John Harris

Journalist & Author

Archive for March, 2018

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The Cambridge Analytica saga is a scandal of Facebook’s own making | John Harris

Thursday, March 22nd, 2018

This mess was inevitable. Facebook has worked tirelessly to gather as much data on users as it could – and to profit from it

Big corporate scandals tend not to come completely out of the blue. As with politicians, accident-prone companies rarely become that way by accident, and a spectacular crisis can often arrive at the end of a long spell of bad decisions and confidence curdling into hubris. So it is with the tale of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, and a saga that vividly highlights the awful mess that the biggest player in billions of online lives has turned into.

Related: Cambridge Analytica may be guilty of hype. But data mining poisons our politics | Gaby Hinsliff

At times, Mark Zuckerberg looks like someone who cannot keep up even with himself

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Adapt or die: a new breed of trade union can save the fossils of old | John Harris

Monday, March 19th, 2018

Fast, loud and agile unions working at the frontiers of precarious employment are setting the pace for the future

There is a group of organisations in this country whose most senior roles are almost exclusively the preserve of middle-aged white men. These people do not seem terribly interested in the future, even though it poses grave threats to them and what remains of their power. Indeed, as the economy is endlessly disrupted and transformed, it appears their instinctive response is to bury their heads in the sand.

Though it does not bring me any great joy to say so, these are among the basic facts of 21st-century British trade unionism. Serially weakened by deindustrialisation and kicked around for the best part of 40 years, it is perhaps a miracle that the unions still have 6.2 million members. The work of representation, education and occasional mobilisation that their members continue to do is vital. For all that even leftwing people now seem to be questioning unions’ role within the Labour party, it is entirely right that some of the biggest unions have an organised means of political representation as a counterbalance to the infinite clout of capital. But that is not the whole story, and it is time some glaring failures were talked about in the open.

The big unions can appear to be just waiting for a Labour government to come along and somehow make things alright

Related: Watch out, the Brexiteers might be coming for your paid holidays | Frances O’Grady

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Why are cities like Manchester excluding so many citizens? | John Harris

Tuesday, March 13th, 2018

As divisions grow between rich and poor, urban planners must find space for those left behind

The image of Manchester as a city full of gleaming new buildings and towering cranes may have become a cliche, but only because it is self-evidently true. The old idea of a faded metropolis whose streets echoed to the sound of murmured complaints and melancholic indie music was buried years ago, under new plazas and walkways: only a month or so ago, the Manchester Evening News reported on plans for new “blocks of 18, 26 and 32 storeys” that would add to a city-centre area already labelled “skyscraper alley”.

But all of a sudden unease about the city’s endless transformation has exploded into the open. Last week the Guardian reported that of the 14,667 homes in “big developments” granted planning permission over the past two years, none were set to meet the official definition of “affordable”. This seemed to be in blatant contravention of the city’s policy that 20% of large developments should be given over to affordable housing; Manchester was now “the 0% city” .

Related: The 0% city: how Manchester developers dodge affordable housing

Beyond the city limits, the last traces of dynamism and enterprise fade to almost nothing

Related: Fool’s gold: Manchester’s housing greed is destroying its cultural heart

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The tyranny of algorithms is part of our lives: soon they could rate everything we do | John Harris

Monday, March 5th, 2018

Credit scores already control our finances. With personal data being increasingly trawled, our politics and our friendships will be next

For the past couple of years a big story about the future of China has been the focus of both fascination and horror. It is all about what the authorities in Beijing call “social credit”, and the kind of surveillance that is now within governments’ grasp. The official rhetoric is poetic. According to the documents, what is being developed will “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step”.

As China moves into the newly solidified President Xi Jinping era, the basic plan is intended to be in place by 2020. Some of it will apply to businesses and officials, so as to address corruption and tackle such high-profile issues as poor food hygiene. But other elements will be focused on ordinary individuals, so that transgressions such as dodging transport fares and not caring sufficiently for your parents will mean penalties, while living the life of a good citizen will bring benefits and opportunities.

Related: Data is the new lifeblood of capitalism – don’t hand corporate America control

Insurers could soon know how much TV you watch, whether you obey traffic signals, and how well your plumbing works

Related: Data will change the world, and we must get its governance right

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Corbyn’s Brexit and May’s big moment – Politics Weekly podcast

Friday, March 2nd, 2018

Heather Stewart is joined by Jill Rutter, Jennifer Rankin, Dan Roberts and John Harris to discuss a pivotal week for Brexit. Plus Dharshini David on the supremacy of the US dollar as the world’s favourite currency

Jeremy Corbyn spelled out this week how Labour would proceed with Brexit: inside a new customs union, with full access to the single market and no race to the bottom on regulatory standards. It was warmly welcomed by British industry and puts the focus squarely on Theresa May to respond in her major speech on Friday.

Meanwhile in Brussels, the EU commission published its draft Brexit treaty summarising the talks so far. But it went down like a lead balloon in Downing Street which saw the document as an aggressive negotiating tactic that ‘no UK prime minister could ever agree to’. We hear from our Brussels correspondent Jennifer Rankin.

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