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A man who spent $100K to remove a lie from Google (npr.org)
423 points by Fins 10 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 318 comments

Some background behind the comment I’m about to make: I was born in Ohio and lived in the state until, after graduating from OSU, I moved to Newport Beach (Orange County, California) for work. I only moved to the Bay Area because I didn’t get a startup-style job, although I respect the people who work in startups; I definitely wouldn’t be able to keep up.

I have become extremely concerned that many people who work in the Bay Area—or who work for companies based in the Bay Area—have, in the large, forgotten that their users are fellow human beings. I am turning more and more to the belief that _everyone_ in a company needs to have some unfiltered interaction with the company’s users on a regular basis.

Separating out the support process (to automation, to contractors, etc.) makes it easy to forget you’re not writing code to serve robots, you’re writing code to serve people.

I work for a large games company(as a programmer) and recently visited our customer support centre - man, it really hit hard realizing how much impact our product has on people, and how shielded you can be as a programmer from this impact. They played some calls for us, where people weren't even upset that our game wasn't working or the servers were down - they were just sad, they were at a difficult moment in their lives and our games would cheer them up, or they took a day off work to play, or they were ill and playing multiplayer with their friends was a highlight of their day - it just made me realize that if we break something, people care, and not just in a "I paid my money I want my game!!!" kind of way. As a programmer you work through your list of tasks and go home, especially in large companies the impact of what you do is hiding behind layers of customer support, community managers etc, where if it filters down to you it's already been diluted to a sterile bug description at best.

One of the sad side-effects of moving upwards in the programmer career path can be the loss of direct contact with system users. It was greatly gratifying to sit beside users in the office where I started to develop, to see what their actual needs were and to be able to provide solutions.

As part of a larger team of programmers one is shielded from those situations, and explicitly not allowed to make those decisions. It can probably not be any other way, but something is lost in translation.

I think it's possible to move up and still maintain empathy. The problem is the Silicon Valley mentality captured by the expression "move fast and break things". This frees you to disregard externalities and do what you want. As a result of that mentality, you actively try to forget the people on the other side. And "things" slowly expands to include everything from laws to social norms to human life.

This has nothing to do with Silicon Valley. That's just standard faceless corporation fare everywhere.

For better or worse the opposite happens at AWS

The upper parts of the developer career path as an individual contributor have more direct contact with system users

This is one reason why I feel so satisfied when I can work on internal tools. If I build something for other people in the office I can get direct feedback and see how I have helped them.

Oh hey! I know you!

I feel the same, although I took it a step further (and, too far honestly) and directly reached out to help people on Reddit, explained some misgivings regarding the product we made and generally help those who seemed to be having issues.

It's an eye-opening experience.. it's very easy especially when you're very hidden from it (as I was initially) and it's easy to dismiss people as being vitriolic, but the quiet ones aren't spewing venom and they don't have hate.. they just have sadness and that's jarring.

At a former workplace (medical systems), they had a very cool and highly useful informal policy where they'd require every programmer to attend a surgery as early after being hired as possible (ideally within the first year or so).

Obviously everyone in this field knows how important it is to get things right. But actually seeing it is pretty mind-blowing.

It's the same for everything else, really -- with medical devices it's just easier to connect the dots and figure out why it's important. But technology touches people's lives in very unexpected ways.

Interesting. Almost identical experience here. Coding for a health industry organization, I'm required to experience certain parts of the company as one of our customers would. Even if it's happening in a language I don't speak.

> I'm required to experience certain parts of the company as one of our customers would.

Imagining management coming along and breaking one of your legs.

This make me want to start working on the game industry. Coding that transform into happiness is wonderful. What's the best path for this to someone who works in a mix of data science + big data + ml?

Several years ago Valve was hiring economists, nowadays I am sure they are also hiring a few data scientists.

The cynic in me suspects that data science for a game company will involve mostly marketing research, however.

>The cynic in me suspects that data science for a game company will involve mostly marketing research, however.

Actually, there's a lot of it involved in game design. In the case of MMORPG, what to develop next as extensions or monthly content packs. In the case of single player games, feedback on building sequels. A lot of game developers these days put effort into gathering all sorts of telemetry from their games, RPG developer Bioware for example knows how many hours the average player spent on Mass Effect games, how many finished the game, how many made a customized character vs how many used the default face, how many played a female character versus male, how many imported saves from the previous games, which quests were completed and which were skipped, how much of the dialogue was skipped and many other things that are used to understand what to focus on for their next games. And it's all on a solo RPG, so they had to deliberately add some online analytics reporting functionality and are not just using stats that was lying around on an online game server log.

Guild Wars 2's developer arenanet is employing a data scientist and economist, John Smith, to manage and keep control of the virtual economy in their MMORPG. He's also head of the analytics team which is the primary decision maker on what content is going to be cut and which is going to be developed in the future.

Marketing can be a part of it but more and more, analytics is getting to contribute in game development decisions.

Thanks for setting me straight.

One the one hand, it's cool that they are forward thinking about using telemetry to improve their products. On the other, it's a little upsetting and disheartening that I played plenty of Mass Effect and don't recall ever being given the option to opt out of telemetry. And I am the kind of nerd who will scroll through all the game settings before I even start.

Can you explain why you think that a player should be able to opt out of in-game telemetry(in a way other than not accepting the terms of service and not connecting the game to the master servers)? I'm genuinely curious what your opinion is.

How about game balancing?

That's what I did in a game company, I for example plotted (time or matches) vs. experience + # of people who made it that far for all players and identified a choke point where a large part of players had a long interval with a little progress (and so they dropped off).

Designers need help, some of them are fluent with (big) data but most aren't - and you can be their partner :).

They have stats about everything, how long you spend time in menu, how much you play the game, how much you complete, how long it takes you to achieve something ect ... Big companies have a lot of telemetry going on.

Designing based on user behavior uses data science too but companies like Zynga, King Games, CrowdStar (etc) have been using data science to analyze user behavior and monitization for at least a decade.

That weekly economics blog at Valve sure lasted almost one month.

I hadn't heard of that before so I looked it up and was floored to see that the Valve econ blogger was Yanis Varoufakis, who is presumably no big deal in the gaming world, but is a very big deal in economics and public policy, particularly in the eurozone.

All the big companies are doing something with ML.Also,most online games need data analysis around balancing, revenue, etc.

Check out job openings at Blizzard, Riot, EA, Ubisoft, etc. Or pick a game you like and reach out to them through your extended peer network. If you live in (or know someone in) the Bay Area you are less than the proverbial 6 degrees of separation from someone who works in games.

Caveat: Unless it's an established studio turning out a reliable set of moneymakers, the job is going to be very unstable. It's like a combination of movies + startups. You will work your ass off and if the game is not a hit the company will fold and you'll be on to your next gig, if you can find one.

There is more of this going on in games than you'd expect actually, we even have some pure research positions open too. Email me @gmail.com and I can send you to our jobs page.

That's the thing, though: the vast majority of Bay Area programmers aren't writing code to serve people--they're writing code to make money. Serving people is sometimes a side goal, but for most it will always be a side goal and money will always come first.

There's a running narrative in a lot of Bay Area startups that they're saving the world, but over the years I've become increasingly cynical that saving the world and making money are compatible goals. Every startup I've seen start with noble intentions has compromised their values to make money. Sometimes it's just to stay afloat, and I don't begrudge them that. But even while I don't begrudge people making money just to get by, I can't support the narrative that this somehow is making the world a better place. The ways people become rich involve increasing income inequality, centralizing power, collecting and selling people's privacy, stealing people's attention, lying and manipulation (most marketing), inserting yourself as the middle man in transactions. Some products do provide real benefits, to be sure, but I can't help but think that if it weren't for the desire to get rich, we could get those same benefits without the problems I've listed. And notably, there are very few cases where I believe the tradeoff is a good one--more often the downsides outweigh the upsides.

And to be clear: I don't think there's usually any malicious intent here. When people start off, they really do intend to save the world. But you make compromise after compromise because you "have to" make money, and eventually you're not serving users any more. It can happen to anyone.

That was perfectly put. When it comes down to it, making money is the same thing as "extracting value". Hopefully the system provides as much as or more than extracts, but that is very often not the case.

Next up on HN; professional programming is just abstracted rent seeking. Forum implodes.

> Next up on HN; professional programming is just abstracted rent seeking.

Often, yes. It doesn't have to be.

The first step to improving things is admitting there's a problem.

Your last sentence directly contradicts the one right before it.

Value creation is not the same thing as value extraction.

I work at Google, though not in the Bay Area, in Maps, and we recently had a program where every engineer was encouraged to participate in a user study on features they worked on. The goal was just watch regular people sit down and use the product, see what they liked, see what they didn't, and build some more user-empathy.

I found this pretty awkward, but rewarding, and have let it help guide my personal prioritization. In this case, having a few anecdotes was a lot more powerful than the dry aggregated data.

