Archive for the ‘Internet’ Category

A partial victory

May 23rd, 2016 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Customs will likely get powers requiring a person to provide a password or access to their electronic devices – but a threshold such as suspicion of criminal activity will have to be met.

Customs Minister Nicky Wagner today announced that the Government has agreed to a series of proposals that will modernise the Customs and Excise Act, and a Bill will be drafted for introduction later this year.

When proposed changes were released by Customs in a discussion document last year, a particularly controversial area was about access to electronic devices.

Currently, when Customs examines a person’s electronic device the owner is not legally obliged to provide a password or encryption key.

The agency says if people refuse, it can leave no way to uncover evidence of criminal offending even when officers know the device holds that evidence.

Customs’ preferred option was to require passwords for electronic devices without meeting a threshold, such as suspicion of criminal activity.

Critics of the proposal, including the NZ Council for Civil Liberties, have cited what they see as serious workability issues around the proposed change to require passwords, including the fact a person can have documents or files in cloud storage, meaning they will not be kept on an electronic device.

Today, Ms Wagner said that would not happen – but in some circumstances people would likely be required by law to provide passwords.

“The Government has agreed in principle that Customs needs to meet a statutory threshold before examining electronic devices. We have asked Customs to do further work on what this would look like in practice and report back prior to introduction of the Bill.

I was one of those aghast at the original proposal, which gave Customs an unlimited power to search your laptops, tablets and phones – just because you were going through an airport.

Requiring a a statutory threshold before the power can be exercised, such as reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, is a lot better than what was originally proposed. But it will depend on exactly what the threshold is.

I’m still unconvinced that this power is needed at all. Customs needs to give some specific examples of why this power is needed, so we can assess it better.

I absolutely support the right of Customs to make physical searches of luggage and persons when you go through airports and the like. People can be smuggling in drugs, guns, biosecurity hazards etc.

But any material on your electronic devices is not the same thing. You can e-mail it or transmit it around the world regardless of where you are.

Patient Portals

May 14th, 2016 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Jonathan Coleman announced:

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman is encouraging people to use a new online map to see whether their GP offers a patient portal.

“A growing number of general practices are introducing patient portals. These secure online sites are the health equivalent to online banking,” says Dr Coleman.

“Portals enable patients to book appointments, order repeat prescriptions and view lab test results online.

“You can have secure conversations with your GP via email, and in some cases, patients can also view their notes online.

“Portals are convenient, secure and real time savers for both the patient and staff at their general practice.

“A new interactive map launched today makes it easy for patients to check which general practices are offering portals. Patient portals are a great step towards enabling New Zealanders to manage more of their own healthcare.”

Over 330 general practices are now offering patient portals, with nearly 136,000 New Zealanders registered to use one.

The map is here.

You can quickly see which medical centres in Wellington City have a patient portal. They are:

  • Island Bay Medical Centre
  • Peninsula Medical Centre
  • Newtown Medical Centre
  • Newtown Union Health Service
  • Brooklyn Central Health
  • Brooklyn Medical Centre
  • Karori Medical Centre
  • Capital Care Medical Centre
  • Evolve Wellington
  • City GPs
  • Kelburn Medical Centre
  • The Terrace Medical Centre
  • Onslow Medical Centre
  • Johnsonville Medical Centre
  • Newlands Medical Centre

I’ve been using Manage My Health for a couple of years and find it great. The main attraction is being able to see which doctors are free when, and book yourself in. But lots of other good features also:

  • Can see your vaccination history and recalls
  • Blood Type
  • All test results
  • Previous prescriptions
  • Secure e-mail with doctors

Guest Post: New Talent To Drive Our Economy

May 12th, 2016 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

A guest post by Rees Ward:

One hundred years ago, our export trade revolved around packing up sheep carcasses or their wool into a ship and waiting two months before they got to market. Today, some of our best export earners can weigh nothing and are delivered in fractions of a second.

New Zealand’s economy is transforming as the new service driven economy is broadening our export base beyond our traditional agricultural exports.

