Amazing Statement about Google

January 17, 2023

I am not into Twitter. I think that intelware and policeware vendors find the Twitter content interesting. A few of them may be annoyed that the Twitter application programming interface seems go have gone on a walkabout. One of the analyses of Twitter I noted this morning (January 15, 2023, 1035 am) is “Twitter’s Latest ‘Feature’ Is How You Know Elon Musk Is in Over His Head. It’s the Cautionary Tale Every Business Needs to Hear.”

I want to skip over the Twitter palpitations and focus on one sentence:

At least, with Google, the company is good enough at what it does that you can at least squint and sort of see that when it changes its algorithm, it does it to deliver a better experience to its users–people who search for answers on Google.

What about that “at least”? Also, what do you make of the “you can at least squint and sort of see that when it [Google] changes its algorithm”? Squint to see clearly. Into Google? Hmmm. I can squint all day at a result like this and not see anything except advertising and a plug for the Google Cloud for the query online hosting:

image

Helpful? Sure to Google, not to this user.

Now consider the favorite Google marketing chestnut, “a better experience.” Ads and a plug for Google does not deliver to me a better experience. Compare the results for the “online hosting” query to those from www.you.com:

image

Google is the first result, which suggests some voodoo in the search engine optimization area. The other results point to a free hosting service, a PC Magazine review article (which is often an interesting editorial method to talk about) and an outfit called Online Hosting Solution.

Which is better? Google’s ads and self promotion or the new You.com pointer to Google and some sort of relevant links?

Now let’s run the query “online hosting” on Yandex.com (not the Russian language version). Here’s what I get:

image

Note that the first link is to a particular vendor with no ad label slapped on the link. The other links are to listicle articles which present a group of hosting companies for the person running the query to consider.

Of the three services, which requires the “squint” test. I suppose one can squint at the Google result and conclude that it is just wonderful, just not for objective results. The You.com results are a random list of mostly relevant links. But that top hit pointing at Google Cloud makes me suspicious. Why Google? Why not Amazon AWS, Microsoft Azure, the fascinating Epik.com, or another vendor?

In this set of three, Yandex.com strikes me as delivering cleaner, more on point results. Your mileage may vary.

In my experience, systems which deliver answers are a quest. Most of the systems to which I have been exposed seem the digital equivalent of a ride with Don Quixote. The windmills of relevance remain at risk.

Stephen E Arnold, January 17, 2023

Are Facebook and Google Monopolies: Nope, Shrinking Share of Online Ads. Proof!

December 29, 2022

I read an interesting article, but I have my doubts about the numbers. The story is from one of the “last person standing” in the Silicon Valley real news datasphere. In the last month or so, the tone of write ups about two of America’s most lovable and well managed companies has turned south, well, maybe south by southwest.

Share of US Digital Ad Spend, by Company Type” reports:

Google and Meta will together capture 48.4% of all U.S. digital ad revenue this year (28.8% for Google and 19.6% for Meta), down from 54.7% at their peak in 2017 (34.7% for Google and 20.0% for Meta), per data from Insider Intelligence.

And what about the lovable Bezos bulldozer driven pedal to the metal by Andy Jassy? The article states:

  • By far, the biggest threat to their collective ad dominance is Amazon, which has grown its ad business to over $30 billion dollars annually.
  • By 2024, Amazon is expected to capture 12.7% of all U.S. digital ad dollars, while Meta is expected to capture 17.9%.

TikTok is no big whoop. I suppose that’s why the tech giants are becoming pretzels in their effort create short form content.

Several observations:

  1. I am not sure how these data were gathered nor the methods used to present such remarkable precision as 54.7 percent in a prediction is an indication that someone did not pay attention in Statistics 101
  2. Amazon’s ad data are more interesting when the slope between the firm’s ad revenue in 2018 is plotted against Amazon’s ad revenue in 2021. That a slope!
  3. Blowing off TikTok is problematic. Does the data consider influencers who accept some type of compensation in return for merchandise, trips, or some other fungible asset like a super duper hair curling device?

To sum up: I am not prepared to label those wonderful wizards at Facebook and Google as crew on a doomed steamship named MY Failure.

