GOOGLE IS EVIL… Part 10^63rd

The Blurred Lines and Closed Loops of Google Search (
Posted by msmash on Monday August 31, 2020 @05:24PM from the closer-look dept.

Early this year, Google pushed out a seemingly tiny tweak to how it displays search ads for desktop computers. From a report:
Previously, the search engine had marked paid results with the word “Ad” in a green box, tucked beneath the headline next to a matching green display URL. Now, all of a sudden, the “Ad” and the URL shifted above the headline, and both were rendered in discreet black; the box disappeared. The organic search results underwent a similar makeover, only with a new favicon next to the URL instead of the word “Ad.” The result was a general smoothing: Ads looked like not-ads. Not-ads looked like ads. This was not Google’s first time fiddling with the search results interface. In fact, it had done so quite regularly over the last 13 years, as handily laid out in a timeline from the news site Search Engine Land. Each iteration whittled away the distinction between paid and unpaid content that much more. Most changes went relatively unnoticed, internet residents accepting the creep like the apocryphal frog in a slowly boiling pot.

But in January, amid rising antitrust drumbeats and general exhaustion with Big Tech, people noticed. Interface designers, marketers, and Google users alike decried the change, saying it made paid results practically indistinguishable from those that Google’s search algorithm served up organically. The phrase that came up most often: “dark pattern,” a blanket term coined by UX specialist Harry Brignull to describe manipulative design elements that benefit companies over their users. That a small design tweak could inspire so much backlash speaks to the profound influence Google and other ubiquitous platforms have — and the responsibility that status confers to them. “Google and Facebook shape realities,” says Kat Zhou, a product designer who has created a framework and toolkit to help promote ethical design. “Students and professors turn to Google for their research. Folks turn to Facebook for political news. Communities turn to Google for Covid-19 updates. In some sense, Google and Facebook have become arbiters of the truth. That’s particularly scary when you factor in their business models, which often incentivize blurring the line between news and advertisements.”

Google’s not the only search engine to blur this line. If anything, Bing is even more opaque, sneaking the “Ad” disclosure under the header, with only a faint outline to draw attention. […] But Google has around 92 percent of global search marketshare. It effectively is online search. Dark patterns are all too common online in general, and January wasn’t the first time people accused Google of deploying them. In June of 2018, a blistering report from the Norwegian Consumer Council found that Google and Facebook both used specific interface choices to strip away user privacy at almost every turn. The study details how both platforms implemented the least privacy-friendly options by default, consistently “nudged” users toward giving away more of their data, and more. It paints a portrait of a system designed to befuddle users into complacency. […] That confusion reached its apex a few months later, when an Associated Press investigation found that disabling Location History on your smartphone did not, in fact, stop Google from collecting your location in all instances.


A Writer’s Almanac] It’s the birthday
of the journalist and humorist who said, “The thing about democracy, beloveds, is that it is not neat, orderly, or quiet. It requires a certain relish for confusion.” Molly Ivins (books by this author), born in Monterey, California (1944) and raised in Houston, Texas. She went to Smith and to Columbia’s School of Journalism and spent years covering the police beat for the Minneapolis Tribune (the first woman to do so) before moving back to Texas, the setting and subject of much of her life’s writing.

Ivins especially liked to poke fun at the Texas Legislature, which she referred to as “the Lege.” She gave George W. Bush the nickname “Shrub” and also referred to him as a post turtle (based on an old joke: the turtle didn’t get there itself, doesn’t belong there, and needs help getting out of the dilemma). She had actually known President Bush since they were teenagers in Houston. She poked fun at Democrats, too, and said about Bill Clinton: “If left to my own devices, I’d spend all my time pointing out that he’s weaker than bus-station chili. But the man is so constantly subjected to such hideous and unfair abuse that I wind up standing up for him on the general principle that some fairness should be applied. Besides, no one but a fool or a Republican ever took him for a liberal.” Clinton later said that Molly Ivins “was good when she praised me and painfully good when she criticized me.”

Her fiery liberal columns caused a lot of debate in Texas, with newspaper readers always writing in to complain. One time, she wrote about the Republican congressman from Dallas: “If his IQ slips any lower we’ll have to water him twice a day.” It generated a storm of controversy, and the paper she wrote for decided to use it to their advantage, to boost readership. They started placing advertisements on billboards all over Dallas that said, “Molly Ivins can’t say that … can she?” She used the line as the title of her first book (published in 1991).

She went on to write several best-selling books, including Shrub: The Short but Happy Political Life of George W. Bush — which was actually written and published in 2000, before George W. Bush had been elected to the White House. Ivins later said, “The next time I tell you someone from Texas should not be president of the United States, please, pay attention.”

