Aug 062014

I read that the first Wikipedia page has been lost to Europe’s “right to be forgotten” rulings – and like #DRIP (more here, here and here) after it, I’m afraid that very little has been thought through at the moment of its conceptualisation.

Many have written well and hard about how incompatible this “right” has to be with a modern representative democracy.  But then many have observed – just as equally – how incompatible with true democracy our current manifestation happens to be.  And as Paul Bernal pointed our a while ago, little in this life is ever a complete disaster or a triumph:

On a slightly different tack, criminals and scammers have always been able to cover their tracks – and will still be able to. The old cat-and-mouse game between people wanting to hide their identity and people wanting to uncover those hiding them will still go on. The ‘right to be forgotten’ won’t do anything to change that.

But as is my wont, I’m sometimes inclined to a rather curious impulse to run with an idea – and instead of looking to rebut its founding principles, I aim – rather – to take full advantage of it.

So what exactly am I getting at?  If the “right to be forgotten” becomes firmly established as a principle of modern democracy, and I’m pretty sure this will eventually be the case, why not use it as a precedent to establish further protections?  For example, whilst people with sordid private pasts – who, nevertheless, have the moral right of us all to keep these private lives private – may use such rulings to rub out from easy public view historically negative images of their selves, and so make the rest of society, democratic citizen and all, “forget” what the mainstream media once sold millions of copies on the back of, if we are to continue to build societies of the just and equal, surely we must contemplate that modest private citizens – alongside those scandalously public figures – should have a similar opportunity to choose what may be remembered or not about themselves too.

And if this is the case, perhaps they should also have an opportunity to choose who may remember or forget.  “Who?” you blurt out.  “Yes, who!” I respond (I have to admit curiously with an exclamation mark …).

Anyhow.  If all citizens are equal, and the smallest unsliceable atom of existence of the state is a citizen too, in the figure of a civil servant of some kind or another, and the “right to be forgotten” gives to all citizens the right to be forgotten by all citizens, why cannot one day we contemplate using such a precedent to demand that the state – in its many surveilling instincts (#DRIP not the least of them, as already observed on these pages) – also learns how to forget us in some analogous way?

Don’t battle to remove the “right to be forgotten” from the list of cack-handed 21st century assumptions but use it, instead, to widen the application of such principles to other areas of endeavour.  If, for example, it should exist amongst the citizens of a country, it should also exist amongst the relationships which the aforesaid citizens  of that country have with large companies and government bodies various (especially as those who support corporate organisation are always arguing they are mostly equal to their flesh-and-blood equivalents anyway).

And so a circle of balance could be re-established: we wouldn’t only choose to be forgotten to reset our unhappy private mistakes but also to recover our privacy from an ever-encroaching dragnet of behaviours.


An afterthought: remember when Google dismantled Reader (more here)?  In the light of the European ruling on the “right to be forgotten”, it hasn’t half played into the hands of those who wish to better control the flow of the information.  That people should be accustomed by virtual force to use Facebook, Twitter or Google+ in the absence of the far less subjective RSS is, of course, a coincidence I am sure.  But a coincidence, in any case, worth contemplating – especially in relation to its impact on how easy it may now become to make such information invisible.

For a wider usage of RSS would have guaranteed better the permanence of controversial content.  That companies as big as Google have done their best to woo people away from it – or, minimally, have refused to promote its technologies – is therefore if not suspicious, a tad unhappy at the very least.

Don’t you think?


Update to this post: this, from the Independent, has just come my way.  Fascinating, and relevant, stuff.

Aug 062014

There have been stories this morning on how over a billion unique user name/password combinations for over 400,000 websites have been stolen by cybercriminals.  Everyone’s being rather cagey – to date – about the issue as far as I can see: no lists of the websites (a lot of info to process, admittedly), though perhaps these would in any case be counterproductive if published.  What we can surely conclude is that the user name/password system more generally is just about broken.

Which brings me to another couple of thoughts: thoughts I shall proceed to leave you with.

Why does Facebook use https?  It’s a colander of data – there’s just about no one of importance it won’t reveal content to: from security services to advertisers to social scientists … well, it doesn’t half make you wonder if the https strategy is little more than a marketing ploy.  Make us feel we’re in safe techie-hands, even as our data is splurged and spread around to increase shareholder satisfaction.

And as Google becomes the de facto scourer of emailed child porn (no problem with the idea itself, but tremendous issues with the privacy and constitutional implications of this implementation in particular), I do wonder whether we shouldn’t forget about security altogether.  What’s next to be rolled out?  A pop-up notification which warns you when you express adulterous thoughts – or perhaps a knock at the front door if you suggest in desperation, not literally of course, you’d like to kill someone for everything they’ve done to you?

In truth, all of this can only lead to two places: firstly, the death of irony, sarcasm and – more widely – the homely habit of telling jokes, as fear of being misunderstood replaces the freedom to speak one’s mind; secondly, a progressive rewriting of the Ten Commandments of ancient times, where the crimes pursued are those which most justify a dragnet surveillance approach, and the God who oversees their application are the Google & Co (but, hey, let’s be honest here: it’s Google we mean) already mentioned.

After all, it’s faintly conceivable for those in the know that – all along – Google has been a contraction of “God + ogle” …

Jul 082014

I got it mostly wrong in my previous post when I said that people may be sending missives to Google, in order to get links removed from its listings when my name – miljenko williams – is searched.  Usefully, the always kindly Paul Bernal tweeted me a number of clarifications, which – as is my wont – simply make me think of more questions.

To summarise what Paul has said to me this evening (please correct me if I am wrong) in two easy-to-understand points:

  1. Google slaps the phrase “Some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe. Learn more” at the bottom not only of my search results but Paul’s and almost everyone else’s because – according to its algorithms, listings or other opaque critera – we are not public figures.
  2. If, for example, you search a famous singer – paul mccartney, say – no such message appears at the bottom of the screen.  This is precisely because he is a public figure.  Only ordinary people have a right to be forgotten; the paul mccartneys of this world do not (though I did read yesterday that he and other famous people were, as we speak and write, getting Google to rub out Street View images of their mansions various).