I have recently returned from working for the New Zealand Consulate General based in Los Angeles. Much of my work there involved supporting New Zealand firms, who were engaging with the rapidly growing tech sector Silicon Valley and across the wider Western USA economy.

California is growing jobs fast on the back of the tech sector – and this is creating additional demand for the supporting professions that drive business growth. These well paid jobs are available to those with the skills and the education to be part of that economy.

It is acknowledged that Silicon Valley emerged from the leadership and innovation of Stanford University. That has evolved to create an eco-system of venture capital, research and innovation. Silicon Valley has nearly a third of private sector workers in the tech sector firms. These are some of the wealthiest and best paid people in the United States. American firms are now fighting to get their hands on a tech capable workforce.

The New Zealand tech sector is also growing fast and has its heart in our own “Silicon Harbour” – the Wellington region. Firms like Xero, Weta Digital, Datacom and Trade Me are based here. They are joined by other yet-to-be household names such as Wipster, Fronde, Aurora 44, PledgeMe, Intergen and 8i who are creating good jobs and strong export revenues.

To support the development of the “Silicon Harbour”, the Wellington City Council opened a tech hub and collaboration space in November, to support this growth. This is part of developing connections which nurture the next generation of IT firms.

But what one of our fastest growing sectors is calling out for most, is more talent. Further the demand is just not for “geeks and nerds” – but the soft skills able to integrate technology solutions into the business environment. To become part of the new economy – and to get a better paying job – retraining to acquire new skills might be required.

The Government announced in October that it is backing a new collaboration between Victoria University, Wellington Institute of Technology and Whitireia to develop a post graduate school for ICT. This idea was too exciting opportunity for me not to sign up.  The Wellington ICT Graduate School deliver five Masters degree programmes in 2016. The courses have been designed to bring a diverse range of skilled and talented people into the ICT industry.

For most mid-career people, the thought of returning to University to complete a “new” undergraduate education is not only impractical, it is impossible. The solution has been to develop one year post-graduate “conversion” Masters degrees. A background as a teacher or a social worker could be a bonus rather than a barrier.

ICT firms are actively engaged in the education process at the School. Some learning will take place through internship, mentorship and entrepreneurial programmes as well as project work and placements in the workplace. This brings the education closer to what firms need today, rather than what the textbook printed last year says. Founder of Green Button, Scott Houston has bought his considerable mana to the board and bought a strong focus on creating a talent generator that will fuel the growth of our ICT industry.

Our economy will be increasingly reliant on our Silicon Harbour as a route to the global economy. The Wellington ICT Graduate School will soon start developing new leadership. For firms wanting to bring on that talent, we are open for business.

Rees Ward is the Director of the Wellington ICT Graduate School.


May 10th, 2016 at 9:22 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The blogger who was infamously hacked and then exposed in Dirty Politics has himself admitted hiring someone to illegally access the computer files of opponents.

Whale Oil’s Cameron Slater has been granted diversion by police for attempting to hire Ben Rachinger for $5000 to get into the left wing “The Standard” blog. Instead of being convicted and sentenced, he has arranged to do 40 hours work for the children’s charity Kidscan.

Judge Richard McIlraith said: “He has accepted his guilt and embarked upon a programme of diversion to address that.”

Hacking is wrong – it is both illegal and morally indefensible. Cameron was wrong to agree to pay Ben Rachinger money to hack The Standard. As the Judge says he has accepted in court he was wrong, and done community service as diversion.

But while Cameron was wrong, he was taken advantage of by a guy who lied constantly to Cameron and fed him months and months of lies. He took advantage of Cameron’s desire to find out who hacked him, and convinced Cameron that he could prove various people were behind the hack on him – if he in turn got paid to hack them. Cameron should have reported Rachinger to the Police rather than agree to pay him. Rachinger is facing his own trial for his actions, so hence I can’t comment in depth on them.

Cameron has blogged his version of what happened here.

Hopefully there has been lessons learnt from this by Cameron and others. As someone whose privacy has been breached by hackers, I am very anti hacking. I do have to try and contain myself though when Nicky Hager complains that his privacy got breached when Police were searching for Rawshark’s identity as of course Nicky Hager has just spent weeks working with NZ media to breach the privacy of hundreds of New Zealanders who have broken no laws, but just used a law firm that got hacked.

