Algorithmic Selling on Amazon Spells Buyer Beware

December 12, 2016

The article on Science Daily titled Amazon Might Not Always Be Pitching You the Best Prices, Researchers Find unveils the stacked deck that Amazon has created for sellers. Amazon rewards sellers who use automated algorithmic pricing by more often featuring those seller’s items in the buy box, the more prominent and visible display. So what is algorithmic pricing, exactly? The article explains,

For a fee, any one of Amazon’s more than 2 million third-party sellers can easily subscribe to an automated pricing service…They then set up a pricing strategy by choosing from a menu of options like these: Find the lowest price offered and go above it (or below it) by X dollars or Y percentage, find Amazon’s own price for the item and adjust up or down relative to it, and so on. The service does the rest.

For the consumer, this means that searching on Amazon won’t necessarily produce the best value (at first click, anyway.) It may be a mere dollar difference, but it could also be a more significant price increase between $20 and $60. What is really startling is that even though less than 10% of “algo sellers,” these sellers account for close to a third of the best-selling products. If you take anything away from this article, let it be that what Amazon is showing you first might not be the best price, so always do your research!

Chelsea Kerwin, December 12, 2016

When Censorship Means More Money, Facebook Leans In

December 8, 2016

The article on Vanity Fair titled Facebook Is Reportedly Building a Censorship Tool to Win Over China suggests that the people nervous about what it will mean to address the fake news proliferation are correct. The fear that Facebook managing fake news stories might lead to actual censorship of the news is not so far-fetched after all. The article states,

Auditing fake news is considered to be a slippery-slope problem for the company, which is just now starting to use fact-checkers to “grade” the veracity of news stories shared on its Web site and to crack down on false or partially false news stories shared on Facebook. Still, beneath it all, Facebook remains a publicly traded company with a fiduciary duty to its shareholders—and that duty is to make money.

Zuckerberg’s interest in capturing China’s 700M+ internet users has led to the creation of a censorship tool that can “automatically suppress content in specific geographic areas.” The tool has not been implemented (yet), but it suggests that Zuckerberg has a flexible relationship with freedom of information, especially where money is at stake. And there is a lot of money at stake. The article delves into the confusion over whether Facebook is a media company or not. But whatever type of company it is, it is a company. And that means money comes first.

Chelsea Kerwin, December 8, 2016

On Accountability for Search Engine Content

December 6, 2016

For better or worse, Google and, to a lesser extent other Internet search engines, shape the way many people view the world. That is a lot of power, and some folks are uneasy about allowing those companies to wield it without some sort of oversight. For example, MIT Technology Review asks, “What’s Behind Google’s Secretive Ad-Blocking Policy?” At the heart of the issue is Google’s recent decision to ban ads for payday loans, a product widely considered to be predatory and currently under investigation by the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Reporter Elizabeth Woyke observes that such concerns about gate-keeping apply to other major online companies, like Microsoft, Yahoo, and Baidu. She writes:

Consumers might not realize it, but Google—and other ad-supported search engines—have been making editorial decisions about the types of ads they will carry for years. These companies won the right to reject ads they consider objectionable in 2007, when a Delaware district court ruled that constitutional free-speech guarantees don’t apply to search engines since they are for-profit companies and not ‘state actors.’ The decision cited earlier cases that upheld newspapers’ rights to decide which ads to run.

Google currently prohibits ads for ‘dangerous,’ ‘dishonest,’ and ‘offensive’ content, such as recreational drugs, weapons, and tobacco products; fake documents and academic cheating services; and hate-group paraphernalia. Google also restricts ads for content it deems legally or culturally sensitive, such as adult-oriented, gambling-related, and political content; alcoholic beverages; and health care and medicine. It may require additional information from these advertisers and limit placement to certain geographical locations.”

Legal experts, understandably, tend to be skittish about ceding this role to corporations. How far, and in which directions, will they be allowed to restrict content? Will they ever be required to restrict certain content that could cause harm? And, where do we as a society draw those lines? One suggestion that seems to make sense is a call for transparency. That way, at least, users could tap into the power of PR to hold companies accountable. See the write-up for more thoughts on the subject from legal minds.

