[Plura-list] Planet Money on HP's myriad ripoffs; Strength in numbers

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Thu Feb 18 09:59:07 EST 2021


On Feb 22, I'm delivering a keynote address for the NISO Plus
conference, "The day of the comet: what trustbusting means for digital



Today's links

* Planet Money on HP's myriad ripoffs: Ink-stained wretches of the
world, unite!

* Strength in numbers: The crisis in accounting.

* This day in history: 2006, 2011, 2016

* Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming/recent appearances, current
writing projects, current reading


🦸🏾‍♂️ Planet Money on HP's myriad ripoffs

Back in November, I published an article for EFF about HP's latest
printer-ink ripoff: after offering its customers a free-ink-for-life
plan, it unilaterally switched them all to a $1/month-for-life plan.


I advocate on a lot of issues related to tech policy and 99% of the
time, I'm trying to get people to care about complex technical issues
before they become crises - but people can't see the danger until it's
too late.

Printer ink is the exception.

Everybody knows that printers are a ripoff: a monopolized, abusive
industry that has devoted itself to the dirtiest, most deceptive,
immoral tactics, and then handwaved them away with insulting,
butter-wouldn't-melt, disingenuous excuses about doing it for our own good.

That article inspired a *fantastic* segment on the history of
printer-ink shenanigans from NPR's Planet Money, "Why Printers Are The


The Planet Money team did a characteristically excellent job of
explaining just how depraved the ink scam is - it's not just about
screwing us all over, it's also about jettisoning every scrap of decency
and consideration in service to unbridled greed.

This - after all - is the industry that pioneered sending out fake
"security updates" that actually downgrade your device so that it no
longer accepts third-party ink, thereby discouraging millions of people
from running critical updates.

The printer companies - led by HP - are repeat offenders. They do
something inexcusable, get caught, issue a nonpology, and then...do it
again, only worse. The latest Planet Money segment does an outstanding
job of laying out just how rotten the business of printing is.

You can subscribe to the Planet Money podcast RSS here:


And here's a direct link to the MP3 for this episode:



🦸🏾‍♂️ Strength in numbers

Accountancy is more likely to be mocked than celebrated (or condemned),
but accountants, far more than poets, are the unacknowledged legislators
of the world.

Though "bean counters" are employed by firms, they are notionally bound
by a professional code of ethics every bit as serious as the Hippocratic
Oath: "count things honestly." Without an accurate accounting of
quantities, you can't make good decisions on quality.

Though accountancy concerns itself with counting things, it is
inextricably bound up with the realm of ideas, and accounting
conventions (how you account for things) are philosophical matters, not
empirical ones.

It's no coincidence that Modern Monetary Theory owes more to accountancy
than it does to economics. Economic accounts of the economy have an
unfortunate tendency to proceed from first principles, creating models
based on pure reason, without checking in on the actual world.

For example, neoclassical econ's "homo economicus," the rational
value-maximizing actor who populated so many models; or economists'
insistence on targeting inflation with interest rates; or treating
national "debts" like they were household debts.

It's telling that the greatest economics revolution of my lifetime was
"behavioral economics," which could also be called "checking to see
whether real people act like we've assumed they acted."

If it seems weird that economists would spend generations operating on
the incorrect assumption that people behave in a certain way without
ever checking, consider that Aristotle assumed women had fewer teeth
than men, - and never bothered to count.


Accountants check, and what they find is…gnarly. In "An Accounting Model
of the UK Exchequer," Andrew Berkeley, Richard Tye & Neil Wilson offer a
mindbending account (heh) of where money comes from (hint: not taxes),
and where it goes ("poof").


The authors did a two-part MMT Podcast interview describing the paper's
findings, and it is the most extraordinary 2.5h audio you're likely to
find: not just the realities of money, but the deliberate obfuscation



One thing the Exchequer paper reveals is that accountants bat for both
teams: team clarity and team obscurity. As many finance scandals and
finance dramas have reminded us, accounting can be turned to obscuring
and dazzling rather than revelation.

After all, somewhere in HM Exchequer is a team of accountants who know
*exactly* how money works - and know that it's nothing like the account
produced by economists or politicians. They know it because they are in
charge of it. They do money, all day long.

When accountants go rogue, things get bad. And thanks to neoclassical
economics - and its emphasis on the "efficiency" of monopolies - we are
living through a golden age of ghastly accounting fraud.

Just four companies - EY, KPMG, PWC and Deloitte - audit the books of
97% of the 350 largest UK companies; but they make far more selling
these companies consulting services, and have made a habit of lying
about those books in order to boost their consulting income.

Accountancy is meant to be a profession that understands that conflicts
of interest are a moral hazard. But just as doctors convince themselves
they won't get addicted to their own painkillers, accountants talk
themselves into believing that conflicts won't corrupt them.

That's how the Big Four accounting companies came to sign off
Carillion's fraudulent books. The company hid £7b worth of debts, took
on management of vital government services up and down the country, then
collapsed, leaving the nation stranded.


For the Big Four, Carillion's collapse was a feature, not a bug. After
all, the only accounting firms large enough to oversee its bankruptcy
were...the Big Four, who billed millions for cleaning up the mess left
behind by their own fraud.