When i'm using Google Maps, sometimes i have a feeling that you're not using the product you have produced. Especially while driving. But at least it's better than YouTube + Chromecast bundle.

I'm absolutely convinced that noone in Youtube uses 1)Youtube's search function (how can a company that is famous for search have such a completely terrible search at the heart of one of their main products?) 2)Subscriptions (how come they think that subscribing to a feed means "sometimes tell me when there's an update, sometimes don't"?. Can't conceive of them thinking that if they actually used them)

There's a subscription page that (as far as I've ever seen) always shows me all new videos from all of my subscriptions. I'm so confused whenever I hear people make that complaint, because other than times when Youtube as a whole is inaccessible for some reason, I've never experienced anything like it.

Where are you going that you're not seeing all of your subscribed channels' videos?

This is the page I mentioned, and I don't know where else to see subscribed videos. Is there some place that doesn't show them all in this format? https://www.youtube.com/feed/subscriptions

They're talking about email alerts. Those don't include every video.

Personally, I find them rather useless as they often tell me about videos I'd already seen a week before from the subscriptions page.

Not necessarily email alerts.

When I look at YouTube on my AppleTV, in the subscriptions area it'll show me videos from 5 years ago listed first, and videos from a few days ago buried among a bunch of unrelated videos from channels to which I'm not even subscribed.


YouTube is a mess right now. For example, if I go to see the latest clip from last nights various late night shows, it might show me one clip, then everything else is old or completely unrelated to my search.

I even uploaded two videos to my account, but only one of them shows up in my account. The other is there via direct link, but even when I’m logged in as me, it doesn’t show up at all.

Further, whomever created “G Suite” either hates users or is the worst product manager ever.

I bought a domain from google and added g suite for that domain.

It tied the domain to my personal gmail account, and it confuses which account services are tied to: now when I send an email from the new domain’s g suite gmail: any replies to those sent emails return to BoTH!! My personal gmail AND the new gmail account???

They have menu item that are inexplicably non-clickable. The links to things are black and thus not intuitively obvious they are links and a range of other problems.

You have to manage some items through your gmail, the other gmail, admin.google, domains.google etc it’s a freaking nightmare!

And there's something incredibly weird where your videos don't show up in "my videos" but instead in some other place. And the experience is drastically different on a computer vs phone vs TV, and the UI is completely unintuitive.

> When i'm using Google Maps, sometimes i have a feeling that you're not using the product you have produced.

I have this feeling all the time with Maps. I remember distinctly a time in Boston when I was almost late for a meeting. I was running down the street looking for the office building (first time in town) and using Maps to find my way.

But Maps wouldn't let me look at a map. At all. It decided that "shake to provide feedback" was far more important and as I was in a rush down the street, was interrupted every 1-2 seconds by a huge popup in Maps, preventing me from using the product at all when I needed it.

Yes, I know the setting can be turned off. But what kind of default setting is that? Don't let the user use your product? Pretty sure nobody in the Android Maps team had let the office building once before that feature was shipped. It simply rendered the product unusable.

Edit: I don't mean to detract from the product. It's an incredible product. Obviously. But it has simple flaws that seem clear if you use Maps for even 1 day as a regular person.

Maps has been increasingly awful about trying to help when it shouldn't.

Features like 'warn about location closure' and 'recenter screen after accidental touches' are great, but they're so aggressive that simple tasks like "let me scroll over and see where I'm going" involve consciously trying to outwit the UI.

It sort of feels like there's user testing or datagathering showing all false positive errors ("they bumped it then had to hit recenter"), but no data being counted up to see the false negatives ("they scrolled 15 times as undid each action").

>Maps has been increasingly awful about trying to help when it shouldn't.

A lot of Google products seem to be competing to become the new Clippy.

They are shooting for the MS BOB experince.

Try using it on a bike's handlebars. But now that I know I can turn the 'feature' off-- awesome! I will say, bike routing is amazing on Google Maps. It knows about every path and shortcut and road that is blocked to cars but open to bikes.

It may be location dependent. For example, it doesn't know that I can bike across the street by my place, because there's a tram line down the middle. So it insists I go all the way to the end to turn around. It'll often also tell me to go a way that involves a left turn across effectively two lots of traffic, which is a nuisance when it's busy. Usually I use its routing as advisory, and figure out my own way based on it.

> When i'm using Google Maps, sometimes i have a feeling that you're not using the product you have produced. Especially while driving. But at least it's better than YouTube + Chromecast bundle.

This is true. Using YouTube+Chomecast has never worked for me when driving. Once I ended up in a lake!

It gives me that same feeling that people aren't using their product, but mostly about whoever designed the roads in DC.

(I would like nav to notice every time I miss a turn it recommends, and if it's common for people to miss specific turns, take a closer look at what's going on there without requiring a user report. Maybe they already do this, I don't know.)

> (I would like nav to notice every time I miss a turn it recommends, and if it's common for people to miss specific turns, take a closer look at what's going on there without requiring a user report. Maybe they already do this, I don't know.)

Man, this would be a great project for the Boston area also. The constant name-changes and lane alterations within what humans would call "the same road" give Google Maps fits. It's painfully common to hear "take the left lane..." and then suddenly get "using the right lane, turn right" when you've got 500 feet left and ten lanes to cross. Or, even more simply, to hear "turn left" and see 4-5 different left options. Google's definitions of "gentle" and "sharp" leave a lot to be desired.

It's not Google's fault, exactly - the roads here are an absolute mess - but it's certainly something they could do better with. I'm willing to bet the same mistakes happen at the same intersections hundreds of times a day.

> It's not Google's fault, exactly - the roads here are an absolute mess

It's Google's fault for deploying a product that isn't up to the task for which it is promoted.

But that's not unique to Google. You just have to look at Apple earbuds to see another example of "Works in Silicon Valley, so it must be fine everywhere else, too."

I really want to see the first city (or more likely, small campus) where only autonomous vehicles are allowed to drive.

I don't know whether roads would become far more orderly, or if there would just be an plaza with every vehicle zipping past each other at weird angles.

Maybe it'd be this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UIthEM6pDqw

Oh man! I would love for any mapping app to notice that I always exit the Dallas North Tollway at Plano Parkway rather than Park Boulevard, because they're very close, but the Plano Parkway exit is free. I do the same thing when it wants me to merge onto the President George Bush Turnpike and immediately take the Midway Road exit. Again, Plano Parkway means one more stoplight (or two, in the case of Midway), but is a free exit. I do it over and over and over again, and yet every mapping app insists that I save a couple of seconds at the expense of 60 cents. Or maybe spend a few seconds extra at the expense of 60 seconds, depending on how luck or unlucky I am with the traffic signals.

In general, I'd love it if mapping apps wouldn't just say "this route includes tolls," but rather "this route includes tolls of $5.10" or however much, so I could decide whether saving 11 minutes is worth it.

But at least I wish they would notice that I always, always exist at Plano Parkway.

>But at least I wish they would notice that I always, always exist at Plano Parkway.

Google can track your shopping habits, your surfing habits, your eating habits, your viewing habits, and probably more habits than we know about.

But somehow driving the same route five sevenths of the week eludes it.

Google Maps in the U.K. has an “avoid tolls” option.

Google Maps in the U.S. has the avoid tolls option as well. I'm not the poster that previously brought up this issue, but I'm happy to use a toll road if it saves me significant time. It would be nice if I could set a threshold to say "only use toll roads if it'll save me X minutes," or something similar.

I don't necessarily want to avoid all tolls. I want to avoid a toll plaza that costs 50 cents to save me a single traffic light.

The first job I had made all devs do at least 2 1/2 days of support every week. We all hated it, but I can see now how it kept us in contact with the customers. Of the issues / bugs they faced.

Now, I run my own (small) company and make sure I (and everyone else) does at least 2 1/2 days of support.

Support contact is not hidden away, we don't try and put up hurdle after hurdle to contact someone. You can contact us on any medium and is easy(ish) to be escalated to someone who can solve the problem, explain the issue.

Time and time again, customers state our support reputation was the reason why they purchased with us instead of other companies (even though a majority of them never actually get in contact with us)

2 1/2 days sounds like it is on the high side of what is useful and will be super expensive if you pay your devs what they are worth (which makes me suspect that you don't!).

Developers should definitely stay in touch with the end users and I'm a big fan of the principle, when camarades.com was still a thing we did something like this but on a much smaller fraction of the time.

Which helped in another aspect as well: if you get hired as a developer but you end up doing support half the time you will likely be looking to leave for a company where your job title matches the work that you do.

I suspect the GP meant two shifts of four hours, not 2.5 days. The latter seems excessive indeed.

Ah good one, I never saw that possibility, yes, that is likely the accurate reading. It looks like I wasn't the only one reading it like that either. Would be good for the GGP to confirm which one is the correct reading.