Cynthia Murrell, December 6, 2016

Emphasize Data Suitability over Data Quantity

November 30, 2016

It seems obvious to us, but apparently, some folks need a reminder. Harvard Business Review proclaims, “You Don’t Need Big Data, You Need the Right Data.” Perhaps that distinction has gotten lost in the Big Data hype. Writer Maxwell Wessel points to Uber as an example. Though the company does collect a lot of data, the key is in which data it collects, and which it does not. Wessel explains:

In an era before we could summon a vehicle with the push of a button on our smartphones, humans required a thing called taxis. Taxis, while largely unconnected to the internet or any form of formal computer infrastructure, were actually the big data players in rider identification. Why? The taxi system required a network of eyeballs moving around the city scanning for human-shaped figures with their arms outstretched. While it wasn’t Intel and Hewlett-Packard infrastructure crunching the data, the amount of information processed to get the job done was massive. The fact that the computation happened inside of human brains doesn’t change the quantity of data captured and analyzed. Uber’s elegant solution was to stop running a biological anomaly detection algorithm on visual data — and just ask for the right data to get the job done. Who in the city needs a ride and where are they? That critical piece of information let the likes of Uber, Lyft, and Didi Chuxing revolutionize an industry.

In order for businesses to decide which data is worth their attention, the article suggests three guiding questions: “What decisions drive waste in your business?” “Which decisions could you automate to reduce waste?” (Example—Amazon’s pricing algorithms) and “What data would you need to do so?” (Example—Uber requires data on potential riders’ locations to efficiently send out drivers.) See the article for more notes on each of these guidelines.

Cynthia Murrell, November 30, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

Watch out for Falling Burritos

September 22, 2016

Amazon and Wal-Mart are already trying to deliver packages by drones, but now a Mexican restaurant wants in on the automated delivery game.  Bloomberg Technology tells the story in “Alphabet And Chipotle Are Bringing Burrito Delivery Drones To Campus.”  If you think you can now order a burrito and have it delivered to you via drone, sorry to

tell you that the service is only available on the Virginia Tech campus.  Alphabet Inc. unit Project Wing has teamed up with Chipotle Mexican Grill for the food delivery service.

Self-guided hybrid drones will deliver the burritos.  The burritos will come from a nearby food truck, so the navigation will be accurate and also so the food will be fresh.  The best part is that when the drones are making the delivery, they will hover and lower the burritos with a winch.

While the drones will be automated, human pilots will be nearby to protect people on campus from falling burritos and in case the drones veer from their flight pattern.  The FAA approved the burrito delivering drone test, but the association is hesitant to clear unmanned drones for bigger deliver routes.

…the experiment will not assess one of the major technology hurdles facing drone deliveries: creation of a low-level air-traffic system that can maintain order as the skies become more crowded with unmanned vehicles. NASA is working with Project Wing and other companies to develop the framework for such a system. Data from the tests will be provided to the FAA to help the agency develop new rules allowing deliveries…

The drone burrito delivery at Virginia Tech is believed to be the most complex delivery flight operation in the US.  It is a test for a not too distant future when unmanned drones deliver packages and food.  It will increase the amount of vehicles in the sky, but it will also put the delivery business in jeopardy.  Once more things change and more jobs become obsolete.

Whitney Grace, September 22, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

There is a Louisville, Kentucky Hidden Web/Dark Web meet up on September 27, 2016.
Information is at this link: https://www.meetup.com/Louisville-Hidden-Dark-Web-Meetup/events/233599645/

Featurespace Raises Capital for Bank Fraud Monitoring Technology

September 21, 2016

Monitoring online fraud has become an increasingly popular application for machine learning and search technology. The Telegraph reported Cambridge AI fraud detection group raises £6.2m. The company, Featurespace, grew out of Cambridge University and its ARIC technology goes beyond rule-based fraud-detection. It scans all activity on a network and thus learns what registers as fraudulent or suspicious. The write-up tells us,

The company has now raised $9m (£6.2m), which it will use to open a US office after signing two big stateside deals. The funding is led by US fintech investor TTV Capital – the first time it has backed a UK company – and early stage investors Imperial Innovations and Nesta.

