Businesses

The Car of the Future Will Sell Your Data (bloomberg.com) 232

Picture this: You're driving home from work, contemplating what to make for dinner, and as you idle at a red light near your neighborhood pizzeria, an ad offering $5 off a pepperoni pie pops up on your dashboard screen. Are you annoyed that your car's trying to sell you something, or pleasantly persuaded? From a report: Telenav, a company developing in-car advertising software, is betting you won't mind much. Car companies -- looking to earn some extra money -- hope so, too. Automakers have been installing wireless connections in vehicles and collecting data for decades. But the sheer volume of software and sensors in new vehicles, combined with artificial intelligence that can sift through data at ever-quickening speeds, means new services and revenue streams are quickly emerging. The big question for automakers now is whether they can profit off all the driver data they're capable of collecting without alienating consumers or risking backlash from Washington. "Carmakers recognize they're fighting a war over customer data," said Roger Lanctot, who works with automakers on data monetization as a consultant for Strategy Analytics. "Your driving behavior, location, has monetary value, not unlike your search activity."
Bitcoin

Salon Magazine Mines Monero On Your Computer If You Use an Ad Blocker (bbc.com) 313

dryriver shares a report from BBC: News organizations have tried many novel ways to make readers pay -- but this idea is possibly the most audacious yet. If a reader chooses to block its advertising, U.S. publication Salon will use that person's computer to mine for Monero, a cryptocurrency similar to Bitcoin. Creating new tokens of a cryptocurrency typically requires complex calculations that use up a lot of computing power. Salon told readers: "We intend to use a small percentage of your spare processing power to contribute to the advancement of technological discovery, evolution and innovation." The site is making use of CoinHive, a controversial mining tool that was recently used in an attack involving government websites in the UK, U.S. and elsewhere. However, unlike that incident, where hackers took control of visitors' computers to mine cryptocurrency, Salon notifies users and requires them to agree before the tool begins mining.
Facebook

Facebook Plans To Use US Mail To Verify IDs of Election Ad Buyers (reuters.com) 122

Facebook will start using postcards sent by U.S. mail later this year to verify the identities and location of people who want to purchase U.S. election-related advertising on its site, a senior company executive said on Saturday. From a report: The postcard verification is Facebook's latest effort to respond to criticism from lawmakers, security experts and election integrity watchdog groups that it and other social media companies failed to detect and later responded slowly to Russia's use of their platforms to spread divisive political content, including disinformation, during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
The Courts

Judge Won't Let FCC's Net Neutrality Repeal Stop Lawsuit Alleging Charter Throttled Netflix (hollywoodreporter.com) 33

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Hollywood Reporter: [I]n the first significant decision referring to the repeal [of net neutrality] since FCC chairman Ajit Pai got his way, a New York judge on Friday ruled that the rescinding of net neutrality rules wasn't relevant to an ongoing lawsuit against Charter Communications. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed the lawsuit almost exactly a year ago today. It's alleged that Charter's Spectrum-TWC service promised internet speeds it knew it couldn't deliver and that Spectrum-TWC also misled subscribers by promising reliable access to Netflix, online content and online games. According to the complaint, the ISP intentionally failed to deliver reliable service in a bid to extract fees from backbone and content providers. When Netflix wouldn't pay, this "resulted in subscribers getting poorer quality streams during the very hours when they were most likely to access Netflix," and after Netflix agreed to pay demands, service "improved dramatically." This arguably is the kind of thing that net neutrality was supposed to prevent. And Charter itself pointed to the net neutrality repeal in a bid to block Schneiderman's claims that Charter had engaged in false advertising and deceptive business practices. New York Supreme Court Justice O. Peter Sherwood isn't sold.

He writes in an opinion that the FCC's order "which promulgates a new deregulatory policy effectively undoing network neutrality, includes no language purporting to create, extend or modify the preemptive reach of the Transparency Rule," referring to how ISPs have to disclose "actual network performance." And although Charter attempted to argue that the FCC clarified its intent to stop state and local governments from imposing disclosure obligations on broadband providers that were inconsistent with FCC's rules, Sherwood notes other language from the "Restoring Internet Freedom Order" how states will "continue to play their vital role in protecting consumers from fraud, enforcing fair business practices... and generally responding to consumer inquiries and complaints."

