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  1. Ads everywhere If you thought Instagram had run out of ad real estate, think again. The company confirmed to TechCrunch today that it’s starting a new test that’ll involve putting ads on its Shop tab. Ads will involve either a single image or carousel of them, and of course, will be shoppable. Only certain advertisers will have access at first, but there are plans to expand the product in the future. (Initial US-based partners include Away, Fenty Beauty, and Clare paint.) Of course, it’s no surprise Instagram is trying more ads in more places — that’s Instagram and its parent company Facebook’s main revenue driver. Earlier this year, Instagram officially rolled out ads in Reels, another new format that debuted only last year. The company also began testing sticker ads, which would allow people to include stickers in their stories advertising a product. Users will receive a cut of any revenue made through people tapping on the sticker and buying a product. Basically, if there’s unused space on Instagram, you should expect ads to show up there soon enough. It’s unclear how successful these ads are in driving purchases, but brands presumably will want to try it out regardless, if only to ensure their products are seen by Instagram’s billion users. Instagram is now testing ads in the Shop tab
  2. Three big questions about Facebook’s new VR ads Lots of people saw this coming, but what will it look like? Yesterday, Facebook took a leap many people have been predicting for years: it started putting ads inside virtual reality. The company launched a limited test of advertisements inside three Oculus Quest apps, saying it would expand the system based on user feedback. The move is a turning point for Oculus, bringing one of Facebook’s most controversial features into a medium that inspires both idealism and alarm. And it raises three big questions about Facebook’s future and immersive computing. The first question is how deeply Facebook will end up linking advertising with hardware sensor data. Even more than smartphones, Oculus Quest headsets are a gold mine of information about you. They capture precise head and hand motion, pictures of your surroundings through tracking cameras, and microphone audio for Facebook’s voice command system. Future headsets will likely include even more intimate features like eye tracking, which would offer incredibly precise metrics on what captures your attention in VR. Right now, Facebook says much of this data either never leaves your headset or is completely segmented from its advertising system, and it says it has “no plans” to do things like target ads based on movement data. But as Facebook moves deeper into virtual and augmented reality, using its hardware’s special features for advertising will become an increasingly attractive prospect. Facebook is reportedly working on a fitness tracker and has discussed building AR glasses that you’ll use to interact with the world. These products are custom-built to produce quantifiable insights about your body and surroundings, and it’s hard to believe Facebook doesn’t have plans to monetize that — even if Facebook Reality Labs head Andrew Bosworth has said the company is “not really focused on business model” questions for experimental hardware. Oculus is Facebook’s first big test case for advertising on its own computing device, and as it expands ads on VR and other hardware, we’ll see how it handles the wealth of new data types it’s collecting. The second question is how ads will affect VR development. Several of the bestselling VR titles right now feel like substantive console or PC games and sell at a similar price. By contrast, it’s not yet clear which app genres work well with an ad-based model. (Blaston, the first game we know includes ads, is a multiplayer dueling game that you play in short competitive bouts.) Whatever those genres are, Facebook just created an incentive to make a lot more of them, since developers get a cut of the revenue involved. It’s easy to imagine dystopian scenarios like a huge library of attention-grabbing but low-quality games and social apps plastered with pop-ups, or the seizure-inducing corporate hellscape from Ready Player One. It doesn’t help that Facebook’s first tests look like flat banner ads from a website or freeware game. That said, Facebook is notoriously picky about what goes into the Quest library and there’s no indication that will change soon. We also don’t know VR advertising’s final form. Facebook says it’s currently exploring “new ad formats that are unique to VR.” It didn’t specify what that looked like, but for one nontraditional ad platform, we could look at Fortnite — a popular virtual world from a studio with an impeccable gaming pedigree, and one of the most effective ad delivery systems in the modern cultural landscape. (A system where players pay to promote the intellectual property of multinational media conglomerates is possibly also dystopian, but in a way most people seem okay with.) Modern consumer VR headsets have been full of ads since practically the beginning, thanks to promotional tie-ins and sponsorships. Yesterday’s news was just the latest iteration of a long-running trend. This iteration, though, has a big Facebook-shaped wrinkle. The Quest ads are served based on data from your Facebook profile, and Facebook’s hyper-personalization is one of its most controversial features — criticized in general as a tool for social division and more specifically for enabling discrimination. Beyond any larger social effects, if you’re sharing a headset with friends and family, it could feel simply invasive to have them see what Facebook thinks you’re into. You can add multiple accounts to a Quest headset, but the feature is experimental and it’s not clear how many users know about it. And that raises the third question: how will Facebook and its critics address general concerns about “Big Tech” in the realm of VR? Should Facebook, for example, ban specific kinds of ads — or methods of ad delivery — from appearing in headsets? And should consumer protection watchdogs look specifically at how ads work inside the Oculus platform, which they’ve largely ignored when scrutinizing Facebook? It wasn’t hard to see these debates coming. Facebook has wanted to own the next computing platform for years, and its vision of computing relies a lot on advertising. Oculus founder Palmer Luckey once promised that Oculus wouldn’t “flash ads at you” inside VR, but he (along with Oculus’ other early executives) left the company years ago. Bosworth said in 2015 that the Oculus experience “should include ads, because life includes ads.” But Facebook says it’s not just barreling ahead with a long-held master plan — instead, it promises it’s looking at feedback as it moves forward with VR advertising. As VR gets closer to Facebook’s core business, Quest users and developers will get to see if the company keeps that promise. Three big questions about Facebook’s new VR ads
  3. Facebook begins tying social media use to ads served inside its VR ecosystem Announcement doubles down on Facebook account requirement for Oculus hardware. Everything we've feared about the Facebookening of Oculus and its virtual reality ecosystem is starting to come true. A Wednesday blog post has confirmed that Oculus, the VR-specific arm of Facebook, is now displaying advertisements in select VR games and apps to their players. As Facebook has since emphasized in emails sent directly to the press, these ads will leverage "first-party info from Facebook to target these ads"—and FB has yet to announce any limitations for what Facebook account data may be leveraged. (Ars Technica was not briefed about this news ahead of the announcement, and we did not get the opportunity to request the comments that other members of the media received.) FB's additional clarifying statements about biometric and use data inside of VR are carefully worded to clarify that the company does examine specific use data as it sees fit, and for now, that data won't apply to its new advertising platform. Facebook says it processes and keeps track of the following data, uploaded by users while connected to any Oculus services: "Weight, height, or gender information that you choose to provide to Oculus Move [a pre-installed fitness suite]" "Movement data" that Facebook uses to "keep you safe from bumping into real-world objects"—in other words, every single way your head and hands move around within VR and relative spatial data about the rooms you play VR within, which researchers have concluded can be used to create a recognizable biometric profile after only minutes of training "The content of your conversations with people on apps like Messenger, Parties, and [Oculus] chats or your [Oculus] voice interactions" For now, Facebook continues to tell users that "data that are processed on the device" are not uploaded to Facebook servers, which include "raw images" from Oculus headset sensors and "images of your hands" in its hand-tracking interface. Meanwhile, if you'd like to know how much of your use data inside of Facebook (and Instagram and other FB-connected services) might be leveraged by its combined advertising network, clear the rest of your day's schedule and dive in. Today's announcement emphasizes that this advertising option is meant to generate "new ways for developers to generate revenue. The thing is, Facebook itself created a revenue blocker for VR game and app creators up until now, since its "app policies" agreement has always forbidden third-party advertising services inside of any products. Now that Facebook can operate the advertising platform and skim revenue off the top, things have changed. How rapidly will the downstream soon run? Facebook itself suggests that advertising is a key element in its VR business going forward: "This is a key part of ensuring we're creating a self-sustaining platform that can support a variety of business models." It also admits that product pricing can vary with advertising in the mix: "It helps us continue to make