Even Google employees don't know who runs Google

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Google’s specialty these days seems to be confusing everybody. Their communications strategy is muddled. The most active users hesitate to embrace Google products because they fear the company will add those products to the long list of terminated Google properties.

Google confused everybody by renaming Google “Alphabet,” then naming one of the companies under the Alphabet umbrella “Google.”

Sundar Pichai is the official CEO of Google. But Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin are assumed to run Alphabet.

So who’s in charge? Even Google employees don’t know. A new survey asked them, and they were divided on who’s in charge.

Around 59 percent say Sundar Pichai is in charge, while 41. percent say Larry Page and Sergey Brin are running things.

Among the “tech” employees, the responses were closer to 50-50.

You know there’s a leadership crisis when employees don’t even know who’s running the company.

Can we trust Facebook to control millions of microphones in our homes? (Spoiler alert: no)


CNBC broke the news that Facebook is working on a virtual assistant, apparently to power their hardware products like the Portal smart speaker, the Oculus VR platform and future hardware products.

An assistant appliance (also called a smart speaker or smart display) represents a unique object in our lives -- its an internet-connected microphone in your home directly controlled by the company that sold it to you, without any intervening, third-party scrutiny. So you have to trust that company.

Can Facebook be trusted?

Facebook this month was caught requesting email passwords from new users signing up for Facebook, then using those passwords to copy and transfer the email contacts associated with those email accounts without user permission.

The EFF said Facebook is behaving like a criminal hacking organization. “For all intents and purposes, this is a phishing attack,” the EFF said in its official response to the event.

But even the most generous interpretation is that Facebook recklessly ignored minimal standard practices for safeguarding data by requesting email passwords.

A common theme in Facebook scandals is the reckless handling of personal data. There are dozens of instances in the past years revealing Facebook's untrustworthiness -- whether incompetence or criminal malice.

The AI personal assistant user interface revolution is coming. And it’s going to put microphones everywhere.

And that’s why we must all reject Facebook’s participation in this revolution — especially after the repeated trespasses against user privacy that are at least incompetent and at worst malicious or even criminal.

Facebook simply can’t be trusted.

Read my column.

Word of the moment: "captology"

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Financial Times is reporting on laws intended to crack down on manipulative tactics used by Facebook and other companies to confuse, trick and addict users. The UK is talking about banning "Likes" on Facebook. The US Senate is going after "dark patterns" design -- software designed to make choices beneficial to the company much more likely.

The article uses a word I hadn't heard before: "captology," defined as persuasive technology that exploits human psychology for commercial gain.

Common Sense media lists some of the techniques social networks, games and other sites use to hook kids.

The Financial Times piece is really about legislation. How do you ban persuasion — especially when the techniques are as subtle as a “Like” button or a simple notification?

What to do about the problems technology is creating for kids

My son, Kevin, is the founder of a startup, called Chatterbox. They’re about to come out of stealth mode.

Kevin wrote a manifesto describing why he created Chatterbox. From the manifesto:

On the one hand, kids are becoming screen addicts at an early age. On the other hand, smartphones, tablets and smart TVs are “black boxes” and kids have no idea how they work. Today’s technology is neither teaching kids how current technology works, nor preparing them to cope with future technology.

If you’re a parent — or just care about the future of humanity — please give this a read.

If you’d like to stay in touch with the Chatterbox project and mission, please go here to sign up for Kevin’s mailing list, and he’ll keep you posted.

Found an Indiana Jones pinball machine in Essaouira

This bad boy was tucked away on the top floor of a cool furniture store and cafe in the Essaouiran medina near our riad.