Software

'Surkus' App Pays Users To Line Up Outside New Restaurants (chicagotribune.com) 92

A new app called Surkus allows restaurants to manufacture their ideal crowd and pay people to stand in place like extras on a movie set. The app reportedly uses "an algorithmic casting agent of sorts" to hand-pick people according to age, location, style and Facebook "likes." All of this is done to create the illusion that a restaurant is busy and worthy of your hard-earned money. Chicago Tribune reports: They may look excited, but that could also be part of the production. Acting disengaged while they idle in line could tarnish their "reputation score," an identifier that influences whether they'll be "cast" again. Nobody is forcing the participants to stay, of course, but if they leave, they won't be paid -- their movements are being tracked with geolocation. Welcome to the new world of "crowdcasting." Surkus raises new questions about the future of advertising and promotion. At a time when it has become commonplace for individuals to broadcast polished versions of their lives on social media, does Surkus give businesses a formidable tool to do the same, renting beautiful people and blending them with advertising in a way that makes reality nearly indiscernible? Or have marketers found a new tool that offers them a far more efficient way to link brands with potential customers, allowing individuals to turn themselves into living extensions of the share economy using a structured, mutually beneficial transaction? The answer depends on whom you ask.
Businesses

'Best of' Lists Are the Worst (theoutline.com) 84

Ann-Derrick Gaillot, a writer at The Outline, shares thoughts on listicles about best products in a genre. From the article: National websites with armies of writers are churning out best lists left and right, motivated by affiliate advertising more than the desire to share an opinion. Thanks to them all, I've gotten to try all the bests: just-ok restaurants, ineffective beauty products, slippers I guard with my life. [...] Articles claiming that something is the "best" should be rare, eyed with suspicion by the ever suspicious consumer. But they're not. I would have probably been alarmed to not find at least one article telling me where to find the best desk (wherever it still is). But with the race to find the best at the heart of so much media we consume today, such articles can only be trusted if they come from an established outlet with legitimacy, the same institutions that are slow and struggle to add marginalized people to their ranks.
Facebook

Facebook Launches Watch Tab For Video Shows, Uses TV's 75-Year-Old Marketing Pitch (marketwatch.com) 40

From a report: Facebook's push toward original video content will take a big step forward Thursday with the launch of a new section, dubbed Watch. The new tab, which Facebook FB, said late Wednesday will launch for a limited number of U.S. users for now, will feature about 40 original series, with plans to eventually scale up to hundreds of shows. Facebook said it will become available to more users in the coming weeks. The Mountain View, Calif., social network is hoping to tap into lucrative TV advertising revenue to boost its ever-expanding bottom line. If successful, Watch could stem the ad-load slowdown for the rest of the year that Chief Financial Officer David Wehner warned about last month when Facebook filed its quarterly earnings. Facebook also hopes the Watch tab will open up a new method of advertising that doesn't clutter users' News Feeds, and keep its 2 billion users on its site longer. Company's founder Mark Zuckerberg is understandably very excited about the move. He says the company believes "it's possible to rethink a lot of experiences through the lens of building community -- including watching video. Watching a show doesn't have to be passive. It can be a chance to share an experience and bring people together who care about the same things." If that pitch sounds familiar to you, it's because TV has been doing it for more than 75 years.
Facebook

Facebook Is Cracking Down On Deceptive Ads For Porn, Diet Pills (adweek.com) 90

According to Adweek, the next target in Facebook's efforts to keep its News Feed clean is cloaking -- a technique used by "bad actors" to circumvent Facebook's review processes and show content to people that violates Facebook's Community Standards and Advertising Policies. For example, they will set up web pages so that when a Facebook reviewer clicks a link to check whether it's consistent with Facebook's policies, they are taken to a different web page than when someone using the Facebook app clicks that same link. "Facebook product management director Rob Leathern and software engineer Bobbie Chang described in a Newsroom post how 'bad actors' -- such as those promoting diet pills, pornography or muscle-building scams -- attempt to game the social network's review processes," reports Adweek. From the report: Leathern and Chang said Facebook has removed "thousands" of offenders from its platform over the past few months, and any advertisers or pages that are caught cloaking will be banned, as well. Facebook is using artificial intelligence in its anti-cloaking efforts, expanding efforts by human reviewers to identify, capture and verify incidents of cloaking and revising its policies. Pages that are not engaging in these practices should see no impact in their referral traffic.
Privacy