innovative AR [augmented reality]/VR hardware more accessible to more people." That news is unsurprising to anyone who follows Facebook's quarterly financial results, which revolve largely around its targeted advertising platforms that deftly move from app to app and from service to service. Meanwhile, rival VR hardware manufacturers like HTC have loudly shot back at Facebook's cheap-hardware sales approach. Recently, HTC Vive general manager Dan O'Brien said the following to Ars Technica: When pressed about Oculus as VR's top-selling consumer option, O'Brien was frank: HTC wants to make its VR money from upfront purchase revenue, not from "downstream" opportunities. He described at length the business model of "some brands" subsidizing expensive hardware at a lower MSRP "with the hope of monetizing downstream on shared services" and "maybe using data-mining tactics to understand user behavior and then run a program that also generates downstream income." But also: notice the official mention of augmented reality in Facebook's Wednesday pitch. The most recent Facebook Connect presentation revolved around Oculus research and hardware, included a wide-open pitch hosted by longtime Oculus lead Michael Abrash. He spoke of the company's ambitions for Google Glass-like hardware that people may one day wear in public, full of real-time virtual images embedded in your nearby surroundings and high-level processing of all nearby audio and conversations. While we aren't surprised that Facebook might want its eventual always-on-your-face device to tap into its advertising ecosystem, today's announcement is a clear warning: if such a product should reach the market, it, like the $299 Oculus Quest 2, could very well be priced to move—but at a cost outside of shoppers' dollars and cents. As a reminder, all new Oculus-branded hardware going forward requires a Facebook account to work. Meanwhile, hardware sold before that rules change went into effect will require a ToS agreement beginning January 1, 2023. And the company's combined ToS can penalize users for creating phantom or dummy Facebook accounts for the sole purpose of enabling connected Oculus VR features; by agreeing to that ToS, Facebook can void your account and its related purchases, should they be found in violation of its rules. And as Facebook continues acquiring VR-focused video game developers, particularly the makers of megahit Beat Saber, those fully owned development houses could reasonably become prime targets for Facebook's internal advertising tools. Big companies don't acquire successful, smaller ones for charity, after all. Facebook begins tying social media use to ads served inside its VR ecosystem
  4. Windows 10 Mail App Gets More Ads Because Really Why Not The Mail app in Windows started as a pretty exciting project, but it was slowly converted into the kind of client that few people would use. And it’s not only because of the lack of features and its overall stability and reliability, because the Mail app needs serious improvements in this regard, but due to the ads that have been introduced a long time ago and which have reportedly been refreshed with the addition of links to Office on the Web. In theory, you wouldn’t necessarily expect a Microsoft app to have ads, but in practice, the Redmond-based software giant is using the Mail app to link to some of its other products, including Outlook mobile. In fact, the addition of the banner to the mobile version of Outlook is one of the decisions that haven’t been very well received by the userbase out there, and yet, Microsoft eventually went for it anyway. Shortcuts maybe? This is the reason the Windows 10 Mail app sometimes still points users to the Outlook mobile app even if you already installed it on your Android device or iPhone. But as per HTNovo, Microsoft has now included links to Office Web Apps, which are displayed next to a banner that recommends users to get a subscription for Office 365. Sure, Microsoft can always call these shortcuts to Office Web Apps, but what’s the point of making the UI of the Mail app more cluttered without even giving users the option to remove these shortcuts? Maybe marketing is the answer, though for now, Microsoft has remained completely tight-lipped on the whole thing. It remains to be seen if these links show up for everybody, as right now, my Mail app doesn’t include any shortcut to Office Web Apps, so the rollout might be happening gradually. Source: Windows 10 Mail App Gets More Ads Because Really Why Not
  5. jtmulc

    New infolinks ads?

    Lately I've been seeing new ads on this site that pop up from the bottom of the page. I can't say that I like them much. Years ago, when we were asked to whitelist nsanedown, I went along with it. We were promised they would just be small, unobtrusive, text-based rollover ads and I thought, "Well, the site has to support itself somehow. It shouldn't be that bad," and it hasn't been until now. Yes, these ads can be closed, but why are they there in the first place? Have the ad rates changed so we need them to keep afloat? I don't see any posts in the site announcements, nor ant in the site/forum feedback
  6. manu

    Adblocker scripts

    AdsBypasser Script Summary: This user script helps you skip ads' count-down or continue page and block pop-up windows changelog: https://github.com/adsbypasser/adsbypasser/blob/master/CHANGELOG.md Lite edition removes image-hosting site support from Full edition. If you prefer to use other userscripts to deal with image-hosting sites, you can use the Lite edition. Configure settings Nano ADblocker Just another adblocker Nano Adblocker is based on uBlock Origin. Please open an issue if there is something you want us to know. Note: If you see different version available to different browsers then chances are the new release is stuck in review queue again. Get it for Chrome Get it for Firefox (Dev) Get it for Edge Get Nano Defender, the perfect companion extension for Nano Adblocker -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Nano Defender (a.k.a. uBlock Protector) An anti-adblock defuser for Nano Adblocker and uBlock Origin Nano Defender can only protect either Nano Adblocker or uBlock Origin, and will prioritize Nano Adblocker. Note: On Microsoft Edge, Nano Defender only works with Nano Adblocker, due to the low quality of Edge port of uBlock Origin. On Safari, Nano Defender does not work at all. TO install follow instructions given at homepage https://jspenguin2017.github.io/uBlockProtector/
  7. Malicious advertisements on domains belonging to Disney, Facebook, The Guardian newspaper and others are leading people to malware that encrypts a computer's files until a ransom is paid, Cisco Systems has found. The finding comes shortly after technology companies and U.S. law enforcement banded together in a large operation to shut down a botnet that distributed online banking malware and so-called "ransomware," a highly profitable scam that has surged over the last year. Cisco's investigation unraveled a technically complex and highly effective way for infecting large number of computers with ransomware, which it described in detail on its blog. "It really is insidious," said Levi Gundert, a former Secret Service agent and now a technical lead for threat research and analysis at Cisco, in a phone interview Friday. Cisco has a product called Cloud Web Security (CWS) which monitors its customers web surfing and reports if they are browsing to suspected malicious domains. CWS monitors billions of web page requests a day, Gundert said. The company noticed that it was blocking requests to 90 domains, many of those WordPress sites, for more than 17 percent of its CWS customers, he said. Further investigation showed that many of the CWS users were ending up on those domains after viewing advertisements on high-traffic domains such as "apps.facebook.com," "awkwardfamilyphotos.com," "theguardian.co.uk" and "go.com," a Disney property, among many others. Certain advertisements that appeared on those domains, however, had been tampered with. If clicked, they redirected victims to one of the 90 domains. The style of attack, known as "malvertising," has long been a problem. Advertising networks have taken steps to try and detect malicious advertisements placed on their network, but the security checks aren't foolproof. Occasionally, bad advertisements slip in, which are shown on a vast array of websites that have signed up with the network or its affiliates. The websites where the ads appear are often unaware they're being abused. "It goes to show that malvertising is a real problem," Gundert said. "People expect when they go to a Tier 1 website that it is a trustworthy place to visit, but because there are so many third-party external links, that's not really true." The 90 domains the malicious advertisements pushed traffic to had also been hacked, Gundert said. In the case of the WordPress sites, it appears the attackers used brute-force attacks -- which involves guessing login credentials -- to access the site's control panels. Then, an exploit kit called Rig was inserted, which attacked the victim's computer, Gundert said. The Rig exploit kit, first spotted in April by Kahu Security, checks if users are running an unpatched version of Flash, Java or the Silverlight multimedia program. If someone's computer isn't patched, "you're instantly exploited," Gundert said. In the next stage of the attack, a ransomware program called "Cryptowall," a relative of the infamous Cryptolocker malware, is installed. It encrypts the user's files, demanding a ransom. In another sign of the operation's sophistication, the website where users can pay the ransom is a hidden website that uses The Onion Router, or the TOR network. To navigate to a TOR hidden website, a user must have TOR installed, which Cryptowall helpfully provides instructions for how to install. Those who delay paying the ransom find it increases as time passes. Because of the use of TOR and the technically complex attack chain, Cisco hasn't yet been able to identify a group behind the attacks. Gundert said it is likely that several groups or people with different skills -- such as malvertising, traffic redirection, exploit writing and ransomware campaigns -- are working together. "You could have a threat actor putting together all of these pieces on their own, but there are so many different specialties involved in this attack chain," he said. Source
