Fiinovation, Google, DMCA and the three orders of investigative journalism

The first order of investigative journalism is, well, investigative journalism. In July last year, The Ken ran this story on a company called Fiinovation.    Fiinovation was a “fundraising consultant” that acted as a middleman between corporates and non-government organisations (NGOs). It was offering to steer billions of dollars of corporate social responsibility (CSR) to its clients, in return for a 10% commission. In 2014 the Indian government had mandated minimum annual CSR spends for large companies, which created a wave of funding (US$7.3 billion in four years).   We reported on an undisclosed list of nearly 5,000 organisations that claimed to have signed agreements with Fiinovation to raise CSR funding, often by paying commissions up front. But they hadn’t seen much by way of funding in return.   Before we go to the second order, a bit about America’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or the DMCA. The 1998 law criminalised the circumvention of access controls that protected copyrighted works and absolved internet platforms of any liability as long as they responded to takedown notices in good faith.   Platforms like Google.   This brings us to the second order, the abuse of DMCA to take down critical news stories. On Thursday, we received this email from Google.
Quote Notice of DMCA removal from Google Search

To: Webmaster of

Google has been notified, according to the terms of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), that some of the material found on your site allegedly infringes upon the copyrights of others. Although some of these URLs may not be available in our search results now, we are retaining these notices and will act on them if at some point in the future we do crawl these pages for inclusion in search results. And sure enough, searching Google for The Ken story titled, “Fiinovation and the CSR funding pot at the end of the rainbow”, did not bring up our story. Instead, we got this message at the bottom of Google’s search page. Just like that, our investigative story had disappeared from Google’s search index.

But what was this mysterious copyright claim that led Google to delete our story from its index? The notice linked to by Google led us to this page, where someone had copied roughly 30% of our story word-for-word, and then backdated the publishing date to make it seem as if we had copied word-for-word from them. After I tweeted about this on Friday, all the content was deleted. Leaving just a 404 page. In short: someone copied some bit of The Ken’s investigative story and published a backdated post on some anonymous blog, then filed a DMCA notice to get The Ken’s story removed from Google’s search results, and then conveniently deleted the copied content. No dead body, no gun, no evidence. The perfect crime!

Quite remarkably, the Wall Street Journal published an in-depth story on Friday on how widespread such fraud was with Google.  The Journal identified hundreds of instances in which individuals or companies, often using apparently fake identities, caused the Alphabet Inc. unit to remove links to unfavorable articles and blog posts that alleged wrongdoing by convicted criminals, foreign officials and businesspeople in the U.S. and abroad.

Google took them down in response to copyright complaints, many of which appear to be bogus, the Journal found in an analysis of information from the more than four billion links sent to Google for removal since 2011. Google Makes News Vanish by Heeding Phony Copyright Claims, Wall Street Journal
The Ken has filed a counter to Google’s DMCA, but I don’t have much hope about the speed with which it will be processed.

Which brings me to the third order of an investigative story, and one of the most famous examples of unintended consequences beyond the first order: the Streisand Effect.
The Streisand effect is a social phenomenon that occurs when an attempt to hide, remove, or censor information has the unintended consequence of further publicizing that information, often via the Internet. It is named after American entertainer Barbra Streisand, whose attempt to suppress photographs of her residence in Malibu, California inadvertently drew further attention to it in 2003.

Attempts to suppress information are often made through cease-and-desist letters, but instead of being suppressed, the information receives extensive publicity, as well as media extensions such as videos and spoof songs, which can be mirrored on the Internet or distributed on file-sharing networks.
This story is the third order effect.
Plastics and the boiled frog delusion
Olina   Our post-lockdown lives will subsist on sachet-style living. Individual food packets on airlines. Unique respirators. Shopping bags that can only be used once.   Already, in true FMCG style, Indian brand ITC has launched sanitiser sachets for Rs 0.50 (US$0.007). Sachet-ising is a common FMCG tactic for the price-sensitive Indian consumer, especially in rural and peri-urban areas. Sanitisers will now join the sachet hall of fame, already strewn with sauce packets, tobacco pouches, and shampoos.   If earlier the “use-and-throw” product economy was built on the dual benefits of price and convenience, Covid just presented a third attraction—safety from infection. Individualised disposable packets for every product is arguably one way to limit transmission. The world is also using an unprecedented amount of personal protective equipment like gloves and medical equipment like syringes to combat the virus. All of which is adding to an existing pile of plastic waste. Most of it, worryingly, ends up clogging the oceans.    Getting businesses to recycle, a hard-fought win, is unraveling under the pressures of Covid:
Plummeting oil prices globally have led to a dramatic decrease in the value of plastics, and companies are making tough decisions about whether recycling is still an economically viable option… many consumer brands, such as beverage companies, could have difficulty meeting previous commitments to adopt more sustainable practices and replace all or portions of their products with recycled plastic. As a result, we could see companies increasingly return to producing virgin, or new, plastic—adding to the unsustainable levels of plastic production and mismanaged waste we were already seeing before the pandemic. The impact of Covid-19 on the movement to end plastic waste, World Economic Forum
As the use of single-use plastics creeps back into our lives, we will encounter what Peter Senge calls the “Boiled Frog Delusion”—a lesson that systems don’t often learn from:
If you place a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will immediately hop out. But if you carefully place the frog in a pot containing room-temperature water, and gradually raise the temperature of the water, the frog will not notice the temperature increase and will stay in the water even though he is free to jump out. The reason for this is that the frog’s internal mechanism for survival is geared to deal with sudden changes to his environment, not gradual ones.
As we tighten the screws on Covid, we are gradually releasing the pressure off of recycling and limiting the use of single-use plastic. Like the proverbial boiled frog, the impact, or reversal of plastic ban will only hit us in time. In effect, the emergence of one system (to combat the virus) is puncturing another (recycling/limiting plastic usage). 
Popularity in a pandemic


Public sentiment—towards a leader, especially—is a mysterious beast. One would presume that newspapers, social media, and community networks play a significant role in shaping it. 