Disney Sued For Allegedly Spying On Children Through 42 Gaming Apps (washingtonpost.com) 40

schwit1 shares a report from The Washington Post (Warning: may be paywalled; alternative source): The Walt Disney Co. secretly collects personal information on some of their youngest customers and shares that data illegally with advertisers without parental consent, according to a federal lawsuit filed late last week in California. The class-action suit targets Disney and three other software companies -- Upsight, Unity and Kochava -- alleging that the mobile apps they built together violate the law by gathering insights about app users across the Internet, including those under the age of 13, in ways that facilitate "commercial exploitation."

The plaintiffs argue that Disney and its partners violated COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, a federal law designed to protect the privacy of children on the Web. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Northern California, seeks an injunction barring the companies from collecting and disclosing the data without parental consent, as well as punitive damages and legal fees. The lawsuit alleges that Disney allowed the software companies to embed trackers in apps such as "Disney Princess Palace Pets" and "Where's My Water? 2." Once installed, tracking software can then "exfiltrate that information off the smart device for advertising and other commercial purposes," according to the suit. Disney should not be using those software development companies, said Jeffrey Chester, the executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. "These are heavy-duty technologies, industrial-strength data and analytic companies whose role is to track and monetize individuals," Chester said. "These should not be in little children's apps."
Disney responded to the lawsuit, saying: "Disney has a robust COPPA compliance program, and we maintain strict data collection and use policies for Disney apps created for children and families. The complaint is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of COPPA principles, and we look forward to defending this action in court."
Businesses

China Built the World's Largest Telescope, But Has No One To Run It (arstechnica.com) 122

An anonymous reader shares a report: China has built a staggeringly large instrument in the remote southern, mountainous region of the country called the Five hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope, or FAST. The telescope measures nearly twice as large as the closest comparable facility in the world, the US-operated Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico. According to the South China Morning Post, the country is looking for a foreigner to run the observatory because no Chinese astronomer has the experience of running a facility of such size and complexity. The Chinese Academy of Sciences began advertising the position in western journals and job postings in May, but so far there have been no qualified applicants. One reason is that the requirements are fairly strict: The candidate must have at least 20 years of previous experience in the field, and he or she must have taken a leading role in large-scale radio telescope project with extensive managerial experience. The candidate must also hold a professorship, or equally senior position, in a world-class research institute or university. Nick Suntzeff, an astronomer at Texas A&M University who helped lead the discovery of dark energy and is involved with construction of the optical Giant Magellan Telescope in Chile, said there are probably about 40 or so astronomers in the world who would qualify for such a job. Compared to other astronomy disciplines, radio astronomy is a relatively small field. "I am sure they will find someone," he said. "But most astronomers in the United States do not like to work abroad. It was hard to get people to apply to work in La Serena, something I could never understand, considering how beautiful it is and how nice the Chilean people are." Among the western community of astronomers there are also questions about the scientific purpose of the FAST telescope. As part of a recent National Science Foundation review of its facilities, US officials placed the similar Arecibo radio telescope near the bottom of its priorities list.
Security

The Kronos Indictment: Is it a Crime To Create and Sell Malware? (washingtonpost.com) 199