AI

To Fight Fatal Infections, Hospitals May Turn to Algorithms (scientificamerican.com) 4

The technology used by Facebook, Google and Amazon to turn spoken language into text, recognize faces and target advertising could help doctors combat one of the deadliest killers in American hospitals. From a report: Clostridium difficile, a deadly bacterium spread by physical contact with objects or infected people, thrives in hospitals, causing 453,000 cases a year and 29,000 deaths in the United States, according to a 2015 study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Traditional methods such as monitoring hygiene and warning signs often fail to stop the disease. But what if it were possible to systematically target those most vulnerable to C-diff? Erica Shenoy, an infectious-disease specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Jenna Wiens, a computer scientist and assistant professor of engineering at the University of Michigan, did just that when they created an algorithm to predict a patient's risk of developing a C-diff infection, or CDI. Using patients' vital signs and other health records, this method -- still in an experimental phase -- is something both researchers want to see integrated into hospital routines. The CDI algorithm -- based on a form of artificial intelligence called machine learning -- is at the leading edge of a technological wave starting to hit the U.S. health care industry. After years of experimentation, machine learning's predictive powers are well-established, and it is poised to move from labs to broad real-world applications, said Zeeshan Syed, who directs Stanford University's Clinical Inference and Algorithms Program.
Facebook

YouTube CEO: Facebook Should 'Get Back To Baby Pictures' (cnet.com) 119

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki won't divulge her biggest fear about competing with Facebook, but she will give them some free advice. From a report: "They should get back to baby pictures," Wojcicki said Monday at the Code Media conference in Huntington Beach, California. Video has been an obsession for Facebook, as it tries to swipe the most advertising dollars migrating off television before YouTube can get them. Facebook has been aggressively advancing the number of clips and live streams that bubble up to the top of your News Feed and has rolled out a central hub for TV-like programming called Watch. "You always have to take competition seriously. You don't win by looking backwards; you win by looking at your customers and looking forward," she said.
Privacy

German Court Rules Facebook Use of Personal Data Illegal (reuters.com) 79

A German consumer rights group said on Monday that a court had found Facebook's use of personal data to be illegal because the U.S. social media platform did not adequately secure the informed consent of its users. From a report: The verdict, from a Berlin regional court, comes as Big Tech faces increasing scrutiny in Germany over its handling of sensitive personal data that enables it to micro-target online advertising. The Federation of German Consumer Organisations (vzvb) said that Facebook's default settings and some of its terms of service were in breach of consumer law, and that the court had found parts of the consent to data usage to be invalid. "Facebook hides default settings that are not privacy-friendly in its privacy center and does not provide sufficient information about it when users register," said Heiko Duenkel, litigation policy officer at the vzvb. "This does not meet the requirement for informed consent."
Software

German Authorities Are Considering a Ban On Loot Boxes (heise.de) 106

Slashdot reader Qbertino writes: Heise reports that German authorities are examining loot boxes in video games and considering banning them in the country. Loot boxes might actually even violate laws against calls-to-purchase aimed directly towards minors that are already in effect. German authorities are also checking that. Loot boxes are randomized in-game item purchases that many people consider a form of gambling. The decision to take action against loot boxes in Germany is expected in March. Germany's Entertainment Software Self-Regulation Body has since clarified that Germany authorities are not considering a general ban on loot boxes, but are actually examining regulations of online advertising and purchasing as a whole.

"A closer look at the discussion is taking place, ie., if there are any specific risks and where to locate them legally. As part of that analysis the KJM (governmental institution responsible for youth protection regarding to online content/services) is taking a closer look at permitted and prohibited advertising in shop offerings. However these rules apply to online purchases in general, thus also to loot boxes," the rep said. "In the German debate this term [loot box] refers to a broad variety of different in-game or even just game-related purchase systems with more or less randomized items. Hence one cannot say that 'loot boxes' violate German laws, as each integration has to be evaluated as separate case."
Google

YouTube Suspends Ads on Logan Paul's Channels After 'Recent Pattern' of Behavior in Videos (techcrunch.com) 162

More problems and controversy for Logan Paul, the YouTube star who caused a strong public backlash when he posted a video of a suicide victim in Japan. From a report: Google's video platform today announced that it would be pulling advertising temporarily from his video channel in response to a "recent pattern of behavior" from him. This is in addition to Paul's suspensions from YouTube's Preferred Ad program and its Originals series, both of which have been in place since January; and comes days after YouTube's CEO promised stronger enforcement of YouTube's policies using a mix of technology and 10,000 human curators.
Bitcoin

