Social Networks

Silicon Valley 'Divided Society and Made Everyone Raging Mad', Argues Newsweek (newsweek.com) 291

"Anyone who is pissed off can now automatically find other people that are similarly pissed off," argues author Jamie Bartlett, in a new essay shared by Slashdot reader schwit1 which calls the internet "a bottomless well of available grievance." Here's an excerpt from Newsweek: Silicon Valley's utopians genuinely but mistakenly believe that more information and connection makes us more analytical and informed. But when faced with quinzigabytes of data, the human tendency is to simplify things. Information overload forces us to rely on simple algorithms to make sense of the overwhelming noise. This is why, just like the advertising industry that increasingly drives it, the internet is fundamentally an emotional medium that plays to our base instinct to reduce problems and take sides, whether like or don't like, my guy/not my guy, or simply good versus evil. It is no longer enough to disagree with someone, they must also be evil or stupid...

Nothing holds a tribe together like a dangerous enemy. That is the essence of identity politics gone bad: a universe of unbridgeable opinion between opposing tribes, whose differences are always highlighted, exaggerated, retweeted and shared. In the end, this leads us to ever more distinct and fragmented identities, all of us armed with solid data, righteous anger, a gutful of anger and a digital network of likeminded people. This is not total connectivity; it is total division.

Advertising

Could Cryptocurrency Mining Kill Online Advertising? (linkedin.com) 154

"Could it turn out users actually prefer to trade a little CPU time to website owners in favor of them not showing ads?" writes phonewebcam, a long-time Slashdot reader. Slashdot covered the downside [of in-browser cryptocurrency mining] recently, with even [Portuguese professional sportsballer] Cristiano Ronaldo's official site falling victim, but that may not be the full story. This could be an ideal win-win situation, except for one huge downside -- the current gang of online advertisers.
By "current gang of online advertisers," he means Google, according to a longer essay at LinkedIn: Naturally, the world's largest ad broker, which runs the world most popular browser (desktop and mobile) is keen to see how this plays out, and is also uniquely placed to be able to heavily influence it, too... As it happens, Chrome users can already do something about it via extensions, for example AntiMiner... If cryptocurrencies have a future - and that's a big if (look at China's Bitcoin ban) - it could well turn out that their role just took an unexpected turn.
Advertising

For Under $1,000, Mobile Ads Can Track Your Location (mashable.com) 51

"Researchers were able to use GPS data from an ad network to track a user to their actual location, and trace movements through town," writes phantomfive. Mashable reports: The idea is straightforward: Associate a series of ads with a specific individual as well as predetermined GPS coordinates. When those ads are served to a smartphone app, you know where that individual has been... It's a surprisingly simple technique, and the researchers say you can pull it off for "$1,000 or less." The relatively low cost means that digitally tracking a target in this manner isn't just for corporations, governments, or criminal enterprises. Rather, the stalker next door can have a go at it as well... Refusing to click on the popups isn't enough, as the person being surveilled doesn't need to do so for this to work -- simply being served the advertisements is all it takes.
It's "an industry-wide issue," according to the researchers, while Mashable labels it "digital surveillance, made available to any and all with money on hand, brought to the masses by your friendly neighborhood Silicon Valley disrupters."
Businesses

Vungle CEO Arrested For Child Rape and Attempted Murder (axios.com) 124

Freshly Exhumed writes: Axios is working to get details about a revelation on a government website that Vungle CEO Zain Jaffer is facing charges at the Maple Street Correctional Center in Redwood City, California of attempted murder, a lewd act on a child, oral copulation of a person under 14, child abuse, assault with a deadly weapon and battery upon an officer and emergency personnel. Vungle is self-described on its website as "the leading in-app video advertising platform for performance marketers," and was founded by Jaffer in 2011. Vungle has since issued a statement: "While we do not have any information that is not in the public record at this point, these are extremely serious allegations, and we are shocked beyond words. While these are only preliminary charges, they are obviously so serious that it led to the immediate removal of Mr. Jaffer from any operational responsibility at the company. The company stressed that this matter has nothing to do with Mr. Jaffer's former role at the company." Axios notes that "the San Francisco-based company has raised over $25 million in VC funding from firms like Google Ventures, Thomvest Ventures, Crosslink Capital, SoftTech VC and 500 Startups."
Bitcoin

