Advertising

Google Following Your Offline Credit Card Spending To Tell Advertisers If Their Ads Work (consumerist.com) 119

One of the new tools Google has announced for its advertisers today promises to tie your offline credit card data together with all your online viewing to tell advertisers exactly what's working as they try to target you and your wallet. Consumerist reports: That return, for decades, was hard to measure in all but the most vaguely correlative of ways. Did people buy your product after seeing your TV ad? After seeing your billboard? On a whim after seeing neither? Who knows! But in the age of highly targeted, algorithmic advertising, the landscape is completely different. The apps on your phone know what you looked at and when, and can tie that in to what you see on other devices you're also logged into their services on (like your work computer). Meanwhile, you're leaving tracks out in the physical world -- not only the location history of your phone, but also the trail of payments you leave behind you if you pay with a credit card, debit card, or app (as millions of us do). Google also introduced some offline measurements to its online tool suite back in 2014, when it started using phone location data to try to match store visit location data to digital ad views. But a store doesn't make any money when you simply walk into it; you need to buy something. So Google's tracking that very granularly now, too. "In the coming months, we'll be rolling out store sales measurement at the device and campaign levels. This will allow you to measure in-store revenue in addition to the store visits delivered by your Search and Shopping ads," Google explains to advertisers. That's very literally a collection of spending data matched to the people who spent it, matched in turn to people who saw ads.
AI

How AI Can Infer Human Emotions (oreilly.com) 25

An anonymous reader quotes OReilly.com's interview with the CEO of Affectiva, an emotion-measurement technology company that grew out of MIT's Media Lab. We can mine Twitter, for example, on text sentiment, but that only gets us so far. About 35-40% is conveyed in tone of voice -- how you say something -- and the remaining 50-60% is read through facial expressions and gestures you make. Technology that reads your emotional state, for example by combining facial and voice expressions, represents the emotion AI space. They are the subconscious, natural way we communicate emotion, which is nonverbal and which complements our language... Facial expressions and speech actually deal more with the subconscious, and are more unbiased and unfiltered expressions of emotion...

Rather than encoding specific rules that depict when a person is making a specific expression, we instead focus our attention on building intelligent algorithms that can be trained to recognize expressions. Through our partnerships across the globe, we have amassed an enormous emotional database from people driving cars, watching media content, etc. A portion of the data is then passed on to our labeling team, who are certified in the Facial Action Coding System...we have gathered 5,313,751 face videos, for a total of 38,944 hours of data, representing nearly two billion facial frames analyzed.

They got their start testing advertisements, and now are already working with a third of all Fortune 500 companies. ("We've seen that pet care and baby ads in the U.S. elicit more enjoyment than cereal ads -- which see the most enjoyment in Canada.") One company even combined their technology with Google Glass to help autistic children learn to recognize emotional cues.
United States

The Tech Sector Is Leaving the Rest of the US Economy In Its Dust (theverge.com) 155

Yesterday afternoon, the S&P 500 closed at a record high, and is up over $1.5 trillion since the start of 2017. "And the companies doing the most to drive that rally are all tech firms," reports The Verge. "Apple, Alphabet, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft make up a whopping 37 percent of the total gains." From the report: All of these companies saw their share prices touch record highs in recent months. This is in stark contrast to the rest of the U.S. economy, which grew at a rate of less than 1 percent during the first three months of this year. That divide is the culmination of a long-term trend, according to a recent report featured in The Wall Street Journal: "In digital industries -- technology, communications, media, software, finance and professional services -- productivity grew 2.7% annually over the past 15 years...The slowdown is concentrated in physical industries -- health care, transportation, education, manufacturing, retail -- where productivity grew a mere 0.7% annually over the same period." There is no industry where these players aren't competing. Music, movies, shipping, delivery, transportation, energy -- the list goes on and on. As these companies continue to scale, the network effects bolstering their business are strengthening. Facebook and Google accounted for over three-quarters of the growth in the digital advertising industry in 2016, leaving the rest to be divided among small fry like Twitter, Snapchat, and the entire American media industry. Meanwhile Apple and Alphabet have achieved a virtual duopoly on mobile operating systems, with only a tiny sliver of consumers choosing an alternative for their smartphones and tablets.
Advertising