By that logic, a national lockdown should be a very unpopular move. Stalling the economy and confining people to their homes are hardly moves that curry favour with a voting public.

And yet, there is a counterfactual here. It seems as though a tougher clampdown evoked a positive response. The Economist captured this trend:
Notice how the lines diverge greatly between March 23 and 28? The leaders of Australia, Canada, Germany, and India trend upwards, with an approval rating in the mid to high 60s. They all announced national lockdowns during this period. 
Shinzo Abe and Jair Bolsanro, on the other hand, are losing the Covid popularity contest. Abe has been heavily criticised for his official response to the pandemic in Japan. “A perceived delay” in declaring a state of emergency, seems to be the chief cause. 
Not quite as diplomatic as the Japanese, Brazil’s firebrand leader responded with a “so what?” when asked about Brazil’s mounting death toll. Without much scientific backing, Bolsanro has espoused the notion that most Brazilians might have caught the virus and developed antibodies by now that help the virus “not proliferate”
Zoom call populism


When the president of Serbia gave a speech recently, he may have invented a new visual template for populism in a socially-distant society. Or brought to life an aesthetic we’ve previously only imagined in dystopian movies:
Aleksandar Vučić staged himself in front of a backdrop of hundreds of faces of his party members, appearing to be dialled in live and clapping and cheering vigorously along with his words.
  On Twitter, people speculated where Vučić may have drawn inspiration from for this set.
Recognise these references?
New behaviours, newer devices

People are stepping out less, so when they do, they need to make the most of it.
Buy more, store more, is likely to be the new mantra. And that means larger refrigerators, to start with
Kitchen appliances in smaller apartments may also swell in size after shrinking in recent decades. “Our refrigerators kept getting smaller and smaller,” Ms. Baccon said, including under-counter models that seemed acceptable when people were dining out regularly.   “But now this idea of storage, and being able to have food for more than a week, is a thing,” she said. How the Virus May Change Your Next Home, The New York Times
This need not even be a conscious choice. Pandemics of the past have changed people’s living preferences without them realising it. Large balconies were shaped by tuberculosis. Minimalist furniture design came to be preferred over intricate carved wood and upholstered chairs that could be dust magnets. 
So apart from larger refrigerators—even ovens and microwaves, as we cook more at home—what are we going to prefer?
Xiaomi sees opportunity in smart vacuums. Basically little robots that go around the house automatically sweeping and mopping. So confident was Xiaomi, that it launched its device in India in mid-April… through crowdfunding… in the middle of a lockdown. 
Dishwashers could finally find a market In India, where the middle and upper middle class have traditionally been reliant on househelp for cleaning.
Touching things is going to be taboo, too, even if in your own house. Motion-sensor switches anyone? 
Google Home and Alexa have a new sales pitch as well—no touch.
With behaviours and preferences shifting, we might find the devices in our homes changing too. Subject to our ability to afford them, of course. Can’t have larger refrigerators in homes where there wasn’t one to begin with.
Southeast Asian cities ready to re-invent events

A few editions ago, we discussed the rise of the drive-through economy. We’d seen a revival of the classic car-park cinema in the US and South Korea. Germany even held a rave, with cars honking in unison, in a parking lot.
Southeast Asia’s dense megacities don’t have a history of drive-in cinema, but that doesn’t mean event organisers can’t reimagine the concept in the future. A Jakarta-based event company just announced the city’s first drive-in cinema to be launched in early June, in a yet-to-be-disclosed location. “We want to encourage our fellow event organisers to create new things,” the firm said, challenging peers to invent new ways for people to have shared experiences while staying safe. 
In Singapore, meanwhile, the fate of the city’s Formula One race that is slated for September this year is still up in the air. It won’t be feasible to turn it into a closed-door event without spectators, as is planned for the race in Austria in July, organisers have said.

But Singapore’s F1 Grand Prix team also isn’t ready to give up yet. It says it’s still assessing all possibilities while prioritising the “safety and well-being of fans, volunteers, and all Singaporeans.”
  It’s primarily a decision about whether the expenditures make sense. The Singapore government would have to support the event, for example, by waiving hosting costs.

Singapore prides itself on being a forward-looking city. (It just starred as one of the main backdrops for the HBO Sci-Fi series Westworld.) It could use this opportunity to showcase state-of-the-art event concepts and tech for a post-Covid-19 world.
Flu to Covid: electric light to 5G

They’re rampant across Europe—the UK, Netherlands, Ireland, Belgium, Italy, Cyprus and Sweden. And are spreading further in New Zealand. And the US is preparing to fend them off.
No, not Covid-19, but Covid-19 truthers. Or more precisely, the truthers who are destroying telephone towers in the belief that pandemic was actually caused by the introduction of 5G broadband. And that radiation from cell towers equipped with the technology is the real culprit. We wrote about this earlier.
  This is not conspiracy theorists’ first rodeo with pandemics.
On January 31, 1890, the European edition of the New York Herald ran an item suggesting that the electric light was somehow responsible for a global influenza outbreak. After all, “the disease has raged chiefly in towns where the electric light is in common use,” the article noted, and went on to note that the disease “has everywhere attacked telegraph employees.” The original plandemic unmasking: The eerily parallel conspiracy theories behind the Russian flu of 1889, Forbes
Source: Forbes

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