Marcus Hutchins, the 23-year-old British security researcher who was credited with stopping the WannaCry outbreak in its tracks by discovering a hidden "kill switch" for the malware, was arrested by the FBI over his alleged involvement in separate malicious software targeting bank accounts. According to an indictment released by the US Department of Justice on Thursday, Hutchins is accused of having helped to create, spread and maintain the banking trojan Kronos between 2014 and 2015. Hutchins, who is indicted with another unnamed co-defendant, stands accused of six counts of hacking-related crimes as a result of his alleged involvement with Kronos. A preliminary analysis of those counts suggest that the government will face significant legal challenges. Orin Kerr, the Fred C. Stevenson Research Professor at The George Washington University Law School, writes: The indictment asserts that Hutchins created the malware and an unnamed co-conspirator took the lead in selling it. The indictment charges a slew of different crimes for that: (1) conspiracy to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act; (2) three counts of violating 18 U.S.C. 2512, which prohibits selling and advertising wiretapping devices; (3) a count of wiretapping; and (4) a count of violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act through accomplice liability -- basically, aiding and abetting a hacking crime. Do the charges hold up? Just based on a first look at the case, my sense is that the government's theory of the case is fairly aggressive. It will lead to some significant legal challenges. It's hard to say, at this point, how those challenges will play out. The indictment is pretty bare-bones, and we don't have all the facts or even what the government thinks are the facts.
The Internet

O'Reilly Media Asks: Is It Time To Build A New Internet? (oreilly.com) 305

An anonymous reader shares an article from O'Reilly Media's VP of content strategy: It's high time to build the internet that we wanted all along: a network designed to respect privacy, a network designed to be secure, and a network designed to impose reasonable controls on behavior. And a network with few barriers to entry -- in particular, the certainty of ISP extortion as new services pay to get into the "fast lane." Is it time to start over from scratch, with new protocols that were designed with security, privacy, and maybe even accountability in mind? Is it time to pull the plug on the abusive old internet, with its entrenched monopolistic carriers, its pervasive advertising, and its spam? Could we start over again?

That would be painful, but not impossible... In his deliciously weird novel Someone Comes To Town, Someone Leaves Town, Cory Doctorow writes about an alternative network built from open WiFi access points. It sounds similar to Google's Project Fi, but built and maintained by a hacker underground. Could Doctorow's vision be our future backboneless backbone? A network of completely distributed municipal networks, with long haul segments over some public network, but with low-level protocols designed for security? We'd have to invent some new technology to build that new network, but that's already started.

The article cites the increasing popularity of peer-to-peer functionality everywhere from Bitcoin and Blockchain to the Beaker browser, the Federated Wiki, and even proposals for new file-sharing protocols like IPFS and Upspin. "Can we build a network that can't be monopolized by monopolists? Yes, we can..."

"It's time to build the network we want, and not just curse the network we have."
Businesses

P&G Cuts More Than $100 Million In 'Largely Ineffective' Digital Ads (wsj.com) 204

schwit1 quotes the Wall Street Journal: Procter & Gamble said that its move to cut more than $100 million in digital marketing spend in the June quarter had little impact on its business, proving that those digital ads were largely ineffective. Almost all of the consumer product giant's advertising cuts in the period came from digital, finance chief Jon Moeller said on its earnings call Thursday. The company targeted ads that could wind up on sites with fake traffic from software known as "bots," or those with objectionable content. "What it reflected was a choice to cut spending from a digital standpoint where it was ineffective, where either we were serving bots as opposed to human beings or where the placement of ads was not facilitating the equity of our brands," he said... The cuts echo marketing executives' mounting concerns around the efficacy of digital advertising and the growing perception that they are wasting money on digital ads that never reach their intended audience.
Twitter

Twitter Added Zero New Users Last Quarter Despite Trump Tweets (nypost.com) 310

Twitter did not add any new users in Q2, a disappointing follow-up to what had been a promising start to 2017. Twitter reported earnings Thursday morning, claiming 328 million total users -- the same number it reported after Q1. Analysts had been hoping the company would add around four million new users last quarter. From a report: Despite its appeal among celebrities and public figures, Twitter has struggled to sustain its closely watched user growth even as it invests in features and live content to help draw viewers and boost user engagement. It is in stiff competition for advertising dollars with other platforms like larger rival Facebook and Snap's messaging app Snapchat. The company also reported a wider quarterly net loss and lower revenue, and said it did not expect its total revenue growth to pick up in the second half of the year. [...] President Donald Trump, one of the most active politicians on Twitter, has tweeted multiple times a day on average since his inauguration in January, according to social media analytics company Zoomph.
Businesses