Molly Ivins died of breast cancer in 2007 at the age of 62. She once wrote: “Having breast cancer is massive amounts of no fun. First they mutilate you; then they poison you; then they burn you. I have been on blind dates better than that.”

Molly Ivins once said: “I am not anti-gun. I’m pro-knife. Consider the merits of the knife. In the first place, you have to catch up with someone in order to stab him. A general substitution of knives for guns would promote physical fitness. We’d turn into a whole nation of great runners. Plus, knives don’t ricochet. And people are seldom killed while cleaning their knives.”


Brave Complains Google’s Newly-Proposed ‘WebBundles’ Standard Would ‘Make URLs Meaningless’ (

Posted by EditorDavid on Sunday August 30, 2020
“Google is proposing a new standard called WebBundles,” complains Brave’s senior privacy reseacher. “This standard allows websites to ‘bundle’ resources together, and will make it impossible for browsers to reason about sub-resources by URL.”
This threatens to change the Web from a hyperlinked collection of resources (that can be audited, selectively fetched, or even replaced), to opaque all-or-nothing “blobs” (like PDFs or SWFs). Organizations, users, researchers and regulators who believe in an open, user-serving, transparent Web should oppose this standard…

The Web is valuable because it’s user-centric, user-controllable, user-editable. Users, with only a small amount of expertise, can see what web-resources a page includes, and decide which, if any, their browser should load; and non-expert users can take advantage of this knowledge by installing extensions or privacy protecting tools… At root, what makes the Web different, more open, more user-centric than other application systems, is the URL. Because URLs (generally) point to one thing, researchers and activists can measure, analyze and reason about those URLs in advance; other users can then use this information to make decisions about whether, and in what way, they’d like to load the thing the URL points to…

At a high level, WebBundles are a way of packing resources together, so that instead of downloading each Website, image and JavaScript file independently, your browser downloads just one “bundle”, and that file includes all the information needed to load the entire page. And URLs are no longer common, global references to resources on the Web, but arbitrary indexes into the bundle. Put differently, WebBundles make Websites behave like PDFs (or Flash SWFs). A PDF includes all the images, videos, and scripts needed to render the PDF; you don’t download each item individually. This has some convenience benefits, but also makes it near-impossible to reason about an image in a PDF independently from the PDF itself. This is, for example, why there are no content-blocking tools for PDFs. PDFs are effectively all or nothing propositions, and WebBundles would turn Websites into the same.

By changing URLs from meaningful, global identifiers into arbitrary, package-relative indexes, WebBundles give advertisers and trackers enormously powerful new ways to evade privacy and security protecting web tools… At root, the common cause of all these evasions is that WebBundles create a local namespace for resources, independent of what the rest of the world sees, and that this can cause all sorts of name confusion, undoing years of privacy-and-security-improving work by privacy activists and researchers…

We’ve tried to work at length with the WebBundle authors to address these concerns, with no success. We strongly encourage Google and the WebBundle group to pause development on this proposal until the privacy and security issues discussed in this post have been addressed. We also encourage others in the Web privacy and security community to engage in the conversation too, and to not implement the spec until these concerns have been resolved.

Drought Map for Aug. 27th 2020

Humidity is a consistent climatic factor contributing to SARS‐CoV‐2 transmission – Ward – – Transboundary and Emerging Diseases – Wiley Online Library

“Increased relative humidity was associated with decreased cases in both epidemic phases, and a consistent negative relationship was found between relative humidity and cases. Overall, a decrease in relative humidity of 1% was associated with an increase in cases of 7–8%. Overall, we found no relationship with between cases and temperature, rainfall or wind speed. Information generated in this study confirms humidity as a driver of SARS‐CoV‐2 transmission.”


Now, with delays raising fears that the United States Postal Service is being hobbled by a combination of financial problems, politicization and pandemic, farmers and other rural residents say they are particularly vulnerable to the crisis roiling the postal system. And while President Trump’s own words have raised alarms that the problems are part of an effort to keep Democrats from voting by mail, many of those being hurt the most live in rural areas that overwhelmingly support the president.

“This is an attack on a tried-and-true service that rural America depends on,” said Chris Gibbs, a farmer in western Ohio who voted for Mr. Trump in 2016, but this year started an advocacy group arguing that the president has failed rural America. “It pulls one more piece of stability, predictability and reliability from rural America. People don’t like that.”

“Amid the uproar, some rural residents worried that the damage to their livelihoods and the credibility of the Postal Service had already been done. They wondered whether they could still trust the mail to handle their packages, animals and ballots.