So if this is as clear to me as it is to you, why do I find myself asking more questions?  Well, judge for yourself – here are those questions I’m asking as a result:

  1. When is a person not a public figure?  I can understand, for the reasons I gave yesterday about my own professional trajectory, why Google would judge me not to be a public figure – but what about someone like Paul Bernal, so involved in and committed to modern digital rights at both a personal and institutional level?  I mean, how is it possible Google judges that under the recent EU legislation he still has a right to be forgotten?  He has written, spoken, published and debated in so many public spaces that it really begs the question: what do you have to do to become a public figure?  What does being a public figure mean?  What, in fact, are its criteria actually aiming to define?
  2. Is there not something quite pernicious in this defining of what a public versus a private figure is?  And doesn’t it seem to indicate that for a long time now Google’s been using certain assumptions to define whom people more generally would prefer to find on the web and whom they wouldn’t?  Assumptions, I assume, which could be quite questionable for many of us.  So what am I saying?  That a real downside of Google’s application of EU principles on the right for private figures to be forgotten is that it can be used to reinforce the power the eagerly public have over the rest of us.  Sure, it’s important we can regain our privacy if we should want to – but what if the already powerful and politically galvanised, implicated and cleverly controlling look to use, in the future, the related right not to be forgotten (for alongside the right to be forgotten must exist its opposite) to push ordinary people out of public spaces all over again – returning, as a result, the body politic, public discourse and ordinary participation in political communication and activity back to the 19th century of hierarchical elites?

Yes.  Essentially what I’m suggesting – to develop the argument a little more – is that whilst Europe has been looking to recover a sensible take on online identity and ordinary people’s control over the same, the consequence of its cack-handed absence of a due consultation process on the matter is that public figures who wish to remove unpleasant truths from the worldwide web’s historical account can return themselves unreasonably to the domain of private figures – especially where their legal resources permit this to happen.  But this isn’t the only – and rather obvious – consequence.  The other dangerous possibility – particularly for democracy and its future health – is that those figures Google already judges to be public will become more public, more powerful and more able to influence our societies as time goes by.

And all because Google refuses, in cahoots with well-meaning legislation, to hide their activities – even as the rest of us scurry, understandably, to recover our rabbit-in-the-headlights anonymity.

The already famous will become proportionately more so.

The already relatively private (people like you and me), looking to recover a semblance of 20th century intimacy, will become increasingly – and simultaneously – irrelevant.

As the old adage goes: “There’s no such thing as bad publicity!”  In the world where Google exerts an absolute control over whether one is visible or not, this could well become even truer than it was in the past.

So.  Tonight I have some questions for those who know about these things, to take away and mull over and contemplate their implications:

  1. In order to become visible on the web, as a figure defined by Google as public, what degree, level or quality of achievement or notoriety will be required in order to remain resultingly visible?
  2. Who will define such criteria, what ideology or ideologies will be used to define them and how transparent and democratic will the process of definition be?
  3. How will Google measure the right to visibility (even as Europe tries to measure the right to be invisible) when comparing, for example, “notorious” celebrities with “deserving” scientific researchers, authors or philosophers of tryingly challenging discourse?
  4. Who or what will ultimately decide who has the right to be read, listened to, watched and observed on this supposedly even-handed worldwide web?

The answers to these and other questions will define the future in two ways:

  1. It may lead to a reassertion of traditional modes of hierarchical representation in our civilisation and societies – in plain language, posh elites telling the plebs what they can do, think and say!
  2. It may lead to a continuing development of a more decentralised and distributed democracy – in plain language, ordinary people telling the elites to bugger off!

For if we get the next year or so as wrong as we’ve got the past month, I do fear it’ll be the ineffective, inefficient and finally lazy former at the terrible expense of what would surely be a far more constructive latter.

Jul 072014

Liberal society has always faced us with that partnership that is rights and obligations.  That is to say, no right can imply an absence of a corresponding obligation.  Recently, we’ve been hearing a lot about “the right to be forgotten” – today bringing us this story from the Guardian for example, with stuff like this:

Following the ruling, Google has implemented a system where individuals can make a legally binding statement, requesting particular links be removed from searches on their name. The web pages with the information remain.

The newspaper goes on to report:

But the Guardian has now established from sources familiar with Google’s process that “queries that involve the name and other terms will also have the same effect” of hiding the pages complained about. “It wouldn’t make sense if you could simply add an extra term and negate the restriction,” the source said. […]

Getting to be a bit of a weird and trying situation, isn’t it?

It gets weirder and more trying in my case.  If you search my name – miljenko williams – you’ll get a message from Google at the bottom of the search which says: “Some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe. Learn more”.  Meanwhile, if you separately search the name of this blog – – no sign of this message is to be found.  It’s clearly not a standard message which gets pasted at the end of any and every search request.

So what’s going on here then?  Why may certain references to my name have been removed – especially as I (promise!) haven’t asked Google to do so myself?  Who might have done?  And for what reason might they have done it?  (And if references to my name, why not references to my blog?  Surely blogs are more likely to encounter censorship than people’s individual lives and happenings.)

Back to our liberal partnership of rights and obligations: if we truly want to maintain such a society (there is of course, in latterday political behaviours, the growing feeling that we’re losing the desire to do so), we can’t sustain that there should be a “right to be forgotten” without a corresponding “obligation to be remembered”.  And as child abuse stories overwhelm the establishment, political life and mainstream media, this “obligation to be remembered” becomes evermore important.

But before I finish today, I would like to add one more concept to the mix: not just the obligation to be remembered – also the right!  Yes.  I’d like to assert the possibility that someone may prefer not to have their online identity munched away at the edges.

Listen: if someone has been firing off missives to Google, asking them to remove links which my name throws up from their listings, I would really like to know on what authority.  What’s more, I’d really like to know why they’re bothered in the first place.  I’m a smalltime blogger, rarely getting more than forty hits a day; a smalltime language trainer, getting by as best he can; an excellent proofreader, but again hardly bigtime; and a wannabe editor (for longer than I can remember), who once could’ve had a great future ahead of him.  Something bigger I may achieve some day – but hardly at the expense of anyone I’ve ever had dealings with, surely.

Oh yes.  There’s a process whereby notifying Google of one’s desire to be forgotten leads to links being removed.  But what if a data subject doesn’t want to be forgotten?  What if they would like to recover an even-handed online profile?  What if they don’t want to have their history digitally – and what’s more, opaquely – mashed up and minced as would seem is beginning to happen?

