Advertising

Democrats Ask FEC To Create New Rules To Keep Foreign Influence Off Social Media Ads (thehill.com) 56

Cristina Marcos reports via The Hill: Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday asked the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to establish new guidelines for online advertising platforms that would prevent foreign spending to influence U.S. elections. The move comes after Facebook provided information to Congress and special counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the FBI's investigation into Russia's election interference, about Russian ad purchases during the 2016 campaign.

"The recent revelations that foreign nationals with suspected ties to the Russian government sought to influence the 2016 election through social media advertisements are deeply concerning and demand a response," 20 House and Senate Democrats wrote in the letter. "We are fast approaching the 2018 election cycle. As such, it is imperative the Federal Election Commission begin this effort in earnest," they wrote. CNN, which first reported on the Democrats' letter, cited Facebook sources saying they expect Congress may try to require disclaimers on online political ads in the future, similar to political television ads. The Democratic lawmakers suggested that any FEC guidance address how foreign actors can use corporate or nonprofit designations to avoid disclosing political spending; what advertisement platforms can do to prevent foreign campaign activity; and possible changes to disclosure standards for political advertisements.

Space

Idaho Wants To Establish America's First 'Dark Sky Preserve' (idahostatesman.com) 136

schwit1 shares a story from the AP: Tourists heading to central Idaho will be in the dark if local officials get their way. The first International Dark Sky Reserve in the United States would fill a chunk of the state's sparsely populated region that contains night skies so pristine that interstellar dust clouds are visible in the Milky Way... Supporters say excess artificial light causes sleeping problems for people and disrupts nocturnal wildlife and that a dark sky can solve those problems, boost home values and draw tourists. Opposition to dark sky measures elsewhere in the U.S. have come from the outdoor advertising industry and those against additional government regulations.

Researchers say 80 percent of North Americans live in areas where light pollution blots out the night sky. Central Idaho contains one of the few places in the contiguous United States large enough and dark enough to attain reserve status, Barentine said. Only 11 such reserves exist in the world... The proposed Idaho reserve is mainly land managed by the U.S. Forest Service and contains the wilderness of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area... Leaders in the cities of Ketchum and Sun Valley, the tiny mountain town of Stanley, other local and federal officials, and a conservation group have been working for several years to apply this fall to designate 1,400 square miles (3,600 square kilometers) as a reserve. A final decision by the association would come about 10 weeks after the application is submitted.

Businesses

Is Online Advertising Worthless? (zerohedge.com) 289

turkeydance shares a story from ZeroHedge: Category 1 storm clouds are gathering over what has traditionally been one of the most lucrative, and perhaps only profitable, sectors to come out of Silicon Valley in decades: online advertising. Two months ago, it was P&G which fired the first shot across the "adtech" bow when not long after it announced it was slashing its digital ad spending because it thought it was not getting the kind of return on investment it desired, it made a striking discovery: "We didn't see a reduction in the growth rate." CFO Jon Moeller said "What that tells me is that that spending that we cut was largely ineffective"...

So fast forward to last week, when during Thursday's Global Retailing Conference organized by Goldman Sachs, Restoration Hardware delightfully colorful CEO, Gary Friedman, divulged the following striking anecdote about the company's online marketing strategy, and the state of online ad spending in general... What Friedman revealed - in brief - was the following: "we've found out that 98% of our business was coming from 22 words. So, wait, we're buying 3,200 words and 98% of the business is coming from 22 words. What are the 22 words? And they said, well, it's the word Restoration Hardware and the 21 ways to spell it wrong, okay?"

Stated simply, the vast, vast majority of online ad spending is wasted, chasing clicks that simply are not there....One wonders how long before all retailers - most of whom are notoriously strapped for revenues and profits courtesy of Amazon - and other "power users" of online advertising, do a similar back of the envelope analysis, and find that they, like RH, are getting a bang for only 2% of their buck?

Piracy

Can The Pirate Bay Replace Ads With A Bitcoin Miner? (betanews.com) 122

Mark Wilson writes: When it comes to the Pirate Bay, it's usually movie studios, music producers and software creators that get annoyed with the site — you know, copyright and all that. But in an interesting twist it is now users who find themselves irked by and disappointed in the most famous torrent site in the world.

