Nope, Still Not Signing UP For That Facebook Account

Generally speaking, 2018 was a pretty decent year for me. But you know who can’t say the same? Facebook. THE 21 (AND COUNTING) BIGGEST FACEBOOK SCANDALS OF 2018

“Of 2018.” Not of all time I again remind you, “of 2018. Jesus Murphy on a stack of lawsuits, that’s no good at all.

December 2018: Another Times investigation finds Facebook shared lots of personal user data with large companies
Just when it seemed no more scandals could break, on December 18, The New York Times published an investigation that found the company shared troves of personal user data with more than 150 companies—including major players like Amazon, Microsoft, Netflix, and Spotify—long after Facebook said it had cut off access to that kind of information. The big takeaway from this latest news seems to be: Despite Facebook’s claims that users have “complete control” over their data, the company has, throughout its history, traded on data access in order to grow the business.

Enjoy FarmVille or whatever it is people do over there when they’re not liking and sharing news articles that have no basis in reality.

Bell’s Everything Tracking Is Back And Very Slightly Less Creepy

It appears Bell is taking another crack at the tracking every customer’s every move thing that went so well a few years ago. And though the end result still sounds like a whole lot of garbage from a consumer point of view (there’s still nothing in it for customers aside from ads the company thinks you’ll like more), it’s at least not as much of a surface level privacy nightmare as the last one. All that basically means is that you’ll have to opt in instead of out and that Bell claims not to be selling your data to third parties directly, but hey, it’s something, I guess.

Canada’s largest telecommunications group is getting mixed reviews for its plan to follow the lead of companies like Google and Facebook in collecting massive amounts of information about the activities and preferences of its customers.
Bell Canada began asking its customers in December for permission to track everything they do with their home and mobile phones, internet, television, apps or any other services they get through Bell or its affiliates.
In return, Bell says it will provide advertising and promotions that are more “tailored” to their needs and preferences.
“Tailored marketing means Bell will be able to customize advertising based on participant account information and service usage patterns, similar to the ways that companies like Google and others have been doing for some time,” the company says in recent notices to customers.

If given permission, Bell will collect information about its customers’ age, gender, billing addresses, and the specific tablet, television or other devices used to access Bell services.
It will also collect the “number of messages sent and received, voice minutes, user data consumption and type of connectivity when downloading or streaming.”

“Bell’s marketing partners will not receive the personal information of program participants; we just deliver the offers relevant to the program participants on their behalf,” the company assures customers.

It’s interesting that Bell’s entire justification for such a massive data grab essentially seems to boil down to well, Facebook is doing it, so why not us, completely ignoring the fact that Facebook isn’t having the best time at the moment. This really isn’t a great look for a company that isn’t exactly well known or beloved for its treatment of customers, to put it mildly.

I hope customers are savvy enough to ignore this program to death. Failing that, I hope Bell does absolutely everything right so I won’t have to write about the inevitable data breach or the part where Bell gets caught doing things they say they’re not doing.

Something Seems A Little Phishy

It seems like there has been a whole lot of phishing going on lately, and I have gotten a few emails that have given me a scare. Thankfully, after my heart went back into my chest, I realized that no, the CEO of the company I work for would not be emailing me from a sketchy AOL address and land in my junk folder, and if I really had been infected with WannaCry, I would not be able to read this email that is telling me I have WannaCry. But lots of people around me have not been so lucky, and have come close, or have, fallen for a phishing email. I’m sure the day will come when it may happen to me, so I can’t laugh and wonder what’s wrong with them. It’s not like they’re a pack of Sobbing John Rempels here. They are smart people.

Aside: I wonder whatever happened to poor John Rempel. I kind of feel bad for him, since we’ve been making fun of him for almost 10 years. Kind of, but not really if his story is accurate.

It’s true, the assholes who create the phishing emails are getting sneakier and sneakier, and some are doing their research to make the emails they send as convincing as possible, but I think what’s making them so successful is lots of people don’t stop and read. They see something, panic, click the link, and…there goes another one. Or, somebody has really done their homework and sent a message that the person is kind of expecting, but again the person is in a rush, and doesn’t notice that the email is asking them to sign this “mortage” agreement for their new “hosue” and answers…and only then the red flags start to go off

At work, the security folks sent out this video from the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure in the UK as part of a campaign to smarten us up about phishing and spear phishing. Basically, phishing is the term for the broad practice of sending out fake emails to lure people into clicking on things or giving out personal info, where spear phishing is a more focused version of phishing where the person doing the phishing has done their homework about their victim and has customized the email to be more convincing.