Last time I was in charge, I had all team members to serve in all roles (marketing, sales, QA/test, docs & L18N, build meister, tech supp, dev, etc), even if it was just job shadowing. I even sent devs to conventions and customer site visits.

Initially, lots of complaints and pushback.

Afterwards, a lot more collaboration, emphasis on global vs local optimization, and dare I say increased empathy.

Highest functioning team I've ever worked on. I still miss it.

How can you afford paying your customer support representatives developer-sized wages? Do you have any problems finding people who are good at development and also good at customer support? Do a lot of candidates cross-train those two disciplines, with different critical skills?

I'd observe dedicated customer support reps interacting with customers. In a digest. At 1.25x normal speed or faster. A written transcript would be even better. I can't imagine actually being the support person, with synchronous communications. It would be very stressful for me.

I really hope you disclose up-front in your job advertisements that the developer jobs are actually hybrid jobs that are 50% customer support representative.

Two half days, not 2.5 days. So 20% support. One day a week.

I've seen it used effectively. I've had customers write in about a bug that I was able to solve almost immediately. No bug submission, no triage, and an apology from someone who wrote the code with the bug. This a) got us a super happy, referenceable customer, b) fixed a longstanding but infrequent bug with almost no overhead, and most importantly c) reminded me as an engineer that real people use the stuff I build.

I've seen other engineers fix long standing issues with password resets. I've seen designers tweak the language in welcome emails. I've seen a CEO fix a pricing issue on the fly during a live chat with a customer.

Being the support person also gives you empathy for the support people that support the things that you build, and to fix death by a thousand paper cut issues. That's how you afford support days: it makes your customers happier, increases customer retention, and fixes dumb inefficiencies of your support team.

I'll reserve judgment until senorjazz clarifies.

"2 1/2" is 2.5, even by a generous reading. If it is not 2.5, that is an easily avoidable mistake in technical writing. A few more minutes proofreading the user manual could have saved you many half-days in support, señor.

It wouldn't be all on one day a week, because that would be "one day a week" rather than "two half-days a week". Again, presuming good technical writing. So a four-hour stint on support, twice per week. That's only 40% as bad as five half-day shifts per week.

I presume four hours. Obviously, "1/2 day" could also plausibly be 6 hours or 12 hours, or half of a work day of unspecified length, or a time equivalent to half of a work day, occurring at a time other than during ordinary business hours. He has previously mentioned he is available at any time, for paid customers, so somebody is checking the messages on weekends.

With respect to your anecdote, if you didn't write it down, it didn't happen. You still need to write up (and immediately close) the defect report, and attach the customer interaction reports. You don't work for the customer; you work for your company, who works for the customer. And the company needs to know what you did, and why it was necessary, because when you are gone, so is the portion of institutional knowledge that lived only in your head. Your story tells me that this everyone-on-support practice enables workers to cut corners in the development process. It's only more efficient until reaching a certain scale, at which point it becomes a liability.

Your story might also give a corporate attorney some stress. As a company employee, you should never apologize on behalf of the company in a way that even suggests the company might have been at fault for anything. That type of says-nothing, customer-placating apology is an acquired skill.

Would the apparent advantages remain if each person were required to go on a "ride-along" with a dedicated customer support person? Silently listen in on their interactions? Like pair programming, except the support person always does all the driving? That might also be useful with sales staff, to improve requirements definitions. Or with management, to smooth out inefficiencies in process and status monitoring. Why not just make the whole company developers, doing other people's jobs? Because even though developers might be objectively better at customer support than a customer support representative, the work done on customer support does not generate enough additional revenue to pay them a developer's wage while they are doing it. Economic specialization separates the jobs, and pays at different rates. People do what they are best at individually, and exchange the results via trade and communication. Cross-trained generalists only work at small scales.

That's why small, niche companies can run circles around established behemoths within their niche. But they can't scale bigger until they squeeze the reliance on robust individuals that apparently makes them so agile out of their system, and replace that with robust processes.

> "2 1/2" is 2.5, even by a generous reading

While every style guide I've ever read would say never to do this for exactly this ambiguity, they also would demand that two-and-one-half, expressed as a mixed fraction, would be presented as “2½” if a fraction character is available or “2-1/2” in media where that isn't an option. With “2 1/2” as two space-separated elements, “two one-half days” is a more natural reading, IMO, than “two-and-a-half days”.

I would further argue that the conceptual use of half-days is inappropriately imprecise, because that is itself ambiguous.

  12h       = 50% 24-hour calendar day
   6h       = 50% global mean 12 hours of daylight
   0h - 12h = 50% actual local hours of daylight
   4h       = 50% standard 8-hour workday
   5h       = 50% 8 AM to 6 PM business hours
   ???      = opening until midday break
   ???      = midday break until closing
Resolving ambiguity is a great job for a hyphen:

  2-1/2 days = two-and-a-half days
  2 1/2-days = two half-days
The rule to always hyphenate mixed fractions makes that explicit, although the hyphen is visually indistinguishable from a subtraction sign. Is it two minus a half? Which is why my personal rule is to never use mixed fractions, ever, for any reason, and to never write anything that looks like a mixed fraction. No style guide I have seen suggests 2+1/2, probably because some people might confuse (2+1)/2 with 2+(1/2). Just write 5/2 or 2.5 . (And if your number is at the end of a sentence, put a space between it and the period, so it won't be confused with a decimal point.)

That's commendable - if you can find people that are willing to do customer support for half their work time - but at the same time, and this is why Google and co don't do it, it doesn't scale. If Google were to have a customer support group for non-business users, they'd have to hire 100K people to do that.

I mean I'm sure they could manage it and it'd be good for employment, but they're not going to.

Not having a support staff is the exact reason why nearly all of Google's API SDKs and the documentation supporting them are always either broken or out of date.

Except in Ads. Those (almost) always work. The customers who spend here have dedicated technical contacts. Go figure.

> Except in Ads. Those (almost) always work. The customers who spend here have dedicated technical contacts. Go figure.

Even then, it's not always ideal.

A few years ago I did AdWords for a company that dumped five figures every two weeks into Google Ads. Sure, we had our own person at Google assigned to us. But the person was reassigned to another department in Google every two months, and we ended up with someone new and wasting two or three days bringing them up to speed on our specific needs.

That was the daily ad budget at my last company. We changed reps once in like 3 years because she went on maternity leave.

> at least 2 1/2 days of support every week

So during a five day week that's up to 50% of the time?

They meant 2 half-days at a guess i.e. 20% of the employees time.

Do you mean devs spending at least half their time on the phone? Or just on call?

> Separating out the support process (to automation, to contractors, etc.) makes it easy to forget you’re not writing code to serve robots, you’re writing code to serve people.

On the other hand, support duty means you're regularly interacting with people who have problems with your product, and they will commonly be either in a bad mood (due to stuff not working) or just run-of-the-mill assholes (because that's the people who tend to complain). That doesn't necessarily endear them to you, especially when you're not high on socialisation in the first place.

usually when i complain, i am really polite and friendly (even when frustrated about the issue).. this way you usually get most done, and you'll get friendliness back :)

i encourage everyone to be like that.. when this does not help you can always 'scale up' your dissatisfaction in subsequent calls :)

I've found that having to support users has made me a better user myself, making sure that I provide sufficient context and information to aid in debugging, and always being polite and understanding that regardless of how frustrating a problem is, venting on the poor person trying to help you will never help (not that I was an asshole before).

I suppose that falls into the general "walk a mile in their shoes" wisdom.

Welcome to reality: it's your code/design/UX/processes/whatever that caused the customer to be upset.

Maybe. Who's at fault when the problem was inadequate resources to get the job done?

The front-line implementor grunts in engineering whose rushed code is directly at fault? Middle management who wanted to keep their jobs and so didn't bark back? Upper management under pressure who found out too late that they'd over-promised?

Distant, disconnected ownership focused on the bottom line? Consumers in price-driven marketplaces? Economic theorists designing stock markets which aggressively sever any sense of local responsibility and turn publicly held companies into uncaring machines? Whatever or whoever created this cruel hard world?

Who among all those needs to have their noses rubbed in it when end-users suffer?

There are always inadequate resources to get the job done. But if you take pride in your work and the finished product, then you owe it to yourself to talk to your end users directly, regardless of whether you're the front-line implementor, middle management or upper management.

You haven't served in many retail/customer-facing roles have you?

Check out my CV and tell me ;)

You may be misreading this thread/my comment though. The person receiving the angry support call is indeed unlikely to the one at fault for the customer's issue. However, the post you were replying to was making the point that it's good for the people who actually build the product to experience what it's like to support that product's users.

True, but you don't have to get the full firehose.

I agree with your points when it comes to commercial software. You should do your best for your users. However, I have spent the last ten years or so writing some reasonably popular open source tools. I have met some lovely, lovely people who use my software. It makes my heart sing with joy to know I have helped out random people all over the world.