What, dear Googlers and the European Union both, is the procedure going to be when someone like me actually wants to exert the right to be remembered?

Jul 052014

If, that is, we don’t do something first.

But first, a photo.  A badge of courage.  A statement of principles.  A declaration even, in times such as these, of battlecry proportions.

The principles of Bevan's NHS

(This photo and its text are, I believe, taken from a Bernadette Horton posting on a Unite the Union Facebook page – if other copyright owners also exist, please contact me for attribution or any other relevant action.)

So what different kind of illness am I talking about?  I’ve already posted recently on these pages about how – in a world of Snowden-like revelations – paranoia is becoming the default setting.  I left Spain in 2003, after a year of growing and ultimately debilitating paranoia, as I thought Microsoft was intervening my computer due to my work on – especially with respect to my desire to expand the software’s reach to Croatia.  And although these thoughts were clearly an illness at work, in the light of Snowden and everything we’ve discovered recently, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that I was being tracked, manipulated and objectivised as well.

Who by?  Who knows!

The illness was real enough, but the causes may not have been as random as my diagnosis – carried out under the NHS of the day – ultimately chose to conclude.

(The problem with paranoia, at the best of times, is that you never know if the people who walk behind you are following you – or “following” you …)

So fast-forward to now.  And we see, all of a sudden, a new challenge to our mental wellbeing: the EU/Google “right to be forgotten” story – pounding, as it is, on our virtual doors and castle gates.  Whilst the NSA/GCHQ/Microsoft nexus was bringing us – indeed, has finally brought to a whole society – a virtual paranoia about as real as earlier centuries’ individual manifestations of sadly dodgy mental health, so the EU – alongside, in this case, Google (all on its lonesome, as befits behemoths everywhere) – has brought us a virtual memory loss about as real as any an Alzheimer’s could physiologically impose on us.  As search engines have taken away our ability to remember stuff without their help, once in such a position they – and others, presumably – have conspired to kick away the stools we’re been so happy to sit tall on.

This is why the real challenges ahead don’t only lie in what they wish to do to the principles of a society caring societally for its most infirm members.  They also lie in what hugely untransparent and opaque structures like our security services and our largest corporations do to normalise such consequentially infirm behaviours: from the paranoia Snowden’s world generates and validates in us to the inability to remember history – and therefore our progress and its stumblings – accurately, it’s quite possible that both attitudes will, in the future, become embedded in our psyches without our even realising it; without our even having the distance to acknowledge what’s happening.

To summarise then, in a tweet I didn’t send but which did serve to spark this post:

Time to forget “right to be forgotten”: whilst NSA/GCHQ bring us virtual paranoia, EU/Google hasten virtual memory loss.
Freedom to confuse.

As the man says: the freedom to confuse.  What a gloriously democratic right that is indeed.  And how magnificently they are taking the opportunity to do so.

Aug 282013

Just received, in my spam box, the following email from my local MP, Stephen Mosley.  I’ve communicated on a number of occasions, some less unhappy than others – but, in writing at least, I’ve always received a proper and correct response.  This time, however, for some curious reason, it would appear that the aforementioned public servant is producing copy which Google’s algorithms most certainly do not like.  For those of you with a tribal bent, it may amuse you to know that the technology behemoth advises me in that ever-so-warningly red-bannered way:

Be careful with this message.  Similar messages have been used to steal people’s personal information.  Unless you trust the sender, don’t click on links or reply with personal information. […]

Google blocks Mosley

So Google blocks my local MP – the question which then occurs to me being, why?

Any ideas, anyone?

How about this one for a humdinger?

Maybe Gmail’s decided to revise its full algorithm-set and, in the process, reject all communications from the West’s representatives  – reject them, that is, as being a possible extension of our surveillance state in action?

That’s a joke, by the way.

We can still joke, right?

Aug 242013

Eisenhower warned us a while ago of the dangers of the military-industrial complex.  In fact, he even went so far as to request that “security and liberty […] prosper together”.

He was warning us of the dangers of a private industry so powerful that representative democracy would end up representing only the very private interests of such industry.

The people would no longer get a look-in under such a panorama of influence.

Today, however, I’ve read something quite different.  It comes from Julian Assange, who I am sure will need no introduction.  Where it’s most interesting is in its extrapolation of his personal experiences on a particular occasion with Google’s Eric Schmidt and “others”.  The composition of these “others” was what allows us to understand how Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex has subtly changed the way it operates.  No longer does it merely affect how the state functions where its interests demand that it does so; it’s now also impacting, through the state itself, on the behaviours, instincts and room for manoeuvre which the rest of private industry – nominally functioning in an environment of free-market capitalism – formerly exhibited.

The “others” who supposedly attended this meeting with Assange were as follows:

That visit from Google while I was under house arrest was, as it turns out, an unofficial visit from the State Department. Just consider the people who accompanied Schmidt on that visit: his girlfriend Lisa Shields, Vice President for Communications at the CFR; Scott Malcolmson, former senior State Department advisor; and Jared Cohen,  advisor to both Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice, a kind of Generation Y Kissinger figure — a noisy Quiet American as the author Graham Greene might have put it.

The wider process which Assange extrapolates from such an event – a meeting whose transcript (he informs us) has been published on WikiLeaks itself – describes the broader breaking of free-market capitalism thus:

Google started out as part of Californian graduate student culture around San Francisco’s Bay Area. But as Google grew it encountered the big bad world. It encountered barriers to its expansion in the form of complex political networks and foreign regulations. So it started doing what big bad American companies do, from Coca Cola to Northrop Grumman. It started leaning heavily on the State Department for support, and by doing so it entered into the Washington DC system. A recently released statistic shows that Google now spends even more money than Lockheed Martin on paid lobbyists in Washington.

And concludes:

That Google was taking NSA money in exchange for handing over people’s data comes as no surprise. When Google encountered the big bad world, Google itself got big and bad.

Either way, then, it would seem that security has broken the kind of capitalism many of us would prefer to subscribe to.  Whether it’s Eisenhower’s big bad wolves eating up the liberties – and more importantly the federal budgets – of the people or it’s Assange’s corporate-engulfing state security agencies, the short-term outlook for anything like economic justice is very very poor.

As a Twitter colleague of mine tweeted recently:

I’m not opposed to capitalism, I oppose it being used as an excuse to artificially inflate the basic cost of living for ordinary people.