  8. Crooks are using Yahoo!'s advertising network to infect PCs with the CryptoWall ransomware, it's claimed. Windows software nasty CryptoWall encrypts a victim's files using an OpenSSL-generated key pair before demanding a ransom to decrypt the data. It communicates with its masters using RC4-encrypted messages to command servers hidden in the Tor network, we're told. It was initially spread by spamming email inboxes with "incoming fax" scans or links to files held in cloud storage that were booby-trapped with malicious code. The malware then evolved to use poisoned web advertisements – or malvertising – to spread across the internet. Typically, when someone clicks on an ad, the site displaying the advert, and the advertising network serving it, take a small fee for referring the visitor to the advertiser's website. It appears CryptoWall victims are lured into clicking on adverts, which refer the browser along a chain of websites until it reaches a server that exploits a vulnerability to infect the computer. Since the end of July, researchers at security defence biz Blue Coat have beentracking the spread of CryptoWall through online advertising networks; websites referring on visitors have been set up in India, Myanmar, Indonesia, France and other countries. According to Blue Coat, Yahoo!'s ad network is favored by the crooks because it has a huge reach – its ads appear on a large number of sites – and can therefore funnel more victims towards the exploit sites than shady ad slingers, which are much smaller. “What looked like a minor malvertising attack quickly became more significant as the cyber criminals were successfully able to gain the trust of the major ad networks like ads.yahoo.com,” Chris Larsen, a senior malware researcher at Blue Coat, explained in a statement. “The interconnected nature of ad servers and the ease with which would-be-attackers can build trust to deliver malicious ads points to a broken security model that leaves users exposed to the types of ransomware and other malware that can steal personal, financial and credential information." Larsen later told The Register on Friday that "ads.yahoo.com was not among the sites directly connected to the CryptoWall-infected sites. It was, however, among the referrers to one of the malvertising sites that was directly connected." There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by Yahoo!. The web giant had not responded to a request for comment at time of publication. Source
  9. Open letter asks tech firms to stop targeting ads at users under 18 An open letter has been signed in the U.K. by a member of parliament (MPs), academics, and children’s rights advocates to bring an end to advertising to users younger than 18 by big tech firms such as Facebook and Google. Among those signing were Caroline Lucas MP, Amnesty International, Privacy International, and Friends of the Earth. The letter was published just days after a lawsuit was lodged against Google accusing it of breaking U.K. and E.U. data protection laws by targeting under-13s with addictive programming and using their data for advertising purposes. The letter calls on protections to be extended to all children under the age of 18. A section of the open letter reads as follows: “Behavioural advertising undermines children’s privacy. For under 13s, it shouldn’t be happening at all: unless informed parental consent is granted, data protection laws expressly prohibit the datamining of young children on which behavioural advertising depends. The fact that ad-tech companies hold 72 million data points on a child by the time they turn 13 shows the extent of disregard for these laws, and the extraordinary surveillance to which children are subjected. But our concerns extend beyond the very young, and beyond issues of privacy. Children of all ages are more susceptible to the pressures of marketing, less likely to recognise paid-for content, and less likely to understand how and what kinds of data are used for these purposes than adults.” In the case of Google, it allows all users to disable ad personalisation within a user’s account settings. To address some of the concerns being raised by the signatories, it could automatically set this toggle to disabled for all children’s accounts. While this may not address some of the tracking that Google performs, it will eliminate the problem of behavioural advertising. Open letter asks tech firms to stop targeting ads at users under 18
  10. Companies can track your phone’s movements to target ads A startup gathers data on when you pick up your phone or go out on a run. Enlarge Qilai Shen | Bloomberg | Getty Images 90 with 56 posters participating Google and Apple have taken steps this year they say will help users shield themselves from hundreds of companies that compile profiles based on online behavior. Meanwhile, other companies are devising new ways to probe more deeply into other aspects of our lives. In January, Google said it would phase out third-party cookies on its Chrome browser, making it harder for advertisers to track our browsing habits. Publishers and advertisers use cookies to compile our shopping, browsing, and search data into extensive user profiles. These profiles reflect our political interests, health, shopping behavior, race, gender, and more. Tellingly, Google will still collect data from its own search engine, plus sites like YouTube or Gmail. Apple, meanwhile, says it will require apps in a forthcoming version of iOS to ask users before tracking them across services, though it delayed the effective date until next year after complaints from Facebook. A poll from June showed as many as 80 percent of respondents would not opt in to such tracking. Together, the moves are likely to squeeze the industry of middlemen that compile user profiles from our digital tracks. But “big companies with large repositories of first-party data about their consumers probably aren’t going to be terribly negatively impacted,” says Charles Manning, CEO of the analytics platform Kochava. Companies looking for new ways to categorize users and tailor content are turning to a new tool: physical signals from the phone itself. “We see Apple's announcements, consumers getting more conscious of privacy, and the death of the cookie,” says Abhishek Sen, cofounder of NumberEight, a “contextual intelligence” startup in the UK that infers user behavior from sensors in their smartphone. Sen describes NumberEight’s chief product as “context prediction software.” The tool helps apps infer user activity based on data from a smartphone’s sensors: whether they’re running or seated, near a park or museum, driving or riding a train. Most smartphones have internal components that record data on their movements. If you’ve ever used the compass on your phone, it’s thanks to internal sensors like the accelerometer (which can tell the direction you’re facing) and magnetometer, which is drawn to magnetic poles. These and other sensors also power features like “raise to wake,” where your phone powers on when you pick it up, or rotating to horizontal orientation to watch a movie. Sen knows a lot about the sensors in phones, having worked with them at Blackberry and Apple. An earlier iteration of NumberEight’s tech was built around travel, collecting sensor data as part of research on London commuters, whose bus and train fares are based on the distance traveled. Sen researched using sensor data to determine when someone had exited a train or bus, to charge their fare automatically. But, given the “incredibly long sales cycle” of public contracts, Sen says, the app pivoted to music and other commercial services. Companies like NumberEight, or competitors Sentiance and Neura, use sensor data to categorize users. Instead of building a profile to target, say, women over 35, a service could target ads to “early risers” (as indicated by sensors noting when the phone is picked up after hours of rest) or adapt its user interface for after-work commuters (as indicated when sensors note riding a train after 5 pm). The feedback from the sensors provides “context” on the user’s physical behavior. Sen says NumberEight restricts how clients can collect and combine user data. For example, a gaming app may already know which of its users makes the most in-app purchases. It can use NumberEight to determine if these people are, say, heavy runners or long-distance commuters. A music app may use the service to determine when users are most likely to skip certain songs, based on whether they are jogging or home. They can personalize the app based on real-time information on people’s activities. In a climate of increasing regulation and public scrutiny, Sen thinks behavioral context will become more important as marketers can no longer assemble profiles built on a user’s online activity. Rather than knowing a user’s demographics or personal preferences, services will combine what they know about a user’s activity on their own apps with information on what they’re doing physically at the time. “Brands are forced to rethink their campaigns, which have always been, ‘I want to know the individual and know their preferences,’” he says. “You don't need to know the individual. You just need to know whether your product or service is going to land with the right audience.” Manning, the Kochava CEO, says Apple’s changes may prompt some apps to give up completely on traditional data sharing. They’d rather not collect the data than send the message that they’re tracking users, “even if they may very well be,” he says. Neither Apple nor Google would bar apps from tracking what users do inside their own apps or on their websites. And that may favor other companies, like Facebook, with large stores of data about users. The future will be slightly more anonymous, with less tracking from everyone but the biggest in the field, but potentially even less private. “The old world of these predefined segments like soccer moms or other [ad] categories will start to decrease,” Manning says. This story originally appeared on wired.com. Companies can track your phone’s movements to target ads