I have also got vitriolic, self-entitled emails from people who assume that I owe them something because they have downloaded my software. In one case, a user suggested I should kill myself (!!).

So yes, you should treat your users like human beings while also realising that in the open source world, you owe them nothing [1]. Do your best and don't worry about it after that.

[1] https://mikemcquaid.com/2018/03/19/open-source-maintainers-o...

EDIT: mispelling.

How can you possibly blame this on developers and not the legal team and directors who agreed it's not worth putting significant effort into a fake result removal system?

I mean they have this system in Europe because it's legally mandated so they just can't be bothered to pay for the employees to run it in the US.

But removal doesn't apply for newspaper websites even in Europe.

If Mr Irvine had tried to get the daily mail to remove an incorrect story he would have had as hard or harder time and all he would have got would be a 3 line retraction on page 35 in tiny print.

That's because you can't unring a bell.

A website can be revised.

there is no blame in what s/he wrote.

This is a leadership problem at the companies employing these people.

The isolation and disconnect you're observing is deliberate, and certainly facilitates the execution of the strategy. But higher up the chain is where the decisions are being made to distance the organization from its users.

It's lovely to see everyone to blame [insert department here], but nobody willing to accept the fact that it's everyone's fault and everyone's problem the same time.

Something clicked in me when I read the story of how Bill Gates used to wander into the support center from time to time and take a few calls. If and when I start a business, everybody is going to wear all the hats, for as long as that can be kept up. All developers do support. No job is so unimportant that the CEO can't jump in and pick up some slack. Everybody needs to be reminded that this is a large operation with lots of moving pieces, but at the end of it is a customer with real needs getting served by your efforts.

That works great for a small company, but once you find that overall productivity increases proportional to the square root of headcount, it will become less and less feasible.

That's fine. Hopefully by then it'll get ingrained into the culture.

"Separating out the support process (to automation, to contractors, etc.) makes it easy to forget you’re not writing code to serve robots, you’re writing code to serve people."

This is difficult to do when much of what silicon valley produces is to serve, or promote, robotic habits and interactions.

There are sub-industries of tech that could not exist if they were forced to interact with, and respect, their customers on a human to human basis - the product and the intended end use of that product preclude that.

Well, the problem to me is that specialization is very valuable in economic terms, but we keep pushing that more and more to increase efficiency, effectively "forgetting" (more like "being lead to") practices that harm both workers and users as "humans". Sadly, it seems its weight in the "profit" function (the one we optimize in business) is just too low lately.

My previous job required that each developer spent a couple of hours a week doing support for this reason.

"Evil begins when you begin to treat people as things." - Terry Pratchett

This is one of the reasons I enjoy working on in-house products for a company that does things other than software.

My users are my colleagues and friends, people I meet in the canteen and the pub.

I don't just find out about the problems they call support for, I also get to hear their minor niggles and workarounds.

I hated working on in house products. The company considers you a “cost center” and doesn’t value you as much as the employees in their profit centers.

Thankfully, that is only a temporary oversight, as eventually robots will be considered people.

> In fact, even after Google stopped listing the defamatory site, the search page added a disclaimer — in red letters — that Ervine's results had been altered

well the search results ARE altered. google actually needs to save more data to hide a search result. it's silly that people attack google instead of the source. also if a single website tells a lie about somebody it's probably not a good source since a SINGLE website is never a good source. In european the cases were different and that's why I think "the right to be forgotten" is a dumb idea. actually official media outlets and newspapers had an article published about a guy who did something bad 15 years ago. written letters that is protected by most european law. however the guy didn't want that his bad history will be revelead so he sued. from than on everything started.

here are my problems with the whole:

* he actually WAS an bad actor in the past, so it's still hard to trust somebody * it's actually easier to restore trust by having a bad and a good article publish (i.e. if people change you could maybe find some writes who writes good things about you) * hiding search results won't hide the truth, it just makes it harder to access, which basically means nothing is forgotten it's just harder to find, how bad people were in the past

actually there is a lot of stuff why the current system is bad.

> he actually WAS an bad actor in the past

To be clear, one of the main points of the article is that he was not a bad actor in the past; he saw sketchy behavior from a prospective investor and reported it to authorities, and the sketchy investigator then launched a smear campaign against him from another country.

The parent comment seemed to be talking not about the specific case in the article, but about the general "right to be forgotten" and expressing an opinion about what the commenter perceived to be potential for misuse.

> he actually WAS an bad actor in the past, so it's still hard to trust somebody

If you don't forgive/forget, there is no incentive for the person to behave differently. E.g. if someone once was involved with the police and as a result cannot get any proper job anymore, how would this individual ever change?

Some countries seem to focused on punishing people for the rest of their lives. This sometimes under the assumption that people actually consider the impact of their actions before do it.

Further, if a person is considered to be/treated as a criminal all the time then eventually they'll just behave as one.

I often cite this (lesser known) G.K.Chesterton's essay:


Since when did forget become acceptable? Do we just remove eg. the holocaust from history books now?

Yes, forgetting is sometimes inappropriate, but not every crime is the Holocaust.

It's the norm in cases involving childhood offenses, for example—expunging one's juvenile record—and it's the reason for statutes of limitations.

> If you don't forgive/forget, there is no incentive for the person to behave differently. E.g. if someone once was involved with the police and as a result cannot get any proper job anymore, how would this individual ever change?

Forgetting the past is bad.

However if the person really changed!!! than it could be easy to get positive news and trust, no matter how your past was/is. You can't change the past, so maybe it's better to get remembered at the past and be better than you were.

I did bad at my past as well. Should I forget it? Hell, no. Currently I changed a lot of myself to be a better person / harder worker, etc. I did not try to dismiss my past.

Is a mugshot of your DUI arrest (but no conviction) 20 years ago the first result of a google search for your name?

No one is saying we should completely forget the past, but there needs to be recourse for people who are being treated unfairly.

Is a mugshot of your DUI arrest (but no conviction) 20 years ago the only remotely notable thing you've ever done in your life? If so, why shouldn't it be the first result of a search for your name? If not, why is it the first result?

> If not, why is it the first result?

Because google search rankings for any niche search strings are pretty meh. Basically anything with your full name in the URL / main body of the page will show up at the top.

I filled the first two pages of results for my name with random stuff I control simply by creating profiles on carefully-chosen sites with my full name, as well as registering a bunch of domains that contain my full name.

That was much easier than contacting the hundreds of news outlets who published my full name in a negative context to correct their lackluster or ambiguous journalism.

There was a few notable exceptions where journalists (who all like to copy stories from each other, then copy that again) had distorted the story so far that they actually managed to confuse me with the perpetrator. In those cases I had the search results removed under the "right to be forgotten".

Honestly I'd rather have the right to be forgotten in a world where bad journalism is the norm, and where trash like the Daily Mail, yellow press, and some kid with a smear campaign have so much power to destroy a persons reputation.

Basically you shouldn't have to know what "SEO" means in order to fend off a smear campaign or simply bad journalism.

I think you deserve better than just having google modify its search results. If a newspaper is slandering you, we need to make them stop.

It's virtually impossible to win a libel case against a news media organization in the US.

If you're a "public figure" (and if more than one media org ran a story about some event involving you, the court will likely find that you are), then to win you need to prove not only that 1) the story was false, but also that 2) the journalist knew the story was false, prior to writing it, and 3) you suffered some material loss due to the story (e.g. being fired from your job).

In other words, journalists can publish speculation as fact (what we might call "lying"), so long as you can't prove they knew for certain it was false.

(In the very unlikely event you aren't found to be a public figure, you still need to prove the story was false and that you suffered a material loss, themselves pretty steep legal hurdles).

I’m really talking about the mechanism of enforcement. Your point about the legal aspects are well taken. But, once those aspects have been resolved, as in Europe, I think there needs to be a better resolution than breaking search. Think about it, looking to Google as the solution assumes they have a monopoly on search.

You don't have to know what "SEO" means in order to fend off a smear campaign or simply bad journalism. You may not have to know what SEO means in order to get your defense sorted higher in search engine results than the slander, but you have to do it because you set SEO as your goal yourself.

I feel for you, out of curiosity did you create your profiles and sites purely to displace the bad results or did you also try to engineer your content to refute them?

Yes. My personal blog (which is now the first result) contains a statement as well as a link to a properly researched article (the source that broke the news), so the article would presumably rank higher in the search results for my name.

Who decides what is notable? You? Google? Some jerk who has it in for me?

Any system that functions as a gatekeeper to full participation in society needs accountability.

In this situation, google, since that's the search engine under discussion. Feel free to hold them accountable if you like. China did.

That’s where I come down on this too. Google isn’t defaming anyone. And, what about Bing, duck duck go, or any other search engine?

The guy in the article could have put up his own website to correct the record. I don’t really like that solution. I really think there should be a way to get a judgement in the US to DDOS the defamatory site. If the hosting company won’t comply.