Over 500 Million PCs Are Secretly Mining Cryptocurrency, Researchers Reveal (newsweek.com) 78

Ad blocking firm AdGuard has found that over 500 million people are inadvertently mining cryptocurrencies through their computers after visiting websites that are running background mining software. The company found 220 popular websites with an aggregated audience of half a billion people use so-called crypto-mining scripts when a user opens their main page. Newsweek reports: The mining tool works by hijacking a computer's central processing unit (CPU), commonly referred to as "the brains" of a computer. Using part of a computer's CPU to mine bitcoin effects the machine's overall performance and will slow it down by using up processing power. The researchers found that bitcoin browser mining is mostly found on websites "with a shady reputation" due to the trouble such sites have with earning revenue through advertising. However, in the future it could become a legitimate and ethical way of making money if the website requests the permission of the visitor first.

"220 sites may not seem like a lot," the researchers wrote in a blogpost detailing their discovery. "But CoinHive was launched less than one month ago on September 14. The growth has been extremely rapid: from nearly zero to .22 percent of Alexa's top 100,000 websites. "This analysis well illustrates the whole web, so it's safe to say that one of every forty websites currently mines cryptocurrency (namely Monero) in the browsers their users employ."

Google

Google Paid $7.2 Billion Last Year To Partners, Including Apple, To Prominently Showcase Its Search Engine and Apps on Smartphones (bloomberg.com) 57

A reader shares a Bloomberg report: There's a $19 billion black box inside Google. That's the yearly amount Google pays to companies that help generate its advertising sales, from the websites lined with Google-served ads to Apple and others that plant Google's search box or apps in prominent spots. Investors are obsessed with this money, called traffic acquisition costs, and they're particularly worried about the growing slice of those payments going to Apple and Google's Android allies. That chunk of fees now amounts to 11 percent of revenue for Google's internet properties. The figure was 7 percent in 2012. These Google traffic fees are the result of contractual arrangements parent company Alphabet makes to ensure its dominance. The company pays Apple to make Google the built-in option for web searches on Apple's Safari browsers for Mac computers, iPhones and other places. Google also pays companies that make Android smartphones and the phone companies that sell those phones to make sure its search box is front and center and to ensure its apps such as YouTube and Chrome are included in smartphones. In the last year, Google has paid these partners $7.2 billion, more than three times the comparable cost in 2012.
Microsoft

PSA: Microsoft Is Using Cortana To Read Your Private Skype Conversations (betanews.com) 180

BrianFagioli shares a report from BetaNews: With Cortana's in-context assistance, it's easier to keep your conversations going by having Cortana suggest useful information based on your chat, like restaurant options or movie reviews. And if you're in a time crunch? Cortana also suggests smart replies, allowing you to respond to any message quickly and easily -- without typing a thing," says The Skype Team. The team further says, "Cortana can also help you organize your day -- no need to leave your conversations. Cortana can detect when you're talking about scheduling events or things you have to do and will recommend setting up a reminder, which you will receive on all your devices that have Cortana enabled. So, whether you're talking about weekend plans or an important work appointment, nothing will slip through the cracks."

So, here's the deal, folks. In order for this magical "in-context" technology to work, Cortana is constantly reading your private conversations. If you use Skype on mobile to discuss private matters with your friends or family, Cortana is constantly analyzing what you type. Talking about secret business plans with a colleague? Yup, Microsoft's assistant is reading those too. Don't misunderstand -- I am not saying Microsoft has malicious intent by adding Cortana to Skype; the company could have good intentions. With that said, there is the potential for abuse. Microsoft could use Cortana's analysis to spy on you for things like advertising or worse, and that stinks. Is it really worth the risk to have smart replies and suggested calendar entries? I don't know about you, but I'd rather not have my Skype conversations read by Microsoft.