Stephen E Arnold, December 2022

Google and Its Puzzles: Insiders Only, Please

December 26, 2022

ProPublica made available an article of some importance in my opinion. “Porn, Piracy, Fraud: What Lurks Inside Google’s Black Box Ad Empire” walks through the intentional, quite specific engineering of its crucial advertising system to maximize revenue and befuddle (is “defraud” a synonym?) advertisers. I was asked more than a decade ago to do a presentation of my team’s research into Google’s advertising methodology. I declined. At that time, I was doing some consulting work for a company I am not permitted to name. That contract stipulated that I would not talk about a certain firm’s business technologies. I signed because… money.

The ProPublica essay does the revealing about what is presented as a duplicitous, underhanded, and probably illegal business process subsystem. I don’t have to present any of the information I have gathered over the years. I can cite this important article and point out several rocks which the capable writers at ProPublica either did not notice or flipped them over and concluded, “Nah, nothing to see here.”

I urge you to do two things. First, read the ProPublica write up. Number Two: Print it out. My hunch is that it may be disappeared or become quite difficult to find at some point in the future. Why? Ah, grasshopper, that is a question easily answered by the managers who set up Foundem and who were stomped by Googzilla. Alternatively you could chase down a person at the French government tax authority and ask, “Why were French tax forms not findable via a Google search for several years.” These individuals might have the information you need. Shifting gears: Ask Magix, the software company responsible for Sony Vegas why cracks for the software appear in YouTube videos. If you use your imagination, you will come up with ideas for gathering first person information about the lovable online advertising company’s systems and methods. Hint: Look up Dr. Timnit Gebru and inquire about her interactions with one of Google chief scientists. I guarantee that a useful anecdote will bubble up.

So what’s in the write up. Let me highlight a main point and then cite a handful of interesting statements in the article.

What is the main point? In my opinion, ProPublica’s write up says, “The GOOG maximizes its return at the expense of the advertisers and of the users.”

Who knew? Not me. I think the Alphabet Google YouTube DeepMind outfit is the most wonderfulest company in the world. Remember: You heard this here first. I have a priceless Google mouse pad too.

Consider these three statements from the essay. First, Google lingo is interesting:

Google spokesperson Michael Aciman said the company uses a combination of human oversight, automation and self-serve tools to protect ad buyers and said publisher confidentiality is not associated with abuse or low quality.

The idea is that Google is interested in using a hybrid method to protect ad buyers. Plus there is a difference between publishers and confidentiality. I find it interesting that instead of talking about [a] the ads themselves (porn, drugs, etc.), [b] the buyers of advertising which is a distinct industry dependent upon Google for revenue, [c] the companies who want to get their message in front of people allegedly interested in the product of service, or [d] the user of search or some other Google service. Google wants to “protect ad buyers.” And what about the others I have identified? Google doesn’t care. Logical sure but doesn’t Google have the other entities in mind? That’s a question regulators should have asked and had answered after Google settle the litigation with Yahoo over advertising technology, at the time of Google’s acquisition of Oingo (Applied Semantics), or at the time Google acquired DoubleClick. In my opinion, much of the ProPublica write up operates in a neverland of weird Google speak, not the reality of harvesting money from those largely in the dark about what’s happening in the business processes.

Second, consider this statement:

we matched 70% of the accounts in Google’s ad sellers list to one or more domains or apps, more than any dataset ProPublica is aware of. But we couldn’t find all of Google’s publisher partners. What we did find was a system so large, secretive and bafflingly complex that it proved impossible to uncover everyone Google works with and where it’s sending advertisers’ money.

The passage seems to suggest that Google’s engineers went beyond clever and ventured into the murky acreage of intentional obfuscation. It seems as if Google wanted to be able to consume advertising budgets without any entity having the ability to determine [a] if the ad were displayed in a suitable context; that is, did the advertiser’s message match the needs of the user to who the ad was shown.  And [b] was the ad appropriate even if it contained words and phrases on Google’s unofficial stop word lists. (If you have not see these, send an email to benkent2020 at yahoo dot com and one of my team will email you some of the more interesting words that guarantee Google’s somewhat lax processes will definitely try to block. If a word is not on a Google stop list, then the messages will probably be displayed. Remember: As Google terminates six percent of its staff, some of those humans presumably will not be able to review ads per item one above. And [c] note the word “bafflingly”. The focus of much Google engineering over the last 15 years has been to build competitive barriers, extent the monopoly function with “partners”, and double talk in order to keep regulators and curious Congressional people away. That’s my take on  this passage.