Attackers Drain CPU Power From Water Utility Plant In Cryptojacking Attack (eweek.com) 76

darthcamaro writes: Apparently YouTube isn't the only site that is draining CPU power with unauthorized cryptocurrency miners. A water utility provider in Europe is literally being drained of its CPU power via an cryptojacking attack that was undetected for three weeks. eWeek reports: "At this point, Radiflow's (the security firm that discovered the cryptocurrency mining malware) investigation indicates that the cryptocurrency mining malware was likely downloaded from a malicious advertising site. As such, the theory that Radiflow CTO Yehonatan Kfir has is that an operator at the water utility was able to open a web browser and clicked on an advertising link that led the mining code being installed on the system. The actual system that first got infected is what is known as a Human Machine Interface (HMI) to the SCADA network and it was running the Microsoft Windows XP operating system. Radiflow's CEO, Ilan Barda, noted that many SCADA environments still have Windows XP systems deployed as operators tend to be very slow to update their operating systems." Radiflow doesn't know how much Monero (XMR) cryptocurrency was mined by the malware, but a recent report from Cisco's Talos research group revealed that some of the top un-authorized cryptocurrency campaigns generate over a million dollars per year. The average system would generate nearly $200,000 per year.
Facebook

Facebook Hired a Full-Time Pollster To Monitor Zuckerberg's Approval Ratings (theverge.com) 109

According to The Verge, Facebook hired a full-time pollster to track Mark Zuckerberg's approval ratings last year as the young CEO was making his 50-state tour across the country. The pollster, Tavis McGinn, reportedly "decided to leave the company after only six months after coming to believe that Facebook had a negative effect on the world." From the report: It was April, and Facebook was caught up in the fallout of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. After initially discounting the possibility that fake news had contributed to Donald Trump's victory, Facebook acknowledged that Russia-linked groups had spent more than $100,000 on political advertising. Zuckerberg undertook a nationwide listening tour modeled after a modern political campaign. McGinn would fill another role common to political campaigns: leading an ongoing poll operation dedicated to tracking minute changes in Zuckerberg's public perception. "It was a very unusual role," McGinn says. "It was my job to do surveys and focus groups globally to understand why people like Mark Zuckerberg, whether they think they can trust him, and whether they've even heard of him. That's especially important outside of the United States."

McGinn tracked a wide range of questions related to Zuckerberg's public perception. "Not just him in the abstract, but do people like Mark's speeches? Do they like his interviews with the press? Do people like his posts on Facebook? It's a bit like a political campaign, in the sense that you're constantly measuring how every piece of communication lands. If Mark's doing a barbecue in his backyard and he hops on Facebook Live, how do people respond to that?" Facebook worked to develop an understanding of Zuckerberg's perception that went beyond simple "thumbs-up" or "thumbs-down" metrics, McGinn says. "If Mark gives a speech and he's talking about immigration and universal health care and access to equal education, it's looking at all the different topics that Mark mentions and seeing what resonates with different audiences in the United States," he says. "It's very advanced research."

Music

Apple Homepod Review: Locked In (theverge.com) 73

On Tuesday, the review embargo lifted for full reviews of Apple's new HomePod smart speaker. The Verge's Niley Patel shared his thoughts on Apple's new HomePod in video and written form. Patel found that while it offers best-in-class sound for the price, Siri is frustratingly limited and the voice controls only work with Apple Music. Furthermore, Siri can't tell different voices apart, therefore raising some privacy concerns as anyone can come up to the speaker and ask Siri to send and read text messages and other private information aloud. Here's an excerpt from the report: The HomePod, whether Apple likes it or not, is the company's answer to the wildly popular Amazon Echo and Google Home smart speakers. Apple is very insistent that the $349 HomePod has been in development for the past six years and that it's entirely focused on sound quality, but it's entering a market where Amazon is advertising Alexa as a lovable and well-known character during the Super Bowl instead of promoting its actual features. Our shared expectations about smart speakers are beginning to settle in, and outside of engineering labs and controlled listening tests, the HomePod has to measure up. And while it's true that the HomePod sounds incredible -- it sounds far better than any other speaker in its price range -- it also demands that you live entirely inside Apple's ecosystem in a way that even Apple's other products do not. The question is: is beautiful sound quality worth locking yourself even more tightly into a walled garden? As for technical specifications, the HomePod comes in at 6.8 inches high, 5.6 inches wide, and weights 5.5 pounds. It features a high-excursion woofer with custom amplifier, array of seven horn-loaded tweeters, each with its own custom amplifier, six-microphone array, internal low-frequency calibration microphone for automatic bass correction, direct and ambient audio beamforming, and transparent studio-level dynamic processing.
Facebook