Mike Lynch, the renowned technology investor who founded software group Autonomy before its $11.7bn sale to Hewlett Packard, has previously invested in the company and sits on its board. Ms King said Featurespace had won a contract with a major US bank, as well as payments company TSYS, which processes MasterCard and Visa transactions.”

Overall, the company aims to protect consumers from credit and debit card fraud. The article reminds us that millions of consumers have been affected by stolen credit and debit card information. Betfair, William Hill and VocaLink are current customers of Featurespace and several banks are using its technology too. Will this become a big ticket application for these machine learning technologies?

Megan Feil, September 21, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph
There is a Louisville, Kentucky Hidden Web/Dark Web meet up on September 27, 2016.
Information is at this link: https://www.meetup.com/Louisville-Hidden-Dark-Web-Meetup/events/233599645/

 

 

Cairo Authorities Perform Bitcoin Sting

September 8, 2016

Egyptian authorities refuse to let a 30-year-old dentist get away with trading in digital currency, despite there being no law on the books to prohibit the practice.  The Merkle informs us, “Egyptian Dentist Apprehended in Bitcoin Sting Operation in Cairo.” Reporter Traderman reveals:

According to today’s post on the facebook page of The Ministry of the Interior, Mr. Ahmed was captured with $13,900 in cash, as well as a cellular phone and a smart tablet that were used in the trading operation. Authorities setup Ahmed by contacting him about a potential deal on LocalBitcoins, where Ahmed was selling the digital currency for $570 per coin.

The investigation was carried out with the cooperation of the Cairo Department of Public Safety and the Cairo Security Directorate. Mr. Ahmed has apparently confessed to trading bitcoin, but it is unclear what specific law Mr. Ahmed was breaking, as there are no regulations on digital currencies in Egypt.

The write-up tells us manufacturer AMECO, based in Cairo, has been accepting bitcoin apparently unmolested since 2014. Traderman also notes that, as of their writing, about seven Egyptian bitcoin vendors operating on LocalBitcoins, all of whom seem to be running modest operations. It will be interesting to see whether law-enforcement continues to crack down on bitcoin within their borders, and, if so, what justification authorities may offer. Perhaps they will go so far as to pass a law.

Cynthia Murrell, September 8, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph
There is a Louisville, Kentucky Hidden Web/Dark Web meet up on September 27, 2016.
Information is at this link: https://www.meetup.com/Louisville-Hidden-Dark-Web-Meetup/events/233599645/

Meet the Company Selling Our Medical Data

July 22, 2016

A company with a long history is getting fresh scrutiny. An article at Fortune reports, “This Little-Known Firm Is Getting Rich Off Your Medical Data.” Writer Adam Tanner informs us:

“A global company based in Danbury, Connecticut, IMS  buys bulk data from pharmacy chains such as CVS , doctor’s electronic record systems such as Allscripts, claims from insurers such as Blue Cross Blue Shield and from others who handle your health information. The data is anonymized—stripped from the identifiers that identify individuals. In turn, IMS sells insights from its more than half a billion patient dossiers mainly to drug companies.

“So-called health care data mining is a growing market—and one largely dominated by IMS. Last week, the company reported 2015 net income of $417 million on revenue of $2.9 billion, compared with a loss of $189 million in 2014 (an acquisition also boosted revenue over the year). ‘The outlook for this business remains strong,’ CEO Ari Bousbib said in announcing the earnings.”

IMS Health dates back to the 1950s, when a medical ad man sought to make a buck on drug-sales marketing reports. In the 1980s and ‘90s, the company thrived selling profiles of specific doctors’ proscribing patterns to pharmaceutical marketing folks. Later, they moved into aggregating information on individual patients—anonymized, of course, in accordance with HIPAA rules.

