As Google Relies More on Its Smart Software, Smart Software Sells Protective Masks. Really?

March 19, 2020

DarkCyber noted “Senators Blast Google For Facemask Ads Amid Coronavirus, Demand FTC Action.” The senators are Mark Warner of Virginia and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

What agitated these luminaries? The write up reports:

…despite Google announcing a ban on ads for protective facemasks last week, their staff were easily able to find Google ads for facemasks over the past week.

Who blew the whistle on Google’s smart software and ad serving machine?

The write up reports:

The senators told the FTC, “our staffs were consistently served dozens of ads for protective masks and hand sanitizer,” often when browsing news stories about the coronavirus.

DarkCyber thought big contributors and lobbyists were best positioned to pass information to these stalwarts of democracy.

The write up further offers this factoid:

“These ads, from a range of different advertisers, were served by Google on websites for outlets such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, CNBC, The Irish Times, and myriad local broadcasting affiliates,” the senators told the FTC. Google has made repeated representations to consumers that its policies prohibit ads for products such as protective masks. Yet the company appears not to be taking even rudimentary steps to enforce that policy,” they added.

Perhaps the humans at Google agreed to stop these ads. However, the memo may not have been processed by the smart ad sales system. Latency happens.

Some humans with knowledge of the offending module appear to have implemented a fix. (DarkCyber thought that Google’s code was not easily modified. Objectivity, relevance, and maybe revenue.

We were not able to get Google to display surgical mask ads as of 0947 Eastern on March 18, 2020. Progress and evidence that Google can control some of what appears in search results pages. Contradiction? Nope, just great software, managers, and engineers.

Stephen E Arnold, March 19, 2020

Google: Information Is for Us (Us Is the Google)

February 22, 2020

I won’t write about the alleged Google murder. Plus, I won’t run through the allegations related to this story: “Google Secretly Monitors Millions of School Kids, Lawsuit Alleges.” Google has many facets, and I find advertising Google style fascinating.

DarkCyber thinks the multi state investigation into Google’s possible violation of of antitrust law is philosophically challenging. The case involves information, consultants, Texas, and a tendril reaches Microsoft, an outfit skilled in software updates.

Let’s start with a Wall Street Journal (a story protected by a  pay walls) revealed an interesting Google stance.

“Google Resists State Demands in Ad Probe” (February 22, 2020) reported that the company’s resistance to requests for information, in the words of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton:

They don’t believe that they’re clean because they don’t act in any way like they are.

Those involved is the Texas-led legal action want more than email. Google has balked. Google has groused about c0onsultants working on the case.

Why the hassle over ads? According to the Murdoch owned WSJ:

News Corp has complained that Google and other digital companies siphon ad revenue from content creators.

DarkCyber finds the pivot point in this multi state tug of war is information.

Google is an information company. Some believe that Google sought to index the world’s information. Then allow people to access the content.

But advertising revenue and a mostly ignored lawsuit about ad technology have altered the definition of information.

Google has information about its ad business. Some of that information has been requested via appropriate legal vehicles by the states’ taking Google to court. Google does not want to make that information available.

If the data were made available, presumably attorneys would be able to:

  • Perform text analytics; for example, display statistical information about word occurrences, generate clusters of like data, etc.
  • Generate indexed entities and tag them. Once tagged, these entities can be graphed so relationships become visible
  • Output timelines of events and link those events to entities
  • Search the content using key words and use the tags to reveal tough to discern items of information; who influenced what action when the words used to describe the activities were ambiguous to a non Googler.

There are other functions enabled by the corpus and current content processing technology.

DarkCyber noted these thoughts:

  1. Google is an information company and does not want that information disclosed
  2. Tools, some of which may run on Google’s cloud infrastructure, can reveal important nuances in the ad matter, nuances which otherwise may be impossible to discern by reading and human note taking
  3. The legal system, which has been most ineffectual in dealing with Google lacks laws and regulations which have not be enacted in the US to deal with digital monopolies.

Net net: Google may have the upper hand… again.

Stephen E Arnold, February 22, 2020

Google Discover: In Praise of Smart Ads

February 19, 2020

Google’s Next Move: from Search to Discovery” is an interesting essay. The author sees a bright future for “smart targeting.”

Here’s the explanation of discovery:

The AI can collate and make sense of thousands of data points about a web user across multiple Google platforms and products – among them YouTube, Gmail, Play Store, News, Photos, Shopping, Translate, Calendar and any website that has a Google tag or Google Tag Manager. Using these signals about a user’s intent and interests, the AI can personalize content according to the emotional and rational factors that matter to the individual. One of the game changers here is the advertising on Google Discover, a feed that serves relevant content to a user, even when they’re not searching.

