Useless Search Results? Thank Advertising

September 17, 2021

We thought this was obvious. The Conversation declares, “Google’s ‘Pay-Per-Click’ Ad Model Makes it Harder to Find What You’re Looking For.” Writers Mohiuddin Ahmed and Paul Haskell-Dowland begin by pointing out “to google” has literally become synonymous with searching online via any online search platform. Indeed, Google has handily dominated the online search business, burying some competitors and leaving the rest in the dust. Not coincidentally, the company also rules the web browser and online advertising markets. As our dear readers know, Google is facing pushback from competition and antitrust regulators in assorted countries. However, this article addresses the impact on search results themselves. The authors report:

“More than 80% of Alphabet’s revenue comes from Google advertising. At the same time, around 85% of the world’s search engine activity goes through Google. Clearly there is significant commercial advantage in selling advertising while at the same time controlling the results of most web searches undertaken around the globe. This can be seen clearly in search results. Studies have shown internet users are less and less prepared to scroll down the page or spend less time on content below the ‘fold’ (the limit of content on your screen). This makes the space at the top of the search results more and more valuable. In the example below, you might have to scroll three screens down before you find actual search results rather than paid promotions. While Google (and indeed many users) might argue that the results are still helpful and save time, it’s clear the design of the page and the prominence given to paid adverts will influence behavior. All of this is reinforced by the use of a pay-per-click advertising model which is founded on enticing users to click on adverts.”

We are reminded Google-owned YouTube is another important source of information for billions of users, and it is perhaps the leading platform for online ads. In fact, these ads now intrude on videos at a truly annoying rate. Unless one pays for a Premium subscription, of course. Ahmed and Haskell-Dowland remind us alternatives to Google Search exist, with the usual emphasis on privacy-centric DuckDuckGo. They conclude by pointing out other influential areas in which Google plays a lead role: AI, healthcare, autonomous vehicles, cloud computing, computing devices, and the Internet of Things. Is Google poised to take over the world? Why not?

Cynthia Murrell, September September 17, 2021, 2021

Ad-Rich User Tracking GPS Maps: Can You Be Guided Off a Cliff?

September 3, 2021

It is easy to go on autopilot when using a GPS device like Waze or Google Maps, but never Apple Maps because it is never accurate. Unfortunately even trusted apps are not error free and Auto Evolution explains why in: “Don’t Trust Google Maps And Waze, Colorado Officials Say.” While many GPS apps are reliable, they are notorious for containing inaccurate data, especially in rural or foreign countries.

GPS horror stories haunt the Internet like old MySpace accounts. Two Russians blindly followed Google Maps to a location, where they lost their signal. They spent the night in frigid temperatures, one of them died. Other drivers use roads that are only meant for off-road vehicles or tractors. Local authorities end up rescuing these drivers, because they are often stranded.

In Colorado, drivers are trusting Waze, Google Maps, and other GPS apps way too much. The Colorado Department of Transportation even issued a statement telling drivers not to use these apps, because it could take them down dangerous or dead end roads.

“‘Don’t trust your cell phones, they are really getting people into trouble,’ Amber Barrett, the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer, has been quoted as saying.

Trusting apps like Google Maps and Waze is a big issue, she said, though, in theory, all these solutions should be updated by map editors or volunteers with accurate data. But of course, no app is bulletproof, yet we wouldn’t go as far as not using these apps at all.”

The department advises people to not take GPS directions as set in stone. If a road appears that it is not meant for regular travel, then do not follow it. The GPS will persuade drivers to make a U-turn or turn around at the next possible place.

Ad supported map makers have an incentive to keep their users from killing themselves by following incorrect directions. Dead people cannot buy advertisers’ products nor can they deliver useful real time data to the map providers.

Whitney Grace, August xx,  2021

Big Data, Algorithmic Bias, and Lots of Numbers Will Fix Everything (and Your Check Is in the Mail)

August 20, 2021

We must remember, “The check is in the mail” and “I will always respect you” and “You can trust me.” Ah, great moments in the University of Life’s chapbook of factoids.

I read “Moving Beyond Algorithmic Bias Is a Data Problem”. I was heartened by the essay. First, the document has a document object identifier and a link to make checking updates easy. Very good. Second, the focus of the write up is the inherent problem of most of the Fancy Dan baloney charged big data marketing to which I have been subjected in the last six or seven years. Very, very good.

I noted this statement in the essay:

Why, despite clear evidence to the contrary, does the myth of the impartial model still hold allure for so many within our research community? Algorithms are not impartial, and some design choices are better than others.

Notice the word “myth”. Notice the word “choices.” Yep, so much for the rock solid nature of big data, models, and predictive silliness based on drag-and-drop math functions.

I also starred this important statement by Donald Knuth:

Donald Knuth said that computers do exactly what they are told, no more and no less.

