Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘blogs

Missing pingbacks / W-rdpr-ss drops the ball again

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As a more administrative notice:

For some reason, I have seen no notifications of pingbacks between my own posts in the last two weeks. Logging in today to check, I see that the missing pingbacks are not in my spam folder, nor are they in their usual place in the moderation folder (with only the email notification missing), nor have they been automatically approved—they simply are missing.

I do not know why—and it is a bloody shame, as automatic pingback handling was one of the few things that W-rdpr-ss almost did well and one of the few things that made W-rdpr-ss somewhat worthwhile. (Almost? Well, why the hell should I need to moderate a pingback sent from one of my own posts to another of my own posts? Idiotic!)

I have just worked through various settings and whatnots in my admin area. A few settings (if added recently or having their semantic recently changed) might be problematic, and I have experimentally changed them, including one relating to the maximum number of links in a comment.* However, I simply do not have the time to engage in further trouble-shooting and experiments.

*This should not have any reasonable effect, as any individual pingback only amounts to one link, even should the post from which it stems have many links. However, my experiences with W-rdpr-ss show that it is run by idiots and I first noticed the issue after having posted a text with an unusual number of links in it.


Written by michaeleriksson

March 1, 2023 at 9:38 pm

An even 50

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As a month of heavy writing comes to an end, I find myself tired of typing and at a count of 49 published texts for the month. It would be nice to see 50, but the “real” texts that I have in the immediate pipeline are too much work right now (notably, several texts relating to guilds, insiders vs. outsiders, and similar).

Instead, I will take the easy way out with what mostly amounts to filler:

Firstly, how did this count come about? I was already on a rising trend, partially trying to do something about my backlog, partially having a new drive after a prolonged time with comparatively little activity; and I tend to find more ideas* of things to write about the more I write, and write more, the more ideas I have. At some point in October, aided by an additional set of texts on the back-and-forth around Liz Truss, I broke some critical limit and ended the month very strongly, bringing me to 33 (?) posts. I continued in a similar tempo through November, with additional material arising through e.g. the U.S. elections, until my energy began to peter out, and the month ended with a more average level of writing/posting.

*Or, maybe, fresh ideas and other stimuli. For instance, merely having a large backlog does not create an urge to write about any given item; however, such an urge can arise when I encounter something in the now that overlaps with or reminds me of a backlog item. (Similarly, something in the now can cause an urge even without a backlog item.)

Secondly, what will future counts be? I really cannot say. I suspect that a typical count might be in the 20s in the near future, but this could vary drastically depending on how satiated with writing I am (right now—very), how much time I have, what other interests take precedence (notably, that I might drift back to fiction), etc. Specifically for December, all bets are off, as I (a) will likely take a few days of rest from any writing, (b) might be absent from computers for a part of the month, (c) do have those “several texts […]”, which could give me a few easy entries, due to work already performed.

Thirdly, what about that backlog? I have made some progress, but nowhere near as much as the post count might imply, as much of what has been published was new material and as some new items have been added to the backlog. There are many dozens of texts to go. (How many is impossible to say, especially as the backlog exist more as an abstractum than as an actual list. Two particular complications are the many books that I have read/am reading and intend to write about and the ongoing series on Nazis, which might be done in just several texts—or need several dozen. Further, due to the nature of a backlog and the continual addition of new ideas, it is unlikely to ever be entirely empty, even should I manage to bring it down to a reasonable size.)

Excursion on National Novel Writing Month:
November is also, coincidentally, the National Novel Writing Month, where participants are supposed to reach a word count of 50,000. When I first heard of it, maybe some ten to fifteen years ago, I found that word count nearly suicidal, with an eye at time invested, quality to be expected, and stress on the fingers. This November, I reached 50 posts (including this one), and most of my texts are probably above a 1,000 words in length, many far above.*/** I am now considering actual participation for 2023. (If I do participate, do not expect much blogging.)

*Actually running a set of texts through a word-count program (wc), I land at more than 85 thousand words for November; however, that includes some texts that are not yet published (which might or might not count, depending on point of view), some texts based on pre-November drafts (where most of the word count does not belong to November), some texts with quotes from the works of others, and some markup. Even adjusting for these complications, however, I should be well above 50,000. The longest individual texts broke 4 thousand words.

**It is possible, however, that I have exceeded the 50,000 mark at some point in the past, e.g. during October or during times when I wrote heavily on my own novels.

Written by michaeleriksson

November 30, 2022 at 3:51 am

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Pseudonyms in writing and my own choices

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Earlier today, I visited “educationrealist” (Ed) and found a post on issues on my own mind: Will the Rising Tide of Nuttiness Come My Way?.

This especially with regard to the sub-topic of anonymous or pseudonymous writing and potential backlashes in light of today’s utterly insane climate.