One of the benefits of the approach is that the “algorithm keeps learning more about you.”

DarkCyber noted this statement, presented as a glorious positive:

Google’s algorithms become more powerful as it discovers more about your brand, product, political, lifestyle, and other preferences from the way you engage with the content. As an example, the technology claims to be so advanced that that it would know not to show a video on the basics of how to play a guitar to an experienced musician, while it would know to show that video to a beginner. Another advantage of the Discover platform is that Google can roll out ads in a native format rather than traditional display banners, which is similar to the newsfeed that has been so effective for Facebook. In addition, advertisers can now reach customers earlier in the customer journey, before they start searching for and evaluating options. Brands can run Discovery campaigns across YouTube home feed, Gmail social and promotions tabs and Google Discover feed. The company claims that more than 800 million people now use Discover each month.

Sounds wonderful. The idea of advertising that flows to a prospect when that person is not looking for information.

The startling factoid in the write up is that Discover is here and beavering away in a smart way, of course. The factoid: 800 million people now use Discover each month.

Very Googley: A next move that is already here.

Stephen E Arnold, February 19, 2020

Google May Be Facing a Moon Shot Challenge

February 17, 2020

DarkCyber wants to reflect on a challenge, a difficult one.


DarkCyber read “Google Removes 500+ Malicious Chrome Extensions from the Web Store.” No, not a “the” store. The store is Google’s online store toward which every Android phone longs to visit. Some mobile devices have no choice. Other Android phones have some restraints, but “home is home.”

According to the write up:

The removed extensions operated by injecting malicious ads (malvertising) inside users’ browsing sessions. The malicious code injected by the extensions activated under certain conditions and redirected users to specific sites. In some cases, the destination would be an affiliate link on legitimate sites like Macys, Dell, or BestBuy; but in other instances, the destination link would be something malicious, such as a malware download site or a phishing page.

You should read the ZDNet story mentioned above and follow its links. However, the notion that DarkCyber has been noodling involves Google’s large online advertising business. Here are some questions we drafted after our morning call:

  • If the Google Android store is disseminating software which generates clicks, how will those affected advertisers be compensated?
  • What other ad centric spoofs or manipulations exist within the ad system for YouTube?
  • What malware or manipulative techniques operate within the core AdWords’ system?
  • What role to click bots or click farms play in manipulating Google’s online advertising data?
  • What about human Googler manipulation of advertising systems; for example, as quarters draw to a close?

DarkCyber only has these and a number of other questions. The answer to these questions may call into question the reliability, accuracy, and honesty of the Google online advertising operation.

If the answers fail to reassure advertisers and others, the strength of Google might become its most serious challenge in the company’s rise from objective search system to global online ad giant.

Challenge? Maybe multiple challenges: Credibility, legal, technical, and managerial.

Stephen E Arnold, February

A Call for Openness in Search

January 24, 2020

DarkCyber understands that if one cannot “find” something, that something does not exist for most people who look for the “something.” This is not a statement from Grasshopper or a tablet unearthed outside of Athens. Finding is required in order to do work or — as a matter of fact — anything in a digital environment.

Opening Up Search Is an Ethical Imperative” presents an argument for opening up search. “Opening up” appears to mean that Google’s grip on ad supported search and retrieval is broken. The write up states:

This is a shocking state of affairs given search’s ubiquitous impact on human well-being. And no I don’t think I’m overreaching. Search might mean a doctor diagnosing a patient with tricky symptoms. Bad search results might have life or death consequences. E-Commerce isn’t about buying pointless frivolities. It’s increasingly society’s economic glue. We no longer call on someone in sales to describe our needs verbally. Instead we request via the e-commerce search bar. Add job search, dating search, enterprise search, food delivery, grocery, legal, real estate, and so on, and you get a picture where search is indeed eating the world. What human activity will exist that won’t involve a search bar?

The statement is accurate. In the context of the article, search also means looking for information on a public facing Web site, not just locating a pizza restaurant or checking the weather. Here’s another statement we noted:

As users are reaching more-and-more for search, supporting the community collectively helps ensure positive outcomes for society as a whole. We’ll collectively help doctors find the right diagnosis for a suffering patient; support a purchasing agent find the right parts for an airplane they’re manufacturing; uplift lawyers seeking to hold the powerful accountable by helping them find solid legal precedent for their arguments.

Again, an accurate observation.

The article includes a list of suggestions for companies and others; for example, Do open source correctly and create search talent.