Unfortunately, the video has scrolling text that I certainly couldn’t get to read. Maybe others will have better luck. But I was lucky enough to be home with my mom, and we watched it together, so I know it’s a good video with good tips in it.

From what I can remember, the video said that everybody knows about the old “congratulations, you have won the lottery” emails, but phishing has gotten more sneaky these days, and you will get emails tailored to you. Because everything is moving so fast and everyone is busy, sometimes we miss those subtle tip-offs that this is a fake and fall for it, allowing scammers to get usernames and passwords or steal money from you. The video detailed 3 commonly-used features of these scams: they create curiosity, have a sense of urgency, and appear to come from people of authority. Basically, the video urged us to slow down and think, check the links and email addresses inside the message, and if you’re still not sure if this is real, go directly to the source of the email rather than clicking on a link in the message or replying to it. I think that was all that was in there…but if someone can capture the text from the video and give it to me to post, that would be absolutely super awesome!

Here is a quick Wired article basically saying the same thing. Aside: Dear Wired: I appreciate that you have a newsletter, but I do not appreciate being unceremoniously thrown into a dialog telling me all about it while I’m reading a story. That makes me not want to sign up for it, even though it might be awesome.

There are a couple of mentions of hovering your mouse over links and email addresses to see where they really go. Luckily there is a way to do it if you don’t use a mouse. Bring focus to the link or email address you want to check by tabbing to it. Then hit your applications key or shift f10 or whatever way you choose to right click on links and copy the link. Then open notepad and paste it in and see what you got. Then you know if the link is really going to your bank or PayPal or whatever. Try it here.
www.paypal.com
Did that link really go where it said it went?

I think we all need to slow down, breathe, and not panic. Nothing is so urgent that it can’t wait 2 extra seconds to process whether this makes sense. Scammers can do their homework, but they’ll always slip up somewhere. Stay away from the phish, everybody.

No WordPress Gutenberg For Us Just Yet. We Prefer Our Interfaces Accessible

WordPress 5.0 is set to be released tomorrow, and it’s going to be a huuuuuuuuuuuge change. They’re unleashing an entirely new editing and customization system called Gutenberg that’s set to radically change how pretty much everything looks, acts and feels. That link right there will provide you with a fairly simple explanation of what’s happening, as well as caution you about updating if you happen to run a site using WordPress. There’s a lot of potential for site breakage here, both in terms of what you’re all looking at right now and the stuff that allows us to create it. Everything from themes to plugins to whatever else you can think of could cause you some kind of trouble if they and Gutenberg decide they’re not compatible.

I’m quite concerned for all of those reasons plus I don’t like the idea of every post becoming a mini web design project when all I want to do is write my fucking blog, but there’s also the issue of screen reader accessibility. Much of what I’ve seen on the subject doesn’t exactly sound encouraging, and absolute horseshit like this from members of the WordPress team absolutely does not give me the warm fuzzies about the future and my place in it. Nice to know I don’t fit into your release timelines, guys. Merry Christmas to you too.

So where does that leave us? Well, for the time being at least, it leaves us on WordPress 4.9.8, the current stable release. We’re going to stay there for as long as we have to or as long as we can, and if accessibility matters to you, you may want to do the same. There will be security fixes pushed to our version for now, so we can hang back here and do our thing while the various aspects of this hopefully get sorted out.

I should also mention that there is a classic editor plugin available, which could be handy should you decide to update and it goes poorly or the update is forced upon you by your company or hosting provider.

More Old school Blogging Vs. Social Media Talk

Here is Dan Cohen, a fellow with many more credentials than I, saying basically what I said about getting away from social media and focusing more on the blog, but in fancier words.