And that, my dear readers, is exactly what the NSA, GCHQ and the half-truths of latterday politics seem – to me, at least – to represent more and more.

Security has broken, perhaps forever, free-market capitalism for us all.

And when Google promised it wouldn’t do evil, we all must’ve known – ultimately – it wouldn’t do much good at all.

May 312013

The Guardian offers us the following exclusive (the bold is mine):

The five biggest internet companies in the world, including Google and Facebook, have privately delivered a thinly veiled warning to the home secretary, Theresa May, that they will not voluntarily co-operate with the “snooper’s charter”.

In a leaked letter to the home secretary that is also signed by Twitter, Microsoft and Yahoo!, the web’s “big five” say that May’s rewritten proposals to track everybody’s email, internet and social media use remain “expensive to implement and highly contentious”.

Yeah.  Right.  As if Facebook, Google+, Microsoft et al weren’t already doing their utmost to achieve precisely that.

Don’t believe me?  Google, privacy and the European Union; advertising and online activities; and this from TalkTalk in 2010.  No.  It’s clear that when there is a business imperative to invade our privacy, both the big boys and even the smaller fry will be motivated to go to extraordinary lengths to do precisely what the government allegedly wants to do in the fight against terrorism.

And even as I am against the Snoopers’ Charter, I wonder whether there isn’t a longer-term dynamic at work here.  Take the example of Google search.  When you log in to Google, your search phrases are tied into your login but are not available for webmasters whose sites you visit.  However, when you do not log in to Google, your search phrases – whilst no longer tied into your Google login – became available for all and sundry to examine.  This is a clear example of the mentality at hand: you want a degree of privacy from the outside world, entrust it to Google & Co (for the moment).  You don’t want to entrust your privacy exclusively to us, then lose it altogether with everyone else.

Multiply this mindset up a thousandfold, and we can see that the Big Five’s thinking may go way beyond a disinterested stand on behalf of our privacy: if the government does require, by law, Google & Co to voluntarily give up the data they’re currently harvesting on their users, we’re talking about a massive writedown in the value of what is essentially the intellectual property – certainly the “raw materials” – of these companies.

When Google & Co talk about protecting our privacy, they’re actually talking about protecting their IP.  For if the Snoopers’ Charter – and their like elsewhere – are not eventually passed, government will presumably – at some point in the future – end up being crudely “blackmailed” by these rapacious organisations in exchange for getting access to their treasure troves of information.  After all, he or she who owns the data is always going to have the biggest say in determining its price when at the negotiating table.

One final thought, and just to underline again: I’m neither in favour of the Snoopers’ Charter nor in favour of transnational corporations collecting so much data on our habits, ways of seeing and ways of doing.

If truth be told, I’d much prefer a world where neither existed.

Wouldn’t you?

May 292013

I’ve suddenly started receiving Google Play emails.  I suppose this is some permission I checked as part of a recent upgrade, without, that is to say, realising I’d checked it.

My email provider is Gmail, one of Google’s best products (about to be wrecked by changes already in hand to its composition interface – but that’s a story for another post).  Its spam filters are excellent – easily taught, though (it has to be said) a tad free and easy with competitors’ emails: Twitter notifications in particular got a recent battering from its systems.

Today, then, I received another Google Play email.  I thought: excellent opportunity to teach a Google product (Gmail) that another Google product (Play) was behaving in a rather underhand manner.  So I clicked on the spam button in the expectation that the offending email would simply disappear from my screen.  To my surprise, instead, the dialogue box below popped up.

Gmail dialogue box for Google Play

Now as far as I know, this service isn’t offered to others.  As I pointed out above, I was never asked if I wanted to unsubscribe to Twitter notifications before I discovered they were ending up in my spambox.  Nor, indeed, as a general rule, do I unsubscribe to unwanted email anyway: I have been led to believe this simply tells unscrupulous senders that the email is valid and can continue to be usefully pursued.

It’s not even the only case of wanted email being filtered out by Gmail’s spam-detection systems.  I wrote a while ago about this unusual case.  Essentially, a small organisation in favour of debt-relief was, according to Google, having its emails marked by Gmail users as spam.  Crowdsourcing such filters is, as I pointed out, clearly open to abuse:

So let me see.  We have a small organisation supporting a medium-sized organisation against the alleged injustices of humungous organisations – and yet Google allows its users to flock together and keep such messages out of our inboxes.

Isn’t it conceivable that a network of evil-minded users (or indeed certain political parties – or maybe even governments) – thus alerted to the way these things now appear to work – might organise their behaviours in such a way as to push our major email providers into automatically blacklisting the communications of certain institutions, simply by marking any such emails as spam?

Didn’t you use to require about thirty separate website links to massage your blog to the top of a particular Google ranking?  I wonder how many email users are now required to remotely send a properly signed-up-for email into the black holes that are our supposedly automated spam filters.

In the case that occupies us today, of course, Google simply prioritises and protects its own services from being reported as spam – even as it automatically (or otherwise) defines other organisations’ stuff as being unwanted content.

If it were an automatic service offered to all and sundry, on a level playing-field we could be confident about, any email with an “unsubscribe” link would generate the same dialogue box.  That this doesn’t happen does really beg the question: why should I choose to behave with Google in one way – and in quite another way with everyone else?

And more importantly: why does Google reserve the right – in what was always an exemplary standalone product such as Gmail – to begin to blur the lines so self-interestedly against the content and advertising actions of others?

For me, just one more sad reason – beginning to stack up on the side of a number of others – to seriously search for alternative ways of receiving and delivering my email.

May 042013

I’m puzzled.  The news is big, of course – but how it gets to us is truly weird.

Sky scooping Sunday Mirror “exclusives” notwithstanding, this is how I came to the latter story in question.  As a result of a breathless breaking tweet by Sky itself, I first searched Google and got the following two results on page 1 (the ones in the middle I’ve manually removed from the screenshot as I’m unsure of their veracity or editorial quality).

Mirror/Sky Google search results

As you can see, we have the Mirror at the top, supposedly from “1 hour ago”; and then, at the bottom of the image, Sky’s own occurrence, from “11 mins ago” – something I can in fact personally corroborate, as I was only carrying out the search in question as a result of Sky’s already mentioned tweet.

