email reminders that are second nature to the digital generation has put older adults like Ms. Carlin, who need the vaccine the most, at a disadvantage. As a result, seniors who lack tech skills are missing out on potentially lifesaving shots.

Ms. Carlin is 84, and she is probably not hanging out on Zoom with thumbtypers, but that’s just a guess.

I learned:

By the end of last week, just 12.3 million Americans ages 75 and older, or 28 percent, had received at least one coronavirus vaccine dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Senator Tina Smith, Democrat of Minnesota, who has reintroduced a bill from last year that would allocate money to help get older Americans online, said the government had failed to get out ahead of a preventable crisis by not funding senior agencies sooner.

How many have thumbtyping techno-masters killed in the 70 plus cohort? The estimable New York Times did not provide a number. Come to think of it, I don’t think the Pivot over talkers did either.

Who would have imagined there were individuals unable to use the outstanding Rona registration systems? It’s obvious to know that some functions are hidden behind dots and hamburgers, pages have to be scrolled down to see data, and enjoy the experience of disabled back buttons.

Oh, well, since I am 77, I suppose some in my cohort will be killed by the thumbtyping techno masters. Big deal. When’s the Zoom happy hour start? Where’s the secret party this weekend? Multi-tasking? No Internet connection? No 5G mobile device.

Bummer.

Stephen E Arnold, March 2, 2021

Google and Microsoft in Australia: Ripping the Fabric of Some of the Internet?

February 8, 2021

Australia wants Google to pay for news. Microsoft wants more traffic and advertising revenue. Australia? The front lines of the battle for the Internet? “Microsoft Offers To Break The Web In A Desperate Attempt To Get Somebody To Use Its Widely-Ignored Bing Search Engine” and learned:

The worsening situation over upload filters has obscured the other bad idea of the EU Copyright Directive: the so-called “link tax”, which would require large Internet companies like Google to pay when they use even small amounts of news material. One worrying development in this area is that the idea has spread beyond the EU. As Techdirt reported, Australia is bringing in what amounts to a tax on Google and Facebook for daring to send traffic to legacy news organizations — notably those of Rupert Murdoch.

Yep, from the European Union to Australia the fabric of the Internet is under pressure. Google is concerned, upset even. But Microsoft:

in a desperate attempt to get someone to use its still largely-ignored search engine Bing, Microsoft is apparently willing to throw the Web under the bus. It’s an incredibly short-sighted and selfish move. Sure, it’s legitimate to want to take advantage of a rival’s problems. But not to the extent of causing serious harm to the very fabric of the Web, the hyperlink.

Links under assault? A push to investigate technology monopolies in the US? The SolarWinds’ misstep which reminds one that security is a misty concept? Political turmoil? Covid?

Now links.

Who knew that monetizing links would do “harm to the fabric of the Web”? Quick questions? What’s happening in China and Russia? Whose Internet? Perhaps the Internet has already morphed and the skirmish in Australia may be less than it seems? The tension seems to be removed from the growth sectors for online services? In fact, the dust up seems almost quaint.

Threats, saber rattling, and the effort to preserve the online past are not easily TikTok-able. That could be a problem for the firms and publishers not in the big growth game.

Stephen E Arnold, February 8, 2021

A Thrill for STM Publishers

January 20, 2021

First, there were individual libraries. Then there were consortia. Now there is a country. And the fees? Hmmm.

Scientific journals remain inaccessible behind pay walls, unless you have a subscription. These journals contain useful information that could advance science and other fields, but without a subscription researchers are locked out. India, the second most populous country in the world, announced a solution to academic pay walls. The Indian Express shares the news in: “Govt Proposes To Buy Bulk Subscriptions Of All Scientific Journals, Provide Free Access To All.”

The Indian government announced an open data policy called the “One Nation, One Subscription” policy. All publicly funded research will be freely available and the government plans to buy bulk subscriptions to scientific journals to give every Indian free access. It is predicted the “One Nation, One Subscription” will have a huge impact:

“The ‘One Nation, One Subscription’ policy for scientific journals is a radical move that could prove to be a game changer for the scientific community and individual researchers. There are more than 3,000 to 4,000 high-impact scientific journals, and sources say the government might have to spend a few hundred crore rupees every year to get their bulk subscriptions. But its impact on the scientific research community could be huge, given that access to these journals are highly priced and even big institutions are selective in buying subscriptions.”

Despite being a developing country, India boasts a highly educated populace. India continues to progress forward and advance in technology and other industries. Open access to all scientific journals will help them achieve further achievements in education and technology.

And the fees? Hmmm.

Whitney Grace, January 20, 2020

Google: Doing the Travel Agent Thing

January 13, 2021

Just a brief honk to draw our dear readers’ attention to in interesting development. India’s Zee News tells us, “Now, Book Vistara Flight Ticket Directly from Google.” Yes, one can now purchase a ticket for Vistara, an airline that operates in India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Singapore, and the United Arab Emirates, directly from one’s Google search. The succinct write-up reports:

“Vistara customers can directly search and book Vistara flights on Google through the integrated ‘Book on Google’ feature. Recently the airline adopted the New Distribution Capability (NDC), through a technology partnership with Amadeus, passengers will now be able to book Vistara flights while searching for them on Google. The biggest advantage is that now customers will be able to search and book air tickets, without getting redirected to any other website. Vistara airline is a joint venture of Tata and Singapore airlines.”

Amadeus is a travel technology company and NDC is an XML-based data transmission standard created specifically for airline ticket distribution. Users must log into their Google account to book their flights, which the service uses to manage contact and payment information. Naturally, one also chooses optional upgrades, baggage allowances, and seat selections here. Just one more way Google aims to save users a few clicks—and collect more of their data in the process.

Here’s an idea. Why not do an AirBnB / VBO mash up with some Google secret spices?

Cynthia Murrell, January 13, 2021

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