Facebook Downranks News Feed Links To Crappy Sites Smothered In Ads (techcrunch.com) 95

Facebook's New Feed algorithm is targeting links that send people to crappy websites filled with advertisements. According to their blog post, Facebook defines a "low-quality site" as one "containing little substantive content, and that is covered in disruptive, shocking or malicious ads." TechCrunch reports: The change could help Facebook fight fake news, as fakers are often financially motivated and blanket their false information articles in ads. High-quality sites may see a slight boost in referral traffic, while crummy sites will see a decline as the update rolls out gradually over the coming months. Facebook tells me that the change will see it refuse an immaterial number of ad impressions that earned it negligible amounts of money, so it shouldn't have a significant impact on Facebook's revenue. Facebook product manager for News Feed Greg Marra tells me Facebook made the decision based on surveys of users about what disturbed their News Feed experience. One pain point they commonly cited was links that push them to "misleading, sensational, spammy, or otherwise low-quality experiences... [including] sexual content, shocking content, and other things that are going to be really disruptive." Today's change is important because if users don't trust the content on the other side of the links and ads they see in News Feed, they'll click them less. That could reduce Facebook's advertising revenue and the power it derives from controlling referral traffic. Getting sent to a low-quality, shocking site from News Feed could also frustrate users and cause them to end their Facebook browsing session, depriving the social network of further ad views, engagement and content sharing.
Google

'Google Is As Close To a Natural Monopoly As the Bell System Was In 1956' (promarket.org) 248

An anonymous reader quotes a report from ProMarket: In terms of market share and profit margins, the big digital platforms, particularly Google and Facebook, enjoy an astounding level of dominance. Google, in effect the world's largest media company, has an 88 percent market share in search advertising. Facebook (including Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp) controls over 70 percent of social media on mobile devices. Together, the two firms received 85 cents of every new dollar spent in online advertising in the first quarter of 2016. Amazon has an over 70 percent share in the e-book market. Along with Apple and Microsoft, they are now the most valuable companies (in terms of market capitalization) in the world. The rise of digital platforms has had profound political, economic, and social effects, not least of which on the creators of content. While the internet brought immense benefits to consumers of content, the so-called "creative class" -- authors, journalists, filmmakers, musicians, artists -- has been particularly ravaged by the digital economy. This ravaging, and its roots in the monopolization of content delivery and data in the hands of a few digital giants, are at the heart of the new book Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google, and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy by media scholar Jonathan Taplin. In the book, Taplin explores the way in which the internet came to be dominated by a handful of monopoly platforms, and the subsequent capturing of regulators that has since all but ensured their dominance would not be challenged in court. In an interview with ProMarket, Taplin said in response to a question: "I would say Google is as close to a natural monopoly as the Bell System was in 1956. If you came to me and said 'Hey, I want to start a company to compete with Google in search,' I would say you're out of your mind and don't waste your energy or your time or your money, there's just no way. Classic economics would say that if there's a business in which there are 35 percent net margins, that would attract a huge amount of new capital to capture some of that, and none of that has happened. That tells you there's something wrong."
Advertising

39 Years Ago The World's First Spam Was Sent (mercurynews.com) 60

An anonymous reader write: Wednesday was the 39th anniversary of the world's first spam, sent by Gary Thuerk, a marketer for Massachusetts' Digital Equipment Corporation in 1978 to over 300 users on Arpanet. It was written in all capital letters, and its body began with 273 more email addresses that wouldn't fit in the header. The DEC marketer "was reportedly trying to flag the attention of the burgeoning California tech community," reports the San Jose Mercury News. The message touted two demonstrations of the DECSYSTEM-20, a PDP-10 mainframe computer.