That is to say, a tweet which had indeed come my way that 11 minutes before.

The really curious thing is this next screenshot, however: it shows the Mirror story above, I remind you at the top of the Google rankings for that search item, but with zero tweets and Facebook likes!  So how does that work then?  (And what’s more, a full eighty minutes later – even as I continued to write this post – still apparently without tweets or Facebook likes in any of the browsers I use.)

Mirror report on Nigel Evans

How on earth can a story like this have a publishing time of 19.10 on 4th May 2013, be the first item on the Google results page at 19.11 – and what’s more, according to Google, have actually spent an hour on the web without a single tweet or Facebook like?  How can that happen?

And – what’s just as disturbing – how can the Mirror get an exclusive for something like this?  Has nothing at all changed since the good-old, bad-old pre-Leveson days of journalists working hand-in-glove with the administration of justice?

Of course, this may all mean absolutely nothing.  It may simply be a question of crossed virtual wires.  There may be a malfunctioning pair of tweet and like counters on this story; it may even have been out there in the public domain for an hour without anyone finding it.

Alternatively, we may be facing yet another example of terribly ingenious news management, which – in this case – Sky stumbled into and messed up.  Google being used to place stories in the instant perhaps – in the self-interested reach of grasping social-network hands, and with a false search history behind them to validate their primary positions in the rankings?

Truly out of total ignorance of the technical background involved, I really have absolutely no idea what’s going on here at all.

So do any of you know anything more?  Any of you able to illuminate me further?  Anyone able to put my mind at rest?


Update to this post: the breathless Sky tweet I mention at the top of this post can be found here.  In my timezone, the one the search results and Mirror screenshots refer to, the datestamp is given as “7.03 PM – 4 May 13″, a full seven minutes before the Mirror article by its own byline was allegedly posted.  Still don’t think something slightly out of kilter is going on?

Apr 232013

Amazon Cloud services used by 38 Degrees

I saw a BBC Panorama documentary recently on the subject of North Korea.  Towards the end, after showing those of us who know nothing the veritable horrors of the place, it compared the advertising-free misery of the North Korean underground with the magnificent and joyful hoarding-invaded South Korea.  If I remember rightly, on more than one occasion our attention was drawn to this defining advantage of living in the free world – as if the quantity of advertising which serves to puncture our eyes is somehow a litmus test of how free we really are.

Well, I’m sorry but I don’t agree.  And today I read a story from the Spanish El País newspaper which simply confirms me in my resistance.  In it, we discover (robot English translation here) that the Madrid Metro Línea 2 - along with its iconic stop Sol – will become the sponsorship property of the Vodafone phone company, to such an extent that the aforementioned station will be renamed vodafone Sol.  In exchange for a three-year deal, it appears that a paltry €3 million will exchange hands.  But, of course, the story won’t end with the “awarding” of these “naming rights”.  As the article goes on to report:

[…] El acuerdo previsto con la empresa tiene una duración de tres años, lo que supone unos tres millones de euros. Para González es una “posibilidad enorme de ingresos” para Metro. “Tenemos 11 líneas más y muchas estaciones” que ofertar, ha recordado el presidente.

Loosely translating as:

[…] The agreement in question with the company will last three years, which means some three million euros.  For González, this presupposes an “enormous opportunity of income” for Metro.  “We have 11 lines and many stations” to offer, the president has reminded everyone.

So let’s just analyse exactly what’s going on here.  A public entity which has been offering state-funded services to a taxpaying city (I assume the Metro service is still all of these things, though – after so much economic despair – I may of course be wrong by now) has decided, in its wisdom, that it has the right to sell off to a foreign corporation the rights to name public spaces as if they were private spaces of public use.  Given the experience we’ve supposedly had with the Vodafones of the world here in Britain, as perfectly legal tax avoidance has begun to drill holes in the future financial planning of the state and our public services, this really does seem to be adding considerable insult to hurtful injury.  Especially when the people responsible for the deal appear to be saying that the cost of using the service will continue to rise for end-users, despite the corporate dosh changing hands.

That is to say, in an ongoing and awful political and socioeconomic crisis, where Spanish youth unemployment has hit over fifty percent and politicians of parties various have both enriched themselves and their business mates in a long-drawn-out process of terrible fecklessness (clearly at the expense of all the nations that make up the country), the Madrid Metro finds itself obliged to go with its begging bowl to precisely those guarantors of the free world which have brought us all to our knees in the first place.

To such an extent we finally discover that these people don’t only destroy our economies and welfare states so as to own us materially but also, now, look to own our public spaces – so as to own us emotionally too.

Can you imagine it?

The Starbucks Northern Line.

The Google Circle Line.

The Amazon Jubilee Line.

Hurts, doesn’t it?  Hurts so much it burns.  Burns like brands originally did.  And I bet it’ll come sooner than you think to England’s green and evermore unpleasant land.

Happy St Google’s Day!

Wonder what Shakespeare would’ve had to say about it all.

To brand or not to brand, perhaps?  Would that be the question?

St Google's Day

Apr 042013

I already wrote, a while ago now, on the subject of singular ways of doing things and planned economies in general.  First this, on the Google self-driving car project:

In the face of a wider defeat of Communism, Soviet socialism initially decided to turn in on itself.  Is this now happening at the hands of Google and wider movements towards automation in the US?

I then go on to develop the idea, concluding in the following way:

This is the End of History coming back to bite us in the backside.  As Communism/one-country socialism collapsed in its grandly political structures, and for a while there was little else we could do but argue the battle was dusted and done, even so it would appear that its instincts were continuing to work away at its evermore grand and commercial manifestations.

The monolithic state which hopes to re-engineer everyone in a one-best-way mindset, whilst disparaged and in the process of being dismantled by capitalist evangelicals almost everywhere, is suddenly reappearing in Google’s corporately admirable attempts: attempts where it looks to automate dangerous processes such as the freedom to kill people with cars out of the frame of everyday living.

The American Dream without the freedom to choose between life and death?  Whatever next my friend?

Prior to this piece, and as linked to within the quote above, I also suggested we could see the iPhone as a perfect argument in favour of planned economies:

Yesterday, late at night (excuse the incongruences if they exist!), I suggested the following:

[…] I am a child of a technological society – and continuous improvement is the essence of my belief system.  I simply cannot accept that we can refine to a millionth degree a computer, an iPhone or a piece of civil engineering – and yet find ourselves unable to improve the 19th century boom-and-bust cycle of traditional economics.