The Inside Story of the Lily Drone's Collapse (wired.com) 141

New submitter mirandakatz writes: Lily Robotics had everything: Two charismatic young founders; millions in funding; and a product that promised to change the world -- or, at the very least, transform photography. But over 60,000 customers are still waiting for their Lily Drones, and the company is now being sued by the San Francisco District Attorney's office for false advertising. As it turns out, Lily Robotics never actually had the right tools to create the product it was selling -- and it all came crashing down. At Backchannel, Jessica Pishko has the untold story of how such a promising company went so wrong.

From the report: "The magic of the Lily Drone was in its concept: It was a product you could unpack and throw -- so easy, Antoine Balaresque, the cofounder and CEO of Lily Robotics, wrote in emails, that even an old person could do it. But translating that idea into a tangible product proved difficult, and the storytelling that made the Lily Drone so tantalizing to consumers ultimately factored into its downfall. In one of his presentations, Balaresque presented a PowerPoint slide with the sentence, 'Humans have a fundamental need to put themselves in the center of stories.' It appeared to be a quote he made up, but the idea that human nature needs stories is fundamental. Stories are how we make sense of our lives. But while a good story can get you funding and acclaim, ultimately it isn't enough."

Businesses

Fact-checking and Rumor-dispelling Site Snopes.com Held Hostage By vendor (savesnopes.com) 401

Snopes.com, which began as a small one-person effort in 1994 and has since become one of the Internet's oldest and most popular fact-checking sites, is in danger of closing its doors. From a report: Since our inception, we have always been a self-sustaining site that provides a free service to the online world: we've had no sponsors, no outside investors or funding, and no source of revenue other than that provided by online advertising. Unfortunately, we have been cut off from our historic source of advertising income. We had previously contracted with an outside vendor to provide certain services for Snopes.com. That contractual relationship ended earlier this year, but the vendor will not acknowledge the change in contractual status and continues to essentially hold the Snopes.com web site hostage. Although we maintain editorial control (for now), the vendor will not relinquish the site's hosting to our control, so we cannot modify the site, develop it, or -- most crucially -- place advertising on it. The vendor continues to insert their own ads and has been withholding the advertising revenue from us. Our legal team is fighting hard for us, but, having been cut off from all revenue, we are facing the prospect of having no financial means to continue operating the site and paying our staff (not to mention covering our legal fees) in the meanwhile.
Programming

How a VC-Funded Company Is Undermining the Open-Source Community (theoutline.com) 84

Adrianne Jeffries, reporting for The Outline: Is a $4 million venture capital-funded startup stealthily taking over popular coding tools and injecting ads and spyware into them? That's what some programmers fear may be happening. It is one of the most troubling scandals to hit the open-source community -- a robust network of programmers who work on shared tools for free -- in recent memory. It started back in April, when a programmer noticed a strange change to an open-source tool called Minimap. Minimap has had more than 3.5 million downloads, but like many open-source tools, it was maintained by a single person who no one knew much about other than their username: @abe33. At some point, @abe33, whose real name is Cedric Nehemie, was hired by Kite. Kite was started by Adam Smith, a successful tech entrepreneur who raised funding from a slew of big names including the CEO of Dropbox and the creator of WordPress. It is unclear what Kite's business model is, but it says it uses machine-learning techniques to make coding tools. Its tools are not open source. After being hired by Kite, @abe33 made an update to Minimap. The update was titled "Implement Kite promotion," and it appeared to look at a user's code and insert links to related pages on Kite's website. Kite called this a useful feature. Programmers said it was not useful and was therefore just an ad for an unrelated service, something many programmers would consider a violation of the open-source spirit. "It's not a feature, it's advertising -- and people don't want it, you want it," wrote user @p-e-w. "The least you can do is own up to that." "I have to wonder if your goal was to upset enough people that you'd generate real attention on various news sites and get Kite a ton of free publicity before your next funding round," @DevOpsJohn wrote. "That's the only sane explanation I can find for suddenly dropping ads into the core of one of the oldest and most useful Atom plugins." [...] Although Kite has no business model yet, it's widely thought in Silicon Valley that having users is the first step toward profitability. Adding users potentially benefits the company in another way, by giving it access to precious data. Kite says it uses machine learning tactics to make the best coding helper tools possible. In order to do that, it needs tons of data to learn from. The more code it can look at, the better its autocomplete suggestions will get, for example.
Businesses