Chrome overtakes IE

May 9th, 2016 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Microsoft’s Internet Explorer is no longer king of the browser hill.

That distinction belongs instead to Google’s Chrome, which according to, registered a collective desktop market share for all versions of the browser of 41.67 per cent in April, nipping IE, which had a 41.37 per cent share.

The market share for Microsoft Edge, Internet Explorer’s successor, is included in the tally.

Mozilla Firefox (9.76 per cent), Apple Safari (4.91 per cent) and Opera (1.89 per cent) round out the top five.

I’ve have not used IE for 15 years or so. Netscape Navigator and then Firefox for many years and Chrome for the last few.

On Kiwiblog the browser breakdown is:

  • Chrome 44%
  • Safari 27%
  • IE 11%
  • Firefox 11%
  • Edge 3%
No tag for this post.

Australian Productivity Commission calls for copyright shakeup

May 6th, 2016 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The SMH reports:

The Productivity Commission has recommended the free import of books, the free use of copyrighted material under new so-called “fair use” rules, a leglislated guarantee that consumers have the right to defeat internet geoblockers and much tighter restrictions on the granting and use of patents, under reforms it says could save consumers up to $1 billion a year.

Consumers should also have a legislated right to defeat internet geoblocks set by such companies as Amazon, it says.

Subtitled Copy(not)right, the draft report of the commission’s nine-month inquiry into intellectual property finds copyright terms are way in excess of what is needed, offering more than 100 years of protection for works that ought to be protected for 15 to 20 years.

The NZ Government should look seriously at this report when reviewing our copyright laws. If intellectual property laws are too tight, they damage the economy, just as they do if they are too loose also. Overall the laws are too tight.

Protecting intellectual property for over 100 years is silly. There won’t be one less invention or work because it was protected for say only 30 years instead of 100.

It backs proposals to introduce an open-ended and non-prescriptive right of “fair use” of copyrighted material that would allow many uses presently illegal in Australia, including the use of thumbnail images by search engines, the “quotation” of lyrics or song fragments in songs, the use of politicians’ jingles by their opponents in election advertisements, and the use of extracts from films in documentaries.

Fair use is essential to a country. Without it you couldn’t quote what anyone says.

The report says Australia’s patent rules are too lax, requiring claimed inventors to provide evidence of a “mere scintilla of invention” in order to lock up the use of their ideas. Patent fees should be higher and applicants should be required to explain why their ideas are not obvious, it says.

Many patents seem to be about blocking innovation rather than fostering it.

Consumers should have a legislated right to defeat geoblocks imposed by companies such as Netflix and Amazon in order to prevent Australians buying products sold overseas. The law that at present prevents Australian retailers importing books without the permission of local publishers should be repealed in the same way as the laws preventing the import of music without local publishers were repealed.

A great proposal. NZ should follow.

Government signs .nz MOU with InternetNZ

May 4th, 2016 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Amy Adams has announced:

Communications Minister Amy Adams has welcomed today’s signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between InternetNZ and the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment (MBIE) on the management of the .nz domain name.

“The agreement will help ensure this important resource continues to be managed in a transparent way that supports the interests of the local internet community and end users of digital services,” says Ms Adams.

The Memorandum of Understanding sets expectations for how InternetNZ will operate the domain name in the interests of New Zealand internet users, and sets out a process for dealing with any concerns between parties.

It provides a clear statement of how the relationship between InternetNZ and MBIE should operate.

“A stable, reliable, and responsive domain name system is a key part of a modern communications infrastructure.

“The success of the .nz domain name lies in consulting with, and being accountable to, New Zealand internet users,” says Ms Adams.

That accountability is key, and I think it is great to have this agreement. In many countries Governments run the country code top level domain or have passed laws dictating how it should be run. In New Zealand, we have an open multi stakeholder approach to Internet policy.