Seattle Finds Facebook in Violation of City Campaign Finance Law (reuters.com) 106

Seattle's election authority said on Monday that Facebook is in violation of a city law that requires disclosure of who buys election ads, the first attempt of its kind to regulate U.S. political ads on the internet. From a report: Facebook must disclose details about spending in last year's Seattle city elections or face penalties, Wayne Barnett, executive director of the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, said in a statement. The penalties could be up to $5,000 per advertising buy, Barnett said, adding that he would discuss next steps this week with Seattle's city attorney.
AI

Why Alexa Won't Light Up During Amazon's Super Bowl Ad (bloomberg.com) 80

Bloomberg: Amazon.com is advertising its Alexa-powered speakers in the big game on Sunday. It's an amusing 90 seconds that features celebrities like Gordon Ramsay, Rebel Wilson, Anthony Hopkins, Cardi B and the world's wealthiest man, Jeff Bezos himself. The word "Alexa" is uttered 10 times during the Super Bowl spot, but thankfully, the Amazon Echo in your living room isn't going to perk up and try to respond.

Bezos and company have evidently been thinking about this problem for a long time, before the Echo was even introduced. A September 2014 Amazon patent titled "Audible command filtering" describes techniques to prevent Alexa from waking up "as part of a broadcast watched by a large population (such as during a popular sporting event)," annoying customers and overloading Amazon's servers with millions of simultaneous requests. The patent broadly describes two techniques. The first calls for transmitting a snippet of a commercial to Echo devices before it airs. Then the Echo can compare live commands to the acoustic fingerprint of the snippet to determine whether the commands are authentic. The second tactic describes how a commercial itself could transmit an inaudible acoustic signal to tell Alexa to ignore its wake word.

Privacy

DuckDuckGo CEO: 'Google and Facebook Are Watching Our Every Move Online. It's Time To Make Them Stop' (cnbc.com) 224

An anonymous reader shares a report from CNBC, written by Gabriel Weinberg, CEO and founder of DuckDuckGo: You may know that hidden trackers lurk on most websites you visit, soaking up your personal information. What you may not realize, though, is 76 percent of websites now contain hidden Google trackers, and 24 percent have hidden Facebook trackers, according to the Princeton Web Transparency & Accountability Project. The next highest is Twitter with 12 percent. It is likely that Google or Facebook are watching you on many sites you visit, in addition to tracking you when using their products. As a result, these two companies have amassed huge data profiles on each person, which can include your interests, purchases, search, browsing and location history, and much more. They then make your sensitive data profile available for invasive targeted advertising that can follow you around the Internet.
[...]
So how do we move forward from here? Don't be fooled by claims of self-regulation, as any useful long-term reforms of Google and Facebook's data privacy practices fundamentally oppose their core business models: hyper-targeted advertising based on more and more intrusive personal surveillance. Change must come from the outside. Unfortunately, we've seen relatively little from Washington. Congress and federal agencies need to take a fresh look at what can be done to curb these data monopolies. They first need to demand more algorithmic and privacy policy transparency, so people can truly understand the extent of how their personal information is being collected, processed and used by these companies. Only then can informed consent be possible. They also need to legislate that people own their own data, enabling real opt-outs. Finally, they need to restrict how data can be combined including being more aggressive at blocking acquisitions that further consolidate data power, which will pave the way for more competition in digital advertising. Until we see such meaningful changes, consumers should vote with their feet.

Advertising

Facebook Is Banning Cryptocurrency, ICO Ads (techcrunch.com) 41

Facebbook has a new advertising policy pertaining to cryptocurrency, binary options and initial coin offerings. The policy specifically prohibits ads that promote those types of products and services "that are frequently associated with misleading or deceptive practices," Facebook Product Management Director Rob Leathern wrote in a blog post today. TechCrunch reports: Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Litecoin and Ethereum, and initial coin offerings have all hit the mainstream, which has promptly resulted in a number of scams. While Facebook says it wants people "to continue to discover and learn" about those products and services, "there are many companies who are advertising binary options, ICOs and cryptocurrencies that are not currently operating in good faith," Leathern wrote. Leathern recognizes that the policy is quite broad, but he says that's intentional. The plan is to continue working to better detect deceptive and misleading ads that pertain to cryptocurrencies, ICOs and binary options. Over time, Facebook says it will revisit the policy and its enforcement mechanisms as its signals improve. In the meantime, Facebook is encouraging people to report content that violates this policy.
Privacy

DuckDuckGo App and Extension Upgrades Offer Privacy 'Beyond the Search Box' (theverge.com) 48

An anonymous reader quotes the Verge: DuckDuckGo is launching updated versions of its browser extension and mobile app, with the promise of keeping internet users safe from snooping "beyond the search box." The company's flagship product, its privacy-focused search engine, will remain the same, but the revamped extension and app will offer new tools to help users keep their web-browsing as safe and private as possible. These include grade ratings for websites, factoring in their use of encryption and ad tracking networks, and offering summaries of their terms of service (with summaries provided by third-party Terms of Service Didn't Read). The app and extension are available for Firefox, Safari, Chrome, iOS, and Android.