What’s the real world behavior of smart anti-phishing cyber security methods? What about the autonomous technology in some nifty military gear like the Avenger drone?

Google may not be thrilled with the information in this essay nor thrilled about the nailing of the frat bros’ tail to the wall; for example:

The belief that algorithmic bias is a dataset problem invites diffusion of responsibility. It absolves those of us that design and train algorithms from having to care about how our design choices can amplify or curb harm. However, this stance rests on the precarious assumption that bias can be fully addressed in the data pipeline. In a world where our datasets are far from perfect, overall harm is a product of both the data and our model design choices.

Perhaps this explains why certain researchers’ work is not zipping around Silicon Valley at the speed of routine algorithm tweaks? The statement could provide some useful insight into why Facebook does not want pesky researchers at NYU’s Ad Observatory digging into how Facebook manipulates perception and advertisers.

The methods for turning users and advertisers into puppets is not too difficult to figure out. That’s why certain companies obstruct researchers and manufacture baloney, crank up the fog machine, and offer free jargon stew to everyone including researchers. These are the same entities which insist they are not monopolies. Do you believe that these are mom-and-pop shops with a part time mathematician and data wrangler coming in on weekends? Gee, I do.

The “Moving beyond” article ends with a snappy quote:

As Lord Kelvin reflected, “If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.”

Several observations are warranted:

  1. More thinking about algorithmic bias is helpful. The task is to get people to understand what’s happening and has been happening for decades.
  2. The interaction of math most people don’t understand and very simple objectives like make more money or advance this agenda is a destabilizing force in human behavior. Need an example. The Taliban and its use of WhatsApp is interesting, is it not?
  3. The fix to the problems associated with commercial companies using algorithms as monetary and social weapons requires control. The question is from whom and how.

Stephen E Arnold, August 20, 2021

More Ad-Citement: Juicing Video Piracy

August 13, 2021

I read “Pirated-Entertainment Sites Are Making Billions From Ads.” My immediate reaction: “What? Bastions of ad integrity helping out video pirates? Impossible?”

According to the pay walled write up, the flagships of integrity seem to be unfurling the jib to speed toward this type of revenue. I learned something I did not know and which may be semi-accurate:

Websites and apps featuring pirated movies and TV shows make about $1.3 billion from advertising each year, including from major companies like Amazon.com Inc., according to a study.

The write up noted:

The piracy operations are also a key source of malware, and some ads placed on the sites contain links that hackers use to steal personal information or conduct ransomware attacks…

Some of these video services provide links to interesting online gambling sites as well.

This quote, attributed to the founder of White Bullet (an anti piracy outfit) is thought provoking:

Failure to choose tools that assess piracy risk in real-time means advertisers fund criminals – and it’s a billion-dollar problem,” said Peter Szyszko, CEO and Founder of White Bullet, in an email. “At best, this is negligent. At worst, this is deliberate funding of IP crime.

Just one question: Aren’t filters available to block this type of activity in the ad systems of estimable firms?

Apparently that’s just too darned difficult.

Stephen E Arnold, August 13, 2021

DuckDuckGo Produces Privacy Income

August 10, 2021

DuckDuckGo advertises that it protects user privacy and does not have targeted ads in search results.  Despite its small size, protecting user privacy makes DuckDuckGo a viable alternative to Google.  TechRepublic delves into DuckDuckGo’s profits and how privacy is a big money maker in the article, “How DuckDuckGo Makes Money Selling Selling Search, Not Privacy.”  DuckDuckGo has had profitable margins since 2014 and made over $100 million in 2020.

Google, Bing, and other companies interested in selling personal data say that it is a necessary evil in order for search and other services to work.  DuckDuckGo says that’s not true and the company’s CEO Gabriel Weinberg said:

“It’s actually a big myth that search engines need to track your personal search history to make money or deliver quality search results. Almost all of the money search engines make (including Google) is based on the keywords you type in, without knowing anything about you, including your search history or the seemingly endless amounts of additional data points they have collected about registered and non-registered users alike. In fact, search advertisers buy search ads by bidding on keywords, not people….This keyword-based advertising is our primary business model.”

Weinberg continued that search engines do not need to track as much personal information as they do to personalize customer experiences or make money.  Search engines and other online services could limit the amount of user data they track and still generate a profit.

Google made over $147 billion in 2020, but DuckDuckGo’s $100 million is not a small number either.  DuckDuckGo’s market share is greater than Bing’s and, if limited to the US market, its market share is second to Google.  DuckDuckGo is a like the Little Engine That Could.  It is a hard working marketing operation and it keeps chugging along while batting the privacy beach ball along the Madison Avenue sidewalk.