Several observations:

  • For most people, including those in organizations, search occurs on mobile devices. Either form factor or the location in which the user runs the search is not conducive to the “library style” of information retrieval and review. The habituation to mobile and on the fly searching is going to be difficult to change. As my eighth grade teacher said, “Habits are like a soft bed: Easy to get into and hard to get out of.” Her grammar may have been questionable, but her comment applies to search today.
  • You can learn more about the “open everything” initiative in the DarkCyber video news program which will become available on January 28, 2020. A former CIA professional reveals his commitment to “open everything.” The remarks may spark some fresh thinking.
  • The introduction of the word “ethical” into the article raises some interesting questions; namely, “In today’s environment, what does ‘ethical’ mean? This is a surprisingly difficult word to define across contexts.

To sum up:

  • There are different search and retrieval systems. Some are ignored like Qwant; others are misunderstood because they are metasearch systems; still others are proprietary systems swathed in buzzwords like artificial intelligence and machine learning; and even more are “sort of” open source like Amazon’s search system which was influenced by defectors from Lucid Imagination, now LucidWorks. Plus there are other variations. Search remains confusing and tangled in the shoe laces of worn out sneakers.
  • The dominance of Google means that Google is in charge of presenting information to people using computing devices. The market penetration in some countries is over 95 percent which is the reason that most estimates of search share beat the drum for marginal players like Bing, Qwant, and DuckDuckGo. The thinking is, “A percent or two of share means some money. But the money is not Google scale.”
  • Google is not about to change unless the search business is regulated, Google implodes which is possible but not in the next year or two, or billions of people change their “habits.”

Advertisers go where the eyeballs are. Money can alter the meaning of ethics. And that money issue may be the reason Web sites are not indexed comprehensively, US government Web sites are indexed infrequently and superficially, and why Google ignores certain types of content.

Stephen E Arnold, January 24, 2020


Online Video: Revenue Options to Watch

January 24, 2020

Since we assembled CyberOSINT: Next Generation Information Access, we have been monitoring video content innovations. Of interest to the team are interfaces. These are essential because — let’s face it — keyword search on mobile devices sucks. Clicking on big, colorful icons is the future. How smart are the interfaces? Not smart enough.

In terms of eyeballs, both Twitch and Neverthink are taking approaches that Video content continues to proliferate. However, monetization seems to innovating slowly and in predictable ways. The “begging for dollars” approach is the most common. In this post, I want to highlight a problem with begging.

A ripple roiled the Twitter-verse because a Twitch content producer with the handle BadBunny, wanted more financial support from her followers. (This performer (content creator) adopts a left leaning, abrasive persona; therefore, her approach may have been designed to attract publicity.) “Twitch Streamer BadBunny Slams Her Own Viewers for Not Paying for Her Content” reported:

The streamer, frequent in the Just Chatting section, is close to reaching 100,000 followers on Twitch thanks to her content and the guests she brings to her debates. During a broadcast on January 18, she slightly deviated from the topic of conversation to refer to her audience, insisting she needed the cash to continue creating content for the platform. After giving the blunt message, BadBunny, who could not believe the number of people who were watching her for hours for free, said she was surprised to see that her message was in vain since she did not get new subscribers. Faced with the refusal, she exclaimed: “How did all my speech about how I need subscribers to start the broadcast, blah, blah, blah, result in zero subscribers?”

DarkCyber believes BadBunny’s situation may reflect the lack of monetization innovation at Amazon Twitch. The platform is popular, but Microsoft has been poaching some streaming talent from Twitch. Twitch has other challenges, and these may be making Twitch cause people like BadBunny to demonstrate her Xanthippe-infused characteristics.

For sake of contrast, DarkCyber wants to call attention to to The service is different from Twitch because it streams content available on other services; for example, YouTube, Reddit, and others. As a result, ads on drive traffic to YouTube. Presumably, Google passes some of the cash to creators. (But maybe not?)

The key differentiators of Twitch and Neverthink are:

  • User interface. Both provide point and click video consumption. The Neverthink approach deals with categories, not individual streamers.
  • Revenue model. Amazon jams ads in front of and in the middle of some streams. Neverthink accepts sponsored content for cash and uses what appears to be Google ads in some streams. Neverthink accepts money to run videos as “Specials.” Twitch may accept money, but if it does, the deals are not labeled. (Do those featured streamers who attend Twitchcon get some money?)
  • Curation. The Neverthink angle is curation. Allegedly smart software and video loving humans make sure nothing “bad” streams. Twitch — regardless of its method — does have some interesting content. DarkCyber won’t provide any examples, but we do present some of the gambling, stolen content, and somewhat off color content in our lectures to law enforcement and intelligence professionals.