Education

Publishers Take ResearchGate To Court, Seek Removal of Millions of Papers (sciencemag.org) 66

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Science Magazine: Scholarly publishing giants Elsevier and the American Chemical Society (ACS) have filed a lawsuit in Germany against ResearchGate, a popular academic networking site, alleging copyright infringement on a mass scale. The move comes after a larger group of publishers became dissatisfied with ResearchGate's response to a request to alter its article-sharing practices. ResearchGate, a for-profit firm based in Berlin, Germany, which was founded in 2008, is one of the largest social networking sites aimed at the academic community. It claims more than 13 million users, who can use their personal pages to upload and share a wide range of material, including published papers, book chapters and meeting presentations.

Yesterday, a group of five publishers -- ACS, Elsevier, Brill, Wiley and Wolters Kluwer -- announced that ResearchGate had rejected the association's proposal. Instead, the group, which calls itself the "Coalition for Responsible Sharing," said in a October 5th statement that ResearchGate suggested publishers should send the company formal notices, called "takedown notices," asking it to remove content that breaches copyright. The five publishers will be sending takedown notices, according to the group. But the coalition also alleges that ResearchGate is illicitly making as many as 7 million copyrighted articles freely available, and that the company's "business model depends on the distribution of these in-copyright articles to generate traffic to its site, which is then commercialized through the sale of targeted advertising." The coalition also states that sending millions of takedown notices "is not a viable long-term solution, given the current and future scale of infringement Sending large numbers of takedown notices on an ongoing basis will prove highly disruptive to the research community." As a result, two coalition members -- ACS and Elsevier -- have opted to go to court to try to force ResearchGate's hand.

Communications

A Small But Growing Group Of Silicon Valley Heretics Are Disconnecting Themselves From the Internet (theguardian.com) 142

The Guardian reports: Decades after he stayed up all night coding a prototype of what was then called an "awesome" button, Rosenstein belongs to a small but growing band of Silicon Valley heretics who complain about the rise of the so-called "attention economy": an internet shaped around the demands of an advertising economy. These refuseniks are rarely founders or chief executives, who have little incentive to deviate from the mantra that their companies are making the world a better place. Instead, they tend to have worked a rung or two down the corporate ladder: designers, engineers and product managers who, like Rosenstein, several years ago put in place the building blocks of a digital world from which they are now trying to disentangle themselves. "It is very common," Rosenstein says, "for humans to develop things with the best of intentions and for them to have unintended, negative consequences." Rosenstein, who also helped create Gchat during a stint at Google, and now leads a San Francisco-based company that improves office productivity, appears most concerned about the psychological effects on people who, research shows, touch, swipe or tap their phone 2,617 times a day. There is growing concern that as well as addicting users, technology is contributing toward so-called "continuous partial attention", severely limiting people's ability to focus, and possibly lowering IQ. One recent study showed that the mere presence of smartphones damages cognitive capacity -- even when the device is turned off. "Everyone is distracted," Rosenstein says. "All of the time."
China

Beijing Startup Offers Engineers $1M Salary Plus Options in Battle For Talent (financialpost.com) 119

An anonymous reader shares a Financial Post report: Beijing ByteDance Technology is the brainchild of entrepreneur Zhang Yiming. The company is best known for a mobile app called Jinri Toutiao, or Today's Headlines, which aggregates news and videos from hundreds of media outlets. In five years, the app has become one of the most popular news services anywhere, with 120 million daily users. Toutiao is on pace to pull in about US$2.5 billion in revenue this year, largely from advertising. It was just valued at more than US$20 billion, according to a person familiar with the matter, roughly the same as Elon Musk's SpaceX. In China, the Beijing company is controversial because of its recruiting. ByteDance hires top performers from such giants as Baidu and Tencent Holdings, sometimes raising salaries 50 per cent and tossing in stock options. "Our philosophy is to pay the top of the market to get the best," says the slight 34-year-old in an interview at the company's headquarters, his first with foreign media. "The company that wants to achieve the most, you need the best talent." Top performers can make US$1 million in salary and bonus a year, plus options, according to people familiar with its hiring. Total compensation can exceed US$3 million.
AI