The MOU is here. It is almost unique in the world to have a Government sign an agreement recognising that the country code top level domain should be run in accordance with RFC1591. They have also recognised the seven principles for top level domains that InternetNZ is guided by:

  1. Domain name markets should be competitive.
  2. Choice for registrants should be maintained and expanded.
  3. Domain registrations should be first come, first served.
  4. Parties to domain registrations should be on a level playing field.
  5. Registrant data should be public.
  6. Registry / Registrar operations within a TLD should be split.
  7. TLD policy should be determined by open multi-stakeholder processes

The agreement also increases accountability for InternetNZ by setting out a process any complaints can be heard, and also requiring InternetNZ to regularly test the views of the Internet community on key issues.

It’s really pleasing to be in a country where the Government has such good policies towards the Internet.

  • NB – I am Chair of the .nz Domain Name Commission but wasn’t involved in negotiating the MOU – however I was one of those consulted on its details

A good copyright decision

April 24th, 2016 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The legal fight over Google’s effort to create a digital library of millions of book is finally over.

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a challenge from authors who had argued that the tech giant’s project was “brazen violation of copyright law” — effectively ending the decade-long legal battle in Google’s favor.

Without the Supreme Court taking up the case, a federal appeals court ruling from October, which found the book scanning program fell under the umbrella of fair use, will stand.

Back in 2004, Google started scanning millions of books from major research libraries — creating a vast database from the digitized copies known as Google Books. Users can search Google Books for quotes or keywords, and it will display paragraphs or pages of context for the results from within the books.

The Authors Guild started complaining about the project in 2005, arguing that Google Books had undermined writers by putting their work online for free.

Good to see the decision this is fair use stand. Google was not making the books available for free. They were allowing very small extracts of the books to be found and quoted. This is exactly what fair use is about.

The Solution for Bill and open data

April 21st, 2016 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Politik reports:

Non-Government organisations joined public servants in a packed all day “hui” intended by Finance Minister Bill English to convince the Government agencies to start sharing the huge volumes of data they hold on New Zealanders.

Mr English wants the data shared so that social services can be directed more specifically towards at risk individuals and groups.

But public servants have been reluctant to share information – perhaps worried that the more they empower the non-Governmental groups, the more they are likely to take over social serviced delivery traditionally undertaken by state agencies.

Not just delivery, but analysis. Open up access to the crime and offending data, and you could well have some dedicated NGOs and charities discover patterns and links which will help with policies to lower reoffending.

But it was clear from a keynote speech from Finance Minister, Bill English, that he is finding pushback from the bureaucracy in supplying the data to the NGO’s.

“Access to data shouldn’t be the exclusive reserve of government – but that’s what it largely is because in many cases access is being decided ad hoc,” he said.

“Iwi, NGOs, and Pasifika – many of you here today – have told us getting information out of departments is not easy.

“It’s a negotiation. Agency by agency. Official by official.

“You’ve told us contracts are entered in to as if each negotiation was the first, with the each negotiation’s success dependent on who you are talking to.”

Mr English said that just saying “no” as an approach to data security had meant we have made only limited use of all the data the Government had gone to the trouble of collecting.

“Data has no value if it is not used,” he said.

“So let’s fix the system.

“Let’s reverse the presumption and make data sharing the norm rather than the exception by clarifying the rules.

“Because, actually, it’s your data.

“Specifically, the data we hold belongs to the people, and the whanau that you are working for and with.

“Some of you here today have spoken of data sovereignty.

“You, as citizens, and collectively as Iwi, Pasifika and NGOs acting on behalf of citizens, own the data held by public agencies.

“We agree with you.”

Great to hear Bill English say this and he has been the champion of open data. But as he notes there is bureaucratic resistance.

The key is indeed reversing the presumption, and here’s how it can be done.

Pass a law (statute or regulation) that says all datasets managed by crown entities and agencies must be made publicly available within five years, with two exceptions:

  • Any details that could identify individuals should be with-held
  • Agencies can apply to Cabinet for exemptions for specific datasets, to opt them out

The idea is to change open data from opt in for agencies to opt out.

Government says no to online voting trial for local body elections

April 19th, 2016 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Louise Upston announced:

Associate Local Government Minister Louise Upston has announced that the online voting trial proposed for this year’s local body elections will not proceed as more work is required to ensure a trial meets public and government expectations.

