Friday roundup: A week in tech

New Facebook Image

By Max Salsbury

Gaffe-plagued Facebook has had to apologise YET AGAIN – this time for a ‘white supremacist’ ad, a cock-up which, these days, is as expected as it is abhorrent.

The blundering firm approved the ad campaign that promoted the notion of ‘white genocide’ – a particularly insane and gross conspiracy theory that posits that the ‘white race’ is being exterminated by mysterious forces.

The chair of the Commons’ Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, MP Damian Collins, isn’t impressed, tweeting: ‘Again, this is appalling and irresponsible – Facebook allowed advertisers to target users interested in “white genocide” – even in wake of Pittsburgh massacre.’

So, what’s going on this time? Is it the fault of Facebook’s algorithms missing the obvious? Well, according to news site The Intercept, which created the ad campaign to expose the social media firm, an actual human in Facebook’s marketing team approved the devious ploy.

Bafflingly, Facebook has stressed that the incident isn’t the same as last year’s anti-Semitic advertising disaster, as that was the fault of an algorithm, not a human in the marketing team. What?

I’m confused. Confused and tired. Confused and tired and depressed.

***

The dark, strange and possibly foreign power-backed campaign group Leave.EU has been forbidden and everyone involved with it jailed.

Not really. Actually, the enterprise has been hit with a £135,000 fine for breaching data laws, which is a start I suppose.

The outfit (creator, Aaron Banks) had a dodgy data-based relationship with insurance firm Eldon (owner, Aaron Banks) – or so the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has concluded.

According to the ICO, Eldon’s customers’ data was accessed by staff at Castle Leave.EU. In 2015, a Leave.EU newsletter (‘Read all about it: Brexit will be Brilliant!’) was emailed to 319,000 addresses in Eldon’s database.

Sweet, pure Mr Banks boldly claimed that the ‘mistake’ was due to an error in the email distribution system (which doesn’t even begin to make sense when you think about it) and that he’d reported it to the ICO.

However, the ICO – which is the body doing the actual investigation, remember – said it had no record of any such report. Sheer farce.

And it seems the misuse of data cut both ways. The ICO also found that almost 50,000 Leave.EU fans were sent emails promoting GoSkippy without their consent.

Anyway, the fine will be the least of Mr Bank’s worries: he’s currently being investigated by the National Crime Agency over the ‘true source’ of the £8 million he handed to Leave.EU to help the UK ease into the Brexit paradise we all now inhabit.

What’ll happen next, I wonder? Referendum II? Prison? The plot thickens!

***

5G: salvation of western civilisation or over-hyped, costly white elephant, depending on your point of view.

The latest 5G speculation posits that it’ll be so good that it’ll replace the home broadband we currently have and love.

That’s the word from Dave Dyson, CEO of mobile network provider Three, who reckons 5G will be so reliable and speedy that people will be able to dispose of the fixed-line arrangements that currently pump Twitter, Russian propaganda and cat videos into their homes.

Said he: ‘Maybe not for the whole country, but certainly a significant majority of the country, I strongly believe 5G can offer a good enough home broadband experience for people to effectively ditch their copper connection.’

And I hope he’s right: my home broadband connection is a woefully pathetic, hateful, infuriating nightmare of a thing. I’ll take anything else that works!

4G’s successor could feasibly offer download speeds of 10GB a second, which should be enough to keep even the most seasoned of whiners happy – though the key word here is ‘feasibly’.

Three plans to launch its first 5G services next year; swifter EE, meanwhile, has already turned on nine 5G trial sites across London.

My Dyson’s vast optimism has been tempered by level-headed killjoy Andrew Ferguson, of news site Thinkbroadband, who warned: ‘Full-fibre services are going to beat 5G as you have a connection as stable as the one that will be feeding the mobile masts and thus the variables of signal strength dropping due to a bus passing the home are avoided.’

As covered in a previous round-up, this is all great news for manufacturers of expensive smartphones, as we’re all going to need to buy expensive new ones if we hope to access 5G.

It never ends.

Friday roundup: A week in tech

Friday roundup: A week in tech

By Max Salsbury

A social media network designed especially for fascists/racists has been driven off the internet – because it turns out it’s full of racists and fascists.

“Twitter alternative” Gab – which is, incredibly, even worse than the actual Twitter – has been dumped by a number of tech services in the wake of last week’s Tree of Life Synagogue slaughter.

Alleged mass-murderer and Gab account holder Robert Bowers used the platform to post anti-Semitic rants, and posted ‘Screw your optics, I’m going in’ shortly before going on his rampage in Pittsburgh, which culminated in the fatal shooting of 11 people, including a 97-year-old woman. Say what you like about these fascists, they’re a courageous bunch!