An official at the Defense Communication Agency immediately called it "a flagrant violation of the use of Arpanet as the network is to be used for official U.S. government business only," adding "Appropriate action is being taken to preclude its occurence again." But at the time a 24-year-old Richard Stallman -- then a graduate student at MIT -- claimed he wouldn't have reminded receiving the message...until someone forwarded him a copy. Stallman then responded "I eat my words... Nobody should be allowed to send a message with a header that long, no matter what it is about."
The article reports that today the spam industry earns about $200 million each year, while $20 billion is spent trying to block spam. And the New York Times even has a quote from the DEC employee who sent that first spam. "People either say, 'Wow! You sent the first spam!' or they act like I gave them cooties."
Oracle

In Oracle's Cloud Pitch To Enterprises, an Echo of a Bygone Tech Era (siliconangle.com) 55

An anonymous reader writes: Oracle sought to position itself once again this week as the best place for everything companies need to move to cloud computing. On Thursday, executives at the database and business software giant distanced Oracle from public cloud leaders such as Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform and Microsoft Azure that provide computing, storage and other services to corporations looking to reduce or eliminate their data centers. "Our cloud is more comprehensive than any other cloud in the market today, a full end-to-end cloud," said David Donatelli, Oracle's executive vice president of converged infrastructure. "We design from the chip all the way up to the application, fully vertically integrated." What's interesting about that messaging, which Oracle has been refining since at least its OpenWorld conference last September, is not simply the competitive positioning. Oracle is essentially saying that the nature of cloud computing suggests customers need to move away from the notion that has dominated information technology since personal computers and PC-based servers began to displace mainframes and minicomputers: cherry-picking the best applications and hardware and cobbling together their own IT setups. In short, Oracle contends, it's time for another broad swing back to the integrated, uber-suppliers of a bygone era of technology. Of course, the new tech titans such as Google, Facebook and Amazon arguably wield as much power in their particular domains of advertising and e-commerce as the Big Blue of old. But it has been a long time since a soup-to-nuts approach has worked for enterprise tech companies, and for those few still attempting it, such as Dell and Oracle, it's far from obvious it will work. The cloud, Oracle contends, may well change that.
Businesses

The World's Most Valuable Resource is No Longer Oil, But Data (economist.com) 86

An oil refinery is an industrial cathedral, a place of power, drama and dark recesses: ornate cracking towers are its gothic pinnacles, flaring gas its stained glass, the stench of hydrocarbons its heady incense. Data centres, in contrast, offer a less obvious spectacle: windowless grey buildings that boast no height or ornament, they seem to stretch to infinity. Yet the two have much in common. From an article on The Economist: A new commodity spawns a lucrative, fast-growing industry, prompting antitrust regulators to step in to restrain those who control its flow. A century ago, the resource in question was oil. Now similar concerns are being raised by the giants that deal in data, the oil of the digital era (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternative source). These titans -- Alphabet (Google's parent company), Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft -- look unstoppable. They are the five most valuable listed firms in the world. Their profits are surging: they collectively racked up over $25bn in net profit in the first quarter of 2017. Amazon captures half of all dollars spent online in America. Google and Facebook accounted for almost all the revenue growth in digital advertising in America last year. Such dominance has prompted calls for the tech giants to be broken up, as Standard Oil was in the early 20th century.
Privacy

Over 200 Android Apps Are Currently Using Ultrasonic Beacons To Track Users (bleepingcomputer.com) 192

Catalin Cimpanu, writing for BleepingComputer: A team of researchers from the Brunswick Technical University in Germany has discovered an alarming number of Android apps (234, to be exact) that employ ultrasonic tracking beacons to track users and their nearby environment. Their research paper focused on the technology of ultrasound cross-device tracking (uXDT) that became very popular in the last three years. uXDT is the practice of advertisers hiding ultrasounds in their ads. When the ad plays on a TV or radio, or some ad code runs on a mobile or computer, it emits ultrasounds that are picked up by the microphone of nearby laptops, desktops, tablets or smartphones. SDKs embedded in apps installed on those devices relay the beacon back to the online advertiser, who then knows that the user of TV "x" is also the owner of smartphone "Y" and links their two previous advertising profiles together, creating a broader picture of the user's interests, device portfolio, home, and even family members.
Google