Firstly, is there a risk that my attempted literary career will be ruined because my political writings will automatically cause too large groups to consider my literary works “evil”, regardless of actual contents and literary merit?* That I will not just risk rejection by publishers or low sales because my writing does not measure up or is not sufficiently commercial,** but that I face the additional burden of having the “wrong” political opinions or having at least attempted to apply reason and objectivity where emotion and subjectivity is mandated? Of claiming that free speech must apply to everyone in order to be free speech? Of calling “bullshit” on Feminists and the PC crowd when they do use bullshit arguments?***

*Note the controversies around even Peter Handke, last year’s winner of the Nobel Literature Prize and one of the most highly regarded “serious” German-language authors for decades, whose personal opinions where not kosher enough to many complainers, who saw it as a scandal that someone like he could even be nominated. (While Bob Dylan was accepted with open arms …)

**The simple truth is that few aspiring authors meet with any major success.

***Which is very often the case. See a great number of older texts.

If I had not already decided to use a pseudonym, this alone would be reason for me to do so. But: Even that is not likely to help, as keeping an identity secret for the duration is hard or impossible. (If with the upside that no-one is likely to search me out unless I have already become successful. Then again, an intolerant publisher or editor might disapprove a lot earlier.)

Secondly, what might come of my political writings, per se? I have so far published under my own name (and will likely continue to do so) and have yet to experience any known trouble, but with the ever worsening climate, who knows what will happen in the future? As Ed writes:

I am quite afraid of being outed as Ed and then fired and cancelled and probably stripped of a pension. Hell, maybe not even outed as Ed—the wrong person could learn I voted for Trump, and it’s game over.

My situation is not as potentially dire (and I would not go as far as saying “afraid”), as my pension is guaranteed* by the government, as I live in Germany, where things have yet to progress as far, and as I am self-employed (be it as an author or as an IT consultant). However, my writings might be an obstacle should I ever seek regular employment again. Other risks, like someone attempting to hack my accounts are certainly conceivable (and apply to e.g. Ed, too). What if my writings are blacklisted by Google? (If they are not already, then it might well just be because I am too small a fish.) What if someone outs me with a photo, locally, and I am refused service here and there?**

*Other concerns, like a too small payout due to under-financing of the overall system, are present. It is, after all, a Leftist scheme :-)

**Not (yet?) a concern in Germany, but something like that could easily happen e.g. on a current U.S. college campus.

Moreover, while things are not as bad in Germany, they are growing worse and worse, including hysteria over (real or alleged) “extreme Right” groups* and constant complaints about “Rechtsruck”**. The border between what is classified as “extreme Right” and “Right” is being increasingly blurred, and even a moderate “Right” or Conservative position stands the risk of being condemned with a blanket “Right; ergo, evil”. The criteria for condemnation/inclusion seem to grow laxer, and I suspect that it is only a matter of time before the Left will begin to apply “extreme Right” to e.g. anyone who uses public*** violence, where a violent attitude becomes an ipso facto proof of being “extreme Right” (which would, incidentally, give the Left a good excuse to disassociate it self from e.g the Antifa or the “autonomous” Left, should the need arise). It is possible that I am overly pessimistic on this point, but it is hard not to be pessimistic in light of the U.S. situation and the disastrous developments over there, and this type of Orwellian control of terminology and tolkningsföreträde has been an ever recurring theme on the Left during my adult life.

*Defined almost exclusively based on anti-immigration or nationalist positions, and with no regard for positions on other issues.

**Roughly, “shift to the Right”—a fairly generic complaint directed at any trend towards a position not on the Left, even despite the disturbingly strong (old) Leftist take on society that dominates much of German discourse and government efforts. German politics needs to be shifted away from the Left.

***For want of a better word: Here I intend e.g. political violence, riots, soccer hooliganism, etc., but exclude e.g. robberies and physical altercations of a private nature.

Then we have the question of time and importance: The comments discuss Slate Star Codex/Scott Alexander*, including the claim by one Mark Roulo that:

*Who stopped his, apparently, massive blogging and deleted his blog due to threats that his full identity would be leaked by the New York Times. (Also note other recent concerns about the NYT.) “Scott Alexander” appears to be a part of his true name, which reduces the search space very considerably and, with other freely provided information, cannot have made him that hard to identify. (Even alternate routes like hacking or inquiries to his ISP aside.) His blog appears to have been right up my alley, but, unfortunately, I only found out about it when it was too late, and I must go by reputation.

But his popularity grew slowly and at the beginning the NYT would not have cared about him. Today they do, but there wasn’t a clear line that he crossed to become interesting.

So he didn’t self-censor and then a publisher with a large audience became interested in him. Ooops. But in some sense only ooops in hindsight. Who would have guessed five years ago that the NYT would want to write a piece on his blog AND insist on publishing his name as part of the piece?