But, breaking search is a cover-up not a solution. I recently left a company with a cover-up culture. You’ve never seen such terrible code. Because, no one ever weeded out the real problem. They were just ok to bury their heads in the sand as long as google didn’t let them know there were problems.

Looks like you want the government to implement a perfect law that works in every case and will never be misused. Perhaps you could propose one? :)

Personal feelings aside, I think this is quite indicative of European and the US values. The US generally values the freedom to, while Europe values freedom from. Things obviously get more complicated when multiple parties are in play, but those seem like the fundamental properties on which the laws are built.

Which is ironic since freedoms as specified in the american constitution are freedoms from. It does not grant people freedoms, instead it assumes as evident that people have those freedoms and imposes limitations on the government to infringe those freedoms.

The problem is that it only imposes limitations on the government to infringe those freedoms; while an affirmative "freedom from X" guarantee applies to everyone who might infringe that freedom.

Your fellow citizens can be just as harmful to your freedoms as the gov't; and actually maintaining any freedom requires actively limiting the freedom of other people to infringe on that, and enforcing that limitation.

I definitely get this argument. In the US it is quite common for people to blast their music from their cars.

It gives them "freedom to" blast their music. However it definitely takes away my "freedom from" having to hear that shit.

And I think this is why young people are libs and older people are more conservative - probably the exact reason actually. When I was young I never blasted my music, but I also didn't care if others did. Now I'm older and I definitely hate hearing other's music blasting everywhere - no matter where I am. So I NOW want a government that would limit others blasting their music.

It really sucks that simple things like are also things people go to war for. I'm not kidding, if the government tomorrow issued a decree saying that blasting music is punishable by 10 years in prison, the US would literally be at war and millions would die.

Instead we settle for individual cities making noise ordinances and hoping that it's not challenged in court.

It's interesting that, to my eye at least, we've flipped that dynamic completely. Generalizing a bit from stereos, you're talking about government limiting the rights of individuals to maintain a common good. To the extent that either end of the political spectrum can be said to support that, it's the younger, more liberal side. Modern conservatives are flying their Gadsden flags.

How? Less gov limitations?

You cant have it both ways. Limits on government force are inverse to limits on it's people. The Bill Of Rights is a list of things we want to remember that the gov can never do (see it's preamble), it's a bit of a bug that it's called that. Gov is special, we _give_ it the ability to use violence to enforce the rules we set. Corporations don't get to use violence to enforce their rules (unless they buy the gov in a country without the 2ndA). It's a real difference. We are not forced to use a private service (which is why conservatives are so anti forced "health care"), nobody is required to use FB, or YT. Only confused (or ill) people think they are.

A properly functioning system of exchange regulates this via monetary physics. FB is going to be myspace sooner or later. People learn from their mistakes if they have the freedom to make them.

You say that like the US government serves the interests of people-people and not corporation-people.

This kind of corruption in the case of the USA seems quite simple to solve. You've made it legal to buy politicians, how about changing that back? It's a start...

How do you propose to do it? Limit contributions by corporations? I don't see the distinction, corporations are people, I can become a one man corporation by clicking a few buttons.

Money like code, is ultimately speech. I'll take that any day over the alternative limitations as long as we have legit voting and non-forced spending of money.

Please don't take HN threads further into generic ideological arguments. They're all more or less the same, which means they contain no new information, which means we don't learn from them, which means they're not interesting in HN's sense of "gratifying intellectual curiosity" (https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html), which means they're roundly off topic here.

What makes HN topics and discussions interesting are the diffs from other topics and discussions. Therefore the generic is what we're most trying to avoid.

More here if anyone wants it: https://hn.algolia.com/?query=by:dang%20generic&sort=byDate&....

> corporations are people

that may be an accepted legal viewpoint in the USA but it is not the truth

> I can become a one man corporation

In truth you can't, because you will still be a person. Its just that in addition there will be a corporation consisting solely of one person. You may notice that when you incorporate, the corporation does not get a vote and neither does your vote get removed. You may notice that you can incorporate several times and this still does not affect your status as a person.

"corporation does not get a vote and neither does your vote get removed"

Exactly. It's pretty hard to argue being a corporation is somehow special, our courts correctly recognized that. I agree with your second paragraph completely.

Without corporate personhood, how do I sue a company for a harm it did to me? I can't prove the CEO, the human being who does administrative jobs, did the harm, and I certainly can't prove any other employee did, either, so who do I sue? Do I try to sue everyone from the board on down to the janitor? That kinda screws the janitor, to be named in a suit for something the low-level employees had no control over.

So how does it work?

You sue the company, not a person. Why would you assume companies can't be sued if they're not 'people?'

> Why would you assume companies can't be sued if they're not 'people?'

Because that's literally why corporate personhood exists: To be able to sue companies.

And I find it very illuminating that the only response demonstrates ignorance.

If the law says you can sue a company, then you can sue a company. There is no reason why a company has to be a person for this to occur.

In fact, I'm looking at the federal rules of US civil procedure right now, and they say nothing about 'personhood' being required to take action. They say "A civil action is commenced by filing a complaint with the court" and it has a specific section called "SERVING A CORPORATION, PARTNERSHIP, OR ASSOCIATION" and it goes on and on about officers, general agents, representing attorneys, and other such appointed persons who will become involved in such a case.

So perhaps you should actually take a look at the law before you accuse others of ignorance.

> as long as we have legit voting

Not really, no. It's frequently gerrymandered and considerable effort is put into making it harder for some people to vote than others. The count is probably legitimate, except where questionable machine voting systems are in place.


I agree that ideological talking points like "money is speech" are a poor fit for substantive discussion, but you made the thread still worse by crossing into name-calling and being personally abrasive. Would you please re-read https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and not do those things here?

If there is a legit distinction between speech and conversations, you didn't make it or I missed it.

I could start throwing labels about your POV, but that would be a good indication that I don't have a real point to make.

Saying corporations are different because they have buying power that people don't have is incorrect. There are plenty of people that can and do vastly outspend most corporations. They do this by making many corporations and using those to socially engineer the target population instead of contributing directly (this is why money is speech). It also ignores the point that corporations are made of people, and people have one vote. Politicians that do what a small group wants (a corp) vs their larger constituency get voted out (Cantored' in recent US lingo).

> If there is a legit distinction between speech and conversations, you didn't make it or I missed it.

Ok, lets try again:

Money: something generally accepted as a medium of exchange, a measure of value, or a means of payment.

Speech: the communication or expression of thoughts in spoken words

Is that clear?

Listen, I love these conversations but you already convinced me that you're not in good faith, which makes this a waste of time. Stay cool.

> you already convinced me that you're not in good faith

We're irreconcilably opposed, but I have no doubt that everyone on this thread is advocating their true thoughts. Please reconsider this mode of argumentation in the future.

> We're irreconcilably opposed, but I have no doubt that everyone on this thread is advocating their true thoughts. Please reconsider this mode of argumentation in the future.

When I say "I think you're not in good faith", obviously that's not an argument for anything. Take it as a justification of why I'm convinced that continuing won't get us anywhere and therefore not worth the effort.

And by the way... when I said that I was referring to someone else; I haven't been following what you've been saying.

Clumsy phrasing on my part. I meant that collectively, the participants in this thread are irreconcilably opposed. You and I seem to be roughly aligned.

I'm horrified by jakeogh and the unfettering of corporate monsters to gobble up little people; I expect he would be similarly horrified by me for contemplating having the state rein them in.

I'd like to think there's a middle ground where we all deplore and distrust the concentration of power in either public OR private hands, but past experience in debates like this leads me to believe that's unlikely.

Accurate, I appreciate the levelness of your thought.

I'll leave it here, just noticed dang gave me another warning above. It's not an easy job, I know.

I even gave the mechanism, you can use money to generate speech. I don't think you are commenting in bad faith, and I don't think talking to you is a waste of time.

You can use wood to generate heat but no one would plant a tree and call it a campfire.

I knew there was a one-liner in here somewhere but you worded that just perfect :-)

Why? It's a nonsense analogy. Speech is to conversation as wood is to fire?

Does two people talking somehow make it conceptually different than speech?

Anyone can incorporate. If that's the distinction, then it's meaningless.

Doesn't "freedom to" usually mean that you're enabled to do something (for example when you come from a less affluent background and the state helps you to make career with public universities). Not the "freedom to" do to other people whatever you want.

Yes this is a main difference between US and Europe, in the US there is a strong first amendment, in Europe there is no such thing, many of these countries have strong defamation and hate speech laws, as well as in this case the european law of right to be forgotten. Im European but Im envious of the first amendment, for all its faults I think it's better.

The "right to be forgotten" just seems far too close to "right to rewrite history", which is greatly disturbing.

To borrow computer science terminology, I think "history should be append-only."

A nice thought to have, but it does make history less useful when you have so many constantly attempting to append bad data. Eventually you fork the blockchain and get multiple histories.