A Facebook friend responded this morning by arguing in favour of planned economies.

I then went on to argue the following:

The iPhone an argument in favour of beginning to plan our economies all over again?  I think so.  And as I also pointed out in my Facebook response this morning:

[…] where before perhaps our analytical tools were not up to the job, I don’t think this is going to be the case today. […]

If we are capable of sophisticating our manufacturing processes and consumer durables to such an extent as Apple’s iPhone, we can – where there’s a political and social will, of course – do the same with our societies and economies.

Is this a case of convergent evolution?  A case where the clearest example of 21st century corporate capitalism shows the way forward for a different kind of 21st century socialism?

A return to a sadly failed 20th century model of planned economies – only now, in the light of Apple’s experience, with the potential for a huge new lease of life.

Then more recently, in a series of posts which started with this one, I suggested we might create a parallel series of institutions, by most importantly recovering the positive values we might associate with the concept of “revolution”:

[…] Revolution is a dangerous and difficult word.  It connotes all kinds of disruption, violence and bloodshed.  From the French to the Bolsheviks to the coarsely violent recriminatory ends of the Spanish Civil War, the Balkan Conflict and even our experience with Iraq, revolution has no happy memories for history.  At least, for the history they teach us.

Yet I wonder if revolution must always be like that.  We could define revolution in a different way.  Disruptive, yes – it would have to remain so.  But not necessarily unseamless in its implementation. […]

I go on to expand the idea thus:

Of course, any revolution of the old-style Bolshevik kind would, in a modern world, be almost certainly doomed to failure.  Modern society requires complex specialisms to function, and such complex specialisms would almost certainly not happily function under the kind of coercion a traditional revolution would require.  Too many tenuous threads of communication would break down under the brute force of full-throated change.

And yet, even so, I find myself coming back to 1950s Japan.  Within twenty years of losing a war at the final hands of two nuclear bombs, the Japanese car industry had effected a revolution of its own.  Non-violent, intellectual, process-driven and intelligent – all these things and more as per Deming’s philosophies and mindsets.

A revolution of a disruptive nature which, nevertheless, was not bloody.

And so we come to the present.  Over at El País today (in Spanish here; robot English translation here), we get a fascinating report on a Bill and Melinda Gates gathering in Seattle, where the headline idea is “‘Positive disruption’ as a driver for global change”.  This fits very nicely, at least from a conceptual – even if not institutional – point of view, with some of the ideas I’ve been mulling over above.  Though, to be honest, I think I’m looking for even more disruption when I say, as I did in my first Revolution ’13 piece, that:

[…] We could design, from the ground upwards, a parallel set of institutions which would, like the design of a Japanese car’s dashboard unit, only ever be included in a new model when entirely ready.  In so doing, and through accessible and inclusive techniques such as crowdsourcing – even where this might necessarily involve only the crowdsourced input of a hierarchy of predisposed specialists – we could avoid the biggest danger of disruptive revolution: the non-collaboration of key workers.

In such a way, key workers and process-owners who had crossed the line – and had effectively become criminals too big to jail (the money-laundering cases which have come to light in important banking communities come to mind here) – would no longer be able to hold a wider society to ransom.  The gradually more expert revolution-engendering structures would one day not only reach but outdo the efficacy of their corrupted compatriots.

At which point substitution could take place.

Either way, it’s clear that social-democratic and neoliberal evolutions have really rather had their day.  And to be honest, it’s the planned and statist Communism of the 20th century – though with a Deming-like participative twist – which has won the battles thus far.  The only difference from the 1950s is that the secrecy, fear and closed nature of its environments now find their location in transnational corporations – sometimes, psychotically fearful of each other; at other times, in consumer-prejudicing cahoots.  So it is that Orwell’s “1984” did finally come true in one important respect – that is to say, in the sense of shifting international alliances, where histories and relationships are continually written and rewritten.  Where he went wrong was in conceptualising its happening between nation-states of a dictatorial cut.  In truth, right now, for most people out there, what corporations do with each other has far more impact on their daily existences than what simple little and relatively powerless countries ever manage to effect.

Which, if you’ve cared to follow me to here, brings me to my final point.  I would like to suggest that democracy, right now, is set up to fail.  Whilst business has successfully moved on from democracy’s ideological rejection of 20th century Communism and all its tenets – examples as already mentioned range from Google’s anti-American self-driving instincts to Apple’s anti-American centrally planned economy – democracy itself is mortally hidebound by its utter inability to contemplate a retread of a Soviet-style revolution.

All this time we’ve been saying that it’s business which should be more like democracy when, in reality, what we may have had is a democracy which business has fashioned to divide, conquer and keep meek.

Set up to fail, then?  Is that a fair assertion?  Have now-Communist-like businesspeople – now-Communist-like at least in their tools of choice – deliberately made democratic practitioners everywhere so terrified of committing the same revolutionary and disruptive acts that out of this conceptual cul-de-sac no Western democracy anywhere will ever manage to emerge?

Maybe not.  Maybe so.  Maybe, on reflection, we should park the possible reasons for why we’ve arrived at this place for just a few gentle moments.

For there may be a much bigger goal on the horizon.  If we can convince the businesspeople who have already embraced this revised version of 20th century Communism I describe above to contemplate facilitating a similar move in our democratic institutions and environments, perhaps the “positive disruption” that I find myself voicing and calling for – in the same curious company today as Bill and Melinda Gates – can find a broader range of adepts and enthusiasts out there, and much sooner than we think.

As well as end up helping to save from global disintegration not only our species but also the democratic instincts which have so ennobled its political practice.

Mar 282013

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been reading and writing a lot about the squeezed middle, the absolute poor and the stratospheric rich.  For those of us who are living in the United Kingdom – more precisely in my case, the North West of England – you won’t have failed to notice how the government and the governed simply do not see things eye-to-eye.  In fact, lately at least, it’s often more a case of a tooth for a tooth.

The thing is, my natural instinct is to see life from tens of different points of view.  This doesn’t make me popular – or widely read.  Yesterday, I realised the true and abiding power of ranting when itiddly, a Twitter friend of mine, asked me to edit a post of his before he posted it.  He’s a tribal fellow; a traditional political activist.  He insults and damns and blasts the Tories at every opportunity.