So what's happened? Out of the blue, the Pirate Bay has added a Javascript-powered Bitcoin miner to the site. Nestling in the code of the site is an embedded cryptocurrency miner from Coinhive. Users who have noticed an increase in resource usage on their computers as a result of this are not happy.

TorrentFreak reports the miner is being tested for about 24 hours -- as a possible way to earn enough revenue to remove advertising from the site.
Google

Google Allowed Advertisers To Target 'Jewish Parasite,' 'Black People Ruin Everything' (buzzfeed.com) 139

Alex Kantrowitz, reporting for BuzzFeed News: Google, the world's biggest advertising platform, allows advertisers to specifically target ads to people typing racist and bigoted terms into its search bar, BuzzFeed News has discovered. Not only that, Google will suggest additional racist and bigoted terms once you type some into its ad buying tool. Type "White people ruin," as a potential advertising keyword into Google's ad platform, and Google will suggest you run ads next to searches including "black people ruin neighborhoods." Type "Why do Jews ruin everything," and Google will suggest you run ads next to searches including "the evil jew" and "jewish control of banks." BuzzFeed News ran an ad campaign targeted to all these keywords and others this week. The ads went live and were visible when we searched for the keywords we'd selected. Google's ad buying platform tracked the ad views. Following our inquiry, Google disabled every keyword in this ad campaign save one -- an exact match for "blacks destroy everything," is still eligible. Google told BuzzFeed News that just because a phrase is eligible does not guarantee an ad campaign will run against it. A total of 17 ad impressions were served before the keywords were disabled.
Advertising

First Ever Malvertising Campaign Uses JavaScript To Mine Cryptocurrencies In Your Browser (bleepingcomputer.com) 70

An anonymous reader writes from a report via Bleeping Computer: Malware authors are using JavaScript code delivered via malvertising campaigns to mine different cryptocurrencies inside people's browsers (mostly Monero), without their knowledge. The way crooks pulled this off was by using an online advertising company that allows them to deploy ads with custom JavaScript code. The JavaScript code is a modified version of MineCrunch (also known as Web Miner), a script released in 2014 that can mine cryptocurrencies using JavaScript code executed inside the browser. Cryptocurrency mining operations are notoriously resource-intensive and tend to slow down a user's computer. To avoid raising suspicion, crooks delivered malicious ads mainly on video streaming and browser-based gaming sites (currently mostly Ukrainian and Russian sites). Both types of sites use lots of resources, and users wouldn't get suspicious when their computer slowed down while accessing the site. Furthermore, users tend to linger more on browser games and video streaming services, allowing the mining script to do its job and generate profits for the crooks.
Advertising

Facebook Enabled Advertisers To Reach 'Jew Haters' (propublica.org) 253

ProPublica is reporting that Facebook "enabled advertisers to direct their pitches to the news feeds of almost 2,300 people who expressed interest in the topics of 'Jew hater,' 'How to burn jews,' or, 'History of why jews ruin the world.'" The organization even went so far as to test these ad categories by paying $30 to target those groups with three "promoted posts" -- in which a ProPublica article or post was displayed in their news feeds. Facebook reportedly approved all three ads within 15 minutes. From the report: After we contacted Facebook, it removed the anti-Semitic categories -- which were created by an algorithm rather than by people -- and said it would explore ways to fix the problem, such as limiting the number of categories available or scrutinizing them before they are displayed to buyers. In all likelihood, the ad categories that we spotted were automatically generated because people had listed those anti-Semitic themes on their Facebook profiles as an interest, an employer or a "field of study." Facebook's algorithm automatically transforms people's declared interests into advertising categories. [ProPublica provides a screenshot of their ad buying process on the company's advertising portal.]

"There are times where content is surfaced on our platform that violates our standards," said Rob Leathern, product management director at Facebook. "In this case, we've removed the associated targeting fields in question. We know we have more work to do, so we're also building new guardrails in our product and review processes to prevent other issues like this from happening in the future."