  11. Twitch is running a PSA for people using ad-blockers on the site, and nobody’s happy Twitch has started serving them to uBlock users every 10 or 20 minutes Ads are important on Twitch in the same way they’re important on any website that relies on advertisers for revenue. (Hello from Vox Media.) But it is a war. Ad-blockers keep websites ad-free, and then the sites themselves innovate around the blockers. Escalation is the norm. It’s also the background for the current ad-based controversy on the streaming site. Twitch pushed an update that broke uBlock, a popular ad-blocker. UBlock users were suddenly greeted with a pop-up noting that they may be using a third-party tool or browser extension that “is impacting site performance” every 10 or 20 minutes — a little like a site-triggered midroll ad. A spokesperson from Twitch told me that users were getting that specific pop-up because the tool they’re using is manipulating the site code. This person stressed that the midroll experiment was over and added that Twitch hadn’t actually changed the overall ad density of the site — which is to say, the only automated ads running on the site are prerolls, and streamers can disable those for their subscribers. (They also noted that some bigger streamers may use third-party tools to run automatic ads on their streams and that those can sometimes seem like they’re coming from Twitch.) For its part, Twitch says that it is not targeting ad-blocking users with any more ads than any other. For Twitch, ads are a little different than they are on other free sites: because the service is live, ads as they’re currently constituted on the site obscure the content. You can miss things in a way that you can’t with, like, YouTube. Imagine, if you will, that you’re watching a football game when, in the middle of a clutch play, an unskippable ad triggers. You can always see the replay, of course, which means, technically speaking, you didn’t miss anything. But it feels terrible to have missed the crucial moment as it unfolds. This was the situation for a few weeks on Twitch this summer: the company began testing automated midroll ads, which were universally hated. The bottom line: when an ad is blocked, nobody makes money — not streamers and not Twitch. That said, with CPMs being what they are, streamers are getting the worse end of the deal. As of September, both partners and affiliates in America were earning $3.50 per 1,000 ad views. “Things are hostile because streamers don’t like running ads. And viewers aren’t going to like ads either because of that,” says Lowco, a Twitch partner, when I reach her on Discord. “When you’re getting 10 viewers... running ads, I mean, it’s just not going to add up, right? And it’s super intrusive to the viewers,” she continues. “I think Twitch can do a lot better in this regard, to make ads, something that works for streamers.” Lowco says she doesn’t have a problem with Twitch targeting users who are using ad-blocking software because it’s a big part of Twitch’s business model. But she also says she thinks Twitch can do better by its streamers. “I think if you’re gonna force ads, it’s not gonna work,” she says. “Twitch is all about community until it comes to these types of things. And then it looks very top down. And to me, I think people respond negatively to that type of, you know, forcible implementation.” Which does seem true. She also thinks that ads on Twitch can just be done better. “You can have skippable ads, better inline ads, lower third ads that are more seamless with the live content — the live nature of Twitch.” Twitch is running a PSA for people using ad-blockers on the site, and nobody’s happy
  12. Facebook announces ban on anti-vaccination ads As part of a broader effort to promote public health Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge On Tuesday, Facebook announced a new policy banning ads that discourage the use of vaccines. Timed to the beginning of flu season, the new policy is also aimed at the ongoing proliferation of anti-vaccine groups on Facebook and growing skepticism about forthcoming vaccines for COVID-19. “Our goal is to help messages about the safety and efficacy of vaccines reach a broad group of people, while prohibiting ads with misinformation that could harm public health efforts,” the company said in a blog post. “We don’t want these ads on our platform.” There are still several ads from anti-vaccination groups currently running on the platform, but Facebook says it will begin enforcing the new policy “over the next few days.” The anti-vaccination groups themselves will continue to be allowed on the platform — organic or unpaid content discouraging vaccination is still permitted, per Facebook’s platform rules. Alongside the new ads policy, Facebook will actively promote vaccination through a public information campaign, and direct users to vaccination sites using its preventative health tool. It’s part of a string of recent crackdowns from Facebook. On Monday, the platform banned Holocaust denial content after years of mounting criticism. The previous week, the platform strengthened its ban against QAnon-linked content, and announced plans for a complete blackout on US political ads in the days following the election. The move also comes at a delicate time for the ongoing pandemic. Public trust in a COVID-19 vaccine has fallen to alarmingly low levels, perhaps driven by President Trump’s frequent references to an imminent vaccine to be released before Election Day. In May, roughly 70 percent of Americans said they would take a vaccine if it became available; by September, that number had dropped to 50 percent. Facebook announces ban on anti-vaccination ads
  13. Google is testing the addition of shopping advertisement cards on Chrome's new tab page Google is testing a way for the new tab page on Chrome to display shopping advertisement cards based on users’ search history and preference. The feature is currently hidden under a flag called ‘NTP Shopping Tasks Module’ (spotted by Techdows) in Chrome Canary which can be enabled from chrome://flags. The flag provides users the ability to even enable recommendations based on fake data for representational purposes. The shopping card lets Google serve tailored suggestions right in the new tab page, making it easy for users to either pick up on recent product searches or related items. The firm also allows users to access their activity and tweak recent data stored in the ‘My Activity’ page by clicking on the “i” icon in the card. While the feature is still in development, it will not be surprising if the firm makes it an opt-in experience. Clicking on any of the products in the card redirects users to a search results page for that product with retailer and pricing options, just like on Google Search. The experience for users that prefer new tab page personalization through third-party extensions might vary. The firm is also working to add recipe cards and content from Kaleidoscope, flags for which are also present in the experimental features section in Chrome Canary. The integration of shopping features into the new tab page of one of the most popular web browsers could help Google further expand its Search and marketplace offerings into its services, making them easily accessible and prominent. The feature might also be aimed at rivaling the recent Facebook Shop and Instagram Shop offerings being introduced by the social networking giant. Google is testing the addition of shopping advertisement cards on Chrome's new tab page
  14. Ransomware Group Turns to Facebook Ads It’s bad enough that many ransomware gangs now have blogs where they publish data stolen from companies that refuse to make an extortion payment. Now, one crime group has started using hacked Facebook accounts to run ads publicly pressuring their ransomware victims into paying up. On the evening of Monday, Nov. 9, an ad campaign apparently taken out by the Ragnar Locker Team began appearing on Facebook. The ad was designed to turn the screws to the Italian beverage vendor Campari Group, which acknowledged on Nov. 3 that its computer systems had been sidelined by a malware attack. On Nov. 6, Campari issued a follow-up statement saying “at this stage, we cannot completely exclude that some personal and business data has been taken.” “This is ridiculous and looks like a big fat lie,” reads the Facebook ad campaign from the Ragnar crime group. “We can confirm that confidential data was stolen and we talking about huge volume of data.” The ad went on to say Ragnar Locker Team had offloaded two terabytes of information and would give the Italian firm until 6 p.m. EST today (Nov. 10) to negotiate an extortion payment in exchange for a promise not to publish the stolen files. The Facebook ad blitz was paid for by Hodson Event Entertainment, an account tied to Chris Hodson, a deejay based in Chicago. Contacted by KrebsOnSecurity, Hodson said his Facebook account indeed was hacked, and that the attackers had budgeted $500 for the entire campaign. “I thought I had two-step verification turned on for all my accounts, but now it looks like the only one I didn’t have it set for was Facebook,” Hodson said. Hodson said a review of his account shows the unauthorized campaign reached approximately 7,150 Facebook users, and generated 770 clicks, with a cost-per-result of 21 cents. Of course, it didn’t cost the ransomware group anything. Hodson said Facebook billed him $35 for the first part of the campaign, but apparently detected the ads as fraudulent sometime this morning before his account could be billed another $159 for the campaign. The results of the unauthorized Facebook ad campaign. Image: Chris Hodson. It’s not clear whether this was an isolated incident, or whether the fraudsters also ran ads using other hacked Facebook accounts. A spokesperson for Facebook said the company is still investigating the incident. A request for comment sent via email to Campari’s media relations team was returned as undeliverable. But it seems likely we will continue to see more of this and other mainstream advertising efforts by ransomware groups going forward, even if victims really have no expectation that paying an extortion demand will result in criminals actually deleting or not otherwise using stolen data. Fabian Wosar, chief technology officer at computer security firm Emsisoft, said some ransomware groups have become especially aggressive of late in pressuring their victims to pay up. “They have also started to call victims,” Wosar said. “They’re outsourcing to Indian call centers, who call victims asking when they are going to pay or have their data leaked.” Ransomware Group Turns to Facebook Ads