Millennials Only Have a 5 To 6 Second Attention Span For Ads (cnbc.com) 174

Reader schwit1 writes: If you're an advertiser who wants to market a product to millennials, you're going to have to make it quick. A new study by comScore revealed online ads targeted toward millennials have to be around 5 to 6 seconds to be effective, a sharp contrast from the traditional 30-second commercial seen on TV. "The length of time of an episode or a viewing period is really important and has got to be short, otherwise you just won't keep the attention of millennials," comScore CEO Gian Fulgoni told CNBC's "Squawk Alley." The format of advertising may have to be radically changed to reach millennials, he suggested. "You're going to have to make your case literally in a matter of seconds and make sure you grab somebody's attention, Fulgoni said.
Businesses

Newspapers To Bid For Antitrust Exemption To Tackle Google and Facebook (cnbc.com) 116

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNBC: The news industry is to band together to seek a limited antitrust exemption from Congress in an effort to fend off growing competition from Facebook and Google. Traditional competitors including The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, as well as a host of smaller print and online publications, will temporarily set aside their differences this week and appeal to federal lawmakers to let them negotiate collectively with the technology giants to safeguard the industry. Antitrust laws traditionally prevent companies from forming such an alliance which could see them becoming over-dominant in a particular sector. However, the media companies will be hoping that Congress will look favorably on a temporary exemption, particularly giving the recent clampdown on the technology industry which saw Google slapped with a $2.7 billion antitrust fine. The campaign is led by newspaper industry trade group News Media Alliance and it is intended to help the industry collaborate in order to regain market share from Facebook and Google, which have been swooping in on newspapers' distribution and advertising revenues. The two companies currently command 70 percent of the $73 billion digital advertising industry in the U.S., according to new research from the Pew Research Centre. Meanwhile, U.S. newspaper ad revenue in 2016 was $18 billion from $50 billion a decade ago.
Facebook

Facebook Can Track Your Browsing Even After You've Logged Out, Judge Says (theguardian.com) 124

A U.S. judge has dismissed nationwide litigation accusing Facebook of tracking users' internet activity even after they logged out of the social media website. From a report: The plaintiffs alleged that Facebook used the "like" buttons found on other websites to track which sites they visited, meaning that the Menlo Park, California-headquartered company could build up detailed records of their browsing history. The plaintiffs argued that this violated federal and state privacy and wiretapping laws. US district judge Edward Davila in San Jose, California, dismissed the case because he said that the plaintiffs failed to show that they had a reasonable expectation of privacy or suffered any realistic economic harm or loss. Davila said that plaintiffs could have taken steps to keep their browsing histories private, for example by using the Digital Advertising Alliance's opt-out tool or using "incognito mode", and failed to show that Facebook illegally "intercepted" or eavesdropped on their communications.
Ubuntu

Ubuntu Disputes 'Ads In MOTD' Claims (twitter.com) 110

Thursday Lproven (Slashdot reader #6030) wrote: It appears that Ubuntu is using a feature it has added -- intended to insert headlines of breaking tech news (security alerts and so on) into the Message of the Day displayed at login to the console -- to display advertising and promotional messages.
The message in question linked to a Hacker Noon article titled "How HBO's Silicon Valley built 'Not Hotdog' with mobile TensorFlow, Keras & React Native." Later that day Dustin Kirkland, a Ubuntu Product Manager for the feature's design (and the Core Developer for its implementation) suggested the message had been mistaken for an ad, describing it on Hacker News as a "fun fact... an interesting tidbit of potpourri from the world of Ubuntu," and later saying it was intended like Google's doodles. "Last week's message actually announced an Ubuntu conference in Latin America. The week before, we linked to an article asking for feedback on Kubuntu. Before that, we announced the availability of Extended Security Maintenance updates for 12.04. And so on." He later confirmed Canonical received no money for the message, and also pointed out that the messages all come from an open source repository, and "You're welcome to propose your own messages for merging, if you have a well formatted, informative message for Ubuntu users."