“Public confidence in local elections is fundamentally important. Given real concerns about security and vote integrity, it is too early for a trial,” says Ms Upston.

Too early? I’d accept that in 2000 or even 2006 but not 2016.

I feel very sorry for the local bodies who have invested time and money into this, to be told no by the Government. The whole point of a trial, is to try it.

Fewer and fewer people use the post office. The turnout will continue to decline for local body elections if the Government continues to make it hard for people to vote. So if there is low turnout, blame the Government for saying no.

35% of people in the NZ Election Study said they would choose to vote online if they had the choice. That is for parliamentary elections, and I suspect it would be even higher for local body elections as postal voting is far more insecure than Internet voting.

Fibre and data

April 19th, 2016 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Seen some interesting data from Chorus:

  • Average monthly usage over all connections is 100GB/mth
  • This is double a year ago and seven times what we did in 2012
  • For fibre connections it is 200 GB/mth
  • Average download speeds are now 26 Mb/s – up from 16 Mb/s a year ago

So in the last year data usage has doubled and download speeds are up 65% or so.

Latest NZ Internet Stats

April 18th, 2016 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The 2015 World Internet Project study for NZ is out. Some interesting data:

  • 91% of NZers use the Internet
  • 3% are ex users and 5% have never used the Internet
  • 75% of NZers have accessed the Internet through a laptop, 74% mobile phone, 70% PC, 59% tablet, 22% games console and 17% smart TV
  • 16% of Internet users have a fibre connection
  • Those who do an activity at least weekly are
    • Browse web 91%
    • Social Media 78%
    • Watch videos online 49%
    • Listen to music 44%
    • Watch TV shows online 42%
    • Play games 36%
    • Listen to radio 23%
    • Download films 21%
    • View porn 14%
    • Look at religious sites 11%
    • Gamble 5%
  • Social media use is Facebook 44%, You Tube 27%, Linked In 16%, Instagram 10%, Twitter 9%
  • Sadly only 35% think it is safe to express political opinion online

Telco review

April 17th, 2016 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

There will be no sudden increases in basic phone and broadband prices after telecommunications regulations get a clean sweep in 2020, the Government has promised.

In a relief for Sky Television, Communications Minister Amy Adams also said she had decided against introducing new regulations governing broadcasting competition, saying broadcasters were “facing more competition than ever”.

Yep. Competition is alive and well with almost a dozen competitors.

The rules that will govern the telecommunications industry will be largely rewritten to reflect the fact that the ultrafast broadband (UFB) network will be largely built by 2020 and will be something of a monopoly.

Adams said proposed the wholesale price of both copper and fibre broadband would be set through a “building blocks” regulatory regime, similar to one that is used to regulate utility pricing in Australia.

The wholesale price of UFB is currently set out in contracts between network builders such as Chorus and the Crown, rather than through regulations.

Some telecommunications retailers have suggested the monthly wholesale price of copper and fibre broadband and phone services could fall by at least $10 a month after the regulatory reset in 2020, meaning cheaper prices for consumers.

Adams clarified she was not assuming the new rules would push up wholesale prices rather than reduce them. “Any time you bring in a new pricing methodology no-one really knows what the outcome of that will be.

This model is basically what most other monopolies have such as airport companies and lines companies. Effectively a maximum rate of return on their assets. It’s not perfect as utilities will then try and inflate their asset base, but it is considerable simpler than the current telco regulation where the Commerce Commission has to wok out the cost of each particular service, and then what the price for it should be.

Regulation is a necessary evil when it comes to monopolies. The best response is to have competition, but when it comes to utilities such as fibre networks,  there is no economic case for competing networks, so hence you need to have some price regulation of a monopoly utility.

FBI uses hackers

April 16th, 2016 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The FBI cracked a San Bernardino terrorist’s phone with the help of professional hackers who discovered and brought to the bureau at least one previously unknown software flaw, according to people familiar with the matter.

The new information was then used to create a piece of hardware that helped the FBI to crack the iPhone’s four-digit personal identification number without triggering a security feature that would have erased all the data, the individuals said.