  15. The company is rolling it out on a ‘limited number of videos’ Starting today, YouTube will begin running ads on some creators’ videos, but it won’t give them a portion of the ad revenue because they’re not big enough to be enrolled in its Partner Program. When advertisements run on YouTube videos, those creators typically receive a portion of the revenue through their role in YouTube’s Partner Program. With the new monetization rules, a creator who is not in the partner program “may see ads on some of your videos,” according to an update to the platform’s Terms of Service. Prior to the update, YouTube says these videos only received ads in limited circumstances, like if they were monetized by a record label as part of a copyright claim. The update will mostly affect smaller creators without a huge viewership; YouTube’s Partner Program requires creators to have accrued 4,000 total hours of watch time over the last 12 months and have more than 1,000 subscribers. Advertising is big business for YouTube and its parent company, Google, with the video site generating $5 billion in the last quarter alone. Advertising is also a big deal for creators, who may rely on the site’s payouts to support themselves. Now, YouTube will be able to run more ads on its platform and won’t have to pay a number of creators in the process. The company confirmed to The Verge that ads will still not run on videos from non-partnered creators that center on sensitive topics. These include politics, religion, alcohol, and gambling. The news did not go over well with members of the YouTube community. The creator community’s relationship with YouTube over advertising revenue has been fraught for years. In late 2016 and early 2017, YouTube creators who were in the Partner Program were hit by a sudden drop in advertising revenue as the platform struggled to contain disturbing children’s videos and other harmful content. Then in 2018, the Logan Paul incident led to changes to the Partner Program and more difficulty for creators to start earning revenue. YouTube didn’t say how many creators will see ads run on their videos without paying out to them, but the company confirmed channels of all sizes may see ads appear. The company will monitor the impact on creators. Source
  16. Google introduces audio ads in YouTube, targeted at music streamers Google is today introducing a new format of ads for YouTube – audio ads. The firm is touting this format of ads as a way to reach users that leverage YouTube for listening to music, or what the firm calls “ambient listening”. The format targets users that may not be watching music videos or concerts – but listening to them in the background, leading to visual ads not being as effective. The company says that such ads will have a static image or a still frame of a video, with the “audio soundtrack plays the starring role in delivering your message”. The firm added new audio ads features to the Ad Manager platform a few months ago that lets advertisers better tailor and analyze the consumption of such content. The Mountain View giant says that it noticed that 75% of audio ads “drove a significant lift in brand awareness” as part of its alpha testing. It adds that testers like Shutterfly saw a 14% lift in ad recall when used for influencing purchase considerations via audio ads. It also touts the popularity of YouTube as a source for music streaming. The video streaming platform saw more than 50% of logged-in users stream at least ten minutes of songs every day. For this reason, the company is also introducing dynamic music lineups for video campaigns, providing a way for marketers to target specific music genres, channels, or even events for their ad campaigns to improve the effectiveness of the marketers' messaging. Audio ads will be available in beta through Google Ads and Display & Video 360 for marketers. You can head to the support article here for more information. Google introduces audio ads in YouTube, targeted at music streamers
  17. Facebook Ad Services Let Anyone Target US Military Personnel Researchers warn that an advertising platform with categories like “Army” and “United States Air Force Security Forces” could be abused. The stakes are much higher should active duty members of the US military face misinformation online that could impact their understanding of world events or expose them to scams.Photograph: Maja Hitij/Getty Images The spread of misinformation on social media platforms has fueled division, stoked violence, and reshaped geopolitics in recent years. Targeted ads have become a major battleground, with bad actors strategically distributing misleading information or ensnaring unassuming users in scams. Facebook has worked to eliminate or redefine certain targeting categories as part of a broader effort to address these threats. But despite warnings from researchers, its ad system still lets anyone target a massive array of populations and groups—including campaigns directed at United States military personnel. Currently categories for major branches include “Army,” “Air Force,” and “National Guard,” along with much narrower categories like “United States Air Force Security Forces.” At first blush it may seem innocuous that you can target ads at these groups as easily as you can most other organizations. But independent security researcher Andrea Downing says the stakes are much higher should active duty members of the US military—many of whom would likely get caught up in broader Facebook targeting of this sort—face misinformation online that could impact their understanding of world events or expose them to scams. While Downing hasn't detected such malicious campaigns herself, the interplay between ads and misinformation on Facebook is consistently murky. In the wake of the Capitol riots, for example, researchers at the Tech Transparency Project found that Facebook's systems had shown ads for military equipment like body armor and gun holsters alongside updates on the insurrection and content that promoted election misinformation. Even when lawmakers called on Facebook to halt military equipment ads, and the company agreed to a temporary ban, some ads still seemed to be slipping by. "Through the ad targeting system on Facebook, I could craft ads or send direct messages to current and former military through large umbrella categories or more granular permutations," says Downing. "A nation state actor could abuse this to run influence operations against US military members at a large scale or in a more targeted way." There are roughly 1.3 million active duty United States military members and 18 million veterans living in the US, all of which could amount to as much as $1.2 trillion in buying power, according to the marketing firm SheerID. Facebook gives the option to run targeted ads based on the job titles and employers users list, as well “interests,” which it draws from user activity like clicking a relevant ad or liking a page. In both cases, that includes military branches. For job titles, that would include retired personnel who still reference that experience in their profiles, but also active duty members who have filled out that field. In addition to regular targeting, Facebook also offers tools for advertisers to reach out to users through its Messenger chat platform. Many tech giants make their money from ads and offer similar features to facilitate targeted marketing. Google and Twitter's platforms do not offer granular military categories, though. "Let's say you have younger service members regardless of the branch of the military and they're deployed away from their family and looking for some sort of kinship. Facebook offers that," says Bill Hagestad, an independent security engineer at Red Dragon 1949 and retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel. "So targeted ads could allow malevolent individuals to use the lingo, embed themselves favorably and manipulate service members regardless of age or rank. And this could compromise operational security, which is as important as the safety of those being manipulated themselves." Downing, who is also cofounder of the social media health support nonprofit The Light Collective, says she first attempted to notify Facebook about her concerns in December 2019 through informal connections. Within days, she says, Facebook had removed many of the military ad targeting groups she had highlighted. The issue seemed resolved. At the end of August 2020, though, she noticed that many of these targeting groups had reemerged, even after Facebook pruned its military categories in mid-August. “We’ve combined several options representing military bases or regiments, because the specific interests were rarely used, and instead, advertisers can still reach an audience with an interest in the military,” Facebook wrote at the time. On September 24, Downing submitted a vulnerability report about her findings through Facebook's bug bounty disclosure portal. Six weeks later, on November 5, a Facebook representative replied to say that the company does not view the finding as a vulnerability. Facebook told WIRED that it has no record of