The ability to block ad tracking networks is probably the most important feature here. These networks are used by companies like Google and Facebook to follow users around the web, stitching together their browsing history to create a more accurate profile for targeted advertising.

DuckDuckGo calls it "a major step to simplify online privacy," adding that without it, "It's hard to use the Internet without it feeling a bit creepy -- like there's a nosey neighbor watching everything you do from across the street."
Crime

Crooks Created 28 Fake Ad Agencies To Disguise Massive Malvertising Campaign (bleepingcomputer.com) 36

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bleeping Computer: A group of cyber-criminals created 28 fake ad agencies and bought over 1 billion ad views in 2017, which they used to deliver malicious ads that redirected unsuspecting users to tech support scams or sneaky pages peddling malware-laden software updates or software installers. The entire operation -- codenamed Zirconium -- appears to have started in February 2017, when the group started creating the fake ad agencies which later bought ad views from larger ad platforms. These fake ad agencies each had individual websites and even LinkedIn profiles for their fake CEOs. Their sole purpose was to interface with larger advertising platforms, appearing as legitimate businesses. Ad security company Confiant, the one who discovered this entire operation, says ads bought by this group reached 62% of ad-monetized websites on a weekly basis. All in all, Confiant believes that about 2.5 million users who've encountered Zirconium's malicious ads were redirected to a malicious site, with 95% of the victims being based in the U.S.
Crime

Facebook Is a 'Living, Breathing Crime Scene,' Says Former Tech Insider (nbcnews.com) 144

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NBC News: With more than 2 billion users, Facebook's reach now rivals that of Christianity and exceeds that of Islam. However, the network's laser focus on profits and user growth has come at the expense of its users, according to one former Facebook manager who is now speaking out against the social platform. "One of the things that I saw consistently as part of my job was the company just continuously prioritized user growth and making money over protecting users," the ex-manager, Sandy Parakilas, who worked at Facebook for 16 months, starting in 2011, told NBC News. During his tenure at Facebook, Parakilas led third-party advertising, privacy and policy compliance on Facebook's app platform. "Facebook is a living, breathing crime scene for what happened in the 2016 election -- and only they have full access to what happened," said Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist at Google. His work centers on how technology can ethically steer the thoughts and actions of the masses on social media and he's been called "the closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience" by The Atlantic magazine.

In response to the comments, Facebook issued a statement saying it is a "vastly different company" from when it was founded. "We are taking many steps to protect and improve people's experience on the platform," the statement said. "In the past year, we've worked to destroy the business model for false news and reduce its spread, stop bad actors from meddling in elections, and bring a new level of transparency to advertising. Last week, we started prioritizing meaningful posts from friends and family in News Feed to help bring people closer together. We have more work to do and we're heads down on getting it done."

Google

Why Uber Can Find You but 911 Can't (wsj.com) 200

Accurate location data is on smartphones, so why don't more wireless carriers use it to locate emergency callers? From a report, shared by a reader: Software on Apple's iPhones and Google's Android smartphones help mobile apps like Uber and Facebook to pinpoint a user's location, making it possible to order a car, check in at a local restaurant or receive targeted advertising. But 911, with a far more pressing purpose, is stuck in the past. U.S. regulators estimate as many as 10,000 lives could be saved each year if the 911 emergency dispatching system were able to get to callers one minute faster. Better technology would be especially helpful, regulators say, when a caller can't speak or identify his or her location. After years of pressure, wireless carriers and Silicon Valley companies are finally starting to work together to solve the problem. But progress has been slow. Roughly 80% of the 240 million calls to 911 each year are made using cellphones, according to a trade group that represents first responders. For landlines, the system shows a telephone's exact address. But it can register only an estimated location, sometimes hundreds of yards wide, from a cellphone call. That frustration is now a frequent source of tension during 911 calls, said Colleen Eyman, who oversees 911 services in Arvada, Colo., just outside Denver.

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