Accounting fraud is a fascinating potential fracture line in economic
reform. After all, fraudulent accountants may help *some* plutes get
rich - like, say Bernie Madoff, or Donald Trump - but they often do so
at the expense of *other* plutes.

Like Exxon, which lied to its investors for 11 years about the value of
its shale-gas holdings, which it purchased at the peak of the fracking
bubble and whose revenues and liabilities it has buried in its financial
statements ever since.


The company is finally writing down $19.3b worth of those assets, but
the true figure is more like $50b. And yes, Exxon's big investors
include a lot of passive funds that invest pension savings, meaning this
hurts Main Street as well as Wall Street.

But as ever, those pension-savers are the Lucky Duckies here, because -
joke's on us - Americans have basically no pension savings, thanks to
the wage stagnation and asset inflation that left almost all working
Americans facing penury in old age.

Hey, at least they're not getting ripped off by Exxon! The real victims
of this decade-long, multibillion-dollar fraud are the same people who
got snookered into buying into shitty Trump casinos and luxury
buildings: rich people.

By definition, rich people deal in quantities that exceed their ability
to personally count so they are especially vulnerable to scam
accounting. It's only when the frauds tank a company we all suffer, as
jobs and businesses disappear, screwing workers  and cities.

The absence of a neutral ref and scorekeeper is a really big deal in
online business and policy circles. The ad-tech duopoly isn't merely
content to price-gouge advertisers - they also lie about what those
sky-high prices are paying for:


But each member of the duopoly has a different scam. Google's frauds are
complex, behind-the-scenes market manipulations, an abstruse,
mathematical grift that leverages complexity and monopoly to fleece its


Facebook is much more straightforward. It just lies. Back in 2016, FB
lied about how many people were watching videos, and encouraged hundreds
of media company to beggar themselves to chase fraudulent video dollars:


Accounting fraud is in Facebook's DNA. After all, this is a company
whose primary sales-pitch is, "We will count everything you do and then
charge people to help them sell you stuff."

This proposition is intrinsically hard to evaluate. How can a customer
know if their FB ad generated a sale, or whether it was an ad elsewhere,
or random chance, or even that elusive beast, customer loyalty?

The main source for the belief in Facebook's efficacy is...Facebook.
It's not a neutral party, and the accountants who sign off on its books
have repeatedly shown themselves to be untrustworthy.

Here's the latest scandal: since 2018, FB's been defending a
class-action suit brought by its customers who claim that FB lied about
"potential reach" - that is, how many users would see their ads.


And while FB strenuously denies that the inaccuracies in "potential
reach" metrics were just normal, unpredictable variations in user
behaviors, a whistleblowing FB product manager has produced emails in
which they warn execs that they're committing fraud.

The execs who got these memos rejected them, telling the product manager
that acting on them would have "significant revenue impact" - that is,
"Our customers wouldn't buy our products if we were truthful about them."

The fraudulent reach figures begat fraudulent revenues, and those
revenues were fraudulently reported to investors. Those investors will
now take a haircut if FB loses in court.

Accounting fraud's pathology is bimodal: it abets the wage-theft and
austerity that harms the poorest and most vulnerable - but also the
reporting scams that harpoon finance's biggest whales.

It's a curious alliance of interests. For now, it seems like Big Tech is
going to be antitrust and anti-corruption's harbinger, but I wouldn't
count accountancy out - it's got exactly the right kinds of enemies to
fire sustained political will.


🦸🏾‍♂️ This day in history

#15yrsago Bad Samaritan family won’t return found expensive camera

#10yrsago What does Libyan revolution mean for bit.ly?

#10yrsago Crappy themepark operators convicted of “engaging in a
commercial practice which was a misleading action”

#10yrsago HBGary’s high-volume astroturfing technology and the Feds who
requested it

#5yrsago Chinese millionaire sues himself through an offshore shell
company to beat currency export controls


🦸🏾‍♂️ Colophon

Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism (https://nakedcapitalism.com/).

Currently writing:

* My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and
reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 516 words (111926 total).

* A short story, "Jeffty is Five," for The Last Dangerous Visions.
Yesterday's progress: 268 words (5953 total).

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: Privacy Without Monopoly: Data Protection and
Interoperability (Part 1) Privacy Without Monopoly: Data Protection and
Interoperability (Part 1)

Upcoming appearances:

* Keynote, NISO Plus, Feb 22,

*  Mellon Sawyer Seminar on Contemporary Political Struggle: Social
Movements, Social Surveillance, Social Media (with Zeynep Tufekci), Feb
24, https://ucdavis.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_I99f4x8WRiKCfKUljVcYPg

* World Ethical Data Forum keynote, Mar 17-19,

*  Balancing Worldbuilding and Narrative (with Karen Osborne and Kali
Wallace), Mar 24,

* Interop: Self-Determination vs Dystopia (FITC), Apr 19-21,

Recent appearances:

* Talking "Agency" with William Gibson

* Chop Shop Economics

* Monocle Reads

Latest book:

* "Attack Surface": The third Little Brother novel, a standalone
technothriller for adults. The *Washington Post* called it "a political
cyberthriller, vigorous, bold and savvy about the limits of revolution
and resistance." Order signed, personalized copies from Dark Delicacies

* "How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet
analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a
(print edition:

* "Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new
introduction by Edward Snowden:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies

* "Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime,
gender, and kicking ass. Order here:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed
copy here:

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