It was fun for a while. I met many people through Twitter who became and remain important collaborators and friends. But the salad days of “blog to reflect, tweet to connect” are gone. Long gone. Over the last year, especially, it has seemed much more like “blog to write, tweet to fight.” Moreover, the way that our writing and personal data has been used by social media companies has become more obviously problematic—not that it wasn’t problematic to begin with.
Which is why it’s once again a good time to blog, especially on one’s own domain. I’ve had this little domain of mine for 20 years, and have been writing on it for nearly 15 years. But like so many others, the pace of my blogging has slowed down considerably, from one post a week or more in 2005 to one post a month or less in 2017.

The reasons for this slowdown are many. If I am to cut myself some slack, I’ve taken on increasingly busy professional roles that have given me less time to write at length. I’ve always tried to write substantively on my blog, with posts often going over a thousand words. When I started blogging, I committed to that model of writing here—creating pieces that were more like short essays than informal quick takes.
Unfortunately this high bar made it more attractive to put quick thoughts on Twitter, and amassing a large following there over the last decade (this month marks my ten-year anniversary on Twitter) only made social media more attractive. My story is not uncommon; indeed, it is common, as my RSS reader’s weekly article count will attest.

He goes on to discuss some of the issues, both real and perceived, that keep people sticking to Facebook and the like in spite of all we know about them rather than trying to take back their own thoughts.

Technology is a big one for many people, but you don’t have to know a whole lot these days to do a halfway decent job. Look at us, for god’s sake. Can you remember the last time there wasn’t something around here that wasn’t even the tiniest bit messed up? I sure can’t. Carin, Matt (when he was here) and I have been screwing things up since day one, but it’s functional enough that most people don’t even notice or if they do, it doesn’t bother them enough that they never come back. The technology behind this stuff is so much better and dare I say more user friendly than it was 15 years ago when we started. Yes it takes more work than a Facebook page does, but trust me, the hours of frustration you will doubtless go through at times are more than made up for by the feeling of creating something of your own. And one thing to keep in mind is that you’re not alone. The internet is a big place, and shitty though it can be, it’s filled to the brim with people and places willing to help you along. For instance, one of the first things that happened when I put up that post the other night was Amanda giving me a link to IndieWeb.org. I wasn’t asking for help with anything specific when I wrote what I did, but sensing that it might come in handy later, she took a second to share, which I’m extremely thankful for. Probably not quite as thankful as future me will be, but you know.

That brings me to the other, more interesting thing Cohen touches on in his post. This idea that blogging is somehow no longer social media even though it’s been doing the core things that social media does for longer than the term social media has existed. The entire concept has always been built around finding, sharing and conversing. Literally the only difference between Facebook and your blog is that one of those things is much bigger and treats you as the product rather than a contributor. Whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter or your search engine of choice, you’re spending time looking for things that interest you, and then whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter, email or whatever, sharing those things with other people. All that sharing starts conversations and helps build communities large and small. That’s what a blog is and has always been, and most of us who run them go out of our way to harvest as little of your personal information as we can.

It is psychological gravity, not technical inertia, however, that is the greater force against the open web. Human beings are social animals and centralized social media like Twitter and Facebook provide a powerful sense of ambient humanity—the feeling that “others are here”—that is often missing when one writes on one’s own site. Facebook has a whole team of Ph.D.s in social psychology finding ways to increase that feeling of ambient humanity and thus increase your usage of their service.
When I left Facebook eight years ago, it showed me five photos of my friends, some with their newborn babies, and asked if I was really sure. It is unclear to me if the re-decentralizers are willing to be, or even should be, as ruthless as this. It’s easier to work on interoperable technology than social psychology, and yet it is on the latter battlefield that the war for the open web will likely be won or lost.

I don’t want to think of open web people as ruthless, because corporate ruthlessness is exactly the sort of thing we’re pushing back against. What we need to be is persistent and helpful. If people you know are tired of Facebook and Twitter, convince them that they’ll be ok without them or with less of them in their lives. And if they decide that they still want an online outlet of their own for their thoughts, feelings and dick jokes, do what you can to help them get started.

Independent internet vs. big social networks doesn’t have to be a one or the other thing. That shouldn’t be the goal, because it’s not realistic or really all that helpful. The main thing is just reminding people that they have choices and that choices are better than monopolies.