Mattel's New Baby Monitor Uses AI To Soothe Babies and Lawmakers Aren't Happy About It (washingtonpost.com) 131

Mattel has a new kid-focused smart hub called Aristotle, which can switch on a night light if it hears a baby crying to soothe the child (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source). The device is also designed to keep changing its activities, even to the point where it can help a preteen with homework, learning about the child along the way. Given the privacy concerns, lawmakers are worried that the always-on device could build an "in-depth profile of children and their family." Jezebel reports: The $299 Aristotle is similar in spirit to the Amazon Echo, only the scope of its features is much broader -- and scarier. Last week, Senator Ed Markey and Representative Joe Barton sent a letter to Mattel CEO Margaret Giorgiadis about their issues with the tablet, which tracks things like kids' eating and sleeping habits when they're young, and adapts to answering their questions about long division and sex or whatever as they grow up. According to nabi, the Mattel brand that developed the device, the Aristotle is meant to "provide parents with a platform that simplifies parenting, while helping them nurture, teach, and protect their young ones." Not everyone is on board. But Markey and Barton aren't the only ones squicked by Aristotle's capabilities. Buzzfeed reports that privacy experts, parents and child psychologists are also concerned that the device "encourages babies to form bonds with inanimate objects and use information it collects for targeted advertising," so much so that a petition has been launched to prevent it from going to market.
Advertising

Facebook Fought Rules That Could Have Exposed Fake Russian Ads (bloomberg.com) 193

According to Bloomberg, Facebook has for years fought to avoid being transparent about who's behind election-related ads online. "Since 2011, Facebook has asked the Federal Election Commission for blanket exemptions from political advertising disclosure rules -- transparency that could have helped it avoid the current crisis over Russia ad spending ahead of the 2016 U.S. election," reports Bloomberg. From the report: Communications law requires traditional media like TV and radio to track and disclose political ad buyers. The rule doesn't apply online, an exemption that's helped Facebook's self-serve advertising business generate hundreds of millions of dollars in political campaign spots. When the company was smaller, the issue was debated in some policy corners of Washington. Now that the social network is such a powerful political tool, with more than 2 billion users, the topic is at the center of a debate about the future of American democracy. Back in 2011, Facebook argued for the exemption for the same reasons as internet search giant Google: its ads are too small and have a character limit, leaving no room for language saying who paid for a campaign, according to documents on the FEC's website. Some FEC commissioners agreed, while others argued that Facebook could provide a clickable web link to get more information about the ad.

Facebook wouldn't budge. It warned that FEC proposals for more political ad disclosure could hinder free speech in a 2011 opinion written by Marc Elias, a high-powered Democratic lawyer who later became general counsel for Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign. Colin Stretch, a top Facebook lawyer, said the agency "should not stand in the way of innovation," and warned that such rules would quickly become obsolete. When it came time for the FEC to decide in June 2011, the agency's six commissioners split on a 3-3 vote. Facebook didn't get its exemption, so an advertiser using its platform was still subject to a 2006 ruling by the FEC requiring disclosure. But the company allowed ads to run without those disclaimers, leaving it up to ad buyers to comply.

Google

Why Google Needs Gadgets (wired.com) 37

Google will tomorrow launch the next generation of its smartphone with the Pixel 2 and the Pixel 2 XL. At the same time, the company will reportedly introduce a new Chrome OS-based laptop called the Pixelbook, a small smart speaker called the Google Home Mini, and new hardware for the Daydream VR platform. David Pierce, writing for Wired tries to make sense of it: You'd think having dominated search and email, created Chrome and YouTube, plus a self-driving car project, a handful of save-the-world enterprises, and the greatest advertising business in the history of the universe would be enough to keep Google busy. You certainly wouldn't think the folks in Mountain View would suddenly feel the urge to get into the smartphone game, a remarkably mature market where nobody but Samsung and Apple makes any money, and where Google's already ubiquitous thanks to Android. [...] As they say, hardware is hard. It's a ruthless and low-margin business, but it's also an important one. Building gadgets in-house gives Google an opportunity to assert itself beyond what any of its partners can offer. More importantly, it gives Google a chance to control its destiny in an increasingly uncertain time. Depending on Samsung is a dangerous game. Galaxy products are the most popular Android phones by far, and the prime iPhone competition. But every year, you can feel Samsung leaning a little further away from Google. It built the Bixby assistant, which competes directly with Google Assistant, and gave Bixby prime placement on its phones. Samsung builds its own browser, email client, and messaging app, which seem utterly redundant unless Samsung's trying to wean its reliance on Google products. Samsung mostly eschews Daydream in favor of Gear VR, and has a home-grown smart-home platform competing directly with Nest, Android Things, and all the other Google connected-home products.
Social Networks