A much better idea than requiring Apple to create a back door in their phones.

Two more OMSA complaints dismissed

April 15th, 2016 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

OMSA has dismissed two complaints against Whale Oil by a Joshua James.

What is interesting is the complainant lied over the details of his complaint, and when asked by a Whale Oil staff member for details of what comments he was upset by, refused to tell him. Instead he complained to OMSA (again refusing to give details).

What this means is this left activist is trying to use the OMSA complaints process to damage a blog he doesn’t like. It had nothing to do with the substance – just an attempt at censorship.

It’s activist like Mr James that makes bloggers cautious of joining a complaints body. The concern that people will try and use it against you as a weapon. This may be why only three blogs have joined so far – Kiwiblog and Whale Oil for OMSA and Pundit for The Press Council.

One solution I’d propose is limiting the number of complaints an individual can make in a year.

NZ Internet getting faster

April 8th, 2016 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

New Zealand’s internet speeds continue to get faster, according to an international report on broadband speeds.

The Akamai State of the Internet December 2015 report found that in the past year average broadband speeds rose from 7.3 Mbps to 9.3 Mbps, representing a 27 per cent increase in speeds for connected New Zealanders.

New Zealand has improved by two places in the rankings since 2014 to now be 41st in the world for average fixed line connection speeds.

Communications Minister Amy Adams said that in 2008, average broadband speeds were around 2.7 Mbps and by the end of last year speeds had tripled.

The decision to go with a fibre to the premises roll-out, rather than fibre to the node and then copper, was an excellent one. Australia has really fallen behind us, and having fibre to the premises future proofs us.

I can’t wait for my home to get fibre – due later this year. We have the old Telstra-Clear cables which are pretty good, but not as good as the fibre in my last place.

New Zealand’s broadband according to Akamai State of the Internet report:
• Average speeds rose from 7.3 Mbps in 2014 to 9.3 Mbps in December 2015
• Peak connection speeds increased to 42.8 Mbps, a 25 per cent increase on the previous year
• The number of New Zealanders with access to broadband speeds over 15 Mbps has almost tripled over the last year
• New Zealand has improved by two places in the rankings since 2014 to now be 41st in the world for average fixed line connection speeds
• Average mobile connection speeds in the last quarter of 2015 were 7.4Mbps
• Peak mobile speeds reached 75.4 Mbps, and 88 per cent of connections were above 4 Mbps.

Most of us can probably remember when speeds were in Kbps not Mbps. Hell I can even recall bps – the old 2400 modems!

Hawaiki Cable is go

April 1st, 2016 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Hawaiki Cable says it has secured the funding to lay a new internet cable between New Zealand, the United States and Australia.

The cable is believed to have a price tag of about $500 million and may mean faster and cheaper access to overseas websites and online services for broadband users.

The company said in a statement that a contract under which United States firm TE SubCom will build the cable came into force on Thursday and construction would now begin.

This is great news. It should lead to greater competition and more resilience (note Southern Cross is effectively two cables so we are already protected from a single cable failure).

There’s been talk and efforts for almost a decade to get a second cable to the US. Great to see it finally happen. Well done to Hawaiki.

Robot pizza delivery

March 22nd, 2016 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Domino’s says it’s working with the Government on a plan to permit robot pizza delivery to hungry New Zealanders.

The government and Domino’s Pizza are working to explore and test driverless pizza delivery options with a four-wheeled unit named DRU (Domino’s Robotic Unit).

Minister of Transport Simon Bridges said the use of the robot is an exciting opportunity for New Zealand, which is one of the first countries in the world being considered for testing autonomous pizza delivery.

“DRU is an early prototype, but the fact that New Zealand is being considered as a test site shows we have the right settings to attract innovation.”

New technology and encouraging innovation is a government priority, Bridges said.

“Over the last 12 months I’ve been actively and aggressively promoting New Zealand as a test bed for new transport technology trials. Our enabling laws and regulation means we have the ideal environment to trial all forms of technology,” he said.

Sounds great to me.