I resisted the temptation to help him out with his post – rather patronisingly (in retrospect) arguing that he needed to have confidence in his writing, as well as some exposure, much more than the help of a struggling editor friend.

You can read his post here.  It’s a rant and it isn’t.  There’s a barely contained fury, of course, but all the time it’s an evidence-based fury.  And whilst I rarely get above five or six tweets for my posts, in a very short time his had hit thirty-five (at the time of writing this post, it now reads a hundred).  Exposure wasn’t what was needed on his part here; instead, it was humility on mine.

Yet it is not in my nature to rant one-sidedly, even where ranting of a kind is sometimes something I do.  I would not be able, in all honesty, to write something as single-minded as the post we’re talking about.  And I wish, in some way, I were able to convey the reasons why.  I wish you could all see the ten or twenty different points of view I always see when I see the world.

People have, on occasions, even accused me of dancing around a subject.  Perhaps, in truth, they were closer to the mark than even they realised.  You dance out of engagement and concentration; a dance is a marvellous combination of emotion, precision and attitude.

That is how I see the process of writing.

Which is why I wish, perhaps by using Twitter and other social-network outputs, we could all appreciate better how each of us is perceiving the world: the pain, the glory, the happiness and joy; the misery, the fear, the certainties and hopes.  From high-and-mighty governors to humble barely-surviving governed, the world would surely become a better place if only we could see it properly through each other’s eyes.

So my question must be: is anyone out there at all interested in creating a Point-Of-View Machine?

Or are you all far more interested in setting up monolithic positions of revulsion and non-cooperation?


Further reading: I wonder, quite sincerely, whether the Google Glass project (more here) – rather than inspire our fear of a final assault on all our privacies – should make us more hopeful in the ways I describe above.  If the POV streams resulting from all those users were made available and accessible in a structured way, we would understand much more easily how each of us experienced life.  And from that understanding, perhaps a kinder governance would emerge.

A kinder world.

A kinder species, even.

We can only hope, of course.

And, maybe, pray.

Mar 142013

The quote comes at the end of this El País article last night (original in Spanish, robot English here) on the election of Pope Francis.  I have seen both hopeful and unhappy things written about this election.  Even though I am a lapsed Catholic, I wish the new pope well.  He certainly will have a helluva job to brace the ruins I perceive.

Meanwhile, practically the first thing I see this morning is this cold announcement on Google Reader.

Google Reader - July 2013

Not much more to say on this one, except that Google would appear to be reinforcing its rolling process of centralising all online debate around Google+.  It would seem that long-term the idea of us blogging at our own places and coming together through such aggregating tools is really not where Google is going to.  A Communist Google, in fact, as the model being followed seems far more USSR than USA.  I’ve already complained about other changes made a while ago to their unattended tool – and even suggested that we work out some way of buying up the whole Google Reader tinglado, lock, stock and barrel.

It won’t happen, though.  Voluntary adhesion to common goals was never the corporate way.

So whilst the Church wants to brace the ruins, Google aims to detonate them.  There’s a poetry of sorts contained in the synchronicity of the two events.


Two more thoughts to finish.  The next story shows us just how poor latterday journalistic standards – where not prejudices – have become.  An “exodus” of “overtaxed” French bankers becomes around one:

And that’s the sum total of the FT’s evidence of the “exodus,” at least in this article. In a population of 65 million we have one confirmed departure, one effort to leave, and an unspecified number of anonymous departees. (Who, we might ask, are they? Will they confirm that they left for tax reasons?)

Meanwhile, on a piece I posted over at the Speaker’s Chair blogging hub, we get an interesting discussion on Liberal Democrat election chances.  My response to a comment at the foot of the piece runs as follows:

I’m not absolutely sure the LibDems will lose as badly as people think. Yes, for many, they’ve enabled the Coalition – but I bet a huge number of that many would not have voted LibDem anyway. The little experience I have of grassroots LibDem members leads me to believe there is plenty of ideology which would not fit in either Labour or the Tories, and which serves to keep that flock together. I *can* agree with your latter half of your last sentence, mind. The only caveat being that I’m not sure Ed will have too much room for manoeuvre to do very much differently at all. But then tone and discourse are also important – and his would I’m sure be far more kindly and supportive to the most frightened in our society than IDS & Co will ever manage. In fact, a politician who can enthuse through manifest decency and infuse confidence through honesty may just be what our democracy needs right now.

Interesting cases today – in a way all connected.  Whilst the Church and the Lib Dems look to recover from awful moments during which their hierarchies have unfairly damaged their own sense and perception of what they should really stand for, my judgement in both cases is that these “flocks” (flocks of birds more than sheep) will not easily break away from their core beliefs.  Was the last pope, then, the Catholic equivalent of the current leader of the Lib Dems?  Pope Benedict XVI, the prayerful inactivist versus Nick Clegg, the pious teller of half-truths?

Maybe so.

The only certainty I do appreciate this morning is that corporate Google continues to head off in the opposite direction to history.

The Facebook model of walled gardens and ad-infested centralisation is not the way forward, nor was ever going to be.

Google is lost, much as the Lib Dems and the Roman Catholics have recently been feeling.

And, perhaps, in the end, for similar reasons.

Feb 182013

About eleven years ago I was studying in Spain for a Publishing Master.  There were many great and good craftspeople who taught us the ins and outs of a very particular trade – a very special trade.  At the time, I was looking to set up an online publisher.  I was aiming to cut costs in the industry by using technology to combine the roles of various skillsets in one individual.  This wasn’t the paused, many-handed and time-honoured way of publishing – but in time it has come to pass, and ten years later we live in a quite different world.

What really was focussing minds ten years ago, however, at least in Spain and at least in this course, was what was seen as the evermore pervasive and encroaching danger of an American search-engine upstart called Google (the bold is mine):

Google began in March 1996 as a research project by Larry Page and Sergey BrinPh.D. students at Stanford[1] working on the Stanford Digital Library Project (SDLP). The SDLP’s goal was “to develop the enabling technologies for a single, integrated and universal digital library” […].

