Tech Can Help or Hurt – Part 6: Addiction to Apple, Facebook, Google

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.

Some help is on its way. At its most recent developers conference Apple introduced a feature called Screen Time (to be available in September) that lets users monitor and limit their app use on their iPhones and iPads.

A couple has dedicated themselves to the cause, creating an app called Moment and living in their RV as they travel the USA.

And at the Hearth in Manhattan, diners are encouraged to put their cellphones in picturesque boxes provided at each table.

But isn’t the real villain the pressure to keep users connected so advertisers can continue to shovel advertisements into the users’ brains?

Needless Tech Giants’ Hiring Worsens Silicon Valley Housing Shortages and Traffic Jams

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.

Other organizations that are keeping up the good fight include the San Francisco Peninsula Resident Association.

Scammers Delight: “Your version of Bing search is out of date” pop-up

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.

First Privacy Regulation Announcement Timing Was Likely Triggered by Zuckerberg’s Grilling by U.S. Congress

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’ analytics-noreply@google.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.

Facebook Is First to Testify, But All Tech Giants Are Liable to be Regulated

We admit to being generally anti- to social networks. In our view they are an unnecessary sugar coating of basic functionality already provided in a range of websites. Our views were included when we originally uploaded our TechnologyBloopers website in August 2014, which included our critical analysis of Facebook’s “Terms of Service”.

Among the tech giants Facebook has recently has become the poster child for taking the notion of “if something is not forbidden by law, then it is allowed”, replacing Google (which did things like copying millions of pages of books in the name of making knowledge available, but violating the copyrights of the authors). This behavior earned a “command performance” for Mark Zuckerberg with congress as the audience.

Google Analytics Seriously Understates Visitor Counts

We become disappointed whenever we receive Google’s monthly Snapshots, and suspect that the large majority of website developers feel the same way. In December 2017 our server statistics showed nearly 100 times as many visitors as Google Analytics did, and in January 2018 they showed 60 times as many visitors as Google Analytics did.

There are a lot of reasons why the Google Analytics figures can be inaccurate, including unbiased ones and biased ones.

And, especially for websites with relatively low visitor counts, the Google Analytics counts are seriously inflated by counting visits by Bots.

Beyond disappointing we become angry when Google wants us to buy AdWords, implying that our visitor counts will be boosted.

Increasing Overlap of Tech Giants

Question: When you’ve joined the $100+ billion market cap club, what do you do next? Answer: You start invading the other members’ territories (e.g., Amazon is now chasing the digital advertising business that Facebook and Google make billions of dollars from) AND you hire a bunch of pricey lawyers to defend you against antitrust suits.

This club is pretty exclusive today, with American members including mainly Alphabet/Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, and Netflix. They are so big that to grow significantly they have to look for other big markets (like cloud computing or self-driving cars or Hollywood-type movies) to enter, and most of those big markets are already occupied by other club members or non-member already-large specialists. What are the bloopers here? A classical one would be monopoly/oligopoly pricing and/or restraint of trade. But perhaps more important might be the opportunities lost by a failure to allocate capital to creating useful NEW-AND-DIFFERENT products and services.

Demand for H-1B Visas Continues to Rise in 2018

Continued massive growth by the giant high-tech companies in Silicon Valley brings with it commensurate demand for trained software engineers (as well as housing shortages and high prices, traffic jams, and other problems). The U.S. doesn’t produce enough STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) trained people, so the tech companies are forced to cast a wider net by hiring foreigners, using the mechanism of H-1B visas. Many of these H-1B hires are from India, and of those many are provided by well-compensated outsourcing firms such as Infosys, Tech Mahindra, and WiPro.

The situation in 2018 is similar to the one in 2017, with the important difference that now President Trump is now involved. He does things in strange and wonderful ways, and the America First plank in his election platform may bode ill to the H-1B visa program. Plus, he is at odds with the leaders of the giant high-tech companies. So anything can happen.

While the H-1B visa program may enable well-educated (especially in technology) individuals to enter the U.S. and earn considerably more than they could in their native countries, some of them are dissatisfied with the layers of bureaucracy that prevent them from advancing. However, there are two outstanding exceptions to this (both natives of India), namely Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella (who joined Microsoft in 1992 and became its CEO in 2014) and Google Inc. CEO Sundar Pichai (who joined Google in 2004 and became its CEO in 2015 when its now-parent Alphabet Inc. was created).

Technology Can Help or Hurt – Part 4: Social Media Giants’ Missteps Alter History, Spur Regulation

Mark Twain’s 1897 quote had it right: “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.” One possible Truth in the current fracas involving Russians, Trump’s campaign team for the 2016 presidential election, and social network companies including Facebook, Google, and Twitter is that this is an early example of wars that are fought by hackers and the Internet rather than soldiers and guns. Numerous semi-fiction books could be written or movies created about this craziness. One possible plot is that the Russians knew how unusual (AKA weird) Donald Trump is, and preferred him to Hillary Clinton as president because they could exploit that unusualness (AKA weirdness). A bunch of congresspeople are calling for regulation of these giant Internet-based companies. So are the media, who are far more regulated than Facebook, Google, and Twitter. These are crazy times, and the Russians and other enemy nations must be enjoying all the gyrations that the US is going through.