Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?

Social media is NOT always a good thing

What do HSBC, Lloyds Bank, and the Royal Bank of Scotland, and Marks & Spencer have in common? Well they’re the latest businesses to pull their advertising from Googlea global tech giant which controls 35% of the digital advertising market.

Why? Because terrorists, jihadists, hate preachers, holocaust deniers, rape apologists, and all manner of bad guys, are making money out of adverts appearing next to their videos. And the tech giants are doing little about it. They are more interested in making money.

As a result, and probably because of embarrassment and concerns about reputational damage, companies are starting to react. Havas, one of the world’s biggest advertising agencies, which spends about £175 million in the UK on digital advertising of which Google receives £35 million, has pulled all its 240 UK clients from Google, including O2, EDF, and the Royal Mail.

Its UK CEO said “Our position will remain until we are confident in the YouTube platforms and Google Display Network’s ability to deliver the standards we and our clients expect“.

Vodafone, Sky and Barclays Bank are also said to be considering withdrawing their advertising unless Google sorts itself out. Sky is said to be concerned about the lax controls and wants assurances that their ads will not appear on hate sites. YouTube posters typical get just under £7 for every thousand views. Some of these videos have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.

Google’s websites, which includes YouTube, have been paying out  hundreds of thousands of pounds to hate preachers and jihadists for displaying ads next to their videos which have included Argos, Sandals, Visit Scotland, The RAF, Nissan,  and other companies, some of which have now withdrawn their ads.

Companies which have pulled ads from YouTube include the Cabinet Office, Sainsburys, The Gurdian, Audi, the BBC, Transport for London, the Financial Services Authority, Channel 4, L’Oreal, and McDonalds.

Audi said “YouTube safeguards have not proven as robust as they need to be” and McDonalds said it was disappointed that safeguards to protect its advertising had fallen through. Channel 4 said it was not satisfied that the platform was a ‘safe environment’.

We should have seen it coming when Google dropped its famous mantradon’t be evil“. Its UK MD Roman Harris, said that the company had “begun a thorough review of our ads policies an brand controls’. Not before time.

They claim to receive 200,000 flags a day about inappropriate content and review 98% within 24 hours, although some offensive videos have remained on the platform for several years.

They also claim to have removed nearly two billion “bad ads” last year and prevented ads on more than 300 million YouTube videos. Doesn’t the scale of it suggest there is a systemic problem with these platforms?

They admit that they rely on the public to report offensive YouTube content because it cannot police the site proactively because of the quantity of material it hosts. This is ludicrous, get more staff! You can afford it. But that is not under consideration by Google. They say that user notification and technology is a better way of dealing with it. In other words let users do their job for them, at no cost to the company. So in addition to avoiding tax they avoid payroll costs as well!

It’s clear that it doesn’t take its responsibilities seriously and critics says its ‘notification and takedown’ system isn’t ‘fit for purpose’. I suggest the whole platform is not fit for purpose if it can’t be policed effectively.

If the Sunday Times and Times hadn’t publicised the fact that online adverts were funding terrorists, holocaust deniers, racists, rape apologists and hate preachers would this have been even considered in the boardrooms?

Surely advertising agencies knew what was happening and they must be complicit in this, raking in their generous fees.

Last week Google had to apologise to Whitehall officials when a government advert appeared next to hate content. “It is totally unacceptable that taxpayer-funded advertising has appeared next to inappropriate internet content. That message was conveyed very clearly to Google” a government spokesman said.

How about charging Google with assisting or conspiring with the bad guys to incite or promote hatred? After all Google is facilitating them.

The Commons home affairs committee has warned Google it must take ‘proactive steps’ to remove extremist material or face regulation and large fines. As other commentators have said, they can’t go on pretending just to be tech companies given the amount of media content they promulgate and they should be covered by the same tight regulations as other forms of media.

Perhaps if more companies stopped advertising on digital media and used print media instead we might have more newspapers and less fake news as well.

In Germany a draft law is proposing fines of up to £47 million if hate content is not quickly removed. If they can do it why can’t we? Let’s get to grips with this insidious problem.


Internet freedom at risk

A report from the World Wide Web Foundation says that web users are at increasing risk of online censorship and government surveillance with weak or non-existent laws to prevent this happening in 8 out of 10 countries.

The foundation, which is led by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, measured the web’s contribution to the social, economic and political progress of 86 countries.

The report found that:

  • Three-quarters of the countries either discriminate or have a lack of net neutrality
  • The same proportion don’t do anything to prevent discrimination against women
  • 62% said that the web played a major role in sparking social or political action

Its Annual Web Index marked countries in terms of:

  1. Universal access
  2. Relevant content and use
  3. Freedom and openness
  4. Empowerment


global_touch_connection_1600_wht_9905The top ten countries meeting these criteria were:

  1. Denmark
  2. Finland
  3. Norway
  4. United Kingdom
  5. Sweden
  6. USA
  7. Iceland
  8. Korea
  9. Netherlands
  10. Belgium

For a full list go to the Web Index

Anne Jellema, the Web Foundation’s CEO said that “the richer and better educated people are, the more they benefit from the digital revolution.  Extreme disparities between rich and poor have been rightly identified as the defining challenge of our age and we need to use technology to fight inequality, not increase it”

stick_figure_drawing_computer_client_diagram_1600_wht_5129Sir Tim Berners-Lee thinks that a good starting point would be to recognise the internet as a  basic human right. “Ensuring affordable access with internet packets being delivered without commercial or political interference while preserving and protecting the privacy of net users regardless of where they live”

This report came out on the day David Cameron, the British PM, announcing that a new unit was being set up jointly with the electronic spy centre at GCHQ and the National Crime Agency.