Cheap plug: Since it was mentioned in the article, this seems like a good time to remind you that we have RSS feeds. There’s one for posts and one for comments so you can easily follow along with everything.

Some folks look at RSS as outdated, but those people are what I like to call wrong. It’s the damn best. I practically live in it. To put it in modern terms, think of RSS as a sort of 1-way Twitter. It’s a frequently updating stream of customizable information being thrown at you, only more organizable and without nearly so many imbeciles. All you need is a reader, which a quick Google search can help with. Or if you’re like me and use Thunderbird as your email program, you already have one. All you have to do is set it up.

I Really Don’t Like Twitter That Much

Ok, so that’s not entirely true. It would be more accurate to say that I have a love hate relationship with it. It’s great when people are being funny or you’re chatting with your buddies or when you’re able to help someone solve a problem, but far too often it’s filled with so much garbage. People randomly tweeting their location check-in from the Sub Shack or that they just beat somebody at some game or other as if anyone who isn’t them gives a shit. Everything is the biggest outrage in world history, at least for four or five minutes until the next biggest outrage in world history comes along. People being shamed and insulted for not sharing the mob’s opinion about said outrage even if their reasons for not doing so are decently thought out. Most of the people who follow you are either fake or brands whose algorithm followed you because you happened to use a keyword it recognizes. Donald Trump.

But worse than all of that is how impersonal, fleeting and disposable everything becomes. Honestly, I really don’t like what it does to my brain. I see something, momentarily process it, and then it’s gone. Like really gone. Have you ever been scrolling through the timeline, laughed uproariously at something, moved along and then a minute later had someone ask you what’s so funny only to realize that you don’t know? That’s a weird feeling. Unsettling, even. And it’s happened to me a bunch of times. Carin too. Twitter brain, we call it. At least we’re aware of it and can call it something as we snap back to reality. Maybe I’m wrong about this, but it seems as though plenty of people can’t. We’re all so long on information and short on attention span that almost nothing can make a true, lasting impact anymore. Yeah it’s technically on the internet forever once it’s spoken, but unless you’re really looking for it, after a few minutes or maybe days if you’re lucky it might as well not exist.

And that brings me back, I think, to why I started writing this in the first place. Twitter, at least as far as I’m concerned, has slowly started to fuck up the blog. In the old days I would open a blank page, say something about how dumb it is that you need a pair of scissors to open a package of new scissors, hit publish and then wait for the reaction. Remember Matt and his door? That thing had an absurd number of comments on it before they were stolen from us. Nowadays, I’m not sure a post like that would exist. Most likely, it would get caught up in the stupid is this a post or a tweet internal debate, become a tweet because there aren’t enough words to bother making it a post and then be done with instead of becoming the legend it did. Ditto this, which although it’s kind of terrible I still get asked to bring back now and then. No doubt it would be a series of useless tweets were I to do it today.

It’s been a slow process like I said, but lately I’ve found myself sharing a lot more things on Twitter than end up going here, and that’s dumb. What’s wrong with just saying I like this, you should listen to it or I hate this because it sucks and leaving it at that? Nothing, I’m realizing. I should have always known this because I have the benefit of statistics, but somewhere along the way I started to get a little lost.

The statistics in question, in case it isn’t obvious, are the site statistics. On a daily basis, they tell me two important things. One is that almost without exception, the most popular page on our entire website is the main page, the one where all of the newest posts live. The second is that in spite of the hundreds of followers Carin and I each have, Twitter hasn’t done shit for this place. Have people found the blog because of Twitter? Sure they have, and I appreciate those people. But most of the time I can count our social media traffic on my fingers, and I think it’s time I get the message. People clearly want to hear what we have to say, even if it’s brief enough to lazily put in a tweet. They did before and they do now. Nobody hits the front page of your website and then clicks older posts five or ten times because they don’t want to read what’s there or think that you suck. So why am I putting so much out on Twitter where it’s doing us and our visitors no good? Why don’t I go back to putting it here where I can control it, there’s an easily searchable record of it and it benefits everyone who wants to find it?