Whitney Grace, August 10, 2021

Google Search: An Intriguing Observation

August 9, 2021

I read “It’s Not SEO: Something Is Fundamentally Broken in Google Search.” I spotted this comment:

Many will remember how remarkably accurate searches were at initial release c. 2017; songs could be found by reciting lyrics, humming melodies, or vaguely describing the thematic or narrative thrust of the song. The picture is very different today. It’s almost impossible to get the system to return even slightly obscure tracks, even if one opens YouTube and reads the title verbatim. 

The idea is that the issue resides within Google’s implementation of search and retrieval. I want to highlight this comment offered in the YCombinator Hacker News thread:

While the old guard in Google’s leadership had a genuine interest in developing a technically superior product, the current leaders are primarily concerned with making money. A well-functioning ranking algorithm is only one small part of the whole. As long as the search engine works well enough for the (money-making) main-stream searches, no one in Google’s leadership perceives a problem.

I have a different view of Google search. Let me offer a handful of observations from my shanty in rural Kentucky.

To begin, the original method for determining precision and recall is like a page of text photocopied with that copy then photocopied. After a couple of hundred photocopies, image of the page has degraded. Photocopy for a couple of decades and the document copy is less than helpful. Degradation in search subsystems is inevitable, and it takes place in search as layers or wrappers have been added around systems and methods.

Second, Google must generate revenue; otherwise, the machine will lose velocity, maybe suffer cash depravation. The recent spectacular financial payoffs are not directed at what I call “precision and recall search.” What’s happening, in my opinion, is that accelerated relaxation of queries makes it easier to “match” an ad. More — not necessarily more relevant — matching provides quicker depletion of the ad inventory, more revenue, more opportunities for Google sales partners to pitch ads, and more users believing Google results are the cat’s pajamas. To “go back” to antiquated ideas like precision and recall, relevance, and old-school Boolean breaks the money flow, adds costs, and a forces distasteful steps for those who want big paydays, bonuses, and the cash to solve death and other childish notions.

Third, this comment from Satellite2 is on the money:

Power users as a proportion of Internet’s total user count probably followed an inverted zipf distribution over time. At the begining 100%, then 99, 90%, 9% and now less than one percent. Assuming power users formulate search in ways that are irreconcilable from those of the average user, and assuming Google adapted their models, metrics to the average user and retrained them at each step,then, we are simply no longer a target market of Google.

I interpret this as implying that Google is no longer interested in delivering on point results. I now run the same query across a number of Web search systems and hunt for results which warrant direct inspection. I use, for example, iseek.com, swisscows.ch, yandex.ru, and a handful of other systems.

Net net: The degradation of Google began around 2005 and 2006. In the last 15 years, Google has become a golden goose for some stakeholders. The company’s search systems — where is that universal search baloney, please? — are going to be increasingly difficult to refine so that a user’s query is answered in a user-useful way.

Messrs. Brin and Page bailed, leaving a consultant-like management team. Was their a link between increased legal scrutiny, friskiness in the Google legal department, antics involving hard drugs and death on a Googler’s yacht, and “effciency oriented” applied technologies which have accelerated the cancer of relevance-free content. Facebook takes bullets for its high school management approach. Google, in my view, may be the pinnacle of the ethos of high school science club activities.

What’s the fix? Maybe a challenger from left field will displace the Google? Maybe a for-fee outfit like Infinity will make it to the big time? Maybe Chinese style censorship will put content squabbles in the basement? Maybe Google will simply become more frustrating to users?

The YouTube search case in the essay in Hacker News is spot on. But Google search — both basic and advanced search — is a service which poses risks to users. Where’s a date sort? A key word search? File type search? A federated search across blogs and news? What happened to file type search? Yada yada yada.

Like the long-dead dinosaurs, Googzilla is now watching the climate change. Snow is beginning to fall because the knowledge environment is changing. Hello, Darwin!

Stephen E Arnold, August 9, 2021

YouTube: Serving Consumers or Bullying?

July 26, 2021

Ycombinator included a comment from someone. That comment was flagged. However, the information in the original comment and the observations offered by Ycombinator users are interesting. The information reveals what I characterize as an escalating battle between those who view YouTube videos and YouTube itself. (I am not going to discuss the escalating tension between “creators,” YouTube, and the service Odysee.com.)

First, the Ycombinator item contains this statement:

YouTube is still not happy. Today when I opened the app on my phone, it still showed me an add. It is infuriating at least. This won’t probably make it, but I needed to share. https://imgur.com/a/BM7XoTe

So what? The flagged poster subscribed to YouTube and YouTube still displays advertisements.

Second, the comments include the tools which one can use to block YouTube’s charming and highly relevant, on point, information packed advertisements; for example:

Adguard

Arachnoid

Cercube

Invidious

SmartTube

Sponsorblock

uBlock Origin

Vanced

Third, the fact that YouTube is becoming a cable-tv like operation is interesting as well.