Well, my own visitor numbers are small these days (and have never been truly notable), but who knows what could happen in the future, e.g. if some post goes viral or I do have success as an author. Indeed, note the recent controversy over J. K. Rowling for statements that are trivial PC-violations compared to some of mine—imagine if the NYT found out that Rowling had written texts like mine? The scandal … Similarly, who knew that the negative trends would continue* in such a horrendous manner when I (or Scott Alexander) began to publish thoughts on the Internet, and who knew in 1980 what claims made then, and then perfectly acceptable, would be met with cries of “racism”, “sexism”, and whatnot today?

*With hindsight, it might not be that surprising, but when I began my own activities, I was expecting the opposite, as I saw a counter-movement gathering momentum, that more and more people protested against Feminist nonsense in Sweden, that alternative views were gaining at least some traction in broader circles and might gain a sufficient presence in media that the propaganda web would collapse. (That “a lie repeated often enough is taken to be true” only holds when the actual truth is sufficiently suppressed.)

If I had begun my writings today, I might well have chosen a more anonymous road. As Ed says (in the context of the attitude “that there’s no real excuse for the cowardice of a pseudonym”).

The idea that I should* post under my own name is….insulting in its grotesque stupidity. Who the hell do you people think you are, I say as respectfully as possible, to Philippe to Jonah Goldberg to Tim Carney to Charles Murray to all the other people who think the eggnuts trolling them on twitter are the same as eight years of blogging and tweeting under the same identity.

*In my case, substitute “should be obligated”.

Of course, to this I note recurring demands in Germany that e.g. bloggers should be not just morally obligated to reveal their true identities, but actually be so by law, e.g. to make it easier to pursue “hate speech” from the “far Right”.

Excursion on my original motivations for a pseudonym:
Almost paradoxically, in light of the above, my original motivation was that I wanted to keep my privacy, even should I meet with an unexpected amount of success. (Whereas the above deals with fears that publishing under my own name would make success impossible.) While I want for my books to be read and for some money to flow in, I do not want to be someone of public interest, see a blog flooded with visitors (who visit just because I am famous), have people from my past read my books and draw incorrect* conclusions about me, etc.

*A book is almost invariably colored by who the author is, but it is quite hard for the reader to see the difference between where the author writes of himself, where he merely uses own experiences and characteristics as input, where he writes with next to no self-connection, and where he might even deliberately reverse himself.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 21, 2020 at 1:21 pm

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WordPress and its user-hostile administration area

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And don’t you believe it: The morons from WordPress still managed to introduce links where they do not belong, despite use of quotation marks.

Written by michaeleriksson

April 8, 2019 at 11:08 am

WordPress and its user-hostile administration area

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As I tried to refresh a page from my WordPress account earlier today, I found that I had been logged out.* More specifically, I was forcefully lead to (what I assume was) a log-in page that simply did not work or show anything useful, but which complained about a lack of JavaScript. (No, activating JavaScript did not help.) After digging around, I found a log-in page that did work, logged in—and found myself in some version of the administration area that did not even slightly resemble what I was used to, and which simply did not work—with or without JavaScript activated. Problems included incomplete displays, “my sites” simply not being found, and (browser-side) warnings about a possible XSS** attack by a “doubleclick.net” address***.

*Having a dedicated user-account and browser for WordPress, I have no qualms about never logging out manually. Automatic log-outs, on the other hand, are so rare that I cannot even recall the previous time that it happened (or whether I had similar problems back then).

**Cross-site scripting: Roughly speaking, an attempt to cause mischief for a user by including JavaScript from one site into another, in order to circumvent the user’s and browser’s security controls/checks/awareness/whatnot.

***Presumably, a part of Google’s advertising efforts that still carries the name of the former “DoubleClick” brand. The alarm is likely a false positive to the degree that this is almost certainly is not caused by an illegal activity; however, (a) users are still better off without it, e.g. for privacy reasons, (b) the integration into the WordPress pages is obviously not done sufficiently well.

After wasting five to ten minutes trying this-and-that, I contemplated simply foregoing WordPress entirely and effective immediately*, but resorted to a last ditch attempt: One of my old tabs contained a page from the (familiar) admin area. I copy-and-past-ed** it into a new tab, and things suddenly worked as they should.

*WordPress sucks, and I have long-standing plans to move away anyway. However, time constraints and the many other things that I do has postponed this ever again.

**Just re-loading would likely have worked equally well, but keeping the old tab intact gave me a better chance at a second attempt, should something go wrong.

The difference is likely that this link already led to the blog specific admin area, which still works as it should; while what was served after log-in was a user account admin area.* Should the above happen to you (or me, at a future time): Look at the URL. If it begins with “https://wordpress.com/me”, you are probably stuck in the user level area, and you should try to get to the blog area, which will begin with “https://michaeleriksson.wordpress.com/”**. The “dashboard” of the blog administration can then be found under “https://michaeleriksson.wordpress.com/wp-admin/index.php”**, from where other parts of the administration can be found. (In all cases, with reservations for future changes.)

