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Forgotten, Almost Gone

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Another era will pass come Dec. 15 with the demise of AOL Instant Messenger. Started in 1997 as a significant innovation and exploration of the possibilities of the Internet, it has certainly outlived its usefulness in the age of texting and Twitter. Did you even know it still existed?

Oath, which is the appropriately named sub-company of Verizon that manages AOL and the parts of Yahoo that Verizon bought, has posted a page on how to preserve your data, although “buddy lists” (how quaint) can’t be saved. The major question is probably how much of that era in your life you wish to keep.

AOL has become increasingly pointless in an era of more content-rich and less advertising-ridden websites available. Verizon’s plans to pump a little life into it by forcing its Verizon.com email subscribers to the crappier AOL version will probably not do any good.

Even areas of the country that don’t have cable or FiOS probably have satellite service available, so the “I’ll start a download before I go to bed and maybe it’ll be done by morning” days of dial-up are toast. Good riddance.

 

Showin’ the Money
Amazon has deliberately created a bidding war with its announcement seeking a second headquarters (HQ2) for its operations, which is exactly what it wanted. Even Howard County, which — as much as I love living here — does not come close to meeting the criteria of adequate mass transit for 50,000 new employees, will be in the game. Cities, states and regions have started the escalation of giveaways to try and lure all of those jobs and all of that money.

In Maryland, the governor is supporting Port Covington in Baltimore, much to other areas’ chagrin. Disputes have broken out in Virginia between sites in the Washington, D.C., metro area, with Tysons Corner, Va., and the Center for Innovation Technology (CIT) campus, near Dulles International Airport, being rivals. Richmond, Virginia Beach and Norfolk also want in.

The CIT site is reported to be worth about $30 million, and the neighboring Fairfax and Loudoun counties stand ready to add perks. D.C. is touting its Metro and city vibe, offering four different sites.

A Little Disgusting
Sure, the plum of HQ2 expanding to 8 million square feet of office and warehouse space, not to mention all those jobs, makes anyone with a pulse salivate. But the now well-defined tactic of dangling such humungous projects, which has been practiced by large companies such as Northrop Grumman in its HQ deliberations last year, is corrosive in many ways. Cities will cut deals reducing or eliminating property taxes, which undercuts the entire idea of having big campuses in your town. And local taxpayers end up building access roads and/or Metro stations.

Look at Coca-Cola Boulevard, in Hanover off Route 100, for instance. Do you see any Coke buildings there? Some industrial buildings have gone up, but the push to create a Coke plant fizzled, leaving only the name as a mocking reminder.

It’s probably too late to stop the practice of localities prostituting themselves like this, but the idea of making businesses buy their own land, pay their taxes and build their own amenities is the true free enterprise system. Amazon can afford it.

Facebook Saves Face
Or at least tries to. In the ever-unfolding saga of Facebook fake accounts and targeted advertising involved in the Russian disinformation campaign in the 2016 election, Facebook now has been accused of removing searchable information on suspect posts. It already has acknowledged that more than 10 million people read Russian-purchased ads.

When a researcher at Columbia University did a bit of sleuthing using Facebook’s own tools for advertising analysis, he came to the conclusion that it was at least double that, perhaps many times more, when you counted re-posts of fake info from other users besides the original poster.

So Facebook “took down” thousands of fake ads and posts that had allowed the research, or at least hid access to their existence.
Facebook has acknowledged that there were at least 470 fake accounts and pages. The researcher looked at just six of them with the most provocative names, and found that there were more than 19.1 million shares, likes and reposts. Lord knows how many there would be if all of them were searched.

Facebook will face Congressional committee hearings in the coming months about the use of these accounts and ads, with some congressmen wanting the truth and others just wondering how these techniques will be used against them in future elections. We can probably count on them not knowing enough to challenge the carefully-worded answers they will receive from carefully-coached representatives of Twitter, Google and Facebook.

If these companies engage in a scrubbing operation to keep the scope of Russian activities quiet, it surely will come around to bite them in the end. We can at least hope so.

There are too many employees who will leak this information to keep the lid on forever. And as usual, being forced to acknowledge things afterwards always makes you look deceitful and foolish for trying.
But try they will.

 

Cliff Feldwick is owner of Riverside Computing and does PC troubleshooting, Network setups and data retrieval, when not fighting for truth, justice and the American way. He can be reached at 410-880-0171 or at cliff@feldwick.com. Older columns are available at http://feldwick.com.