Whale Oil wins OMSA appeal

March 21st, 2016 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

I blogged previously on how Whale Oil won the first ever OMSA decision against a blog.

The complainant appealed the decision and the Appeal Committee has ruled, upholding the original decision.

Good to see self-regulation working well.

Red Alert euthanised

March 8th, 2016 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

After years as an internet wasteland, the Labour Party’s “Red Alert” blog site looks to have been quietly put out of its misery. Once lauded as the new way for MPs to interact with the public, it soon became a bit of an embarrassment, before being ignored. Now, it appears to be no more.

It started off very well, and I lauded it often. But it lost its way and started to score too many own goals. A pity it wasn’t done better as I like the idea of MPs blogging.

The power of search rankings on candidates

March 6th, 2016 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Robert Epstein at Aeon writes:

Late in 2012, I began to wonder whether highly ranked search results could be impacting more than consumer choices. Perhaps, I speculated, a top search result could have a small impact on people’s opinions about things. Early in 2013, with my associate Ronald E Robertson of theAmerican Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology in Vista, California, I put this idea to a test by conducting an experiment in which 102 people from the San Diego area were randomly assigned to one of three groups. In one group, people saw search results that favoured one political candidate – that is, results that linked to web pages that made this candidate look better than his or her opponent. In a second group, people saw search rankings that favoured the opposing candidate, and in the third group – the control group – people saw a mix of rankings that favoured neither candidate. The same search results and web pages were used in each group; the only thing that differed for the three groups was the ordering of the search results.

To make our experiment realistic, we used real search results that linked to real web pages. We also used a real election – the 2010 election for the prime minister of Australia. We used a foreign election to make sure that our participants were ‘undecided’. Their lack of familiarity with the candidates assured this. Through advertisements, we also recruited an ethnically diverse group of registered voters over a wide age range in order to match key demographic characteristics of the US voting population.

All participants were first given brief descriptions of the candidates and then asked to rate them in various ways, as well as to indicate which candidate they would vote for; as you might expect, participants initially favoured neither candidate on any of the five measures we used, and the vote was evenly split in all three groups. Then the participants were given up to 15 minutes in which to conduct an online search using ‘Kadoodle’, our mock search engine, which gave them access to five pages of search results that linked to web pages. People could move freely between search results and web pages, just as we do when using Google. When participants completed their search, we asked them to rate the candidates again, and we also asked them again who they would vote for.

We predicted that the opinions and voting preferences of 2 or 3 per cent of the people in the two bias groups – the groups in which people were seeing rankings favouring one candidate – would shift toward that candidate. What we actually found was astonishing. The proportion of people favouring the search engine’s top-ranked candidate increased by48.4 per cent, and all five of our measures shifted toward that candidate. What’s more, 75 per cent of the people in the bias groups seemed to have been completely unaware that they were viewing biased search rankings. In the control group, opinions did not shift significantly.

It’s a small sample size but quite an astonishing result. Obviously this is on candidates where nothing else is known on them, but it still shows how powerful search engine results can be.

No tag for this post.

Split decisions on Apple vs FBI

March 3rd, 2016 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

A New York judge says the U.S. Justice Department cannot force Apple to provide the FBI with access to locked iPhone data in a routine Brooklyn drug case.

U.S. Magistrate Judge James Orenstein ruled Tuesday (NZ time). The decision follows a California magistrate judge’s order requiring Apple to create software to help the U.S. hack the iPhone of a shooter in the December 2 killing of 14 people in San Bernardino, California.

As different judges have made different rulings it seems inevitable it will be appealed to a Court of Appeals and if they differ, then eventually the Supreme Court.

Australia’s NBN problems

March 2nd, 2016 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar reports:

On Monday, NBNCo, the Government organisation tasked with creating one of Australia’s most ambitious — and at $46 billion, one of its most expensive — pieces of infrastructure, was forced to deny claims the project was heavily behind schedule.

According to Fairfax Media an “internal progress report” said the project was two-thirds short on its benchmark construction timetable, and had only approved connections to 663,000 premises, rather than the 1.4 million planned.