Advertisers Are Still Boycotting YouTube Over Offensive Videos (go.com) 155

An anonymous reader quotes the Associated Press:The fallout from the YouTube boycott is likely to be felt through the rest of this year. Skittish advertisers have curtailed their spending until they are convinced Google can prevent their brands from appearing next to extremist clips promoting hate and violence... At one point, about 250 advertisers were boycotting YouTube... The list included big-spending marketers such as PepsiCo, Wal-Mart Stores, Starbucks, AT&T, Verizon, Johnson & Johnson, and Volkswagen.

It's unclear how many, if any, of those have returned to YouTube since Google promised to hire more human reviewers and upgrade its technology to keep ads away from repugnant videos. Both Verizon and AT&T, two companies that are trying to expand their own digital ad networks to compete with Google, told The Associated Press that they are still boycotting YouTube. FX Networks confirmed that it isn't advertising on YouTube either. Several other boycotting marketers contacted by AP didn't respond.

Thursday CEO Sundar Pichai told analysts that responding to the boycott, Google held "thousands and thousands" of conversations with advertisers, and one analyst now estimates reduced ad spending on YouTube and Google could cost the company $300 million this year alone.
Advertising

Amazon Confirms Advertising Will Become a 'Meaningful' Part of Its Business (thedrum.com) 84

An anonymous reader shares a report: Amazon's advertising business has loomed quietly in the digital media space for some time but the online behemoth has given the clearest indication yet that it will now come to the fore. Advertisers and agencies have been hearing Amazon-sized footsteps for some time but until now the business has erred away from revealing too much. However, on its latest earnings call Amazon was asked by one analyst as to whether advertising could become a more "meaningful part of the business" over the near to mid-term. "It's pretty early in the days with advertising but we're very pleased with the team we have and the results," said Amazon's chief financial officer Brian Olsavsky in response to another analyst query. "Our goal is to be helpful to consumers and enhance their shopping or their viewing experience with targeted recommendations, and we think a lot of the information we have and preferences of customers and recommendations help us do that for customers."
Advertising

Should Burger King Be Prosecuted For Their Google Home-Triggering Ads? (washingtonpost.com) 448

Slashdot reader Lauren Weinstein thinks Burger King should be prosecuted for successfully running an alternate version of its advertisement to trigger Google Home devices again Wednesday: Someone -- or more likely a bunch of someones -- at Burger King and their advertising agency need to be arrested, tried, and spend some time in shackles and prison cells. They've likely been violating state and federal cybercrime laws with their obnoxious ad campaign... For example, the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act broadly prohibits anyone from accessing a computer without authorization... Burger King has instantly become the 'poster child' for mass, criminal abuse of these devices... It was a direct and voluntary violation of law.
Government

GOP Congressman Defending Privacy Vote: 'Nobody's Got To Use The Internet' (washingtonpost.com) 307

Wisconsin congressman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. defended his decision to help repeal broadband privacy rules by telling a constituent, "Nobody's got to use the Internet." An anonymous reader quotes the 73-year-old congressman: "And the thing is that if you start regulating the Internet like a utility, if we did that right at the beginning, we would have no Internet... Internet companies have invested an awful lot of money in having almost universal service now. The fact is is that, you know, I don't think it's my job to tell you that you cannot get advertising for your information being sold. My job, I think, is to tell you that you have the opportunity to do it, and then you take it upon yourself to make that choice... That's what the law has been, and I think we ought to have more choices rather than fewer choices with the government controlling our everyday lives."
"The congressman then moved on to the next question," reports The Washington Post, but criticism of his remarks appeared on social media. One activist complained that the congressman's position was don't use the internet if you don't want your information sold to advertisers -- drawing a clarification from the congressman's office.