Despite those rules, some are concerned about patient privacy. IMS does not disclose how it compiles their patient dossiers, and it may be possible that records could, somehow someday, become identifiable. One solution would be to allow patients to opt out of contributing their records to the collection, anonymized or not, as marketing data firm Acxiom began doing in 2013.

Of course, it isn’t quite so simple for the consumer. Each health record system makes its own decisions about data sharing, so opting out could require changing doctors. On the other hand, many of us have little choice in our insurance provider, and a lot of those firms also share patient information. Will IMS move toward transparency, or continue to keep patients in the dark about the paths of their own medical data?

 

Cynthia Murrell, July 22, 2016

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

There is a Louisville, Kentucky Hidden Web/Dark
Web meet up on July 26, 2016.
Information is at this link: http://bit.ly/29tVKpx.

Finding Information Takes a Backseat to Providing a Comprehensive User Experience

July 20, 2016

The article titled An Intranet Success Story on BA Insight asserts that search is less about finding information than it is about user experience. In the context of Intranet networks and search, the article discusses what makes for an effective search engine. Nationwide Insurance, for example, forged a strong, award-winning intranet which was detailed in the article,

“Their “Find Anything” locator, navigation search bar, and extended refiners are all great examples of the proven patterns we preach at BA Insight…The focus for SPOT was clear.  It’s expressed in three points: Simple consumer-like experience, One-stop shop for knowledge, Things to make our jobs easier… All three of these connect directly to search that actually works. The Nationwide project has generated clear, documented business results.”

The results include Engagement, Efficiency, and Cost Savings, in the form of $1.5M saved each year. What is most interesting about this article is the assumption that UX experience trumps search results, or at least, search results are merely one aspect of search, not the alpha and omega. Rather, providing an intuitive, user-friendly experience should be the target. For Nationwide, part of that targeting process included identifying user experience as a priority. SPOT, Nationwide’s social intranet, is built on Yammer and SharePoint, and it is still one of the few successful and engaging intranet platforms.

 

 
Chelsea Kerwin, July 20, 2016

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

There is a Louisville, Kentucky Hidden Web/Dark
Web meet up on July 26, 2016.
Information is at this link: http://bit.ly/29tVKpx.

Mouse Movements Are the New Fingerprints

May 6, 2016

A martial artist once told me that an individual’s fighting style, if defined enough, was like a set of fingerprints.  The same can be said for painting style, book preferences, and even Netflix selections, but what about something as anonymous as a computer mouse’s movement?  Here is a new scary thought from PC & Tech Authority: “Researcher Can Indentify Tor Users By Their Mouse Movements.”

Juan Carlos Norte is a researcher in Barcelona, Spain and he claims to have developed a series of fingerprinting methods using JavaScript that measures times, mouse wheel movements, speed movement, CPU benchmarks, and getClientRects.   Combining all of this data allowed Norte to identify Tor users based on how they used a computer mouse.

It seems far-fetched, especially when one considers how random this data is, but

“’Every user moves the mouse in a unique way,’ Norte told Vice’s Motherboard in an online chat. ‘If you can observe those movements in enough pages the user visits outside of Tor, you can create a unique fingerprint for that user,’ he said. Norte recommended users disable JavaScript to avoid being fingerprinted.  Security researcher Lukasz Olejnik told Motherboard he doubted Norte’s findings and said a threat actor would need much more information, such as acceleration, angle of curvature, curvature distance, and other data, to uniquely fingerprint a user.”

This is the age of big data, but looking Norte’s claim from a logical standpoint one needs to consider that not all computer mice are made the same, some use lasers, others prefer trackballs, and what about a laptop’s track pad?  As diverse as computer users are, there are similarities within the population and random mouse movement is not individualistic enough to ID a person.  Fear not Tor users, move and click away in peace.

 

Whitney Grace, May 6, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

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