Yesterday Donald McNeil published a follow up post about his firing from the New York Times on Medium. He blames a culture of hypocrisy and elitism and compares his forced apology to the controlling power of Chairman Mao.
A Calgary defence lawyer is calling for a public inquiry into allegations that members of the Lethbridge Police Service have threatened retaliation against NDP MLA Shannon Phillips and CBC journalist Meghan Grant for exposing misconduct within the force.
— Read on www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/lethbridge-police-threats-public-inquiry-1.6195354
Attack Ad Against WordPress
Matt Mullenweg, the CEO Automattic (the people behind WordPress.org among others) posted a response to the recent attack ad campaign from Wix in which they personify the open source software WordPress as an annoying, neglectful, glitchy father and complain about its problems in a confrontational therapy session.
It’s ironic that they would want to point out WordPress as a father figure considering it’s not a point of pride they copied WordPress’s code but haven’t been following the copyleft terms of share and share-alike that one must abide if you’re going to reuse said code.
From Matt’s post, Wix and Their Dirty Tricks:
I have a lot of empathy for whoever was forced to work on these ads, including the actors, it must have felt bad working on something that’s like Encyclopedia Britannica attacking Wikipedia. WordPress is a global movement of hundreds of thousands of volunteers and community members, coming together to make the web a better place. The code, and everything you put into it, belongs to you, and its open source license ensures that you’re in complete control, now and forever. WordPress is free, and also gives you freedom.
He goes on to explain that Wix itself is more fitting to be personified as an abuser. Their investor presentation explicitly outlines their business model of making it difficult to leave by not allowing users to export their data and consumers complain it’s difficult to get a refund. The for profit company knows that once they’ve got you locked in they can continue to charge more each year.
So if we’re comparing website builders to abusive relationships, Wix is one that locks you in the basement and doesn’t let you leave. I’m surprised consumer protection agencies haven’t gone after them.
Is this simply a difference in opinion between the value of open source versus paid software? He continues:
Philosophically, I believe in open source, and if WordPress isn’t a good fit for you there are other great open source communities like Drupal, Joomla, Jekyll, and Typo3. We also have a great relationship with some of our proprietary competitors, and I have huge respect for the teams at Shopify and Squarespace, and even though we compete I’ve always seen them operate with integrity and I’d recommend them without hesitation.
Here is one of the ads in question it feels like a cheap ripoff of Apple’s 2006 Mac vs PC Campaign. You be the judge.
God Doesn’t Give Refunds
James Huntsman comes from a rich and prominent Mormon family in Utah. Because he had a lot of money and because he believed in donating a full 10% of his income in tithing, he gave the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints millions of dollars over the course of his life.
A couple of years ago he decided the LDS church wasn’t for him. Among his complaints about the church was the fact it had amassed a giant $100 billion+ hedge fund instead of using that money for good. So now, Huntsman wants his money back.
From the washingtonpost.com:
In the suit, Huntsman says he wants back millions of dollars he donated and plans to give it to “organizations and communities whose members have been marginalized by the Church’s teachings and doctrines, including by donating to charities supporting LGBTQ, African-American, and women’s rights.”
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, comes 16 months after a former high-level investment manager with the church filed a whistleblower complaint to the Internal Revenue Service. The complaint, which The Washington Post obtained in December 2019, alleged that the Church amassed about $100 billion in accounts intended for charitable purposes and misled members by stockpiling surplus donations using the tax-exempt donations to prop up a pair of businesses.
What he doesn’t realize is, God doesn’t give refunds. But all the same, I’m glad he’s pointing out the hypocrisy.
I’ve only been a fan of Donald McNeil’s reporting since I first heard him on The Daily podcast last spring when the first wave of the pandemic was just getting rolling. McNeil spoke matter-of-factly and provided some much needed guidance in a world full of speculation and fear. He explained how testing, isolation, and contact tracing were the three tools that were going to get us through this mess. From that point on whenever McNeil was on the podcast I would parrot the information to friends and coworkers, and I felt like I knew what I was talking about concerning the pandemic. It was more than just great reporting — his reporting was full of information and history. They don’t have a prize for this, but they should. It’s reporting that’s useful, timely, and life-saving.
Last month I read about The New York Times’ decision to fire McNeil. Apparently, he had used the N-word while talking with students on a New York Times field trip for wealthy American teens in Peru. His statement:
“I was asked at a dinner by a student whether I thought a classmate of hers should have been suspended for a video she had made as a 12-year-old in which she used a racial slur. To understand what was in the video, I asked if she had called someone else the slur or whether she was rapping or quoting a book title. In asking the question, I used the slur itself. I should not have done that. Originally, I thought the context in which I used this ugly word could be defended. I now realize that it cannot. It is deeply offensive and hurtful. The fact that I even thought I could defend it itself showed extraordinarily bad judgment. For that I apologize.”
Is it just me or does this apology sounds like it was written by lawyers?
Anyway, more details started to leak out. It was strange that the Times also let go Andy Mills — notorious drink dumper and misogynous Caliphate podcast dude — on the same day. You can’t help but wonder about the timing. What does one have to do with the other? We may never know.
Last week McNeil responded to the students’ accusations in four parts on Medium. It took me awhile to get to all four parts but it’s recommended reading, this guy knows how to write:
After reading his side of the story, and there may be more the story that even McNeil doesn’t realize, but if we take him at his word that this is what happened, I’m left thinking that the Times made a huge mistake and I look forward to hopefully hearing from McNeil at his next gig.