Now for the third passage I will cite:

…we uncovered scores of previously unreported peddlers of pirated content, porn and fake audiences that take advantage of Google’s lax oversight to rake in revenue.

I don’t need to say much more about this statement that look at and think about pirated content (copyright), porn (illegal content in some jurisdictions) and fake audiences (cyber fraud). Does this statement suggest that Google is a criminal enterprise? That’s a good question.

I have some high level observations about this excellent article in ProPublica. I offer these in the hope that ProPublica will explore some of these topics or an enterprising graduate student will consider the statements and do some digging.

  1. Why is Google unable to manage its staff? This is an important question because the ad behaviors described in the ProPublica article are the result of executive compensation plans and incentives. Are employees rewarded for implementing operations that further “soft” fraud or worse?
  2. How will Google operate in a more fragmented, more regulated environment? Is one possible behavior a refusal to modify the guiding hand of compensation and incentive programs away from generating more and more money within external constraints? My hunch is that Google will do whatever is necessary to build its revenue.
  3. What mechanisms exist or will be implemented to keep Google’s automated systems operating in a legal, ethical way?

Net net: Finally, after decades of craziness about how wonderful Googzilla is, more critical research is appearing. Is it too little and too late? In my view, yes.

Stephen E Arnold, December 26, 2022

Trackers? More Plentiful Than Baloney Press Releases

December 22, 2022

You are absolutely correct if you think more Web sites are asking you to approve their cookie settings. More Web sites are tracking your personal information to send you targeted ads. Tech Radar explains more about trackers in, “You’re Not Wrong-Websites Have Way More Trackers Now.”

NordVPN discovered that the average Web site has forty-eight trackers and it is putting users at risk. NordVPN used three tracker blockers (Badger, Brave, and uBlock Origin) to count the number of trackers across the one hundred more popular Web sites in twenty-five countries. Social media platforms had the most trackers at 160, health Web sites were the second with forty-six, and digital media Web sites have twenty-eight. Ironically government and adult Web sites had the least amount of trackers.

Third parties were tied to the trackers. Thirty percent belonged to Google, 11% to Facebook, and Adobe had 7%. All data is used for marketing reasons. North and Central Europe had the least amount of trackers, because of privacy laws. The US is a tracker’s playground, because there are not any blanket laws that protect user privacy. It is an Orwellian system for capitalist purposes:

“For NordVPN, the problem with collecting this data is that it can be used to profile the users in great detail. The profile is then sold to advertising companies, whose ads “follow” the users around the internet to collect even more data.

Worse still, cybercriminals might get their hands on this data at any point, and could then use this data in phishing attacks that use a victim’s in-depth personal profile to appear authentic, making them more likely to fall for the ruse.”

The article doubles as a marketing tool for VPN services, particularly NordVPN. VPNs collect user information too, except they can hide it. Interesting how the article wants to inform people about the dangers of tracking and wants to sell a product too.

Whitney Grace, December 22, 2022

The Zuck, Personalized Advertising, and the European Data Protection Board Battle Royale 2023

December 13, 2022

I read “EDPB Adopts Art. 65 Dispute Resolution Binding Decisions Regarding Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp”. The less-then-exciting prose makes clear that the pesky EU and its GDPR ideas are not going away. The official document, dated December 6, 2022, stated:

The Facebook and Instagram draft decisions concern, in particular, the lawfulness and transparency of processing for behavioural advertising. The WhatsApp draft decision concerns notably the lawfulness of processing for the purpose of the improvement of services. Several SAs issued objections on the draft decisions prepared by the Irish SA concerning, among others, the legal basis for processing (Art. 6 GDPR), data protection principles (Art. 5 GDPR), and the use of corrective measures including fines.

After a few more committee meetings, more information will be posted.

This seems pretty innocuous. Another EU regulation, delays, discussions, and inevitable litigation.