Downing's original efforts in December 2019 to communicate about her research. A spokesperson added that the company continually reviews the targeting options it offers and assesses how they're being used, and that advertisers cannot specifically target an active duty status. Additionally, all ads on Facebook must comply with the company's advertising policies, which forbid manipulation and abuse. The Department of Defense also offers extensive social media guidelines and recommendations in an effort to keep military members and operations safe. “Demographic targeting, such as job title and employers, is based on the information people opt to provide in their profile,” the Facebook spokesperson told WIRED. “People can also choose whether this profile information can be used to show them ads based on these categories through our Ad Preferences.” Downing has seen the cycle repeat multiple times now that Facebook's military ad targeting categories come and go. Some come back again and others are replaced with different sub-groups. WIRED has corroborated Downing's observations about these inconsistencies. Facebook did not comment on the explanation for these fluctuations. After a report by ProPublica in 2017 about anti-Semitic ad targeting categories, Facebook temporarily removed the ability to target based on categories related to job titles and education. The company revised and restored these mechanisms in 2018. “There's no incentive for Facebook to fundamentally change the design of ad targeting,” Downing says. “And as we've seen it's 'out of scope' in the cybersecurity disclosure channels that can prevent such a problem.” More than a decade of detection work on Facebook's part has made it harder to run blatantly malicious or scammy ads. But the company has struggled to get a handle on misinformation in ads and its impacts. It took until the end of September, for example, for Facebook to finally ban ads related to QAnon and other militarized campaigns. Even so, QAnon ad content was still showing up weeks later. Ad fraud or even malware distribution campaigns also slip past Facebook's defenses occasionally. Malicious advertising schemes broadly are an active threat across the web. In recent guidance, the United States Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency warned that malvertising, as it's often known, uses “malicious or hijacked website advertisements to spread malware and is a significant vector for exploitation.” CISA added that, “Adversaries can use carefully crafted and tailored malicious ads as part of a targeted campaign against a specific victim, not just as broad-spectrum attacks.” These types of tailored campaigns are what Downing had in mind when she also submitted her Facebook findings to the CERT Coordination Center at Carnegie Mellon University in late September. CERT is an organization that helps researchers catalog vulnerabilities and coordinate their public disclosure. “On the one hand, targeted ads and profiling users is how Facebook works; there’s no surprise about that,” says Art Manion, a vulnerability analysis technical manager for CERT. “Depending on the nature of the target there could be greater or lesser security and privacy concerns. If pretty specific groups within the US military could be targeted with ads that brings up the question of influence campaigns, misinformation, or potentially someone could try to slip in a malicious ad. Facebook doesn’t allow or support those things, but it is conceivable.” Nonetheless, Manion says that Downing's findings are “out of scope” for the types of vulnerabilities CERT tracks—typically technical flaws in software that can be patched or otherwise remediated by vendors. This means that CERT didn't assign the research a “Common Vulnerability and Exposures” or CVE number to keep track of the issue. He adds, though, that the research raises important questions about gaps in the security community's vulnerability tracking mechanisms. Recently, Manion and his colleagues at CERT have been investigating the security community's collective lack of ability to assess and deal with potential exposures in machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms or other profiling systems. The power and complexity of these platforms, like Facebook's ad targeting service, make it difficult for regular people and security experts alike to think ahead to all the potential interactions and ramifications—even if users understand conceptually that some of their information will be used for content targeting. “There’s not going to be a patch for [Downing's findings], but it doesn’t mean it’s not a problem of some kind,” Manion says. “Do the existing models for security vulnerability resolution work here? I would suggest they don’t and we need to figure out some new approaches.” Facebook Ad Services Let Anyone Target US Military Personnel
  18. Chrome will soon block resource-draining ads. Here’s how to turn it on now Fed up with cryptojacking ads? Google developers have you covered. Enlarge Getty Images 105 with 76 posters participating Chrome browser users take heart: Google developers are rolling out a feature that neuters abusive ads that covertly leach your CPU resources, bandwidth, and electricity. The move comes in response to a swarm of sites and ads first noticed in 2017 that surreptitiously use visitors’ computers to mine bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. As the sites or ads display content, embedded code performs the resource-intensive calculations and deposits the mined currency in a developer-designated wallet. To conceal the scam, the code is often heavily obfuscated. The only signs something is amiss are whirring fans, drained batteries, and for those who pay close attention, increased consumption of network resources. In a post published on Thursday, Chrome Project Manager Marshall Vale said that while the percentage of abusive ads is extremely low—somewhere around 0.3 percent—they account for 28 percent of CPU usage and 27 percent of network data. Enlarge “We have recently discovered that a fraction of a percent of ads consume a disproportionate share of device resources, such as battery and network data, without the user knowing about it,” Vale wrote. “These ads (such as those that mine cryptocurrency, are poorly programmed, or are unoptimized for network usage) can drain battery life, saturate already strained networks, and cost money.” To curtail the practice, Chrome is limiting the resources a display ad can consume before a user interacts with it. If the limit is reached, the ad frame will navigate to an error page that informs the user the ad has consumed too many resources. A disabled ad will look something like this: Enlarge To arrive at the threshold for disabling an ad, Chrome developers measured a large sample of ads Chrome users encounter. Ads that use more CPU resources or network data than 99.9 percent of overall ads will be blocked. That translates to 4 megabytes of network data or 15 seconds of CPU usage in any 30-second period or 60 seconds of total CPU usage. Chrome developers plan to experiment with the limits over the next few months and add them to the stable version of the browser by the end of August. The purpose of the delayed rollout is to give ad creators and tool providers time to incorporate the limits into their coding. Chrome users who want to turn the feature on sooner can enable the flag at chrome://flags/#enable-heavy-ad-intervention. Several antivirus providers have already provided the means for users to weed out ads that engage in so-called cryptojacking or similar types of abuse. Chrome users will soon have the means to do the same thing natively. Source: Chrome will soon block resource-draining ads. Here’s how to turn it on now (Ars Technica)
  19. Adobe starts serving ads in the share and 'open with' UI on Android for some users Adobe is beginning to test a way of serving ads through the ‘open with’ and share dialogs on Android. AndroidPolice reports that its readers are beginning to see ads for Adobe Photoshop Express and Adobe Scan when trying to open certain types of files. The nature of these ads is exactly like Microsoft’s ads that were being served last year. The way this works is that when users install one of the apps from a particular developer, which in this case is the Adobe Acrobat Reader, they are served ads for other apps from the same developer. The advertisements for the apps depend on the format of the file being shared or opened. Adobe’s ads also appear in the ‘open with’ UI, prompting to download Photoshop Express likely when trying to open an image for editing. Screenshots: AndroidPolice The folks over at AndroidPolice could find strings within the Acrobat Reader app code that pointed to promotions for Photoshop Elements and Scan. In Microsoft’s case, the ads were for PowerPoint when opening a .PPTX file, or for downloading OneDrive when users attempt to share a picture. This would primarily show up for users that installed the Your Phone (formerly Your Phone Companion) app. While companies might want to promote other apps that they build, such ads might become more of an annoyance for users that are accustomed to using a certain set of apps for specific tasks. It is not clear if the test will expand to more users or be canned earlier depending on users’ feedback. Source: Adobe starts serving ads in the share and 'open with' UI on Android for some users (Neowin)