Facebook Says 10 Million US Users Saw Russia-linked Ads (reuters.com) 252

Some 10 million people in the United States saw politically divisive ads on Facebook that the company said were purchased in Russia in the months before and after last year's U.S. presidential election, Facebook said on Monday. From a report: Facebook, which had not previously given such an estimate, said in a statement that it used modeling to estimate how many people saw at least one of the 3,000 ads. It also said that 44 percent of the ads were seen before the November 2016 election and 56 percent were seen afterward. The ads have sparked anger toward Facebook and, within the United States, toward Russia since the world's largest social network disclosed their existence last month. Moscow has denied involvement with the ads.
Advertising

T-Mobile Won't Stop Claiming Its Network Is Faster Than Verizon's (theverge.com) 106

T-Mobile says it will continue to claim it has the country's fastest LTE network even after the National Advertising Division, a telecom industry watchdog group, "recommended" that it stop doing so in print, TV, and web advertisements. In a statement given to Ars Technica, "NAD previously recognized third-party crowdsourced data as a way to look at network performance, so we looked at the latest results, and verified what we already knew. T-Mobile is still the fastest LTE network and we'll continue to let consumers know that." The Verge reports: The dispute arose earlier this year as part of a T-Mobile ad campaign that insinuated that Verizon's network was older and slower, and that its service did not feature unlimited plans. Verizon then filed a complaint with the NAD, which is a self-regulatory body of the telecom industry designed to settle disputes, avoid litigation, and protect against unwanted government regulation. Verizon said at the time that because T-Mobile was relying on crowdsourced data from third-party speed test providers Ookla and OpenSignal, the data was skewed in favor of T-Mobile. The data was pulled from a one-month period after Verizon first reintroduced its unlimited plans. Verizon's logic wasn't super bulletproof: the company claimed that because it had never before offered unlimited plans, T-Mobile customers -- who were familiar with the concept of throttling after a certain data threshold -- were more likely to be sampled in the crowdsourced data set provided to the NAD. Still, T-Mobile discontinued the disputed commercial, and the NAD felt the need to offer guidelines last week, advising the company not to claim its network was faster or newer. In addition, the NAD also told T-Mobile to modify its claim that it covered 99.7 percent of Verizon customers to make clear that the coverage is by population and not geographic area.
Privacy

Will London Monetize Wifi Tracking Data From Its Tube Passengers? (gizmodo.co.uk) 90

New questions are arising about how much privacy you'll have on London's underground trains. "For a month at the end of last year, Wi-fi signals were used to track passenger journeys across the network," writes Gizmodo. "The idea is that as we travel across the Tube network, Wi-fi beacons in stations would detect the unique ID -- the MAC address -- of our phones, tablets and other devices -- even if we're not connected to the Tube's wifi network." The only way to opt-out is to turn off your phone's Wi-Fi. An anonymous reader writes: London is struggling with the transport network capacity so the ability to learn commuters' travel patterns is compelling... Now it emerged that TfL, the operator of London Subway system, is planning to use the system to monetize passengers' data. TfL is also not ruling out sharing the data with third-parties in future.

More information shows that the privacy protection could not be as good as TfL maintains, with reversible hashing and options of giving data to law enforcement. A privacy engineering expert points out additional issues in pseudonymisation scheme and communication inconsistencies. Final deployment has been initially scheduled to start in end of 2017.