Nevertheless, several observations appear to be warranted by your trusty observer in rural Kentucky:

  1. Will the EU and its state entities levy fines? My hunch is, “Ka-ching” sound a number of times. Go where the money is before the money runs out.
  2. Will the personalized ad contagion spread to other US outfits? My initial reaction is, “Not even a China-style Covid lockdown can prevent the problem from spreading, morphing, and befuddling some legal eagles.”
  3. Will the personalized advertisers change? My instinct is that there will be some change. But it will be inspired by Google’s attempt to deal with its tracking methods.
  4. Will the issue penetrate the hermetically sealed walls of the Apple spaceship? Let me go out on a limb and suggest, “Yep, Level Four containment will be breached.”
  5. What does consenting to terms and conditions for a service mean? Here’s my take: “Grounds for legal action because… consumers.”

Stephen E Arnold, December 13, 2022

Apple, What Does Significant Mean?

November 28, 2022

It is not a secret that advertising fees generate a large amount of profit on the Internet and they are increasing like rabbits in spring. Nobody likes dealing with ads, but big tech companies do not care because they only want to increase their bottom line. While Apple has revamped how ads are viewed in its App Store, 9 To 5 Mac says, “Report: Apple Currently Doesn’t Plan To ‘Significantly’ Increase Number Of Ads On iPhone.”

While Apple is currently satisfied with its net revenue from ads, there have been plans since 2018 to place more advertising on features in its products. Spotlight search was supposed to include ads, but that never happened. It appears that some Apple employees empathize with consumers:

“The report covers the tension of Apple product experience and advertising, describing an “antipathy” that some employees have toward the ad group. The Information says even some members of the ad team raised concerns with leadership that Apple was going too far. This is perhaps one reason why the plan to launch ads in Spotlight did not go ahead.”

App developers lashed back at Apple with the new changes to the App Store’s ad spots, because there were too many scams and gambling ads that appeared. Apple has paused showing certain controversial ad categories.

Apple has also angered third-party ad networks, because of its App Tacking Transparency policy that allows users to opt-out of sharing their personal information. User data is the key component in making the digital advertising world go round and the policy is viewed as Apple’s way to eliminate competition.

Apple continues to leverage its products and their features to build ad revenue. There are plans to add them to the Maps, Books, and Podcast apps. Ads might not appear on the iOS main screen yet, but given “significant” time it could happen.

Whitey Grace, November 28, 2022

Apple: Curating with Care. What Are the Odds?

November 22, 2022

No one likes ads. They are a necessary evil to keep services free. Unfortunately, users are experiencing more ads than their desired content. Even worse, Apple has transformed its App Store into a giant ad scam hole. Ars Technica shares Apple users’ frustration about the latest iOS update: “Why The App Store’s Tone-Deaf Gambling Ads Make Me Worry About Apple.”

The newest iOS update included important security upgrades, bug fixes, and new features. The App Store’s ad services framework was also included in the upgrade, but instead of repairing problems, the store is now an obnoxious purveyor of irrelevant ads. The store is flooded with ads advertising gambling and get-rich-quick crypto scams. What is even worse is that these ads are playing next to games intended for kids.

Apple is aware of the problem and shut down the worst of the ads, but long-term problems are still an issue.

The bigger question is that Apple is no longer differentiating itself from its rivals. Unlike Microsoft, Facebook, and Google, Apple used to make most of its revenue from hardware sales. Its hardware sales are down, so Apple is compensated for the lower profit margins. It comes at the cost of users’ confidence that their Apple products protected their privacy more than others.

“That’s why Apple’s excursions into the ad business and the increased importance of the Services division to Apple’s continued growth worry me. Not because I think Apple’s products will become unusable or because I think the iPhone or Apple TV home screen is going to become dominated overnight by Roku-style half-page ads, but because I think that the pressure for Apple to degrade the experience for users and developers in the name of expanding its ad business will gradually increase as Apple tries to satisfy shareholders looking for perpetual growth.”

Apple is regarded as a high-quality product, a cut above a basic PC. The expensive price tag and the better privacy OS augments that reputation, but if Apple becomes more like its rivals it will not long per elitist. UGH!

Whitney Grace, November 22, 2022

Teens Prefer Apple

November 7, 2022

The 44th semi-annual Taking Stock with Teens survey from Piper Sandler asked US teenagers about their earnings, spending patterns, and brand preferences. Here is a handy infographic of the results. Marketers will find helpful guidance in this report.