  20. Google has announced that starting in December 2018, Chrome 71 will remove all ads on sites that have repeatedly performed abusive behavior. With Chrome 71, Google is stepping up its fight against the internet’s abusive ads problem by blocking every ad on a site that persistently shows them. Abusive ads come in many forms, but broadly speaking cause your browser to misbehave by either generating fake system messages, automatically redirecting you, or attempt to steal personal information. This isn’t the first time that Google has tried to use Chrome to address the problem. Back in July, Chrome 68 would prevent sites from opening new tabs or windows if they were reported for serving abusive experiences. Chrome 71, scheduled for release in December, will give site owners a 30 day grace period to clean up their site after an abusive experience is reported. Failure to remove the abusive ads will cause Chrome to block every ad on the site — regardless of whether they are classed as abusive or not. Although users will have the option of turning this filtering off, the majority are likely to leave their settings at their default values, effectively withholding a huge portion of a flagged site’s revenue. It’s a big incentive for sites to prevent this bad behavior, even if it’s an uncomfortable reminder of how much power Google now holds over the internet. Source
  21. (Reuters Health) - Those cute little apps your child plays with are most likely flooded with ads - some of which are totally age-inappropriate, researchers have found. A stunning 95 percent of commonly downloaded apps that are marketed to or played by children age five and under contain at least one type of advertising, according to a new report in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics. And that goes for the apps labeled as educational, too, researchers say. Often the ads are intrusive, spread across in a banner or even interrupting play, said study coauthor Dr. Jenny Radesky, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan and the University of Michigan C. S. Mott Children’s Hospital. Perhaps the most insidious ads are the ones you need to click a little “x” to get rid of, Radesky said. “The little ‘x’ doesn’t show up for about 20 seconds,” she explained. “If you’re a 2- or 3-year-old you might think the ad is a part of the game. And you don’t know what to do. You might click on the ad and that could take you to the app store. Many of these ads require you to do things before the ‘x’ will appear.” Some ads are for products that aren’t appropriate for kids, Radesky said. “I’ve seen banner ads for bipolar treatment in some of these apps,” she added. One app geared to young children had a popup that linked to a political game showing “a cartoon version of Trump trying not to push the red button that will send nukes,” Radesky said. “My son asked, ‘what is he talking about, is he going to blow up the world?’” One big problem with ads in apps aimed at very young children is the kids often can’t tell where the game leaves off and the ad begins. “There’s science to show that children aged 8 and younger can’t distinguish between media content and advertising,” Radesky said. Radesky originally was working on a study to explore how parents use their mobile devices. After noticing the kid-oriented apps on the parents’ phones, she and her colleagues decided this was a topic that should be looked at. The researchers scrutinized 135 of the most downloaded free and paid apps in the “age five and under” category in the Google Play app store. Among them were free apps with 5 to 10 million downloads and paid apps with 50,000 to 100,000 downloads. Of the 135 apps, 129, or 95 percent, contained at least one type of advertising, which included use of popular cartoon characters to sell products, teasers suggesting the purchase of the “full” version of the app, and advertising videos that interrupted play to promote in-app purchases or purchases of other products. “What we found,” Radesky said, “was lots and lots of advertising.” The new findings “are frightening,” said Dr. Albert Wu, an internist and professor of health policy & management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “This strikes me as a Trojan horse for tots. Even being charitable to all these companies, I think these apps are deceptive at best and unethical at worst.” Wu was especially disappointed to find “this even applies to apps labeled as educational. It’s giving ‘educational’ a bad name. And it really does beg for a bigger role for the government in regulation even if there are some voices out there calling for less government. I think it would be important for the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) to step in.” The idea that there is so much advertising in the apps, “is giving me even more reason to want to restrict screen use in my own children,” Wu said. The new findings have prompted advocates to file a complaint with the FTC. The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, along with other child advocacy groups, plans to file the complaint in conjunction with the release of the study results. Source
  22. Add “a phone number I never gave Facebook for targeted advertising” to the list of deceptive and invasive ways Facebook makes money off your personal information. Contrary to user expectations and Facebook representatives’ own previous statements, the company has been using contact information that users explicitly provided for security purposes—or that users never provided at all—for targeted advertising. A group of academic researchers from Northeastern University and Princeton University, along with Gizmodo reporters, have used real-world tests to demonstrate how Facebook’s latest deceptive practice works. They found that Facebook harvests user phone numbers for targeted advertising in two disturbing ways: two-factor authentication (2FA) phone numbers, and “shadow” contact information. Two-Factor Authentication Is Not The Problem First, when a user gives Facebook their number for security purposes—to set up 2FA, or to receive alerts about new logins to their account—that phone number can become fair game for advertisers within weeks. (This is not the first time Facebook has misused 2FA phone numbers.) But the important message for users is: this is not a reason to turn off or avoid 2FA. The problem is not with two-factor authentication. It’s not even a problem with the inherent weaknesses of SMS-based 2FA in particular. Instead, this is a problem with how Facebook has handled users’ information and violated their reasonable security and privacy expectations. There are many types of 2FA. SMS-based 2FA requires a phone number, so you can receive a text with a “second factor” code when you log in. Other types of 2FA—like authenticator apps and hardware tokens—do not require a phone number to work. However, until just four months ago, Facebook required users to enter a phone number to turn on any type of 2FA, even though it offers its authenticator as a more secure alternative. Other companies—Google notable among them—also still follow that outdated practice. Even with the welcome move to no longer require phone numbers for 2FA, Facebook still has work to do here. This finding has not only validated users who are suspicious of Facebook's repeated claims that we have “complete control” over our own information, but has also seriously damaged users’ trust in a foundational security practice. Until Facebook and other companies do better, users who need privacy and security most—especially those for whom using an authenticator app or hardware key is not feasible—will be forced into a corner. Shadow Contact Information Second, Facebook is also grabbing your contact information from your friends. Kash Hill of Gizmodo provides an example: ...if User A, whom we’ll call Anna, shares her contacts with Facebook, including a previously unknown phone number for User B, whom we’ll call Ben, advertisers will be able to target Ben with an ad using that phone number, which I call “shadow contact information,” about a month later. This means that, even if you never directly handed a particular phone number over to Facebook, advertisers may nevertheless be able to associate it with your account based on your friends’ phone books. Even worse, none of this is accessible or transparent to users. You can’t find such “shadow” contact information in the “contact and basic info” section of your profile; users in Europe can’t even get their hands on it despite explicit requirements under the GDPR that a company give users a “right to know” what information it has on them. As Facebook attempts to salvage its reputation among users in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, it needs to put its money where its mouth is. Wiping 2FA numbers and “shadow” contact data from non-essential use would be a good start. Source: EFF
  23. Google suffers first revenue decline as ads hit by pandemic Executives express cautious optimism for a return to growth. Enlarge / Google logo seen during Google Developer Days (GDD) in Shanghai, China, September 2019. Lyu Liang | VCG | Getty Images 43 with 25 posters participating Google has suffered its first recorded revenue decline, as the coronavirus crisis wiped 8 percent from advertising income in the latest quarter and depressed parent company Alphabet’s revenues by 2 percent from the year before. Despite the unprecedented fall-off in its core business, however, Google executives said conditions had improved as the quarter progressed, and offered cautious optimism for a return to growth in the current period. Sundar Pichai, chief executive, said Google had seen “the early signs of stabilization, as users returned to commercial activity online.” Ruth Porat, chief financial officer, added that the search advertising business had ended the quarter with revenue roughly flat compared with the previous year, and had also seen “a modest improvement” in July. The advertising business is closely tied to the broader economy, she added, and “fragile” conditions left the outlook uncertain in the months ahead. Google’s advertising is heavily dependent on small and medium-sized businesses, which have been the hardest hit in the downturn. The advertising decline was partially offset by a 6-percent increase at YouTube, where some improvement in demand for brand advertising lifted revenue to $3.8 billion. The company’s cloud business also posted a 43-percent jump in revenue, to $3 billion. Though the performance echoed the gains reported by other cloud computing companies during the pandemic, the growth was still lower than the 52 percent of the preceding three months, and below most expectations. Google missed out on the pandemic-fueled bounce