June 6, 2019

Snippet: If ‘Big Tech’ Is a Huge Antitrust Problem, Why Are We Ignoring Telecom? ☍

Karl Bode for Techdirt (via Nick Heer):

Oddly missing from coverage from these probes is the fact that much of this behavior by the Trump administration may (*gasp*) not be driven by a genuine interest in protecting markets and consumer welfare. For one, it’s hard to believe that an administration that has shown it’s little more than a rubber stamp for sectors like telecom is seriously worried about monopoly power. Two, it’s hard to believe an administration obsessed with nonexistent censorship is going to come at these inquiries with integrity, and not, say, as a vessel to pursue a pointed partisan persecution complex. […]

Yet again, notice how telecom gets a free pass by the Trump administration? Notice how Silicon Valley is demonized, but telecom’s surveillance and anti-competitive gambits see zero backlash? I don’t think it’s happenstance that this new Trump “big tech” antitrust push comes as big telecom has asked for just such a push to aid its own competitive agenda. A lot of folks on both sides of the political aisle who’d like to see more done to rein in “big tech” seem a touch oblivious to the possibility that this new antitrust push may not be entirely in good faith.

I find the double-standard frustrating in that you can opt-out of using products and services from Amazon, Google, Apple, or Facebook, yet many people only have one or two choices for ISP, one of four choices for cell carrier (at least the networks the services run on), and many of these have engaged in nefarious behavior. For recent examples, Apple running the App Store and offering Keynote as a free download is probably less of an existential threat than carriers selling location data. You can opt-out of a mobile platform or social network for one of the (albeit few) alternatives. You may not be able to opt-out of your ISP.

May 28, 2019

Snippet: I Miss Blind, Dumb Enthusiasm for New Tech ☍

Martin Bryant for The Next Web:

And it’s not just the press. The wider tech community seems less enthusiastic about startups. Whereas the annual festival of technology and BBQ food that is SXSW in Austin used to be a place where apps like Twitter and Foursquare first broke through, you’re now more likely to hear conversations about how AI threatens society.

This whole piece hit home for me—I think we’ve been burned too many times by flashy, yet faulty startups or being letdown by the large players in the industry. It’s a shame, as getting excited about a new service or app could be a lot of fun.

May 15, 2019

Snippet: Why Paul Ford (Still) Loves Tech ☍

Paul Ford for Wired (via John Gruber):

The things we loved — the Commodore Amigas and AOL chat rooms, the Pac-Man machines and Tamagotchis, the Lisp machines and RFCs, the Ace paperback copies of Neuromancer in the pockets of our dusty jeans — these very specific things have come together into a postindustrial Voltron that keeps eating the world. We accelerated progress itself, at least the capitalist and dystopian parts. Sometimes I’m proud, although just as often I’m ashamed. I am proudshamed.

As someone who grew up while this industry had its foot down on the gas pedal, more and more I’m finding myself amazed, disgusted, tired, and having a tough time reconciling all of it. When things like irresponsible social networks or privacy problems or the ever-reigning ad revenue become too much, I retreat into thinking about the stuff that would’ve amazed me as a kid:

When I was a boy, if you’d come up behind me (in a nonthreatening way) and whispered that I could have a few thousand Cray supercomputers in my pocket, that everyone would have them, that we would carry the sum of human ingenuity next to our skin, jangling in concert with our coins, wallets, and keys? And that this Lilliputian mainframe would have eyes to see, a sense of touch, a voice to speak, a keen sense of direction, and an urgent desire to count my actual footsteps and everything I read and said as I traipsed through the noosphere? Well, I would have just burst, burst. I would have stood up and given the techno­barbaric yawp of a child whose voice has yet to change. Who wants jet packs when you can have 256 friggabytes (because in 2019 we measure things in friggin’ gigabytes) resting upon your mind and body at all times? Billions of transistors, attached to green plastic, soldered by robots into a microscopic Kowloon Walled City of absolute technology that we call a phone, even though it is to the rotary phone as humans are to amoebas­. It falls out of my hand at night as I drift to sleep, and when I wake up it is nestled into my back, alarm vibrating, small and warm like a twitching baby possum.

May 13, 2019

Snippet: Google Thought My Phone Number Was Facebook’s and It Ruined My Life ☍

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai for Motherboard/Vice:

But on this query, Google’s algorithm was clearly broken—for some reason, it thought it was a good idea to extract and prominently display a phone number from article hosted on vice.com that’s titled “Facebook’s Phone Number Policy Could Push Users to Not Trust Two-Factor Authentication.”

Google’s search algorithms are why it became so powerful in the first place, but sometimes, however, the algorithm is painfully stupid. In 2017, The Outline showed that Google often displayed completely wrong information at the top of the results when people searched for things like “Was President Warren Harding a member of the KKK?” or “Why are firetrucks red?” The article delved into the so-called “featured snippets,” those big boxes at the top of search results that are supposed to give users a quick answer to what they’re looking for.

Of course Google is trying to surface as much good information as possible and make it readily available to users, there’s a point where things start to break down. Furthermore, it may be difficult to reach someone to actually help, especially if you aren’t a writer for a larger publication.

I also question the people calling that number—where’s the common sense that the main customer service number for one of the biggest tech companies probably is a toll-free number (800, 888, 877, etc.)?

Snippet: Spotify is Picky About Postal Addresses ☍

Josh Centers for TidBITS found a weird and broken corner of Spotify:

My techie warning bells went off. Apparently, Spotify requires address verification to try to ensure that all family members are in the same household, so presumably, those addresses need to be entered identically. Did my wife type out the word “bypass” in our address, or did she use an abbreviation? Did she put our box number on the first or second line? Wanting to make sure I got it right, I asked her to check the address format on her account.

A few minutes later, she told me she couldn’t find it. At first, I figured that she had just overlooked it. So I looked. And looked. She was right, there’s no way to see the address you entered…

Considering how many different ways my address is formatted (even though the apartment number should go on a second line, it’s not officially formatted as such for me), companies should either offer an “is this what you meant?” option, so you pick a consistent address. Alternatively, maybe comparing an address with another and figuring out if certain things match, but ignore common and abbreviations (street, st, apartment, unit, etc.) could also make it more user-friendly.