The US has the right to be forgotten. It's just expressed through contracts (settlement non-disclosure agreements, mandatory arbitration clauses, etc.) instead of through a general law granting the right, and is only available to those with the resources to force others into such contracts.

There is also such a thing as having a record expunged. That is non-contractual, although still more available to people with resources to navigate the legal system.

I don’t really understand this point of view. There is a system to check people’s legal records, there is a system for the police to check people’s past if they apply to some sensitive job (security, banking, etc.)

On the other side google censors a lot of stuff all the time for various reasons (political stuff from ISIS, copyrighted material, random YouTube videos), and the first amendment does only mandate that the state can’t curb free speech, not private companies that do it all the time.

The reality is much more nuanced than that. The online "records" could be fake, out of context, outdated, etc. The internet isn't a git log which you can navigate however you like. You don't get to see the latest revision and on demand diffs. Online, you happen to stumble upon pieces of information. And, as subjective humans, those (usually outdated and out of context) pieces of information often leave the wrong impression.

The law enforcement agencies keep track of what's important regarding my history, not google. And you shouldn't feel entitled to information about myself which I don't want to be made public.

I think it's also worth noting that the US does have laws against slander and libel.

I feel like this article missed that the "right to be forgotten" is meant to cover speech that is true.

The speech, falsely accusing someone of a crime, is illegal in the US, EU, and pretty much everywhere else. It's not exactly a free speech issue, at least in the conventional sense.

I get a bit weary about companies abusing the first ammendment in order to lie to and fleece their customers and the public.

Given the fact that the U.S. has no useful bans on hate speech and that has allowed white supremacism to grow and fester within this country to the point where Trump is now President, you might want to rethink that.

You would learn a lot from a summer travel across Europe.

Free speech isn't worth it because some people think they are better than others? Is that your argument, or am I misunderstanding?

Free speech is important, but like any right it must be balanced against society's interests -- in this case, the interest society has in not going full Nazi. Again, in Germany's case.

Despite having bans on certain kinds of speech, Germany is overall freer than the USA, and scores higher on every free-press index that matters.

I generalize it as the US protects companies, the EU protects people.

It sounds backwards as the US leans more towards personal freedoms than societal freedoms, but the most powerful amendments don't protect people outright. They just protect them from the government.

> I generalize it as the US protects companies, the EU protects people.

And as is often the case with sweeping generalizations, it stereotypizes and oversimplifies reality.

Eg. read about the toll the infamous thalidomide took in Germany vs. in the US, and for what reasons.

The Wikipedia article is comprehensive - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thalidomide

One of the interesting bits:

> After the Nazi regime with its Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring used mandatory statistical monitoring to commit various crimes, western Germany had been very reluctant to monitor congenital disorders in a similarly strict way.

Not really the US was lucky that one individual Dr Kelsey at the FDA dug deeper and did not lenience it for use in the USA.


Of course, as you say, this is the curse of generalizations. It's just the easiest way I've found to explain how legal systems which are superficially similar (I live in an "english common-law" country), end up being wielded very differently.

The other is a general trust of the justice system. "Hate speech" as a legal concept would be abhorrent in the US. 1A aside, it feels like no-one trusts the state to reasonably decide where the line between free speech & hate speech lays, so you simply don't allow it to - Whereas we're much more prone to allow judges to make these judgements.

Of course there's exceptions, how boring the world would be if there weren't. (eg, "I know it when I see it" is a line most famously attributed to a Supreme Court Justice, while the concept behind it finds itself much more at home on the other side of the pond). But the trends seem clear.

(This isn't to beat my chest and admire how much better we think we are - I do think both sides could stand to learn something from the other.)

Is 1950’s Germany relavent here?

We're talking about fundamental (European vs. American) values, so why not? The whole concept may be flawed, but if we accept their existence - for argument's sake - then they shouldn't be assumed to change every ten years or so.

This incident happened because after WWII Germany distanced itself from all practices that were misused by the Nazis. If at all, it is maybe representative for Germany's reaction to its own Nazi history. It is surely not representative for fundamental European values.

First-hand experience of various dictatorships - not limited to the Third Reich, whose impact reached well beyond Germany anyway - has played a strong role in shaping European mindset, and is a significant difference between the US and Europe.

Would you care to elaborate which European values exactly have been shaped by of dictatorship experience, in your opinion?

The only one that comes to my mind is shared with US: that power must be distributed among several institutions so that it becomes difficult to establish a dictatorship.

Eg. much greater ease of banning fringe political groups, ideologies, websites etc. This is one example of "freedom to" (everyone has right to express their opinion, even if it's hateful and extreme) valued less than "freedom from" (these loonies might get to power one day, we gotta protect ourselves against it).

Off the top of my head: https://www.theblaze.com/news/2012/03/22/simply-visiting-ter...

German anti-Semitism was very much reflective of fundamental European values, and in countries where there wasn't a big denazification effort it's quite persistent. And, alas, steadily coming back.

Every hundred years? Every thousand?

The people who hold European values today, whatever that might mean, today aren’t the same people from 100 years ago.

I agree that the very concept of "European values" is vague and of limited use. The continent is very diverse to begin with.

We were talking about laws, thus more like EU vs US. In that case, Germany in the 50s was not in the EU.

Even if the EU already existed, it would be better to talk about more recent facts as the "spirit of the times" (there must be a word in German for that) changes.

The comment that sparked the discussion referred to Europe, not just EU:

> I think this is quite indicative of European and the US values. The US generally values the freedom to, while Europe values freedom from

The reply that prompted me to jump in didn't question this view; just generalized it in a way I'm very sceptical about:

> I generalize it as the US protects companies, the EU protects people.

It's easy to poke holes in this generalization, even without needing a clear-cut definition of what European values are, exactly.

> We were talking about laws, thus more like EU vs US. In that case, Germany in the 50s was not in the EU.

The laws reflect the spirit, so to speak, and while the EU as such didn't exist in 1950s, its "alpha version", the European Coal and Steel Community, of which Germany was a founding state, did. The process was already on.

The Paneuropean modern idea of a united continent is almost 100 years old. The EU is an outcome of a long and difficult process, not something that just came to existence in 1992, in a form that happened to trendily reflect the spirit of the 90s ;)

> "spirit of the times" (there must be a word in German for that)

There is. It's "Zeitgeist", a term that AFAIK has also been introduced into the English language.

> I generalize it as the US protects companies, the EU protects people.

That's what strong laws against bribing and abuse of influence along with proportional representation voting systems tend to get you: governments that are quite inclined to listen to the People (there are varying degrees of democracy, and some European countries are more democratic than others).

Meanwhile, in the US, the People's Voice tends to have zero impact on what type of laws Congress passes:


I think that’s fine (though I live in the US, so that’s not really a surprise). The problem is, when your “freedom to X” hits a case where you actually _can’t_, then you need to stop immediately. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shouting_fire_in_a_crowded_the... comes to mind here.

That’s the exact opposite of the Napoleonic code, tho’

s0rce 10 months ago [flagged]

I've heard this so many times as the reason conservatives don't want to restrict guns because Americans want "freedom to" but then they conveniently ignore this belief when they want to restrict abortion and gay marriage. Both of these could easily fall under "freedom to", even more so since it doesn't hurt others like guns. Basically, it only seems to apply when its convenient.

Please don't take HN threads on generic political tangents. i realize there are degrees of this, but here we stepped over a big degree.

You lack diversity of perspective. Abortion is definitely harmful to a human life. (Some) religious conservatives believe gay marriage is harmful to society.

Before reducing everything to partisan politics, try some empathy.

Abortion rights are predicated on not seeing a fetus as a “human life”. You may not agree with that, but if fetsuses were seen as a human life, then abortions would by definition be homicides.

Fetuses are seen as a human life by those who oppose abortion. That's a nuance the parent poster seems not to get.

If you don't understand why POLITICAL_LABEL_X opposes POLITICAL_TOPIC_Y, it's unproductive to assume they're just being hypocrites.

Their values may differ from yours. Maybe try asking them why.

No, I don't think you can conclude that the parent poster doesn't get that nuance. The Supreme Court has ruled on the freedoms for gun rights, as well as abortion and gay marriage. The parent poster could be interpreted as criticizing the hypocrisy for conservatives who believe in Constitutional authority of the court to rule on Constitutional freedoms.

Reading comprehension, friend. They OP stated they don't understand the conservative argument about abortion "since it doesn't hurt others like guns".

They can only hold that view by dismissing the point of view that it does hurt others. By ending a human life. Nothing hypocritical (aka "convenient") about it.

What on earth does constitutional authority have to do with it? Hold the word salad and stick to the meat.

If it was the only consideration that differentiates between a medical procedure and a homicide, euthanasia or the death penalty wouldn't be legal in some places.

Homicide is legal in certain circumstances -- justifiable homicide (self-defense) or police-involved fatalities. Death penalty is usually defined as the execution of a human offender.