Facebook

Spain Fines Facebook Over Tracking Users Without Consent (tomshardware.com) 41

Spain's Data Protection Authority has issued a 1.2 million euro fine against Facebook after it found three instances when the company collected data without informing users, as required by European Union privacy laws. Tom's Hardware reports: The AEPD found multiple issues with how Facebook gathered data on Spanish users. One of the issues was that Facebook collects data on ideology, sex, and religious beliefs, as well as personal tastes and web surfing habits without informing the users about how that data will be used. A second issue was that Facebook wasn't obtaining specific and informed consent from the users because the data it was offering them about the collection was not sufficiently clear. The company has been tracking both users and non-users of the service through the Like button across the web without informing them about this sort of tracking, nor about what it plans to do with the data. The company has said that the collection is done for advertising purposes before, but some purposes remain secret, according to the Spanish Data Protection Authority. The AEPD said this sort of collection doesn't comply with the EU's data protection regulations.

Finally, the AEPD also noticed that Facebook has not been completely purging the data about users who had already deleted their accounts and that Facebook was making use of accounts' data that have been deleted for more than 17 months. Considering the data that has remained behind is no longer useful for the purpose for which it was collected, the agency considered this another serious infringement of EU privacy laws.

Security

ISPs Claim a Privacy Law Would Weaken Online Security, Increase Pop-Ups (arstechnica.com) 86

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The country's biggest Internet service providers and advertising industry lobby groups are fighting to stop a proposed California law that would protect the privacy of broadband customers. AT&T, Comcast, Charter, Frontier, Sprint, Verizon, and some broadband lobby groups urged California state senators to vote against the proposed law in a letter Tuesday. The bill would require Internet service providers to obtain customers' permission before they use, share, or sell the customers' Web browsing and application usage histories. California lawmakers could vote on the bill Friday of this week, essentially replicating federal rules that were blocked by the Republican-controlled Congress and President Trump before they could be implemented. The text and status of the California bill, AB 375, are available here.

The letter claims that the bill would "lead to recurring pop-ops to consumers that would be desensitizing and give opportunities to hackers" and "prevent Internet providers from using information they have long relied upon to prevent cybersecurity attacks and improve their service." The Electronic Frontier Foundation picked apart these claims in a post yesterday. The proposed law won't prevent ISPs from taking security measures because the bill "explicitly says that Internet providers can use customer's personal information (including things like IP addresses and traffic records) 'to protect the rights or property of the BIAS [Broadband Internet Access Service] provider, or to protect users of the BIAS and other BIAS providers from fraudulent, abusive, or unlawful use of the service,'" EFF Senior Staff Technologist Jeremy Gillula wrote.

Safari

Every Major Advertising Group Is Blasting Apple for Blocking Cookies in the Safari Browser (adweek.com) 442

The biggest advertising organizations say Apple will "sabotage" the current economic model of the internet with plans to integrate cookie-blocking technology into the new version of Safari. Marty Swant, reporting for AdWeek: Six trade groups -- the Interactive Advertising Bureau, American Advertising Federation, the Association of National Advertisers, the 4A's and two others -- say they're "deeply concerned" with Apple's plans to release a version of the internet browser that overrides and replaces user cookie preferences with a set of Apple-controlled standards. The feature, which is called "Intelligent Tracking Prevention," limits how advertisers and websites can track users across the internet by putting in place a 24-hour limit on ad retargeting. In an open letter expected to be published this afternoon, the groups describe the new standards as "opaque and arbitrary," warning that the changes could affect the "infrastructure of the modern internet," which largely relies on consistent standards across websites. The groups say the feature also hurts user experience by making advertising more "generic and less timely and useful."
Music

Apple's 'Shoddy' Beats Headphones Get Slammed In Lawsuit (theregister.co.uk) 188

A lawsuit (PDF) filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Oakland, California, recounts the frustrations of five plaintiffs who found that Apple's Powerbeats 2 and Powerbeats 3 headphones did not perform as advertised. They are also claiming the company is refusing to honor warranty commitments to repair or replace the failed units. The Register reports: The complaint seeks $5,000,000 in damages and class action certification, in order to represent thousands of similarly afflicted Beats customers who are alleged to exist. "In widespread advertising and marketing campaigns, Apple touts that its costly Powerbeats (which retail for $199.95) are 'BUILT TO ENDURE' and are the 'BEST HEADPHONES FOR WORKING OUT,'" the complaint says. "But these costly headphones are neither 'built to endure' nor 'sweat & water resistant,' and certainly do not have a battery that lasts for six or twelve hours. Instead, these shoddy headphones contain a design defect that causes the battery life to diminish and eventually stop retaining a charge."