Net net: Twitch may have to up its game. Neverthink seems to have a more varied monetization model. What happens if Neverthink lures popular streamers to its app? Amazon Twitch will have to get woke or do a rethink.

If you want to check out these services, here are the links you need:

Stephen E Arnold, January 24, 2020

Tweet Insight: Half Right

January 23, 2020

DarkCyber spotted a Tweet about Google search results. You can find the information at this link. The insight is that:

There’s something strange about the recent design change to google search results, favicons and extra header text: they all look like ads, which is perhaps the point?

What if every search result is an ad, an ad driver, or an ad component?

The idea is that the results are shaped to generate revenue, not information.

Stephen E Arnold, January 23, 2020

YouTube: Adulting Continues

January 9, 2020

YouTube is taking a step designed to protect children on its platform, despite concerns that the move may decrease revenue for the creators of children’s content. CBS News shares their six minute Privacy Watch segment, “YouTube to Limit Kids Video Data Collection.” Specifically, the platform will no longer attach personalized advertising to children’s content. The video description states:

“YouTube will be limiting the amount of data it collects on children. Going forward, videos made for children won’t have personalized ads. Creators are concerned this could result in less revenue, and ultimately less content for children. CNET senior producer Dan Patterson joins CBSN to discuss the development.”

The segment begins by explains what personalized ads are, then covers who pushed for this change: privacy and security experts, regulators, and even YouTube’s parent company. As we are reminded, Google was sued last year over the issue of children’s privacy on that platform. Now, in fact, the company is trying to assert the platform is not for children under age 13 at all. That declaration rings hollow, though. As the Privacy Watch host notes, kids “live on YouTube, they consume videos for hours at a time. It’s basically their Netflix.” Just try to rebottle that genie.

The interview also discusses the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998, the speed at which laws get outdated, and the sophistication of today’s ad technology. We also learn that generalized ads will still be included in children’s content, but those creating that content worry that will not be enough to maintain their revenue streams. Perhaps, but let us ask this—if the platform is no longer intended for those under 13, shouldn’t many of those operations be shuttering or shifting to another platform, anyway?

Cynthia Murrell, January 9, 2020

Do It Yourself Surgery: An Unexpected YouTube Consequence

December 5, 2019

DarkCyber noted the CNBC real news story “Doctors Are Turning to YouTube to Learn How to Do Surgical Procedures, But There’s No Quality Control.”

Quality control. What a quaint concept.

The write up states:

YouTube has become a fixture of medical education.

Fix a broken lamp? YouTube. Take out an appendix? YouTube.

DarkCyber learned:

CNBC found tens of thousands of videos showing a wide variety of medical procedures on the Google-owned video platform, some of them hovering around a million views. People have live streamed giving birth and broadcast their face-lifts. One video, which shows the removal of a dense, white cataract, has gone somewhat viral and now has more than 1.7 million views. Others seem to have found crossover appeal with nonmedical viewers…

Maybe there’s an opportunity for Google:

Google’s vice president of health, David Feinberg, noted at a recent medical conference in the fall that a lot of surgeons are flocking to YouTube. He implied, without sharing specifics, that his team would look to do a better job of managing the content as part of its broader focus on combating health misinformation across Google. Medical experts say they’re more than willing to work with YouTube to help curate medical content.

The advertising model seems ideal for this type of “professional” curation. Will medical device manufacturers sponsor curated videos?

Opportunity beckons for:

  • Do it yourselfers
  • Medical product and service providers
  • Google itself.

A management challenge? Nothing Google cannot overcome with assistance. Think the flying car tapping Boeing for expertise.

Stephen E Arnold, December 5, 2019

Google Ads: Some Data

November 26, 2019

DarkCyber noted some information about the cost of Google ads for a pet-related business. Navigate to “How Much Does it Cost to Run Google Ads? : Tech : Nature World News”.

Here’s the passage we found interesting:

Google Ad Spend costs an average of $9,000 to $10,000 per month. Depending on your budget, you decide the maximum amount that you will spend on cost-per-click (CPC). The average CPC on the Google Search Network is $1 to $2 per click. The average CPC on the Google Display Network is $1 or less per click. The cost for professional Google Ads management per month is 12 percent to 30 percent of the cost of Ad Spend per month. PPC (pay-per-click) costs an average of $15 to $800 per month.

Stephen E Arnold, November 26, 2019

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