Frequented by “freedom of speech loving” types, (who, for the most part, just happen to be hysterical racists, nationalists etc) presently webless Gab has said that it’s ‘ready and willing to work with law enforcement’ but has pointed out that Bowers also had accounts with other networks, such as Twitter, so blah blah blah.

But that’s not cut the digital mustard with the likes of PayPal, which has banned the firm from using its services, claiming that when ‘a site is explicitly allowing the perpetuation of hate, violence or discriminatory intolerance, we take immediate and decisive action’.

Meanwhile, domain registrar GoDaddy similarly moved to wash its hands of the online sewer, telling the BBC that after investigating complaints it ‘discovered numerous instances of content on the site that both promotes and encourages violence against people’.

Every week I write this stuff up – the intrigues and developments in the exciting brave new world of tech – and every week it seems to get bleaker, nastier, and more repellent and dangerous. I fancy a nice long offline holiday.

***

Meanwhile, over in the liberal, non-racist digital paradise of Twitter…

…the firm has confessed that it ‘made a mistake’ in not removing tweets from last week’s other high-profile right-wing psychotic, the bomb-mailing Cesar Sayoc.

After the 56-year-old’s arrest, Twitter user Rochelle Ritchie alerted her followers to threatening tweets she’d received from the Trump-worshipping dunce earlier in the year.

Rightly concerned, Ms Ritchie reported the tweets to Twitter – which replied, ‘we have reviewed your report carefully and found that there was no violation of the Twitter Rules against abusive behaviour’.

However, following Sayoc’s arrest the network made a sharp volte-face, apologising to Ms Ritchie and admitting it screwed up, with @TwitterSafety tweeting: ‘We made a mistake when Rochelle Ritchie first alerted us to the threat made against her. The Tweet clearly violated our rules and should have been removed. We are deeply sorry for that error.’

Anyway, Sayoc’s @hardrock2016 account has now been suspended – which, as I strongly suspect he’s going to be in prison for the rest of his life, seems as pointless as it is overdue. Still, nice gesture, sort of.

***

Tenuous tech-related news now. A man lost his job this week because of an email. (That’ll do, won’t it; an email?)

Replying to a journalist’s pitch to write a series on vegan dishes for Waitrose Food, the magazine he edited until this week, blundering William Sitwell wrote: ‘How about a series on killing vegans, one by one?’

The journalist bunged the email on Twitter, naturally, and Mr Sitwell quit. But should he have done?

Well, from a Waitrose perspective it probably makes good business sense to distant yourself from a high-profile employee who’s potentially annoyed lots of your customers, especially when you’re about to release a massive new vegan range which you’ve probably invested quite a lot of money in.

But it’s not about that, some have claimed. According to the likes of Peter Obore, Julia Hartley-Brewer and other cranky types, the episode represents an attack on freedom speech, because it was ‘a joke’ you see? Reee-aaa-llll—yyy?

Replace ‘vegans’ in Mr Sitwell’s email with ‘feminists’, ‘Christians’ etc. and it seems to be a lot more serious. Why’s it merely a joke if it’s about killing vegans?

I dunno, but it turns out that Mr Sitwell is best friends with Jacob Rees-Moog MP – which is probably enough reason alone not to employ him.

Anyway, the point of all this is: try not being an idiot, even in “private” emails. We live in the Age of Twitter. Everything ends up there. Duh.

***

You may have picked up on the government’s plans to impose a new sales tax on big US tech firms, announced by chancellor Philip Hammond in this week’s budget.

Well, you’ll never guess what: the Americans don’t like it.

According to US politicians and business types, the plans will violate tax agreements, damaging the chances of a good deal trade between the US and UK after Brexit.

Ha! Brexit keeps giving, doesn’t it? After we’ve left the biggest trading block in the world, we can go and form the BEST TRADE DEAL EVER with the friendly Americans, who’ll be able to demand almost anything they like. (If you think Google et al are getting away with murder now, wait till we’ve gone cap in hand to the US after March 2019.)

Republican Kevin Brady said: ‘If the United Kingdom or other countries proceed, that will prompt a review of our US tax and regulatory approach to determine what actions are appropriate to ensure a level playing field in global markets.’

And how much is the UK government planning on taxing some of the richest outfits in the history of the universe? 2%! Two per bloody cent! That’s even lower than the EVIL AND HATED EU’s proposals to tax big tech at 3%.

Excellent: big rich tech firms and Brexit all mixed in one vast vat of greed and mindlessness. A perfect recipe for greed and mindlessness.

Let’s hope for better news next week (but I sure as hell wouldn’t count on it). Have a good weekend!

Friday roundup: A week in tech