The complaint attributes the shoddiness of Apple's Powerbeats headphones to cheap components. Citing an estimate in a recent Motley Fool article, the complaint contends that Apple's Beats Solo headphones cost $16.89 to make and retail for $199.95: a markup of more than 1,000 per cent. That figure actually comes from a Medium post by Avery Louie, from hardware prototyping biz Bolt.

Facebook

The Fake News Machine: Inside a Town Gearing Up for 2020 (cnn.com) 225

CNN has a story on Veles, riverside town in Macedonia, which back in the day was known to make porcelain for the whole of Yugoslavia. But now, as an investigation by the news outlet has found, it makes fake news. Veles has become home to dozens of website operators who churn out bogus stories designed to attract the attention of Americans. Each click adds cash to their bank accounts. From the report: The scale is industrial: Over 100 websites were tracked here during the final weeks of the 2016 U.S. election campaign, producing fake news that mostly favored Republican candidate for President Donald Trump. One of the shadowy industry's pioneers is a soft-spoken law school dropout. Worried that his online accounts could be shut down, the 24-year-old asked to be known only as Mikhail. He takes on a different persona at night, prowling the internet as "Jesica," an American who frequently posts pro-Trump memes on Facebook. The website and Facebook page that "Jesica" runs caters to conservative readers in the U.S. The stories are political -- and often wrong on the facts. But that doesn't concern Mikhail. "I don't care, because the people are reading," he said. "At 22, I was earning more than someone [in Macedonia] will ever learn in his entire life." He claims to have earned up to $2,500 a day from advertising on his website, while the average monthly income in Macedonia is just $426. The profits come primarily from ad services such as Google's AdSense, which place targeted advertisements around the web. Each click sends a little bit of cash back to the content creator. Mikhail says he has used his profits to buy a house and put his younger sister through school. [...] That site was blocked a few months ago after Facebook and Google started cracking down on fake news sites. Mikhail is now retooling his operation, with his sights set firmly on the 2020 presidential election.
The Courts

The Teen Malware Career Of Marcus Hutchins (itwire.com) 48

Slashdot reader troublemaker_23 writes, "A number of security researchers have dismissed an article by reporter Brian Krebs about Marcus Hutchins, the Briton who is awaiting trial in the US on charges of writing and distributing the Kronos banking malware, by pointing out that it has nothing to do with the case." An anonymous reader writes: Krebs investigated dozens of hacker forum pseudonyms, concluding "The clues suggest that Hutchins began developing and selling malware in his mid-teens -- only to later develop a change of heart and earnestly endeavor to leave that part of his life squarely in the rearview mirror." Krebs believes 15-year-old Hutchins registered a domain he'd later advertise as "mainly for blackhats wanting to phish," and in 2010 may have filmed YouTube videos about password-stealing malware. Krebs says the early activities are "fairly small-time -- and hardly rise to the level of coding from scratch a complex banking trojan and selling it to cybercriminals," though he believes Hutchins moved on to advertising exploit kits, password-stealers, and bot rentals.

Krebs also talked to 27-year-old Brendan Johnston, a friend of Hutchins who did time in prison in 2014 for selling Trojans, who "said his old friend sincerely tried to turn things around in late 2012... 'I feel like I know Marcus better than most people do online, and when I heard about the accusations I was completely shocked,. He tried for such a long time to steer me down a straight and narrow path that seeing this tied to him didn't make sense to me at all." Krebs stresses that Hutchins didn't try to hide the fact that he'd written malware, "which in the United States at least is a form of protected speech." And his essay concludes, "Let me be clear: I have no information to support the claim that Hutchins authored or sold the Kronos banking trojan."