“I’ve always counted on the post office,” said Carrie Sparrevohn, 64, who raises merino sheep and sells wool and yarn from her ranch outside Auburn, Calif. “Now, I don’t know if I should be mailing anything.”

“In Fort Benton, Mont., Leone Cloepfil, 75, started worrying about her mail in July, when her Visa payment was not delivered and she was charged a $35.04 late fee. She had to stop driving recently after the numbness in her foot got so bad that she could no longer feel the pedals, so she said she had no choice but to trust her ballot to the mail.

“But in places already isolated because of spotty internet access, people said the post office was the only institution mandated to serve them at a flat cost, no matter the weather or how remote they were. Like a hospital, school or grocery store — all of which have closed across rural America — they said a post office anchored a town’s survival.

“If these small rural towns lose their post offices they lose their identity,” said Gaylene Christensen, who relies on the post office to ship orders of home décor from her shop in Arlington, S.D., now that foot traffic has been slowed by the pandemic. “We’re the ones who are going to get hit.” [NYTimes]

You’d think that a guy like Trump, who views the presidency as being transactional, and who demanded that places that didn’t vote for him get punished, would want to look out for those who did.

But you’d be so wrong.

Do you live in Alaska, where people depend on the post office for all manner of things? Welll, Trump and DeJoy are going to fuck you up.

“DeJoy’s potential plans, the people said, also include eliminating the Alaska Bypass program, a federal program exclusive to the state in which the Postal Service subsidizes the cost of freight shipping of groceries and other goods for remote areas to keep its commitment to universal service. The program costs the USPS about $100 million a year. [WaPo]”

If you live outside of the “lower 48”, DeJoy is going to ensure that your mail costs a lot more.

The post office isn’t a business and it hasn’t been for over two hundred years. But the Republicans, for decades, have harbored a dream of breaking up the post office, of privatizing it.

Anyone in rural America who thinks that is a good idea probably needs some serious professional help.


Debra Ferris: A Navajo Teacher At Ft Defiance, AZ On NPR 20200821 Morning 7 minutes – the bravest person you never heard of before…

Drought Map for Aug 20th 2020


‘Real’ Programming Is an Elitist Myth ( 17

Posted by msmash on Wednesday August 19, 2020 @10:40AM from the closer-look dept.

When people build a database to manage reading lists or feed their neighbors, that’s coding — and culture.

From an essay: We are past the New York City Covid-19 peak. Things have started to reopen, but our neighborhood is in trouble, and people are hungry. There’s a church that’s opened space for a food pantry, a restaurant owner who has given herself to feeding the neighborhood, and lots of volunteers. […] It’s a complex data model. It involves date fields, text fields, integers, notes. You need lots of people to log in, but you need to protect private data too. You’d think their planning conversations would be about making lots of rice. But that is just a data point. The tool the mutual aid group has settled on to track everything is Airtable, a database-as-a-service program. You log in and there’s your database. There are a host of tools like this now, “low-code” or “no-code” software with names like Zapier or Coda or Appy Pie. At first glance these tools look like flowcharts married to spreadsheets, but they’re powerful ways to build little data-management apps. Airtable in particular keeps showing up everywhere for managing office supplies or scheduling appointments or tracking who at WIRED has their fingers on this column. The more features you use, the more they charge for it, and it can add up quickly. I know because I see the invoices at my company; we use it to track projects.

“Real” coders in my experience have often sneered at this kind of software, even back when it was just FileMaker and Microsoft Access managing the flower shop or tracking the cats at the animal shelter. It’s not hard to see why. These tools are just databases with a form-making interface on top, and with no code in between. It reduces software development, in all its complexity and immense profitability, to a set of simple data types and form elements. You wouldn’t build a banking system in it or a game. It lacks the features of big, grown-up databases like Oracle or IBM’s Db2 or PostgreSQL. And since it is for amateurs, the end result ends up looking amateur. But it sure does work. I’ve noticed that when software lets nonprogrammers do programmer things, it makes the programmers nervous. Suddenly they stop smiling indulgently and start talking about what “real programming” is. This has been the history of the World Wide Web, for example. Go ahead and tweet “HTML is real programming,” and watch programmers show up in your mentions to go, “As if.” Except when you write a web page in HTML, you are creating a data model that will be interpreted by the browser. This is what programming is.

Code culture can be solipsistic and exhausting. Programmers fight over semicolon placement and the right way to be object-oriented or functional or whatever else will let them feel in control and smarter and more economically safe, and always I want to shout back: Code isn’t enough on its own. We throw code away when it runs out its clock; we migrate data to new databases, so as not to lose one precious bit. Code is a story we tell about data.

Drought Map for Aug. 13th 2020