Its role would be to track paedophiles and people who were posting photos and films of child abuse on the “dark net”.

The National Technical Assistance Centre at GCHQ has apparently been helping police for a number of years but the number of people logging on to encrypted sites has been increasing. Leading internet company Google has developed a method of tagging videos which it is sharing with its rivals. This will allow the Internet Watch Foundation to more easily block child abuse images.

So two conflicting views; one that the internet should be free and private, and one that thinks criminals (and its not just those dealing in child porn but in weapons and drugs) and terrorists shouldn’t be able to hide behind encrypted sites.

Over the hill in your 30s?

doctor_operating_tablet_1600_wht_5935Certainly if you’re a computer expert in Silicon Valley – home of Apple, Facebook, and Google.

Apparently plastic surgeons have seen a boom in their services as anxious techies try to keep their career on track in an ageist industry. One of the surgeons there, Dr Seth Matarasso, is the 3rd biggest dispenser of botox in the world!

The surgeon said that if you’re in the 30-45 age bracket you’re competing with people fresh from college in a business run by young people. “You don’t want to look as if your have kids and a mortgage”.

Facebook founder Zuckerberg has said “young people are just smarter” and a venture capitalist said “people over 45 basically die in terms of new ideas” and another said young company founders “don’t have distractions like families and children and other things that get in the way of business”

Apart from botox, which costs about $1,000 a treatment,  eyelid and face lifts are also common.

In California in 2010 there were more complaints about age discrimination than any other kind of discrimination

Google – perhaps no longer “don’t be evil”

single_eye_movement_500_wht_9341Google quietly dropped its “don’t be evil” motto in 2009, probably because it was making them an easy target for critics.

And they have been criticised for their intrusive ethos. Remember the street cars scooping up you personal data as they drove by?  Just a systems error, really?

Several EU countries are concerned about Google’s poor compliance with data protection and failing to let users know what information they hold on you.

A co-founder of Google, Larry Page, said in 2004  that he saw a time when Google “would be included in people’s brains. When you think about something and don’t really know much about it you will automatically get the information”.

And now we have Google Glass. The stuff of sci-fi, the ultimate intrusion you might think, short of hidden button hole cameras and other spy-like paraphernalia.

Data protection watchdogs, politicians, casino and cinema owners are just some of the few who fear the worst from this new gadget due out next year.

Like Facebook in that they don’t respect your privacy (and you know what I think about them) their chairman Eric Schmidt once boasted that his privacy policy was to “go right up to the creepy line and not cross it”. Really?

PS Let’s not mention their “immoral” tax arrangements!


Hands off my info! 

“Quit Facebook Day” has been and gone and I’m not sure of the impact (not much as Facebook reached its 500 millionth member on 21 July 2010) but there is increasing unrest among the citizens.

Eleanor Mills in the Sunday Times had a pop at them; “Facebook’s friendship trap”, covering much the same ground as in my earlier posting So many “friends” yet still lonely.

She was probably more concerned about the impact on social skills, happiness, and real friendships than the privacy issues, but it’s still worth reading again about the dumbing down effects.  http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article7139965.ece

It turns out that Facebook is not the only American company to be collecting personal data. Apparently Google has admitted that its Street View cars have been gathering information from people’s wi-fi activity for the last 3 years. They have now  been asked to destroy the personal data by the UK’s Information Commission.

And like me I bet you didn’t know that when you sneak a free photocopy at work or copy something confidential you are leaving a digital record. Apparently nearly all machines made since 2002 contain a hard drive which archives all your copies.

Updated 23 July 2010: A short piece in the Daily Mail (23 July 2010) by Emma Messenger makes the same point about hard drives and the fact that they will keep any personal data that may have been copied such as medical certificates and payslips.

She then tells us that many photocopiers are sold second-hand to Nigeria, the home of identity theft and other well-known internet scams. You have been warned! Don’t make copies of personal stuff at work as you don’t know where it will end up.

And I remember reading somewhere that in America all photocopiers embed a hidden code in the copies to allow those nice people from Homeland Security to be able to identify the source of the copy (but perhaps I’m just becoming paranoid?).

Updated 23 August 2010: After Facebook we have Face.com, a company that plans to release Photo Finder technology that can identify individuals on social networking sites and on-line galleries. The company claims it is 90% accurate as it measures distances between facial features on typical sites and has already been released to thousands of software developers to use in their own applications.

So the technology used by the UK Border Agency will be coming to a social networking site near you very soon. Facebook’s Photo Finder, I-photos’ Faces and Google’s Picasa, all do the same thing (no wonder Google’s boss said we will all need to change our names in future to get rid of our internet past).

The International Red Cross has welcomed it as it thinks it can help trace people lost in humanitarian disasters and genealogists can see uses for it too in tracing family ancestors. There are no legal restrictions on the use of facial recognition software in the UK at present and there are concerns about intrusion into people’s private lives. It seems that soon there will be nowhere to hide.

Updated 4 November 2010: In my original post back in June I described how Google cars were not only taking pictures but capturing personal data along with the GPS data from wi-fi networks. This was completely illegal and in violation of the Data Protection Act. It causes international outrage and investigations were launched abroad.

Here in the UK however the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO)  said the company would not be fined as they had promised not to do it again! Google have escaped a fine of up to £500,000 and will be subject to an official audit of its data protection practices.

Many people must be wondering if the ICO really cares about our privacy and is it fit for purpose?