That's my point. If the only legal difference was "a fetus is a human life" that wouldn't be sufficient to consider it homicide. At least that's my impression.

I'm not a legal scholar but the argument seems to be that actions taken by the justice system or the police (death penalty, imprisonment) are legally different than actions done by individual citizens. A woman can go to a doctor and get an abortion without government intervention. A woman cannot execute another human being without government intervention.

I think I understand what you are saying, but it seems to me that's not the point.

I mean, correct me if I'm wrong, but what I was responding to is your statement which I read as "the difference between an abortion and homicide is that we don't consider a fetus as an alive human". To which I responded by saying that if it was the only difference, capital punishment, euthanasia and other stuff would be considered homicide too, as the fact that the subject of these procedures is an "alive human" seems insufficient to consider these cases as homicides.

I'm afraid I'm not understanding whether you're telling me I'm right, I'm wrong or arguing another point entirely. Can you please help me understand?

(I hope I don't come across as belligerant or condescending because neither of those is my intention, I'm genuinely trying to understand your point of view and what you're saying. Also, as you may have understood, English is not my native language, so I may be missing something in my reading of your comments)

I believe we're encountering a real-life example of how "naming things is one of the hard problems" :), and for a non-native English speaker, your English is impeccable.

All I'm saying is that the previous commenter [0] was making a tautological error:

> Abortion is definitely harmful to a human life.

When a woman and her doctor commit a legal abortion, they are ostensibly not doing so thinking that the fetus/embryo is a human being. Roe v. Wade argued that "the word 'person,' as used in the 14th Amendment, does not include the unborn" [1].

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16757245

[1] https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/learning/general...

Abortion is, by definition, the destruction of another life.

Antibiotics are, by definition, drugs designed to kill entire categories of life.

Abortion means to pre-emptively nullify in that context, but I see you are just being political. Why not just say what you mean?

I have never seen a secular description of a fetus as "a life," though that is popular among certain religions these days.

Abortion is a safe, legal medical procedure, and does not involve killing or children.

Surprise surprise, he's the founder of a company selling a service to help people erase shit from google.

Not Quite A Classic Submarine Article (thank you for the correction, thisisit!). Just an overt marketing piece in this case.

Way to go NPR.. doing the tough journalism, really pounding the pavement here.


...which is the last paragraph of the article. Your comment reads like it's a secret that he's a founder of the company when that is laid out pretty clearly.

>Ervine says his reputation was damaged and it hurt his career. Today, he is building a tech company called Bridg-it, to protect people like him who have been attacked online. He doesn't want anyone else to pay like he did. All told, Ervine spent about $100,000 in legal fees. In Europe, he would have just filled out a form.

Honestly I thought it added to the story. Yes, he's founding a company that seems to be aimed at cyber-bullying in schools, which sounds (1) good for society, and (2) not super-profitable.

It seems more like activism-entrepreneurship than self-promotion.

One thing that didn't really connect for me was the article seeming to indicate that he created a business to help others deal with the difficult process of getting information removed from the likes of Google, but then the business website seems to be about school issues.

Good point. My only thought was—maybe they pivoted? The law doesn't really back up right-to-be-forgotten in the US. Cyber-bullying is a significant problem where I live, so I can believe there's a business opportunity (shudder at the phrasing) there.

Yes, the article does point to the fact that he's the founder of a company selling a service. But, this is not a submarine.

You can look at the example quoted by Paul Graham:


The difference is that the submarine pieces are subtle PR pieces.

That's a good point. Thank you.

I don't see how this disqualifies the issues presented in the article

Still, in the US it seems to be a theme "companies solving problems created by other companies being stupid", see """identity theft"""

I would guess most people on HN know about this PR technique, no need to point it out every time you see it.

For myself I enjoyed the article. I didn't know the right to be forgotten wasn't in place in the US.

I disagree: it is very helpful to point it out every time it's seen so that the readers will get educated, or reminded to remain critical.

It should be pointed out every time to the point where HN should even include a tag on articles that are confirmed PR.

Allowing these "advertisement as a story" posts to stand may already be normalized but it doesn't have to continue to be.

I agree that you have a point.

But on the other hand, the cynical in me says that in a sense all articles are like that. Part of these articles are a plug for some startup's PR, part are a techie writing about his hobby because that builds his name and maybe lands him a client, part are big newspapers that need the traffic to sell advertising, some authors write because they want to push their ideological point of view, firms write about the latest bug because they sell security services and expect to win a contract, etc. In a sense no one writes articles expecting nothing in return.

> Surprise surprise, he's the founder of a company selling a service to help people erase shit from google.

Surely that makes complete sense? The bloke spent 100k on the effort, from that they can infer:

1. there's need for a middleman able to handle that for people who don't have the time or money

2. if you can do it for significantly below 100k there's lots of money to be made

I thought this was an article advertising for the European Union.

NPR does this sort of thing all the time. Their reputation model is built around direct public sponsorship, so they can't just run regular ads. But they also need the money, and ads are a seductive source of revenue.

They are subtle enough about it that I still occasionally hear people mention that NPR or PBS doesn't have ads. Sometimes I am able to obnoxiously interject and explain what natives and submarines are, but most of the time I have to leave them to their ignorance.

I am particularly annoyed whenever they are pushing music or books, because they often have this "tote bag" and "kaffeeklatsch" demographic target that doesn't always align with me. So the "cultural reporting" ads fall flat.

The article makes the case that he was inspired to create the business after suffering the problem himself. Not exactly a secret or unusual.

>Surprise surprise, he's the founder of a company selling a service to help people erase shit from google.

You mean like all of the other front page links about people selling their stuff? Or people who blatantly link directly to product pages when Apple or Google or MS launches the next shiny thing? I bet if we go through your comment history we'll see that you were all up in arms when people posted those too!!

>Not Quite A Classic Submarine Article (thank you for the correction, thisisit!). Just an overt marketing piece in this case.

You forgot hes also wearing a very specific sweater, pants and glasses. I bet he got paid to pimp those too! Oh and and a book behind him was suspiciously placed a bit weird to attract your attention. You're totally on the right track here buddy ! /s

>Way to go NPR.. doing the tough journalism, really pounding the pavement here.

NPR didn't submit or upvote the article. Oh wait.. do they have bots?

great point.

one wonders, though, if it's selection bias, because how could anybody who isn't an expert in this area possibly succeed in this to the point where the story becomes interesting?

"normal citizen is slandered on internet and shows up in youtube" is a completely non-viable story, unfortunately.

he's the founder of a company selling a service to help people erase shit from google

He’s already a billionaire, did you miss that part? Why would he need to do sneaky PR stunts?

Because there's a difference between how I read an ad versus an article.

The point of submarines is to get the reader to drop parts of the defense one has against ads and be more open to the content.

Sounds like a service Rick Santorum needed.

Thank you for this link, it really opens one's eyes!

I don't like how they idealize EU law. It is actually used by people that have something to hide. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_to_be_forgotten#Criticis... . I would prefer it to be on case-by-case basis, not automated process.

From that wiki article, 95% are people wishing to protect their personal and private information. If the links are in the public interest then they are not removed. The only issue I see is that it is Google deciding on what is in the public interest, which granted is quite disturbing.

The original right to be forgotten case was about how a guy in Spain couldn't get cheap credit because of past defaults.

It arguably is in the public interest for creditors to know whether or not someone has defaulted in the past. It allows society to lend money at reasonable rates.

And it's interesting that the European court found that the Spanish newspaper that originally published had no obligation to remove this information, but the foreign tech company that simply relays this existing publication should change how it does business.

There were no new rules for the Spanish government. That very government literally ordered the publication as a matter of public interest in the first place. Why change anything at the source?

If someone were cynical, they might suspect the right to be forgotten had a touch of protectionism baked into its rationale, alongside the European idealism.

tremon 10 months ago [flagged]

It arguably is in the public interest for creditors to know whether or not someone has defaulted in the past.

Seems that that mainly is in the creditors' interest, not the public's.

And it's interesting that the European court found that the Spanish newspaper that originally published had no obligation to remove this information, but the foreign tech company that simply relays this existing publication should change how it does business.

You're being willfully obtuse here. If you know exactly what the European Court ordered, you also know its rationale -- and thus know that it had nothing to do with national vs foreign.

This crosses into personal attack, which is not ok in HN comments.

Could you please read https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and not do this again?

> Seems that that mainly is in the creditors' interest, not the public's.

It's in the public's interest to have a functioning credit system. We can use some information to determine creditworthiness, or we can give everyone the same terms.

Under blind terms, not only can none of us afford loans and interest rates feel predatory, you risk a moral hazard where fraud cannibalizes the entire system.

I shouldn't have to argue this though, it's evident from the underlying facts of the case. The Spanish government itself decided there was a public interest in this information, that's why they demanded it was published in the first place.