Some of the findings are interesting, even for those not looking to make a buck off young people. See the post for trends in clothing, cosmetics, and food. In technology-related preferences, we found some completely unsurprising. For example:

  • “TikTok improved as the favorite social platform (38% share) by 400 bps vs. last Spring, and SNAP was No. 2 at 30% (-100 bps vs. Spring 2022) while Instagram was No. 3 at 20% (-200 bps vs. Spring 2022)
  • Teens spend 32% of daily video consumption on Netflix (flat vs. LY) and 29% on YouTube (-200 bps vs. LY)”

We find one revelation particularly significant. It looks like Apple is on track to monopolize the cohort:

  • “87% of teens own an iPhone; 88% expect an iPhone to be their next phone; 31% of teens own an Apple Watch”

What will advertisers pay to reach this group? Answer: Lots. We anticipate a growing number of teen-focused campaigns across the Appleverse. When Apple squeezed Facebook’s ad methods, where did that delicious money flow go? Do regulators know?

Cynthia Murrell, November 7 , 2022

What Do Quasi Monopolies Do? What Big Outfits Have Done for Decades: Keep On Keeping On

November 2, 2022

The race is on. With the advertising money machines making some unpleasant sounds, the big tech companies are doing what big companies do.

Google’s ad revenues softened. The Zuckbook whines about Apple’s ad plays. Apple is gearing up to suck in ad dollars. Amazon is post so many ads when I search for T shirts, I can’t figure out what’s what.

And this is just the beginning.

What’s coming? Ah, you don’t care. I don’t either. Here are some prognostications from the Beyond Search team:

  1. More ads than ever. Everywhere. Constantly. (Why bother with objective content. Do advertorials.)
  2. The dunce advertisers have no choice but a few big outfits; thus, advertisers will choke down questions about ad fraud and fee manipulation
  3. Consumers will pay for these less and less effective ads with higher and higher prices. Zero gravity, right because the money floats out of individuals’ wallets. Zip zip.
  4. Government regulators will do what they do best — Have meetings and maybe hold a hearing or two so we can hear, “Senator, thank you for that question…”

Pretty bleak, right? Want to push back? You will be fighting what sure look like monopolies, legions of attorneys, and probably some other folks as well.

Is this the attention revolution? Nope. You will have less and less attention between more and more advertising.

Stephen E Arnold, November 2, 2022

TokTok: Is Ad Integrity Is Job Number One?

November 1, 2022

Nope.

Syrian refugees are still in desperate need of support, and responding to pleas on TikTok is an understandable impulse. However, one should consider how much of any donation will actually help intended recipients and how much will slide into other pockets along the way. The BBC reveals, “TikTok Profits from Livestreams of Families Begging.” Reporters Hannah Gelbart, Mamdouh Akbiek and Ziad Al-Qattan write:

“Children are livestreaming on the social media app for hours, pleading for digital gifts with a cash value. The BBC saw streams earning up to $1,000 (£900) an hour, but found the people in the camps received only a tiny fraction of that.”

In fact, BBC researchers found TikTok owner ByteDance was taking up to 70% of donations meant for Syrian refugees. But wait, there’s more. Of the remaining 30%, 10% went to the local equivalent of Western Union and a hefty 35% of the last fifth went to a middleman, leaving the actual family with a paltry sum. For middlemen, though, this is quite the opportunity. We learn:

“In the camps in north-west Syria, the BBC found that the trend was being facilitated by so-called ‘TikTok middlemen,’ who provided families with the phones and equipment to go live. The middlemen said they worked with agencies affiliated to TikTok in China and the Middle East, who gave the families access to TikTok accounts. … Hamid, one of the TikTok middlemen in the camps, told the BBC he had sold his livestock to pay for a mobile phone, SIM card and wi-fi connection to work with families on TikTok. He now broadcasts with 12 different families, for several hours a day. Hamid said he uses TikTok to help families make a living. He pays them most of the profits, minus his running costs, he said.”

Yes, we are sure he has quite the overhead. Note it is the families putting in the most effort here, pouring their hearts out to strangers for hours each day. Yet TikTok insists none of its Terms of Use are being violated, including the provision to “prevent the harm, endangerment or exploitation” of minors. Unfortunately, residents of many of these camps have few options because local charities are stretched way too thin. For now, TikTok and its middlemen seem to be the only place many can turn.

Cynthia Murrell, November 1, 2022

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