From now on, I’m going to do my best to get back to doing that. With a few obvious exceptions (local power outages, road closures), if it’s good enough for Twitter, it’s good enough for the damn Vomit Comet. I used to treat Twitter as part notepad for the blog and part scaled up MSN Messenger. That worked pretty well, when I let it. It’s time to untrain my Twitter brain and let it work again.

Facebook May Contain: More Stuff I Can Read

I was sort of dragged kicking and screaming into Facebook because I couldn’t get a hold of someone and Facebook was the only way to get updates. Then, of course I ended up staying around. As much as I enjoy getting people’s updates there, I do not enjoy the pages and pages and pages of posts that consist of images of text. If you didn’t know, screen-readers can’t read text if it is just a picture of text. To see if the text you have is an image or not, try and copy and paste it somewhere else. If you can’t, it’s an image of text.

Then Facebook started trying to auto-describe images. But whenever it came across an image of text, it would unhelpfully say “image may contain: text.” So I was still out of the loop on the funny joke or powerful saying or whatever.

But a week or 2 ago, I started noticing that the auto-describer would actually take a crack at recognizing the text! Yes! It isn’t perfect and if it isn’t confident about the output, it still won’t bother, but I can now read more of those snippets that fly around Facebook, and some of them are actually worth it, so for all the people who responded to my complaint about the inability to read those images of text with “Oh well, you’re not missing anything,” you’re not entirely correct.

This isn’t permission to just post images without trying to describe them. You won’t know if Facebook will recognize every image. So if you can take a second to transcribe what’s in the image, that would still be wonderful.

Hopefully I haven’t jinxed it by mentioning it, but for now I’ll enjoy being able to read more posts and not wanting to punch things when I have to scroll past pages of “Image may contain: text”.

Oh Good, Now Even The News Anchors Are Fake

If you think local radio and TV aren’t so hot now, just wait until Bell, Rogers and Corus hear about this. China’s state-run press agency has created an ‘AI anchor’ to read the news

Nope, that’s not creepy at all. Nuh uh.

Seriously, even as a guy who listens to screen reader voices all day, this is extremely off putting.

But the prospect of people being replaced by computers even quicker than it’s happening in the present day is the least of our worries here. The much bigger issue is the potential for dangerous regimes like China, Russia, North Korea and the GOP to be able to pump out propaganda basically nonstop. We’re drowning in fake news as it is. This is the last thing anyone needs.

Xinhua, China’s state-run press agency, has unveiled new “AI anchors” — digital composites created from footage of human hosts that read the news using synthesized voices.
It’s not clear exactly what technology has been used to create the anchors, but they’re in line with the most recent machine learning research. It seems that Xinhua has used footage of human anchors as a base layer, and then animated parts of the mouth and face to turn the speaker into a virtual puppet. By combining this with a synthesized voice, Xinhua can program the digital anchors to read the news, far quicker than using traditional CGI.

According to reports from Xinhua and the South China Morning Post, two anchors (one for English broadcasts and one for Chinese) were created in collaboration with local search engine company Sogou. Xinhua says the anchors have “endless prospects” and can be used to cheaply generate news reports for the agency’s TV, web, and mobile output.
Each anchor can “work 24 hours a day on its official website and various social media platforms, reducing news production costs and improving efficiency,” says Xinhua.

Famous People Are Not Retiring Left And Right So They Can Go Into The Discount Face Glop Business

This is either going to help or it’s going to inadvertently make things even worse because they’re still served partly based on page content, but since I’ve caught these ads running on our site among others many, many times I figure I should mention it.

No, Marilyn Denis has not retired so she can spend her time selling skin cream. Neither, I should add, have Shania Twain or Céline Dion, who I’ve also seen mentioned. And while we’re at it, Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Connor McDavid have not been kicked out of the NHL for using super secret natural testosterone boosters that they would now like to put in your hands for a low, low price.

These ads, which are presented like shocking, clickbatey breaking news articles, are completely fake and you should think long and hard before either clicking one or doing business with anybody who feels they need to market their product or service this way. I can’t sit here and tell you with any degree of certainty whether or not these specific products are any good, because I haven’t used them. But generally speaking, if somebody has to trick you into looking at his sales pitch, whatever he’s hocking is probably complete shit.