> You're being willfully obtuse here. If you know exactly what the European Court ordered, you also know its rationale...

The insult seems unnecessary and counterproductive. I don't expect you'll believe me, but for the record, I'm actually making a good faith argument here because I find their rationale incredibly tortured. They conclude that something can be lawfully published, but not lawfully repeated. "Publish" implies the possibility of publicity though, they have the same root! It genuinely seems to me they were trying to have their cake and eat it too.

That's a good thing, though. Everyone has something to hide, and I would very much like to be 100% in control of what information is spread about me, provided that information is not a matter of legitimate public interest.

Critics of the right to be forgotten usually have some personal or financial gain from said information being available. I'm not interested in that.

Other critics claim the Internet will be afflicted with huge "memory holes". So what? Do we really need to log and store everything?

> matter of legitimate public interest

You and I will no doubt have different opinions on what is a "matter of public interest". If someone is embroiled in a scandal, they will consider that they are "over it" and that "the past is the past", while I would very much like to know about it if I'm considering hiring them.

It has to be a case-by-case process. Period. Anything else is either not going far enough, or ripe for abuse.

This. This protection law is a double-edged sword. A decent solution would be to prevent things like judicial documents and government reports from appearing in search engines, and instead make them all available in a different form, which requires some personal effort. Say a custom website or on a request basis. This way you can make sure that if a journalist is researching a corrupt politician, a corporate manager or his seemingly dangerous neighbor that keeps making threats, he can get his information, but it will require a certain minimum of commitment. This way your employer can also only look up the details of only 1-2 people, not screen all applicants based on their past convictions.

News articles should be removed only after a court order that confirms what is said is defaming and untrue. Most people don't get news articles written about them, and if they're correct they can get their legal fees back.

Right now the system is extremely opaque and it's not entirely clear if it's regular people using it or just scammers.

Yo your first point (public records):

Historically that's more or less what we've done. A lot of things are public records, including things that many people might find surprising and personal, but in practice you had to track it down to some dusty town or county clerk's office that was only open occasional and unpredictable hours.

But as a result of a lot of things being digitized you can pay some nominal fee and get a pretty thorough public record search on anyone. Moving into a neighborhood, check out your neighbors. Potential employees. Etc. Heck, a lot of it is free although the "deep web" search companies have moved more to a straight pay model.

The problem is that I'm not sure how you reconcile "public record" and "must be really inconvenient to access" as a matter of statute. Public but may not be digitized? Public but you have to pay $10K to access it? Public but you need to get a court order for legitimate public right to know?

>but it will require a certain minimum of commitment.

But any inconvenience is a business opportunity unless you simply outlaw certain types of information-retrieval businesses.

What makes you think it isn't case by case? Your point about what is or isn't public interest isn't particularly relevant, since in this case it's Google who makes the decision.

I used the EU removal process because a website was hosting my personal information and the webmaster wouldn't respond to contact attempts. Nothing to do with having something to hide! It's about people publishing information which isn't theirs to publish, and it not being cost-effective to take legal action.

everyone has something to hide, especially now when you're on facebook if you want it or not.

Why don't you sort through it yourself then or foot the cost? And also, be the person to go and tell everyone with something to do hide that they don't deserve the same rights as everyone else, namely, to not have their personal information and life on display as part of a company's product being given away to the rest of the world.

Them's the breaks. Free speech is of loftier purpose than preserving the reputation of a hedgefund guy.

It's also ironic and quite frankly terrifying that a news outlet would be lamenting the extensive free speech protections in the US.

This is apparently a part of a series exploring the trendy technopanic of "fake news online", which increasingly looks like a campaign by old media to reclaim their gatekeeping status even if that means thumbing their noses at the first amendment.



> ... communication of a false statement that harms the reputation ...

Treated very differently from country to country, but universally considered an illegitimate use of speech.

Um, NO.

Free speech is one thing. It is rightly protected.

But it is not unlimited, and rightly so.

Libel/Slander, yelling "FIRE" in a crowded theater, and incitement to riot are something different, and are not protected.

Entities such as Google/FB, who serve as editors of what speech/writing/media gets propagated and featured, even though they do it by algorithm, and it might be inconvenient, must also be held to account for properly distinguishing between those types.

Actually there are no expectations in the text of the first amendment but that is for another discussion.

As for libel Google isn't the party that wrote that statement so they aren't liable for libel.

The yelling "fire" thing is a WWI era anachronism that wouldn't hold today.

As for incitement, intent must be proven.

Free speech is very well protected in the US.

> The yelling "fire" thing is a WWI era anachronism that wouldn't hold today.

Eh? Yelling "fire" in a crowded theatre is most definitely still a thing you could be prosecuted for, especially if someone died/was seriously injured in the resultant stampede.


> But those who quote Holmes might want to actually read the case where the phrase originated before using it as their main defense. If they did, they'd realize it was never binding law, and the underlying case, U.S. v. Schenck, is not only one of the most odious free speech decisions in the Court's history, but was overturned over 40 years ago.

> First, it's important to note U.S. v. Schenck had nothing to do with fires or theaters or false statements. Instead, the Court was deciding whether Charles Schenck, the Secretary of the Socialist Party of America, could be convicted under the Espionage Act for writing and distributing a pamphlet that expressed his opposition to the draft during World War I. As the ACLU's Gabe Rottman explains, "It did not call for violence. It did not even call for civil disobedience."

> The crowded theater remark that everyone remembers was an analogy Holmes made before issuing the court's holding. He was explaining that the First Amendment is not absolute. It is what lawyers call dictum, a justice's ancillary opinion that doesn't directly involve the facts of the case and has no binding authority. The actual ruling, that the pamphlet posed a "clear and present danger" to a nation at war, landed Schenk in prison and continued to haunt the court for years to come.

Don't forget Ken "Popehat" White! https://www.popehat.com/2012/09/19/three-generations-of-a-ha...

In US law, speaking the truth is never punishable, in any way. Making untrue statements that result in demonstrable harm to another may be punished.

In some other countries, truth is not an adequate defense against claims of defamation.

> The yelling "fire" thing is a WWI era anachronism that wouldn't hold today.

Really? Go try it and report on the results.

Feel free to take it literally, or think of a similar action that could cause a stampede and try that.

(No, I won't pay your defense, fines, or judgements, and I don't think anyone else will either. This is because the very idea that the concept no longer applies is stupid, and that statement should be abandoned.)

Why must they be?

Imagine the mirror image scenario, where a man's done something wrong, and he has a $100k budget to stop me from telling people about it. Should he really be able to say "hey Google, I'm not going to prove this, but he's totally defaming me so you have to censor him"?

Yes, both happen, and there are many examples of your scenario.

The thing is, Truth is an absolute defense against libel/slander. If you're telling the truth, you have zero liability.

You argue that these companies should have zero responsibility for selecting for truth.

That is wrong.

These corporations are in fact performing the same functions as editorial boards at newspapers, often actually overriding editorial boards in many cases (choosing to display different stories, sequences, etc.).

These companies are not dumb pipes, and their value is predicated on not being dumb pipes. They select every single line they display by an extensive set of criteria. They need to take responsibility for selecting and displaying according to truth value -- editorial responsibility, since they are exercising editorial discretion.

Yes, it's costly. Yes they have the money (and they'll make even more).

Well, two responses to that:

* Is this what you actually want? Would it be proper for Google to say "we've conclusively decided that climate change is real, so from now on we will delist all climate change denial content"?

* What do you think the chances are that a newspaper editorial board would delete an article, just because you wrote them a letter saying it was false?

A Obviously not exactly as you describe, and certainly not as it is done now.

Current algorithms do exactly the opposite -- prioritize falsehoods. This is because false stories have more surprise value than truth and are more noticed and spread more wildly [1]. The algorithms that value engagement, reading, re-sending, etc. thus raise these stories to the top.

So, on things like climate change, people's reputations, etc., yes, they should behave like the editorial boards that they are, and prioritize content by actual experts in the field and by actual facts. No need to delete everything fake since they can list ~unlimited results, but it should certainly be appropriately down-ranked.

While Google seems to have done a little bit to improve the results for a "flat earth" search, YouTube brings to the top a bunch of videos promoting flat earth BS.

Sorry, but liars, charlitans, scammers, and worse should not be given the same platform and respect as actual experts and professionals.

B that would depend on the content of the letter. It happens much more frequently than you seem to expect. And editorial boards every day exercise exactly this sort of restraint, especially at the more credible outlets: "Are there multiple sources for this?", "Is this actually verifiable?", etc.

In short, to quote Asimov: "There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."

No, ignorance is not just as good as knowledge and our major institutions (even and perhaps especially commercial ones) should not promote it as such.

[1] http://science.sciencemag.org/content/359/6380/1146.full

And also note that the failure of these companies to take editorial responsibility for the editing of our society's reality is seriously undermining its democracy.


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I'm both actually.

Comments seemed pretty spot on.


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