Zoom Helped Chinese Surveillance
Should we continue to use — and promote the use of — Zoom at institutions and organizations that stand for liberal democratic values when Zoom has been discovered terminating accounts and disrupting video calls about the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre of pro-democracy activists? Obviously, we should find something else.
From The Washington Post:
Prosecutors said the China-based executive, Xinjiang Jin, worked as Zoom’s primary liaison with Chinese law enforcement and intelligence services, sharing user information and terminating video calls at the Chinese government’s request.
If our organizations believe in free speech then it behooves us to tell our organizations about Zoom.
Zoom continues to fail us and mark my words, this will not be the last time we hear that this corrupt company is in the news.
Facebook Abusing Your Contact List
As if you needed more reason to despise Facebook, Kashmir Hill reports on Facebook’s truly garbage practise of violating your contacts information without disclosing that’s what they’re doing.
Facebook is not content to use the contact information you willingly put into your Facebook profile for advertising. It is also using contact information you handed over for security purposes and contact information you didn’t hand over at all, but that was collected from other people’s contact books, a hidden layer of details Facebook has about you that I’ve come to call “shadow contact information.” […]
Facebook is not upfront about this practice. In fact, when I asked its PR team last year whether it was using shadow contact information for ads, they denied it. Luckily for those of us obsessed with the uncannily accurate nature of ads on Facebook platforms, a group of academic researchers decided to do a deep dive into how Facebook custom audiences work to find out how users’ phone numbers and email addresses get sucked into the advertising ecosystem.
The researchers also found that if User A, whom we’ll call Anna, shares her contacts with Facebook, including a previously unknown phone number for User B, whom we’ll call Ben, advertisers will be able to target Ben with an ad using that phone number, which I call “shadow contact information,” about a month later. Ben can’t access his shadow contact information, because that would violate Anna’s privacy, according to Facebook, so he can’t see it or delete it, and he can’t keep advertisers from using it either.
The lead author on the paper, Giridhari Venkatadri, said this was the most surprising finding, that Facebook was targeted ads using information “that was not directly provided by the user, or even revealed to the user.”
You’ve got to read the whole Gizmodo article. As John Gruber put it, “[…] Facebook [is] a criminal enterprise. Maybe not legally, but morally.”
I highly recommend The Waking Up podcast, and particularly episode #71, in which the host, Sam Harris, holds a conversation with Tristan Harris an ethicist for design. If you’ve ever gone to Facebook to look up something quickly and then wondered how you found yourself caught in a vortex of wasted time, this conversation will surely enlighten you. Recommended listening for everyone that uses technology and especially those that build it.
From Tristan’s bio page:
Called the “closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience,” by The Atlantic magazine, Tristan Harris was previously a Design Ethicist at Google and left the company to lead
Time Well Spentthe Center for Humane Technology, a non-profit movement to align technology with our humanity. Time Well Spent aims to transform the race for attention by revealing how technology hijacks our minds, and to demonstrate how better incentives and design practices will create a world that helps us spend our time well.
Tristan is an avid researcher of what persuades our minds, drawing on insights from sleight of hand magic, linguistics, persuasive technology, cult psychology and behavioral economics. Currently he is developing a framework for ethical persuasion, especially as it relates to the moral responsibility of technology companies.
His work has been featured on 60 Minutes, PBS NewsHour, The Atlantic Magazine, ReCode, TED, 1843 Economist Magazine, Wired, NYTimes, Der Spiegel, NY Review of Books, Rue89 and more.
Previously, Tristan was CEO of Apture, which Google acquired in 2011. Apture enabled millions of users to get instant, on-the-fly explanations across a vast publisher network.
Listen to the conversation as Sam and Tristan talk about the arms race for human attention, the ethics of persuasion, the consequences of having an ad-based economy, the dynamics of regret, and other topics.
(or use Overcast to listen at a faster speed — that’s what I do)
Here’s a taste of what Tristan’s all about:
Ok Cupid Is Not Facebook
In a blog post published yesterday, OkCupid revealed it’s been lying to some of its users just to see how manipulating their experience could make the site better at matchmaking.
The public’s reaction to OK Cupid’s admission of the kind of A/B testing that Facebook caught hell for has been much more muted. It turns out, treating your users like guinea pigs is ok as long as people already like your website (nobody really likes Facebook — they’re just trapped by the network effect).
So what exactly did they do? From the blog post:
The ultimate question at OkCupid is, does this thing even work? By all our internal measures, the “match percentage” we calculate for users is very good at predicting relationships. It correlates with message success, conversation length, whether people actually exchange contact information, and so on. But in the back of our minds, there’s always been the possibility: maybe it works just because we tell people it does. Maybe people just like each other because they think they’re supposed to? Like how Jay-Z still sells albums?
To test this, we took pairs of bad matches (actual 30% match) and told them they were exceptionally good for each other (displaying a 90% match.)† Not surprisingly, the users sent more first messages when we said they were compatible. After all, that’s what the site teaches you to do.
† Once the experiment was concluded, the users were notified of the correct match percentage.
For the first time in 25 years, The Lethbridge Women’s Space was denied funding by the federal department for the Status of Women.
The CBC has the story.
We were status of woman funded for the last 25 years and we were very shocked when our application was denied because we have a very good relationship with Status of Women. We were [continuing] a previous project where we had served so many women with financial literacy services and we were shocked that it was denied because financial literacy has been identified as such a priority by this particular government.
A friend of mine, Shannon Phillips was interviewed on CBC regarding the loss of funding.
If you’d like to learn more about Womanspace, visit the Womanspace website. If you’d like to help, their site also links to those you could contact.