Click through for a condensed version of the complete response by Dustin Kirkland, Ubuntu Product and Strategy at Canonical.
Facebook

Facebook May Finally Have To Compromise Its User Experience In Order To Keep Growing (recode.net) 122

Tony Haile, writing for Recode: Facebook has a problem. What has driven its growth for the last five years won't drive its growth for the next five. However, the options in front of the company involve the kind of user experience compromises that have maimed platforms that preceded it. Facebook makes its money from the West. Some 30 percent of its users and 73 percent of its revenue is from North America and Europe. The monthly average revenue per user for Western users is $3.33 versus 53 cents for the rest of the world. Facebook is a global company, but a Western business. Facebook's user growth in the West is a little over 1 percent a quarter. In North America, Facebook's monthly active users represent 80 percent of the population above the age of 14. If Facebook wishes to grow its Western revenue at the rate its shareholders demand, a 1 percent user growth rate will not do it. Absent rapid user growth, the other lever for increasing advertising revenue is increasing the number or value of ads that are shown to existing users. However, the News Feed is close to saturation. Facebook believes that it cannot stick any more ads in the News Feed without adversely affecting user retention. This combination of slowing user growth and News Feed saturation has led Facebook to warn of a rapid deceleration in revenue growth over the next six months. For the first time in years, Facebook needs a new lever to pull.
Yahoo!

Tumblr's Unclear Future Shows That There's No Money in Internet Culture (nymag.com) 58

Earlier this month as Verizon completed its acquisition, a number of Tumblr employees, as well as those at other Verizon-owned properties, like the Huffington Post, were laid off. This comes at an interesting time for Tumblr, which is increasingly struggling to find a business model. From an article on NYMag: The future of Tumblr is still an open question. The site is enormously popular among the coveted youth crowd -- that's partly why then-CEO Marissa Mayer paid $1 billion for the property in 2013 -- but despite a user base near the size of Instagram's, Tumblr never quite figured out how to make money at the level Facebook has led managers and shareholders to expect. For a long time, its founder and CEO David Karp was publicly against the idea of inserting ads into users' timelines. (Other experiments in monetization, like premium options, never caught on: It's tough to generate revenue when your most active user base is too young to have a steady income.) Even once the timeline became open to advertising, it was tough to find clients willing to brave the sometimes-porny waters of the Tumblr Dashboard. Since it joined Yahoo, the site has started displaying low-quality "chum"-style ads in between user posts on the Dashboard. Looked at from a bottom-line perspective, Tumblr is an also-ran like its parent company -- a once-hot start-up that has eased into tech-industry irrelevance. [...] It is rare, but not at all unprecedented, for a site to reach Tumblr's size, prominence, and level of influence and still be unable to build a sustainable business. Twitter steers a huge portion of online culture, and has become an essential water cooler and newswire for journalists, tech workers, and otaku Nazis, but still has trouble turning a profit.
Businesses

The App Economy Will Be Worth $6 Trillion in Five Years (recode.net) 92

An anonymous reader shares a report: In five years, the app economy will be worth $6.3 trillion, up from $1.3 trillion last year, according to a report released today by app measurement company App Annie. What explains the growth? More people are spending more time and -- crucially -- more money in apps. While on average people aren't downloading many more apps, App Annie expects global app usership to nearly double to 6.3 billion people in the next five years while the time spent in apps will more than double. And, it expects the average app spend -- including app-store purchases, advertising spend and, most importantly, commerce -- to increase from $379 per person to $1,008 in 2021. The 800-pound -- or $6 trillion -- gorilla in the room is mobile commerce.

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