Symantec's former cybersecurity czar Tarah Wheeler has now set up a new legal fund after it was discovered that most of the online donations to Hutchins' previous defense fund came from stolen or fake credit card numbers. Hutchins returns to court in October, and the new fund has already received more than $16,000 in donations from more than 200 contributors.
Facebook

Facebook Offers Hundreds of Millions of Dollars for Music Rights (bloomberg.com) 84

Facebook is offering major record labels and music publishers hundreds of millions of dollars so the users of its social network can legally include songs in videos they upload, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday. From the report: The posting and viewing of video on Facebook has exploded in recent years, and many of the videos feature music to which Facebook doesn't have the rights. Under current law, rights holders must ask Facebook to take down videos with infringing material. Music owners have been negotiating with Facebook for months in search of a solution, and Facebook has promised to build a system to identify and tag music that infringes copyrights. Yet such a setup will take as long as two years to complete, which is too long for both sides to wait, said the people, who asked not to be named discussing details that aren't public. Facebook is eager to make a deal now so that it no longer frustrates users, by taking down their videos; partners, by hosting infringing material; or advertisers, with the prospect of legal headaches. The latest discussions will ensure Facebook members can upload video with songs just as it's rolling out Watch, a new hub for video, and funding the production of original series. Facebook is attempting to attract billions of dollars in additional advertising revenue and challenge YouTube as the largest site for advertising-supported video on the web.
Verizon

Verizon Up Offers Rewards in Exchange For Customers' Personal Information (wsj.com) 74

An anonymous reader shares a report: A new Verizon rewards program, Verizon Up, provides credits that wireless subscribers can use for concert tickets, movie premieres and phone upgrades. But it comes with a catch: Customers must give the carrier access to their web-browsing history, app usage and location data, which Verizon says it uses to personalize the rewards and deliver targeted advertising as its customers browse the web. The trade-off is part of Verizon's effort to build a digital advertising business to compete with web giants Facebook and Google, which often already possess much of the same customer information. Even though Congress earlier this year dismantled tough privacy regulations on telecommunications providers, Verizon still wants customers to opt-in to its most comprehensive advertising program, called Verizon Selects. Data collected under the program is shared with Oath, the digital-media unit Verizon created when it bought AOL and Yahoo. Since access to data from customers could make it easier to tailor ads to their liking, Verizon hopes the information will help it gain advertising revenue to offset sluggish growth in its cellular business.See a current list of Verizon plans here.
Businesses

Billionaire Brothers Want to Build a Cheaper Rival to Slack (bloomberg.com) 93

Saritha Rai, writing for Bloomberg: A teenage entrepreneur who became a millionaire by 20 before sharing a billion-dollar fortune at 36, Bhavin Turakhia isn't afraid to think big. Now he's putting $45 million of his own money into building a rival to Slack and other office messaging platforms. Flock, a cloud-based team collaboration service, has attracted 25,000 enterprise users and customers including Tim Hortons, Whirlpool and Princeton University. It's a market that has already drawn interest from global technology giants Facebook, Amazon.com and Microsoft. This time last year, few had heard of Bhavin and his younger brother Divyank. That changed when they sold their advertising technology company Media.net, with customers including Yahoo, CNN and the New York Times, to a Chinese consortium for $900 million. The all-cash deal catapulted the duo from mere millionaires into the ranks of the super-rich. "I want to make Flock bigger and better than anything I've built before," Bhavin Turakhia, wearing his signature dark Levi's T-shirt and Puma sweatpants, said at his Bangalore offices.
Google

Google Assistant Coming Soon To More Speakers, Appliances and Other Devices (techcrunch.com) 50