at rival Amazon in the latest quarter because its cloud business is far smaller than Amazon Web Services, while repeated attempts to boost its position in online commerce have failed to gain traction. Mr Pichai said he was confident its latest efforts, under a new management team, would yield “long-term” results. The company’s executives said three months ago that Google had started the second quarter with advertising revenue suffering a “mid teen year-on-year decline.” But they also surprised investors at the time with the news that they were seeing the first signs of stabilization in search advertising. Since then, Alphabet’s shares have risen 25 percent, nearly double the rise in the broader US stock market. After the results news, the price was up less than 1 percent. Alphabet—which counts on Google for more than 99 percent of its revenue—reported gross revenue in the latest period of $38.3 billion. Net revenue, after deducting traffic acquisition costs, fell less than a percentage point, to $31.6 billion. Earnings per share declined 29 percent, to $10.13, as costs rose 7 percent, despite a company-wide moratorium on all but essential hiring. Most analysts had expected Alphabet’s net revenue to fall 4 percent to $30.5 billion in the latest quarter, with earnings per share dropping to $8.34. They had also forecast a return to growth in the third quarter, with revenues expected to rebound nearly 3 percent and earnings per share up 6 percent. Google suffers first revenue decline as ads hit by pandemic
  24. Having established itself as a top streaming service with now more than 200 million users, Spotify this year is preparing to focus more of its attention on podcasts. The company plans bring its personalization technology to podcasts in order to make better recommendations, update its app’s interface so people can access podcasts more easily and broker more exclusives with podcast creators. It’s also getting into the business of selling ads within podcasts as a means of generating revenue from this increasingly popular form of audio programming. In fact, Spotify has already begun to dabble in podcast ad sales, ahead of this larger push. Spotify, we’ve learned, has been selling its own advertisements in its original podcasts since mid-2018 year, including in programs like Spotify Original “Amy Schumer Presents: 3 Girls, 1 Keith,” “The Joe Budden Podcast,” “Dissect,” “Showstopper” and others. With more exclusives planned for the year ahead, the portion of Spotify’s ad business focused on podcasts will also grow. The company appears to be taking a different approach to working with podcasters than it does with working with music artists. Today, Spotify gives artists tools that help share their work and be discovered — it invested in distribution platform DistroKid, for example, and now lets artists submit tracks for playlist consideration. With podcasters, however, Spotify wants to either bring their voices in-house, or at least exclusively license their content. “Over the last year, we become very focused on building out a great podcast universe,” said head of Spotify Studios Courtney Holt, speaking at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this week. “The first step was to make sure that we’ve got the world’s best podcasts on Spotify, and integrated the experience into the service in a way that allowed people to build habits and behavior there,” he said. “What we started to see is that the types of podcasts that really were working on Spotify were ones where they were really authentic voices… so we just decided to invest more in those types of voices,” Holt added. Spotify’s collection of originals has been steadily growing over the past year. Last August, for example, Spotify nabbed an exclusive deal with the “Joe Budden” podcast, which is aimed at hip-hop and rap culture fans, and launched its first branded podcast, “Ebb & Flow,” focused on hip-hop and R&B. Its full original lineup today also includes “Dissect,” Amy Schumer’s “3 Girls, 1 Keith,” “Mogul,” “The Rewind with Guy Raz,” “Showstopper,” “Unpacked,” “Crimetown” (its first season was wide, the second season is exclusive to Spotify), “UnderCover” and “El Chapo: El Jefe y su Juicio.” At CES, Spotify announced the addition of one more — journalist Jemele Hill is coming to Spotify with an exclusive podcast called “Unbothered,” which will feature high-profile guests in sports, music, politics, culture and more. In growing its collection of originals, the company found that podcasters who joined Spotify exclusively were actually able to grow their audience, despite leaving other distribution platforms. For example, the Joe Budden podcast had its highest streaming day ever after joining Spotify. This has led Spotify to believe that influencers in the podcast community will be able to bring their community with them when they become a Spotify exclusive, and then further grow their listener base by tapping into Spotify’s larger music user base and, soon, an improved recommendation system. There are other perks for Spotify, too — when users come to Spotify and begin to listen to podcasts, they often then spend more time engaged with the app, it found. “People who consume podcasts on Spotify are consuming more of Spotify — including music,” said Holt. “So we found that in increasing our [podcast] catalog and spending more time to make the user experience better, it wasn’t taking away from music, it was enhancing the overall time spent on the platform,” he noted. While chasing exclusive deals to bring more original podcasts to Spotify will be a big initiative this year, Spotify will continue to offer its recently launched podcasts submission feature to everyone else. With this sort of basic infrastructure in place, Spotify now wants to help users discover new podcasts and improve the listening experience. One aspect of this will involve pointing listeners to other podcast content they may like. For instance, Spotify could point Joe Budden fans to other podcasts about hip-hop and rap. It will also leverage its multi-year partnership with Samsung to allow listeners to pick up where they left off in an episode as they move between different devices. And it will turn its personalization and recommendation technology to podcasts — including the ads in the podcasts themselves. “Think about what we’ve done around music — the more understanding you have around the music you stream, the more we can personalize the ad experience. Now we can take that to podcasts,” said Brian Benedik, VP and Global Head of Advertising Sales at Spotify, when asked about the potential for Spotify selling ads in podcasts. The company has been testing the waters with its own podcast ad sales since mid 2018, Benedik said. The sales are handled in-house by Spotify’s ad sales team for the time being. Benedik had also appeared on a panel this week at CES, where he talked about the value of contextual advertising — meaning, ads that can be personalized to the user based on factors like mood, behavior and moments. This data could be appealing to podcast advertisers, as well. But to scale its efforts around podcast ads, Spotify will need to invest in digital ad insertion technology. We’re hearing that Spotify is currently deciding whether that’s something it wants to build in-house or acquire outright. Spotify’s rival Pandora went the latter route. It closed on the acquisition of adtech company Adswizz in May 2018, then introduced capabilities for shorter, more personalized ads in August. By November, Pandora announced it was bringing its Genome technology to podcasts, which allowed for a recommendation system. Now Spotify aims to catch up. The addition of podcasts has reoriented Spotify’s focus as a company, Holt said. “We’re an audio company. We’re trying to be the world’s best audio service,” he told the audience at CES. “It’s a pure play for us. We’re seeing increased engagement; there’s great commercial opportunities from podcasting that we’ve never seen on the platform… and, obviously, exclusives are to give us something that makes the platform truly unique — to have people come to Spotify for something you can’t get anywhere else is the sort of cherry on top of that entire strategy,” Holt said. Source
  25. Instagram just got caught selling advertisements to the same follower-buying companies it claimed to have banned back in November. Back in November, Instagram claimed it banned all accounts that were obtained by third-party apps. These apps allow people to purchase followers and likes from fake accounts and bots. An investigation by TechCrunch found that despite Instagram’s claims, the app was still allowing these companies to place ads. TechCrunch reached out to Instagram to find out why they were still selling these ads. Instagram claimed that they removed the ads and that the accounts are still banned. However, they still saw ads for companies that promote buying followers even after their conversation. In November, Instagram said they were using AI technology to detect and erase “fake” accounts that follow, like and comment on people’s posts for a fee. Instagram responded to the findings of the investigation with a statement. “Nobody likes receiving spammy follows, likes and comments. It’s really important to us that the interactions people have on Instagram are genuine, and we’re working hard to keep the community free from spammy behavior.” “Services that offer to boost an account’s popularity via inauthentic likes, comments and followers, as well as ads that promote these services, aren’t allowed on Instagram. We’ve taken action on the services raised in this article, including removing violating ads, disabling Pages and accounts, and stopping Pages from placing further ads.” “We have various systems in place that help us catch and remove these types of ads before anyone sees them, but given the number of ads uploaded to our platform every day, there are times when some still manage to slip through. We know we have more to do in this area and we’re committed to improving.” Source
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