And since I’m sure some of you are wondering, no, we personally can’t stop these particular ads from appearing on our site. We do have some blocking and filtering power, but the folks behind scams like these tend to use a whole lot of domains which makes banishing them to any useful degree virtually impossible. It’s hard enough for extremely well resourced advertising networks like Google’s, which does seem to honestly try to police these things, to keep up with them. So when your team consists mostly of me, there’s not much good to be done trying to police it from this end. Again, the best thing us ordinary folks can do is not engage with these scuzbags. No attention means no money, which is, of course, the entire point of their existence.

Denis’ name and image are being used as click bait for online ads promoting an anti-aging cream that also bill the veteran broadcaster as retired.
The fact is, Denis doesn’t endorsing any product lines, for skin cream or anything else and is urging people not to click on the Facebook and Twitter links.
“I need to speak about this, I’m getting the word out,” said Denis in a Bell Media release. “Because people need to know that I’m doing something about this, to try to stop people from getting suckered in.”
Denis isn’t the only Bell Media personality to have been targeted. Melissa Grelo, CTV Your Morning and The Social co-host, and etalk’s Lainey Lui have been featured in similar scam ads, in addition to celebrities like Kelly Ripa and Dr. Oz.

Denis says outside experts have been hired to do investigative work, but finding those behind the online scam is like “playing a game of whack-a-mole.”
“I am not leaving and there is no product line that I am endorsing, so please do not give out your information,” Denis said. “They are scammers. They are sneaky. They play the game. But if no one is engaging with them, then they won’t have a business, and that’s what I want.”

The Ballad Of Billy John

One night, we were sitting out on the balcony enjoying a Spotify daily mix. It was a pretty good mix and we were having fun. Then, this song came along.

Boom! All conversation stopped cold and the music wasn’t just the background, it was the focus. I don’t think either of us said much through the next song while we thought about it.

Billy John was a simple man, worked in the fields most his life
He provided for his wife and kids and left his dreams on the side
One day when the kids left home billy picked up his guitar
It had been awhile but his fingers still knew how to reach the heart
Played a song about life and love, his hopes and regrets
Then with a little proddin’ from the Mrs. he put it on the internet
When the views started pouring in, tears of joy started to fall
Then they scrolled to the comment section and this is what they saw
Eat a bag of shit cuntface
Go blow your fucking dad
This shit just raped my ears never heard nothin so bad
I hope you fucking die
And I hope you get aids
You should just kill yourself
You’re a fag
Lol gay
Billy John’s wife watched her husband as he shrugged and tried to smile
He put his guitar away and stopped and stared at it for awhile
She knew he felt like a fool and he’d never play again
So she turned on her webcam and let her message begin
She said
The man you’ve hurt tonight, I’ve watched for 35 years
He’s got a kind and gentle soul and thanks to you
That soul is in tears
And the people said
Shut the fuck up fatty
Show us your tits
One out of ten I wouldn’t bang
I bet she’d try to eat your dick
You should go get sterilized
So that you cant have kids
Then they photoshopped a bunch of pictures of her covered in jizz
Well the video went viral
Fifty-seven million hits
Billy John’s wife became a meme on the internet
They played the clip on cnn and read tweets about her weight
Cause I guess that’s the sorta thing that the news does nowadays
Billy John and his wife did nothing wrong, and they weren’t dumb
They just hadn’t paid attention to what we’d all become
But a couple weeks later, after avoiding it for some time
A broken down and changed Billy John finally went back online
He found a page of a blogger, still makin’ fun of his wife
He signed up, made an account and this is what he typed
Eat a bag of shit cuntface
Go blow your fucking dad
Your shit just raped my eyes, never read nothin’ so bad
I hope you fucking die
And I hope you get aids
And the world lost a Billy John and it gained more of the same.

Are you having the same experience we had?

I had to ask Steve if he thought he was being more funny than serious, and we decided he was being funny to make a point, and what a sad point it is.

I only have one question. Why haven’t I heard of Trevor Moore? We listened to his whole album “High in Church” and there is some serious gold on there. Come to think of it, I think I might have seen him doing “Drunk Texts To Myself” on the comedy network once, but it’s a very hazy memory. Give him a listen.