*There can be more than one blog associated with each user account.

**For my main WordPress blog. Please substitute your own blog name/address as appropriate. Also see excursion below.

Excursion on WordPress, incompetent handling of post-by-email, and how this can influence a text:
I have written repeatedly of how WordPress handles post-by-email incompetently, e.g. through introduction of artificial links. This text provides a good example: without the quotation marks around “doubleclick.net” above, it might have been mangled into “http://doubleclick.net” and turned into a link, which is not only contrary to the purpose of use above, but could also be highly confusing to the reader. Knowing of this issue, I resorted to add quotation marks where I would not normally have used them.

The use of e.g. “https://michaeleriksson.wordpress.com/” above is yet another example of why WordPress handles links poorly: I do not intend to link—only to make a statement of how a link would begin. Indeed, going directly to this address would show the published blog—not the administration area. (But here, I would have used quotation marks anyway, because I discuss strings.) Further, “https://michaeleriksson.wordpress.com” would normally have called for a use of place-holders, e.g. in that I had replaced “michaeleriksson” with “[your blog]”. I refrained from doing so, because I see at least a risk* of mangling.

*I have made good experiences with quoting, which seems to protect the text, but if I find an exception I would need to research a work-around, edit, and/or re-publish the text, which would cost me time and energy. To boot, this would involve a delay and inconsistent texts being sent to subscribers. Better then to take the safe road.

Written by michaeleriksson

April 8, 2019 at 11:04 am

A review of the new WordPress/Automattic Privacy Policy

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A few days ago, I received an email that WordPress (more correctly, Automattic) was changing its Privacy Policy*. Fearing the worst, in the light of the unconscionable behavior of e.g. Facebook, I decided to review it. The results were depressing, although I have not investigated what was already present and what has changed for the worse: While it is not as bad as what Facebook does, it still leaves the user with minimal protections and reliant on WordPress/Automattic not engaging in abuse.

*I use initial caps for consistency with the (spurious) use in the analyzed text.

Below I will quote some selected parts (in the original order) and offer some analysis*:

*The policy can be found under https://automattic.com/privacy at the moment; however, these contents can naturally change over time. The policy is under the Creative Commons Sharealike 4.0 License, making re-use unproblematic; however, I see my use as covered under “Fair Use” and similar principles, and do not “copy-left” this post under that license. Some change of formatting and typography might have taken place.

This is our updated Privacy Policy going into effect on January 3, 2018.

(Provided for identification purposes only.)

Your privacy is critically important to us. At Automattic, we have a few fundamental principles:

We are thoughtful about the personal information we ask you to provide and the personal information that we collect about you through the operation of our services.
We store personal information for only as long as we have a reason to keep it.
We aim to make it as simple as possible for you to control what information on your website is shared publicly (or kept private), indexed by search engines, and permanently deleted.
We help protect you from overreaching government demands for your personal information.
We aim for full transparency on how we gather, use, and share your personal information.

A very promising start and a laudable attitude, provided that they actually adhere to it. Now, I raise no accusation concerning the actual use, here or below, for the simple reason that I do not know what actually happens with the data. However, in the continuation Automattic gives it self far-going rights that are not compatible with these principles, which raises considerable doubt as to the adherence—if they do not use these far-going rights, why collect them? Even without such rights, there is considerable reason to be cautious: Words are cheap and all-too-many websites abuse customer data in an inexcusable manner. The strength of a Privacy Policy, or e.g. a set of laws, must not be measured under the assumption of good intent and high competence.

Throughout this Privacy Policy we’ll refer to our website, mobile applications and other products and services collectively as “Services.”

(Given for interpretation only.)

Please note that this Privacy Policy does not apply to any of our products or services that have a separate privacy policy.

This is largely understandable, but it is opens a large opportunity for abuse, through simply smuggling in a more specific and less acceptable Privacy Policy while hoping that the users consider themselves under the general Privacy Policy. Even deliberate abuse aside, it makes it harder for the users to know what rules apply for any given service. (Giving a universal rule for how to handle this is impossible, seeing that there is virtually no limit to the constellations to consider; however, a basic guide-line would be to keep the general everywhere and to amend it as needed for the specific service under adherence to the “fundamental principles” stated above.)

We only collect information about you if we have a reason to do so—for example, to provide our Services, to communicate with you, or to make our Services better.

Looks good, but is an almost empty promise: “to make our Services better” alone is enough of an excuse for many service providers to gather any and all data they can get their hands on. At the same time, “to communicate with you”, in my personal experience, is usually code for “to spam you”.

We collect information in three ways: if and when you provide information to us, automatically through operating our services, and from outside sources.