"Once the tools are in place, there will inevitably be a temptation to make use of them," warns Engadget, raising the possibility of the data's use for advertising -- or even the availability to law enforcement of location data for every passenger.
Google

Google Investigates Facebook's Russian Political Operatives, Will Address Congressmen (recode.net) 93

An anonymous reader quotes Recode: Facebook has shared some details about the Russian-operated profiles it discovered on its platform with Google, as the search giant -- with the rest of the tech industry -- continues to probe the extent to which Kremlin-backed misinformation spread through their websites during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. It is unclear if Google has found any suspicious ads or other content after evaluating Facebook's data, an exchange of intel confirmed to Recode today by three sources familiar with the matter. At the very least, Google's investigation appears to be much broader in scope than a similar one by Twitter, which had drawn the ire of Congress for appearing to be incomplete. A Google spokesperson declined to comment for this story, as did a Facebook rep.

For now, though, Google is slated to deliver a private briefing to U.S. lawmakers studying Russia's political tactics in the coming weeks, additional sources told Recode. A date does not appear to have been set. And the search-and-advertising giant has been asked to join Facebook and Twitter at two upcoming hearings in the House and Senate where the industry will face questions -- out in the open -- about its safeguards against Russian political interference in the future.

Social Networks

Instagram Now Has 800 Million Monthly, 500 Million Daily Active Users (cnbc.com) 29

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNBC: Instagram said Monday that it's added another 100 million monthly users. That brings the photo-sharing app to 800 million monthly active users, up from 700 million in April, according to Carolyn Everson, vice president of global marketing solutions at Facebook, who spoke at an Advertising Week event in New York City. Five hundred million of those are daily active users, the company said. That means that Instagram is still ahead of rival Snap in terms of users, based on Snap's last report. Snap said in August that it had 173 million daily active users. Time spent watching video on Instagram is up more than 80 percent year over year, the company also said on Monday, and four times as many videos are being produced every day on Instagram compared with a year ago.
Security

Experian Criticized Over Credit-Freeze PIN Security and 'Dark Web' Scans (theverge.com) 65

Security researcher Brian Krebs complains that Experian's identity-protecting credit freezes are easily unfrozen online. An anonymous reader quotes the Verge: Experian makes it easy to undo a credit freeze, resetting a subject's PIN through an easily accessible account recovery page. That page only asks for a person's name, address, date of birth, and Social Security number...data [that] was compromised in the Equifax breach, as well as other breaches, so we can probably assume hackers possess this information. After entering that data, attackers then just have to enter an email address -- any email -- and answer a few security questions.

That might not jump out as insecure; security questions exist for a reason. But the questions themselves are easy to answer, particularly if you know how to use the internet and a search bar. Krebs says sample questions include asking users to identify cities where they've previously lived and the people that resided with them. Much of that information is available through a person's own social media accounts, search engines, or Yellow Pages-like databases, including Spokeo and Zillow... In response to Krebs' report, Experian claims that it goes beyond the measures identified to authenticate users. "While we do not disclose those additional processes," said the company in a statement, "they include a broad array of checks that are not visible to the consumer."

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reports that Experian is also advertising a "free scan of the dark Web" which actually binds anyone who accepts it to their 17,600-word terms of service, as well as acceptance of "advertisements or offers" from financial products companies -- plus "an arbitration clause preventing you from suing the company" which a spokesperson acknowledges could remain in effect for several years.
Businesses

The Problem, Really, is This Thing Called 'Disruption' (wired.com) 106

New submitter mirandakatz writes: The word "disruption" is everywhere in tech -- and it's getting founders in trouble. Just look at what happened with Bodega last week: Had the startup not professed to be disrupting the mom-and-pop shops on every corner, it might not have landed itself in such hot water. At Backchannel, veteran Silicon Valley communications whiz Karen Wickre makes the case against "disruption," pointing out that many of today's biggest companies got their starts without claiming to completely upend an existing industry. She writes: "What if Sergey and Larry had touted Google, in 1998, as 'an unprecedented platform for disrupting global advertising?' Do you think Jeff Bezos claimed that Amazon.com was upending global retail? Netflix? Within a few months of its 1997 launch, it did not foresee the actual paradigm shift of media streaming."

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