In a statement, the NBNCo said it had met or exceeded every key target for six quarters in a row. This included having 2.6 million homes “ready for service” by year’s end, one million homes using the network and more than $300 million in revenue.

The company said it would not be drawn on “alleged internal documents” but admitted, “this is an incredibly complex project unlike any infrastructure build anywhere in the world.”

The squabbling over how many homes have been connected and how much the project has cost is all a long way from the Coalition’s glittery launch of its NBN policy in 2013.

United on a Sydney stage, then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Mr Turnbull promised that the Coalition’s version of the NBN would, by this year, deliver minimum download speeds of 25 megabits per second, possibly as much as 100mbps, for just $30 billion. Hardly the kind of coin you find down the back of the sofa, but significantly less than the $44 billion Labor was predicting their system would cost.

“There will be billions of dollars that Labor has wasted that we cannot recover but we will save many billions of dollars, at least $60 billion, by taking the approach we have described,” said Mr Turnbull at the time.

Labor’s fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) proposal would take that fibre all the way to the home while the Coalition’s cost saving was to be made by cutting back on important chunks of infrastructure. Called fibre-to-the-node (FTTN), Turnbull’s NBN would see the fibre cables — a veritable motorway of data — halting on the street corner. The last leg would take all those tunes, films, images and Skype calls down the picturesque side road of the more limited copper network.

 Amazing it is costing them so much. In NZ we’re getting fibre to around 80% of homes (and almost all schools and businesses) for under $2 billion.

$1.24b on IT!

March 1st, 2016 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The Super City has spent $1.24 billion on IT since it was formed in 2010 – enough money to pay for the council’s half share of the $2.5 billion city rail link.

Among the benefits, Aucklanders can now register dogs online and access nearly 100,000 e-books, but most online experiences with council are still a grind.

Libraries have also provided an e-magazine service called Zinio since 2013, peaking at 65,060 downloads last August. Popular titles include Woman’s Day, Cuisine andThe Economist.

Other improvements to the council’s IT system, such as booking a hall or swimming lesson online, are not far off, say council chief financial officer Sue Tindal and chief operating officer Dean Kimpton.

Let’s see if I have this right. They’ve spent $1.24 billion. That is $1,024 million on IT and you still can’t do online bookings in 2016.

An Airbnb of the funeral industry?

February 24th, 2016 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

NBR reports:

Death is an inevitably morbid conversation and few people like talking about funerals.

Except for businesswoman-turned-charity founder Jude Mannion.

The former boss of companies such as Elizabeth Arden, Kellogg’s New Zealand and Hallmark has founded funeral browsing website Fresh Funerals, which she equates to an ‘Airbnb of the funeral industry.’

Users of Fresh Funerals fill out a form, specifying how they want their funeral to be conducted. Options include whether the deceased should come home or stay at the funeral home; cremation or burial; and arrangements for a casket.

They are then sent quotes by funeral directors. The website is linked to all funeral homes to enable them to quote.

“You can do it at home, online, for the first time in New Zealand. You don’t have to go to the funeral director’s home where you feel out of your comfort zone. You’re in a really strange place and you’ve got a professional saying, ‘tell me what you want,’” Ms Mannion, the founder of The Robin Hood Foundation NZ says.

“I’m hoping that by sitting at home, drinking a bottle of wine with your brothers and sisters you can discuss in a more relaxed way how you want to do the final send-off for the one you love. We only get to do it once.

I like the concept. It is similar to Builders Crack. Your describe what you want, and let companies compete for the work. You make your selection based on price, quality and reviews.

Funeral Directors Association chief executive Katrina Shanks says there’s not necessarily a demand for a website like Fresh Funerals, though, adding that there’s a lot of information on undertakers’ websites already.

She says funeral arrangements can’t simply be chosen by “ticking a box” because there’s substantial emotional attachment, unlike booking a hotel or Uber.

The industry body has commissioned research asking people what they value most in the funeral process. A lot of the feedback involved compassion and sympathy, which Ms Shanks says can’t be catered to by a website. She says funeral directors have the training to understand those skills.

Not everyone wants the same thing. The great thing about the Internet is it allows different business models, and we’ll find out if they succeed.