"Actually he said that nobody has to use the Internet. They have a choice. Big difference."
Advertising

Burger King Won't Take a Hint; Alters TV Ad To Evade Google's Block (washingtonpost.com) 606

ewhac writes: Earlier this week, Burger King released a broadcast television ad that opened with an actor saying, "Ok, Google, what is the Whopper?" thereby triggering any Google Home device in hearing range to respond to the injected request with the first line from the Whopper's Wikipedia page. Google very properly responded to the injection attack by fingerprinting the sound sample and blocking it from triggering responses. However, it seems Burger King and/or its ad agency are either unwilling or congenitally incapable of getting the hint, and has released an altered version of the ad to evade Google's block. According to spokesperson Dara Schopp, BK regards the ad as a success, as it has increased the brand's "social conversation" on Twitter by some 300%. It seems that Burger King thinks that malware-laden advertising infesting webpages is a perfectly wonderful idea (in principle, at least), and has taken it to the next level by reaching through your TV speakers and directly messing with your digital devices. You may wish to consider alternate vendors for your burger needs.
Advertising

Google Ruins the Assistant's Shopping List, Turns It Into a Big Google Express Ad (arstechnica.com) 99

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The Google Assistant, Google's voice assistant that powers the Google app on Android phones, tablets, and Google Home, has just gotten a major downgrade. In a move reminiscent of all the forced and user-hostile Google+ integrations, Google has gutted the Google Assistant's shopping list functionality in order to turn it into a big advertisement for Google's shopping site, Google Express. The shopping list has been a major feature of the Google Assistant. You can say "Add milk to my shopping list," and the Google Assistant would dutifully store this information somewhere. The shopping list used to live in Google Keep. Keep is Google's primary note-taking app, making it a natural home for the shopping list with lots of useful tools and management options. Now the shopping list lives in Google Express. Express is an online shopping site, and it has no business becoming a dedicated place to store a shopping list that probably has nothing to do with Google's online marketplace. Since Google Express is an online shopping site (and, again, has no business having a note-taking app grafted onto it), the move from Keep to Google Express means the Assistant's shopping list functionality loses the following features: Being able to reorder items with drag and drop; Reminders; Adding images to the shopping list; Adding voice recordings to the shopping list; Real time collaboration with other users (Express has sharing, but you can't see other people as they type -- you have to refresh.); Android Wear integration; Desktop keyboard shortcuts; Checkbox management: deleting all checked items, unchecking all items, hiding checkboxes. Alternatively, the move from Keep to Google Express means the Assistant shopping list gains the following features: Google Express advertising next to every list item; Google Express advertising at the bottom of the page.
Advertising

A Huge Trove of Patient Data Leaks, Thanks To Telemarketers' Bad Security (zdnet.com) 44

"A trove of records containing personal and health information on close to a million people was exposed after a former developer working at a telemarketing company uploaded a backup of its database to the internet," writes ZDNet. An anonymous reader quotes their report: The data contained personal and health-related information, such as names, addresses, dates of birth, phone numbers, email addresses, Social Security numbers, health insurance information, and other data relating to the types of health problems the individuals have regarding the products they need, though many of the records were truncated or incomplete. An examination showed that the database was used to market products to thousands of customers by telemarketers at HealthNow -- no longer a registered business as of 2015. Several records we've seen included customized notes written by staff who were tasked with calling customers, such as when they are home and any other relevant information on the subject.
The database apparently lingered online for years in an AWS instance until it was discovered two weeks ago in search results from Shodan by a Twitter user calling himself Flash Gordon. Databreaches.net, which investigated the breach with ZDNet, believes this as a teachable moment. "Before you give your personal or health insurance information to telemarketers or firms that call to offer you supplies for diabetes or back pain or other conditions, think twice."
Security

McAfee: Big Spike In Mac OS Malware In 2016, Mostly From Adware Bundling (fortune.com) 64

An anonymous reader quotes Fortune: Security firm McAfee released a report this week that showed a big jump in 2016 regarding malware hitting the Mac operating system. The McAfee report said there were 460,000 malware instances affecting the Mac OS in the fourth quarter of 2016, an over 700% jump from the previous year during the same quarter.