These items are all too vague. For instance, does “you provide” include just what is entered in (in my case) the WordPress account or can it include data gathered from email communications? The “automatically through operating our services” is to some degree unavoidable, but can at the same time be abused in absurd ways, e.g. to build irrelevant and unethical profiles, including e.g. sleeping habits. The part about “outside sources” opens a limitless room for abuse. Combine these three claims, and we are not far from Facebook.

In the continuation the Privacy Policy provides a number of examples of what data can be collected and how. If these examples were exhaustive, it would alleviate the risk of abuse somewhat—but they are not. There are also enough examples remaining that range from slightly dubious to highly problematic.

Consider e.g.:

  1. Content Information: Depending on the Services you use, you may also provide us with information about you in the draft and published content for your website. For example, if you write a blog post that includes biographic information about you, we will have that information, and so will anyone with access to the Internet, if you choose to publish the post publicly.

    Depending on what is intended this is either trivial or harmless—or a sign that there is intention to make automatic evaluations. This might be OK for the actually published* content, but hardly for drafts. Indeed, even if they do have the technical ability to access drafts, they should be ethically or even legally forbidden from doing so**. Note that drafts can contain things that are simply not intended to reach third-parties, be it at all or at the current time. (Consider e.g. a whistle-blower intending to get out of harms way and then to publish a series of posts; or a homosexual having already written a draft with a “coming out” statement, which is waiting for a known-to-disapprove grand-parent to pass away.) Also note that even non-malicious access can increase the risk of inadvertently leaking information to other third parties, e.g. through a security hole or a lack of care***.

    *However, even here there should be some type of restriction, equivalent at least to the restrictions websites can state (but not enforce) through the Robots exclusion standard.

    **Except to the degree that an access is in the immediate service of the user, e.g. to allow him to edit the draft. (A general problem with the analyzed text is that it does not clearly differ between widely separate purposes, e.g. access and storage by the user through the service vs. access by the service provider independent of the user. This limits the analysis somewhat.)

    ***There have e.g. been a number of occurrences of confidential data being accidentally uploaded to servers freely accessible on the Internet without authentication and encryption. (Or possibly servers being accidentally made accessible post-upload—the result is the same.)

  2. Credentials: Depending on the Services you use, you may provide us with credentials for your website (like SSH, FTP, and SFTP username and password). For example, Jetpack and VaultPress users may provide us with these credentials in order to use our one-click restore feature if there is a problem with their site, or to allow us to troubleshoot problems on their site more quickly.

    With reservations for rare special cases, is is a horrifyingly bad idea to hand out such data to third-parties. Requiring such data, including providing services that require such data, is unethical; a user who complies is negligent.

  3. Log Information: Like most online service providers, we collect information that web browsers, mobile devices, and servers typically make available, such as the browser type, IP address, unique device identifiers, language preference, referring site, the date and time of access, operating system, and mobile network information. We collect log information when you use our Services—for example, when you create or make changes to your website on WordPress.com.

    The extent of data collected is too large, violating the principle of parsimony in data collection and bringing no or little legitimate benefit. Even browser information is highly dubious, seeing that a good site should work equally well with any browser; operating system is simply non of their business (and a correctly configured browser should hide such information anyway). Parts can be outright illegal in some countries*.

    *For instance, saving a non-anonymized IP address in Germany.

  4. Usage Information: We collect information about your usage of our Services. For example, we collect information about the actions that site administrators and users perform on a site—in other words, who did what, when and to what thing on a site (e.g., [WordPress.com username] deleted “” at [time/date]). We also collect information about what happens when you use our Services (e.g., page views, support document searches at en.support.wordpress.com, button clicks) along with information about your device (e.g., mobile screen size, name of cellular network, and mobile device manufacturer). We use this information to, for example, provide our Services to you, as well as get insights on how people use our Services, so we can make our Services better.

    Location Information: We may determine the approximate location of your device from your IP address. We collect and use this information to, for example, calculate how many people visit our Services from certain geographic regions. We may also collect information about your precise location via our mobile apps (when, for example, you post a photograph with location information) if you allow us to do so through your mobile device operating system’s permissions.

    Similar objections apply: Parts can be acceptable; others are definitely not so.

  5. Stored Information: We may access information stored on your mobile device via our mobile app. […]

    This is utterly and entirely unacceptable and grossly unethical. I do not use mobile apps (hardly mobile devices, for that matter), but if I did, this would be an immediate call for me to purge my devices of any and all apps underlying this Privacy Policy. I urge the readers to do the same.

  6. Information from Cookies & Other Technologies: [simplistic descriptions of cookies et al.] Automattic uses cookies and other technologies like pixel tags to help us identify and track visitors, usage, and access preferences for our Services, as well as track and understand e-mail campaign effectiveness and to deliver targeted ads. […]

    The use it self is highly disputable; email campaigns (aka spam) are unethical; targeted* ads at best ethically dubious and requiring unethical profile building.

