The famous quote from Lord Acton—“Absolute power corrupts absolutely”—is a good guide to compiling a list of the companies that are likely to need policing. The list is pretty short—Amazon, Facebook, Google (including YouTube), Twitter, and Uber (perhaps). And the effect on humankind (especially children) is pretty severe. Amazon is now so large and powerful that it is in danger of being prosecuted under the antitrust laws.
Fortunately, a handful of Silicon Valley notables have become activist vigilantes. And they are aiming at kids to use their smartphones for healthy purposes rather than wasting time on useless social apps.
Click on the TAKE ACTION box if you received this message from Google, as likely all gmail users did, and you will be eternally annoyed by a repeating string of useless messages saying that someone (likely you yourself) tried to violate your security.
Every major new technology brings with it not only fascinating new capabilities, and in the case of electronic technologies also some potentially-dangerous new challenges. So many auto accidents have been caused because drivers were distracted by their gadgets that it has been proposed that those drivers be punished as if they were driving under the influence of alcohol (or other substances). And it isn’t only driving. Focusing on the small screen while walking not only puts one in harm’s way but in cities like Montclair, CA crossing a street while distracted can result in a sizable fine.
We have twice before posted strong pleas for the giant tech companies—especially Alphabet/Google/YouTube, Apple, and Facebook—to stop expanding their Silicon Valley facilities rather than creating/expanding sizable operations in other cities. They’re mostly software companies, which could be located anyplace with high-speed data transmission capabilities!!! Are these companies afflicted by cases of hubris?
We wonder why all those cities who were campaigning for the Amazon HQ2 aren’t similarly campaigning for expansions of other tech giants.
We also wonder why Silicon Valley communities have not been able to either (1) extract enough money from these companies to compensate the many victims (long commutes, wasted time in traffic jams, inability to find housing, homelessness, etc., or (2) tax the companies so much that it makes it uneconomic to expand there.
In our experience, most software asks permission before it updates itself. There is usually a “Not Now” option. But since Microsoft has a monopoly for Windows-based personal computers, they do what they please, ignoring the needs and preferences of their customers. As we noted in our March 28, 2018 post, Apple’s updates can be traumatic, but at least they ask beforehand.
Apparently this nasty behavior has been around for some time, at least since the introduction of Windows 10 in July 2015. We had seen for some time warnings against “upgrading” to Windows 10, but for some reason had not experienced any of these potentially-damaging events until the last few weeks. The advice “save early and save often” applies as much or more to files one creates on a personal computer as to retirement planning!
The “Your version of Bing search is out of date” pop-up tries to force installation of Chromium (a public domain version of Google’s Chrome browser) and the Bing browser on its victims. Victims will know immediately of the attack, because it plants itself in the middle of the screen and they will either have to reboot their PCs or (unwisely) click on “OK” Apparently this nasty behavior has been around for some time, at least since December 2012. The scammers have taken advantage of the open-source nature of Chromium to use it as a means to install unwanted “adware” and other unwanted programs. Fortunately, there are ways to remove such programs.
This sizable business has been made possible by the advanced software and hardware that underlie the Worldwide Web. But where there’s a will, there’s a way, so as early as 1959 a couple of Stanford undergraduate electrical engineering students—Jim Harvey and Phil Fialer—used paper questionnaires and an IBM 650 computer to pair up 50 men and 50 women. Today’s computers are 1,000,000,000,000 times as fast as this 1954-vintage computer, so it would be easy to work with Facebook’s 2.2 billion members, which are only 22,000,000 times as many as people as took part in the Stanford matchmaking.
As might be expected of bright and fun-loving young men, the full story is very amusing. Back in 1959, the shortage of dormitory rooms had led to their (and a few electrical engineering and KZSU friends) having to live off-campus, namely in the Los Trancos Woods community in Portola Valley. This location was perfect for a date-matching party. It also gave its name to the unconventional and entertaining Los Trancos Woods Community Marching Band.
Taking the venerable quote from Harry Truman,” If you cannot convince them, confuse them”, Facebook will change its coverage so that three-fourths of its total user base (including those in the United States and Canada) will not be able to file a complaint in Ireland, where Facebook’s international headquarters lies. So European Union residents are covered by the GDPR rules. This change will continue to keep Facebook in the news as being untrustworthy, and could cause the U.S. congress to add more stringent laws.
Facebook and other tech giants have been fortunate that they had been essentially unregulated … until now. On April 11 we received an email titled “[Action Required] Important updates on Google Analytics Data Retention and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)” from ‘Google Analytics’ email@example.com that presumably was received by billions of people with gmail email addresses or other Google associations. It alerts all of us of this data protection law affecting users based in the EU (European Union) that will be effective May 25, 2018.
We suspect that the vast majority of Internet-connected individuals had no clue that such a law was in the works, though they could hardly have missed the fact that Mark Zuckerberg was testifying in Washington, DC. Likely this mass email was intentionally timed to coincide with his testifying.
Though some other observers have scorned the technology naivete of some of the legislators, we were generally impressed with the thoughtful questions that in general dug into the key issues—most notably privacy—that had forced Mark Zuckerberg to testify.
Doubtless the large majority of Facebook users never read Facebook’s Terms of Service (TOS), just like the user agreements of other memberships they pursue. When Technology Bloopers debuted, we carefully read the TOS and included some commentary under the “Social Networks” subheading of our “Villains” heading. We pointed out two notions that have turned out to be hugely important in the current dust-up: “Users of these social networks have accepted the Terms of Service (TOS) for them, giving them permission to do many things that, upon reflection, those users might actually not want done.” and “But it is hugely one-sided in that it talks about all the things that Facebook can do and not much about the things the Facebook customer can do. And it is hugely open-ended in that it cites examples of things that Facebook can do today or might do in the future, but places no limits on them. “
The tech giants are so powerful that they feel they can get away with taking actions without asking permission, then apologizing later. Again, we had reminded in our “Villains” subheading the famous quote from Lord Acton: “Absolute power corrupts absolutely”.