Google announced today several new third-party speakers that will support the Assistant. Their blog post is a follow-up to a post in May where they announced the general availability of the Google Assistant SDK, which lets anyone download and run the Google Assistant on the gadget of their choice. TechCrunch reports: That's likely to be good for both the voice-powered assistant market, as well as for Google's ability to use its service to collect useful data which it can then use to work on its advertising and marketing products. The more places Assistant appears, the more likely it is that people will engage with the voice companion, and that's not territory Google wants to cede to someone like Amazon. Some of the devices getting Google Assistant coming to IFA include the Anker Zolo Mojo, a small cylinder speaker that's sort of like a third-party Google Home, which will go on sale in late October. Two other smart speakers powered by Assistant, including the Panasonic GA10 and the TicHome Mini, are also on their way. Google is also now making it possible to use Assistant to check on the state of your laundry or dishes, using an integration with LG's line of home appliances, which also includes voice commands for LG's Roomba competitor.
Government

On Internet Privacy, Be Very Afraid (harvard.edu) 149

Cybersecurity expert and Berkman Klein fellow Bruce Schneier talked to the Gazette about what consumers can do to protect themselves from government and corporate surveillance. From the interview: GAZETTE: After whistleblower Edward Snowden's revelations concerning the National Security Agency's (NSA) mass surveillance operation in 2013, how much has the government landscape in this field changed?
SCHNEIER: Snowden's revelations made people aware of what was happening, but little changed as a result. The USA Freedom Act resulted in some minor changes in one particular government data-collection program. The NSA's data collection hasn't changed; the laws limiting what the NSA can do haven't changed; the technology that permits them to do it hasn't changed. It's pretty much the same.
GAZETTE: Should consumers be alarmed by this?
SCHNEIER: People should be alarmed, both as consumers and as citizens. But today, what we care about is very dependent on what is in the news at the moment, and right now surveillance is not in the news. It was not an issue in the 2016 election, and by and large isn't something that legislators are willing to make a stand on. Snowden told his story, Congress passed a new law in response, and people moved on.
GAZETTE: What about corporate surveillance? How pervasive is it?
SCHNEIER: Surveillance is the business model of the internet. Everyone is under constant surveillance by many companies, ranging from social networks like Facebook to cellphone providers. This data is collected, compiled, analyzed, and used to try to sell us stuff. Personalized advertising is how these companies make money, and is why so much of the internet is free to users. We're the product, not the customer.

Privacy

Your Personal Information Is Now the World's Most Valuable Commodity (www.cbc.ca) 158

"Data is clearly the new oil," says Jonathan Taplin, director emeritus of the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab and the author of Move Fast and Break Things: How Google, Facebook and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy. While oil was the world's most valuable resource, it has been surpassed by data, as evidenced by the five most valuable companies in the world today -- Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and Google's parent company Alphabet. CBC.ca reports: What "the big five" are selling -- or not selling, as in the case of free services like Google or Facebook -- is access. As we use their platforms, the corporate giants are collecting information about every aspect of our lives, our behavior and our decision-making. All of that data gives them tremendous power. And that power begets more power, and more profit. On one hand, the data can be used to make their tools and services better, which is good for consumers. These companies are able to learn what we want based on the way we use their products, and can adjust them in response to those needs. Access to such sweeping amounts of data also allows these giants to spot trends early and move on them, which sometimes involves buying up a smaller company before it can become a competitive threat. Pasquale points out that Google/Alphabet has been using its power "to bully or take over rivals and adjacent businesses" at a rate of about "one per week since 2010." But it's not just newer or smaller tech companies that are at risk, says Taplin. "When Google and Facebook control 88 per cent of all new internet advertising, the rest of the internet economy, including things like online journalism and music, are starved for resources."

Traditionally, this is where the antitrust regulators would step in, but in the data economy it's not so easy. What we're seeing for the first time is a clash between the concept of the nation state and these global, borderless corporations. A handful of tech giants now surpass the size and power of many governments.

Privacy

Ask Slashdot: How Much of Your Online Browsing Can Advertisers See? 189

dryriver writes: We all know the phenomenon of browsing from an internet site A to a completely unrelated internet site B, and having identical ads follow you from site A to site B. Logic suggests that some kind of advertising system is following you from site A to B, and possibly onto subsequent sites C, D and E as well. Logic also suggests that this advertising system can now put together a nice long list of whatever you are looking at online. So here's the question: How much of your online browsing is "monitored" or "logged" this way by advertisers? Can there be any realistic expectation of privacy on the internet if the default behavior of advertisers is to track you as much as they can?

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