Net net: Do you hear that tick tock? Maybe it is spelled TikTok?

Stephen E Arnold, July 26, 2021

Google: What Is the Value of Fake News? What Did You Say?

June 18, 2021

I read a story which may be hogwash. (If you have ever cleaned a pig, you can recall the delights of that exercise on a 90 degree day in Poland China territory. Note to thumbtypers. Poland China is another name for a Warren County hog.)

The title of the write certainly caught my attention:

Nearly Half of All Ads on Fake News Sites Come from Google, Study Finds

Let’s be clear I am pointing you a second hand write up from a research outfit’s “study.” Frankly I can’t believe that the estimable Google, former employer of Timnit Gebru, and owner of the real artificial intelligence methodology would be engaged in this type of activity. Goodness.

The outfit doing the study was the University of Mich8igan School of Information. Didn’t one of the founders of the Google attend this institution? Here’s a sampling of data from the outfit which spawned really annoying pop up surveys on government Web sites in the 2000s:

  • 48% of ad traffic on “fake” news publishers is served by Google
  • 32% of “low credibility sites” like Breitbart, Drudge Report, and Sputnik News were delivered by Google
  • “The top-10 credible ad servers, like Lockerdome and Outbrain, make up 66.7% of fake and 55.6% of low-quality ad traffic.”

May I repeat what Google has oft repeated when the unpleasant but profitable subject of using whatever gets clicks to produce revenue? Here goes:

the search engine told Marketing Brew in a statement that the company removed ads from “more than 1.3 billion pages that breached” its policies in 2020. “We have strict publisher policies against promoting dangerous and misrepresentative claims,” it said.

Several questions:

  1. Will Google provide more funding to the Ann Arbor institution in order to provide input into research project plans before the study and the results are made public by real news outfits like Marketing Brew?
  2. Will Larry Page spend time on campus chatting with researchers and students about the importance of the Google and how to get an insider track to a job at the online ad mom and pop store?
  3. Will some MBA with time on his or her hands convert these percentages to revenue?

I, on the other hand, will continue to believe in the commitment to ethical business practices, ethical content filtering, and ethical AI just like the Google.

One final question: Will Marketing Brew experience an uptick in its Google “quality” score?

Stephen E Arnold, June 18, 2021

Google Encourages Competition: Our Way or No Way. Seems Fair

June 4, 2021

I get a kick out of the Google. First, there was the really embarrassing matter of the diversity director outputting a few years ago some spicy comments about a country. Here’s a rundown of what makes the Timnit Gebru affair like just another synthetic pearl in a long string of management jewelry at a flea market.

I found this story even more revealing. The context is that numerous legal eagles are slapping Googzilla with a wide range of legal documents. Many of these are related to alleged monopolistic practices. I am no lawyer, but I get the feeling that some people are concerned about Google’s ability to absorb online advertising revenues, control what information people can find via the universal search thing, and Google’s Amazon like arrogance. (Yep, Amazon is the new Big Dog, but you knew that, right?)

Here’s the key statement:

Today I Learned you can not advertise on  @GoogleAds if you use  @googleanalytics competitors like  @matomo_org

This seems reasonable. An “if then” statement for organizations that want to tap into Google’s billions of “users.”

An entity called @HashNuke added:

This is easily identifiable as anti-competitive practice. Wouldn’t this be illegal in many countries?

If these statements are accurate, isn’t being Googley just the best way to inspire individuals and organizations. Some of those legal eagles may find the information worth checking out.

Stephen E Arnold, June 4, 2021

Google Ads: Helping Users and Developers. Oh, and Maybe Google Too?

May 27, 2021

How is Google changing? Ads everywhere. “Google Will Soon Allow Developers to Advertise Their Android Apps on the Desktop Search” reports about a problem and a very interesting solution:

App developers can face a hard time while trying to advertise their apps on the Google play store and get people to download them, for new developers promoting their app can be a hard battle if they don’t have the right budget and tools for it.
Keeping this problem in mind Google was quick to come up with a creative and really well thought of ideas and tools that will make it easier for developers to advertise their apps much better across the Google eco system.

Love that Chrome and its variants, don’t you? Here’s how the new ad centric revenue maker works:

The Ad campaign feature uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to evaluate and improve the advertisement campaigns, Google machine learning algorithm learns user behavior, location and previous searches which helps targeting the right audience for the advertisements. Now for the very first time Google will be releasing this feature on the desktop version of Google browser.

Web search continues to get better and better at providing Google with clever ways to generate revenue. Do developers have a choice? Sure, there’s the friendly Apple app store. You may not know much about it. Heck, Tim Apple doesn’t know much about how the business works either.

Google? Much simpler. Everything may become an ad. How about relevance? How about bias in smart software? How about that free search system and its super duper results?

Stephen E Arnold, May 27, 2021

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