    *In today’s Internet, the use of advertising in general might be called into question: The excesses of amount and intrusion have reached a point where an ad blocker and/or a blanket ban on images/Flash/JavaScript/whatnot per browser setting is a necessity. When it comes to advertising-driven “free” content, I apply the German phrase “Geschenkt ist noch zu teuer”—“Too expensive, even when gifted”.

  7. We may also get information about you from other sources. For example, if you create or log into your WordPress.com account through another service (like Google) or if you connect your website or account to a social media service (like Twitter) through our Publicize feature, we will receive information from that service (such as your username, basic profile information, and friends list) via the authorization procedures used by that service. The information we receive depends on which services you authorize and any options that are available.

    This is another unethical, Facebook-style, idiocy. The disclaimer about “The information we receive depends on which services you authorize and any options that are available.” might be OK if sufficient options are available and presented to the users in a reasonable manner (and/or default to “no sharing”)—but will they be? Worse, these controls are with yet another party, and now the user has to trust several parties to be both honest and competent… I urge all readers to turn any such settings off and to never engage in such “cross-site” activities. (I use a whole separate computer account for WordPress, e.g.)

  8. We may also get information from third party services about individuals who are not yet our users (…but we hope will be!), which we may use, for example, for marketing and advertising purposes.

    Doubly unethical: Firstly, this implies that individuals who have had no opportunity to read and accept/decline this Privacy Policy are affected by it. Secondly, the intended use at best amounts to ethically dubious advertising—at worst to outright spam.

A following section on (alleged) use is mostly OK, but contains:

To communicate with you about offers and promotions offered by Automattic and others we think will be of interest to you, solicit your feedback, or keep you up to date on Automattic and our products; and To personalize your experience using our Services, provide content recommendations and serve relevant advertisements.

The first amounts to spam; the second is again in the area of ethically dubious advertising. To boot, looking at WordPress (and almost any other service or software tool I have ever used), automatic personalization has no place and does/would do more harm than good: By all means, provide new options and ways of doing things—but let the user be in complete control of the choice whether to use them.

The following section on information sharing is, again, mostly OK, even if some of the talk of third-parties is on the vague side*; however, it contains at least two problematic items:

*The applicable use cases are reasonable and the third parties are required to adhere to the same rules as Automattic, but there is uncomfortably much room for third-party involvement. Note that the more parties are involved, the greater the risk that data are maliciously used, carelessly exposed to the public, or stolen through a security hole.

Aggregated and De-Identified Information: We may share information that has been aggregated or reasonably de-identified, so that the information could not reasonably be used to identify you. For instance, we may publish aggregate statistics about the use of our Services.

The given example is OK, as is, likely, aggregation in general; however, the “reasonably de-identified” is not: This allows handing out data in a per-user manner, and what is considered de-identified by Automattic need not actually be so. It is, in fact, very hard to remove the possibility to track back a non-trivial amount of data to a single individual. (I have no references at my hand, but I point more generally to discussions around the Germany census of 2011 for more information.) To illustrate the problems (without necessarily saying that this scenario would occur with Automattic) assume that I was blogging anonymously and had never made much mention of personal details, except that I was Swedish. Combine this with an IP address coming from Wuppertal, Germany, and this alone could be enough to nail me down. At any rate, there would be no more than a handful of potential candidates, and just one or two pieces of additional data would be enough to clear the others. So, OK, my being Swedish makes me more vulnerable than a German, but, critically, not by much: This amounts to a game of “twenty questions” and where two questions was enough above, a German posting from Germany might have been identified with, possibly, another five to ten*… Correspondingly, non-trivial amounts of non-aggregated data simply should not be exposed to third-parties.

*Consider the rapid reductions of the set of candidates that can occur through knowing not only place of residence but place of birth, alma mater, a previous employer, …

Published Support Requests: And if you send us a request (for example, via a support email or one of our feedback mechanisms), we reserve the right to publish that request in order to help us clarify or respond to your request or to help us support other users.

Such requests can contain information not suited for publication (and it would be insane to trust customer support with such decisions), and it is an unambiguous ethical duty to either collect a specific agreement for any individual such publication or to paraphrase and anonymize the text and other data to such a degree that no problems can occur*. To boot, there is a risk of outright abuse, e.g. in that someone writes a scathing complaint in anger or feigned** anger (which would be very understandable with WordPress), and that this complaint is then republished out-of-context by the service provider for revenge purposes.

*This is also recommendable because the original text can contain much that is irrelevant to the core issue and other users are helped by a corresponding filtering.

**I repeat my recommendation to take a hard line against incompetent support staff and uncooperative businesses, and to use increasingly harsher language during escalations so that it actually registers that customer dissatisfaction cannot just be shrugged off.