McAfee's new report confirms similar research by other cybersecurity firms in recent years that show an increased prevalence of malware affecting Apple computers. Essentially, as more people buy Apple computers, there are more possibilities for malware to infect the machines. But while an over 700% surge in malware may sound frightening, it should be noted that "the big increase in Mac OS malware was due to adware bundling," the report's authors wrote.

Privacy

How To Protect Your Privacy Online (theverge.com) 130

Though the U.S. Congress voted to roll back privacy rules, broadband customers can still opt-out of targeted advertising from Comcast, Charter, AT&T, and T-Mobile. But an anonymous reader explains why that's not enough: "It's not clear that opting out will prevent ISPs from putting your data to use," reports The Verge, adding "you're opting out of seeing ads, but not out of providing data." Neema Singh Guliani, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, tells NPR that consumers can also "call their providers and opt out of having their information shared." But he also suggests a grass roots effort, calling this "an opportunity to pressure companies to implement good practices and for consumers to say 'I think that you should require opt-in consent and if you're not, why not?'"

To try to stop the creation of that data, Brian Krebs has also posted a guide for choosing a VPN provider, and shared a useful link to a chart comparing VPN providers that was recommended by the EFF. This may help avoid some of the problems reported with VPN services, and Krebs also recommends Tor as a free (albeit possibly slower) option, while sharing an informational link describing Tor's own limitations.

I'm curious what steps Slashdot's readers are taking (if any) to protect their own privacy online?
Advertising

HTC Introduces Eye-Tracking 'VR Ad Service' (pcgamer.com) 87

We all knew this day would come: HTC has introduced a "VR Ad Service" that knows when viewers are actively looking at ads. "Ads that appear in immersive VR environments can not only provide more effective impressions, they can also track whether the users have viewed them or have turned away their gaze. Accordingly, the multiplied effect of effective impressions and verified viewings will bring you higher advertising revenue!" HTC explains. PC Gamer reports: Advertisers will only pay for ads after they've been viewed, according to Business Insider. Some of the formats they will use include loading scenes, 2D and 3D in-app placements, app recommendation banners, and big screen video. This will be an opt-in ad service for developers. HTC notes that by opting in, "all of your free apps would be automatically put on the list which can be used to integrate VR Ads." News of in-game ads coming to VR isn't exactly the sort of thing that will excite gamers. If there's a silver lining here, it's that ads are more likely to be relevant to the viewer's interests over time, at least in theory. "Compared to ordinary ad impressions, ads that are seen by users in a immersive VR environment can not only meet the user's needs by means of precise re-targeting, but can also be detected if they are viewed effectively by users," HTC states. "Therefore, promotion of your applications would have much more effective impression, which not only arouses the attention of potential users and enhance brand image, but further attracts interested users directly to download your apps in the VR environment!"
Android

Verizon To Force 'AppFlash' Spyware On Android Phones 120

saccade.com writes: Verizon is joining with the creators of a tool called "Evie Launcher" to make a new app search/launcher tool called AppFlash, which will be installed on all Verizon phones running Android. The app provides no functionality to users beyond what Google Search does. It does, however, give Verizon a steady stream of metrics on your app usage and searches. A quick glance at the AppFlash privacy policy confirms this is the real purpose behind it: "We collect information about your device and your use of the AppFlash services. This information includes your mobile number, device identifiers, device type and operating system, and information about the AppFlash features and services you use and your interactions with them. We also access information about the list of apps you have on your device. [...] AppFlash information may be shared within the Verizon family of companies, including companies like AOL who may use it to help provide more relevant advertising within the AppFlash experiences and in other places, including non-Verizon sites, services and devices."

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