Google’s aims were clear – as least to the Spanish tradition of editors.  Whether you liked the idea or not, whether you were prepared to collaborate or not, whether you accepted the terms as laid down by the powerful or quixotically attempted to resist their impositions, Google’s ultimate aim was to turn your thoughts, your lives, your very own selves and – finally – even your carefully guarded intellectual property into nothing more nor less than the virtual equivalent of the water that since time immemorial succeeds in seeping everywhere.

In the name of transparency, openness and sincerity (TOS), Google would one day be ripping out the very heart and soul of your entity.

And so that, as well, has come to pass.  Online caches of all kinds mean that however careful a maintainer of your content you are, anything and everything you post is likely to come to someone’s preserving notice and instincts.

But, what’s more, instead of being used to promote the transparency, openness and sincerity (TOS) I mention, it’s become a sorry old tool of a most traditional bent: a tool which, in hindsight, my dear Spanish opponents were right to fear – and perhaps even right to resist.  Google’s asserted desire to make knowledge available to all comes at a massive cost.

The cost is the Googlefying of you, me and the cat’s mother.


The Americans have consistently trashed WikiLeaks for opening the door to all kinds of communications they firmly argue are better kept secret.  And yet, from their very own apple-pied backyards, we have Google invading every corner and content we could possibly conceive.  The instinct to bare souls is shared too: you and I, our friends and family … all of us spill our bleeding-edge thoughts into the ether that now embraces everyone.

It’s hardly surprising, then, that the Googlefying instincts which a decade of brutal exposure has engendered should have now reached the chambers of our democracies.  This story, for example, from 2011:

AN internet blogger has been arrested after she tried to film a Carmarthenshire Council meeting from the public gallery.

Now it would appear that no crime had been committed, nor local law infringed.  The council in question simply took exception to its proceedings being recorded in such a way.  I’m sure that the immediate reaction of most people in the Twitter- and blogosphere would be one of anger and surprise.  And I suppose I’d feel pretty obliged to go along with such reactions – if only it wasn’t for the history of Google I’ve just gone and recounted.

Images and video are such cruelly permanent matters.  Can we honestly argue that our democracy is entirely better for encouraging the kind of politicians who thrive on television appearances and firmly taped and registered political events?  Many would argue, of course, that the transparency they bring is only ever going to improve the transparency of our political processes.  But I’m really not sure this is the case any more.  Images and video seem – of late, anyhow – to promote the worst kind of manipulation our body politic has seen for a very long time.

And if the arguments people have used against WikiLeaks – a dumping mechanism of all kinds of unwary data which makes private truth-telling and negotiation impossible to promote – are to be considered at all sustainable in any way, then equally the Googlefying of our wider world – of which random and unannounced filming of council and other democratic process is simply one of many examples on the horizon – needs to come under a far closer scrutiny.

From a very personal perspective, I would like to see far more politicians who can speak to the public without falling into the temptation of speaking to the gallery.

So ask yourself this, then: which, in the end, will the Googlefying of the world really encourage?

Jan 302013

We had this headline a couple of weeks back:

Tom Winsor says outsiders will ‘enrich’ the police service

By “outsiders” it seemed, at the time, that he meant those who were not primarily police officers.  In their wide-ranging efforts to de-professionalise our society – and at the same time rid the hold such evidence-based individuals apparently have over the same – it looked like this government was now setting its attack dogs on the police as they looked to apply to allegedly hidebound practice the synergy and synchronicity of other ways of seeing.  Just one more profession in a long line already under fire: lawyers, doctors, nurses, teachers … well, the list could be as long as you wanted it to be – as long as it didn’t include politicians themselves.

Today, however, we have a truly pleasing development.  The outsiders Tom Winsor was describing weren’t just other professions: they were – actually – people from abroad.  Yes!  It’s official!!!  The Tory Party comes out in favour of immigration:

Senior officers from overseas will be able to run police forces in England and Wales for the first time, under a government overhaul of recruitment.

Outsiders will be able to join forces as superintendents and recruits can be fast-tracked to inspectors.

Police Minister Damian Green said the service would benefit from a wider talent pool.

In favour indeed, as I say, of an immigration of the most blatant kind.  Right to the heart of the law and order of our state, no less.  Foreigners to be in charge of how we weave the very tapestry of the English and Welsh way of doing things.

Well, sort of anyway.

A couple of caveats, as always with this government.  First, no nasty European-types will be allowed to sully our oppressive instincts, as the Home Office only plans:

  • Opening up chief constable roles to senior officers from countries such as Canada, the US, Australia and New Zealand

We really wouldn’t want untrustworthy horsemeat-eating individuals anywhere near our command-and-control infrastructures, now would we?  Who, after all, could trust a Frenchie with our tasers, rubber bullets and CS gas?

Second, even now, even after all the above proposals have come to light, not quite all immigration is as welcome as it might be.  This, for example, also published today, on the government’s initially wizard wheeze to selfishly cream off entrepreneurial talent from other – perhaps less advantaged – countries where you might think such characters might be just as usefully needed:

Immigration rules intended to encourage entrepreneurs to settle in the UK are being abused and need to be tightened, a minister has said.

Immigration minister Mark Harper said a “meaningful assessment of the credibility” of immigrants claiming to be entrepreneurs would be introduced.

Fake businesses were being created and funds recycled to provide evidence of entrepreneurial activity, he said.

“Legitimate applicants” would not be deterred, he predicted.

Hmm.  Legitimate applicants I hear you say?

One occasion, in fact, where Cameron got it right.

So why is his government so all over the place on this surely self-evident issue?  Of course crossing frontiers and boundaries is good for the countries where this happens.  Of course the sparks that cultural dissonance generates lead to far more creative soups of productive activity.  Of course the good that globalisation can mean will only come out of exchanges of opinions and viewpoints amongst our evermore sclerotic specialisations.

What I really can’t understand, then, being as the Tories claim to be the party of those who wish to get on, is why they aren’t more consistently in favour of immigration as a grassroots process that benefits practically everyone who could participate in its primarily constructive embrace.

Which kind of football team would you really like?  Cherry-picking believers in obscenely buying in top-class players like our very own Manchester City?  Or youth-academy stalwarts investing in the long-term future of a Barcelona?

The kind of place, in fact, where foreigners are welcomed with open arms – and yet are also generously combined with carefully nurtured homegrown talent.

I know which I’d prefer.

The question is: does Cameron’s Tory Party?