Various other items:

While no online service is 100% secure, we work very hard to protect information about you against unauthorized access, use, alteration, or destruction, and take reasonable measures to do so.

Specifically WordPress is known to be highly problematic from a security point of view—and to large parts for reasons that code be avoided were Automattic doing a better job. This includes a better thought-through interface with greater consistency and less useless features, less reliance on JavaScript*, and, obviously, better code. Words are cheap.

*While JavaScript is always dangerous to some degree, it can become very highly problematic when third-party content is present, even in such a trivial situation like browsing ones own blog and encountering hostile or misprogrammed comments or ads.

To enhance the security of your account, we encourage you to enable our advanced security settings, like Two Step Authentication.

In many cases, such statements contain an implicit “and if you do not, we will assume that any breach was your fault and wash our hands”. (Whether this applies to Automattic, I simply do not know; however, I note that this, and a few other statements, are not part of anything that reasonably could be called “policy”, leaving the suspicion that the true purpose is not to state policy but e.g. to reduce or shift legal culpability.)

At this time, Automattic does not respond to “do not track” signals across all of our Services. However, you can usually choose to set your browser to remove or reject browser cookies before using Automattic’s websites, with the drawback that certain features of Automattic’s websites may not function properly without the aid of cookies.

Not respecting “do not track” is weak for a service provider with so large resources. Making a complex service without cookies can be hard, but it is usually possible, and some of the uses on at least WordPress are of negative value. For instance, when I try to confirm a comment subscription not made with my WordPress account, using the provided link, WordPress steps in, matches it with my WordPress session, and refuses the confirmation, claiming that it does not know the email address used for the subscription—thereby forcing me to use another browser for such confirmations. Utterly, utterly idiotic and amateurish.

Automattic encourages visitors to frequently check this page for any changes to its Privacy Policy.

Unacceptable: People have better things to do than over and over again visiting any Privacy Policy, T & C, whatnot, that any of the multitude of online services provide. It is Automattic’s job to gather consent for any and all changes. Anything else is ridiculous and unrealistic. (But, unfortunately, this follows a current destructive trend of various businesses doing their darnedest to make consent to various conditions more-or-less automatic and actual access to said conditions as hard as possible. This even outside the Internet, where I have e.g. received notifications from banks that amount to “Our conditions have changed. The conditions are available in our offices. If you do not object to the changes by X, this is considered consent.”—utterly unconscionable, especially since the changes normally would have fit in the notification message at virtually no additional cost.)

Written by michaeleriksson

December 20, 2017 at 8:49 am

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The repetitiveness of the Blogosphere

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For a little more than a year, I have been very active in the Blogosphere, not only keeping my own blog, but spending hours reading or commenting on other peoples blogs. Indeed, I spent much more time reading than writing. Or at least that is how it used to be…

As time has passed, I have found myself reading less and less, and even needing to remind myself to write. To some degree, this goes back to the general satiety that comes with any activity done for long enough. However, there is another issue: Repetitiveness.

When I first started reading, I truly appreciated the many different views on various topics, the new angles and perspectives, other ways of thinking, being exposed to entirely new topics, … By now, the amount of “newness” has shrunk considerably. Not only because I have covered a lot of ground already, but because the various blogs tend to say more or less the same things about more or less the same issues (even if divided into several camps). Reading the same thing for the fifth time is more of a chore than a pleasure and writing the same comment for the fifth time is even worse.

Without the drive/hope for new insights, my reading has switched from following interesting tags to using the top-100 lists for blog entries. This with the dual idea of these having a higher on-average quality and being more suitable for driving traffic to my own blog through comments. The former is a two-edged sword for the German and Swedish listings, because the blogs found are more-or-less the same on every visit, leading to even greater repetitiveness. Further, the choice is made by popularity, not quality, which means both that there are a number of duds to be found and that true originality of thought is further reduced by the selective pressure of the masses. The English version is near useless: After subtracting all the lol cats, online magazines, hyper-commercial low-quality entries, and similar, there is but a handful out of the hundred worth bothering with. (Lest there be any misunderstanding: I am a great fan of various humour sources on the Internet, lol cats included. However, when I want humour, I visit the sites directly—their presence with multiple entries each on the top-100 list amounts to pollution.)

Lately, being unusually short on time due to work, I have tried to at least visit the “Freshly Pressed” blogs—but the amount of worth-while reading there is close to nil: Photos, recipes, re-hashings of trite ideas, … For that matter, it can be disputed whether there is any benefit in leaving one additional comment to the dozens or hundreds already present. The value added link-wise is likely larger on a “regular” post—and the probability of new insight through a productive discussion is far higher.

Written by michaeleriksson

May 1, 2011 at 5:08 pm

How to write a successful blog

with 11 comments

Occasionally, I come across blog entries on how to be a successful blogger. These invariably seem to deal with questions like increasing the number of visitors, gaining “followers”, or similar. While this may seem reasonable, as a first impression (and may well be valid for a minority even on a thorough investigation), my take is very different—success is not automatically the same thing as having traffic, but will depend on what one actually wants to gain and achieve. Worse: Some even equate “popular” with “good”—by which token Henning Mankell would be a “better” author than Heinrich Böll…

Below I will elaborate by quoting (with minor modifications) two comments of mine:

The human element…

You are not wrong in that the human element is highly beneficial for writing a popular and easily digestible blog (or, m.m., book/movie); however, we all have to ask ourselves “Why do I write? For whom do I write? What do I want to achieve?”.

Speaking for myself, I would write even if I was never read by anyone—writing has immediate benefits for me on other planes than just gaining readers. To me, a good blog entry is a blog entry that makes me think and gain insight (be it through writing it or through reading it on someone elses blog). Besides, let us face it, if I wanted to maximize the number of visitors, I would be running a porn site :-)

Looking at others, they may have very particular interests, write for a niche-market, or otherwise have reasons to write in a different manner. Britney Spears is more popular than Andrew Eldritch (by a show of hands: How many of you have ever heard of him?), but I doubt that he would wish to become a superstar if it involved emulating her music—and we should all be thankful that he does not emulate her wardrobe.


(Some more information on the benefits I gain from writing.)

For most bloggers, the audience should be a secondary priority.

Yes, for those who want to make money or fame out of blogging, the audience must be a priority. However, let us face it, very few actually have success in this area, irrespective of what they try.

Yes, those who want to spread their messages and ideas to others need to pay attention to the audience: Terry Pratchett has had a greater impact on the masses with his ideas than Kant for a good reason. However, while success here is easier to reach, the overall impact of most blogs is small—and often they just compete over an already-believing choir, on which preaching is wasted, while the heathens go elsewhere.

What then is left? Writing for ones own sake, to learn, to gain new insights (including into writing), polishing and developing existing opinions, exposing oneself to external critique, etc. While writing in a notebook is also a valuable exercise, writing for a blog is a better exercise. And here is the big advantage: These are gains that more-or-less any blogger can reach—unlike fame, fortune, and influence.

My advice to the typical blogger: Write primarily for your own sake, with the hope that others will be interested as pure bonus. Do pay attention to the audience, but do not consider maximizing the number of hits per day to be the main purpose.


Written by michaeleriksson

August 4, 2010 at 2:54 pm

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First blogroll replacement

with 6 comments

As discussed in my blogroll policy, I have a five-entry temporary blogroll with the rule that a new entry leads to the removal of an old.

Today, this rule is applied for the first time, and I will take the opportunity to give some information about why the respective entries are/were included:

  1. Fria Nyhetere (Swedish):

    Is discussed in an earlier post.

  2. Inteutanminasoner’s Bloge (Swedish):

    Deals with issues relating to parental rights, kidnapped children, and similar, with a particular emphasis on how fathers are given lesser rights in courts and media. A recurring topic is the case treated in the book “Inte utan mina söner” (“Not without my sons”; by the author of the blog), about a man’s fight to retrieve children kidnapped by the mother.

    This blog is a very refreshing exception to the “women are always the victims; men are always the villains” propaganda seen so often in Sweden (and many other politically correct countries). The underlying issue of the rights and well-being of the children is equally important.

  3. olcrankye:

    Simply a lot of interesting reading on the author’s take on the world we live in, political issues, etc., written in a reasoned and common sense way. (Which is not to say that I always agree with his writings; however, even when I do not, there is often a something of value to be gleaned—whereas many other blogs on similar topics are worth nothing to those who do not already belong to the choir.)

  4. Spreeblick on Primacalle (German):

    This is a link to a specific blog post dealing with the highly dubious, likely illegal, business methods of the German company Primacall. I was lead there by a follow-up poste, which discussed how the blog had been pressured in an unethical way to remove an interview that it published. In particular, Primacall made the absurd demand that the blog author should ensure that pages on external and independent sites dealing with the original post were removed. My decision to link is a direct protest against this absurdity.

    I now choose to let this link be the first to move off the blogroll (as an exception to the typical first-in-first-out guideline), because it provides less value to the readers than the other current links.

  5. The Thoughtful Animale:

    A wealth of interesting readings on e.g. animal psychology. Unfortunately, there are too many attempts to “be cute” and a very varying quality.

  6. Then we have the newcomer, Ethics Alarmse:

    This blog deals with various cases of unethical behaviour, e.g. disparate treatment, intellectual dishonesty, doing what is profitable instead of what is right, …

    A particular benefit is that it can help the reader to become better in spotting ethical aspects of various issues.

Written by michaeleriksson

May 2, 2010 at 9:00 am