Android Introduces in Apps Search

March 20, 2017

Android has announced a new search feature, this one specifically for documents and messages within your apps. With this feature, if you want to revisit that great idea you jotted down last Tuesday, you will (eventually) be able to search for it within Evernote using whatever keywords you can recall from your brilliant plan. The brief write-up at Ubergizmo, “Google Introduces ‘In Apps’ Search Feature to Android,” explains the new feature:

According to Google, ‘We use apps to call friends, send messages or listen to music. But sometimes, it’s hard to find exactly what you’re looking for. Today, we’re introducing a new way for you to search for information in your apps on your Android phone. With this new search mode, called In Apps, you can quickly find content from installed apps.

Basically by searching under the ‘In Apps’ tab in the search bar on your Android phone, instead of trying to search the web, it will search within your apps itself. This will be ideal if you’re trying to bring up a particular message, or if you have saved a document and you’re unsure if you saved it in Evernote, Google Drive, Dropbox, in your email, and so on.

So far, In Apps only works with Gmail, Spotify, and YouTube. However, Google plans to incorporate the feature into more apps, including Facebook Messenger, LinkedIn, Evernote, Glide, Todoist, and Google Keep. I expect we will eventually see the feature integrated into nearly every Android app.

Cynthia Murrell, March 20, 2017

When AI Spreads Propaganda

February 28, 2017

We thought Google was left-leaning, but an article at the Guardian, “How Google’s Search Algorithm Spreads False Information with a Rightwing Bias,” seems to contradict that assessment. The article cites recent research by the Observer, which found neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic views prominently featured in Google search results. The Guardian followed up with its own research and documented more examples of right-leaning misinformation, like climate-change denials, anti-LGBT tirades,  and Sandy Hook conspiracy theories. Reporters Olivia Solon and Sam Levin tell us:

The Guardian’s latest findings further suggest that Google’s searches are contributing to the problem. In the past, when a journalist or academic exposes one of these algorithmic hiccups, humans at Google quietly make manual adjustments in a process that’s neither transparent nor accountable.

At the same time, politically motivated third parties including the ‘alt-right’, a far-right movement in the US, use a variety of techniques to trick the algorithm and push propaganda and misinformation higher up Google’s search rankings.

These insidious manipulations – both by Google and by third parties trying to game the system – impact how users of the search engine perceive the world, even influencing the way they vote. This has led some researchers to study Google’s role in the presidential election in the same way that they have scrutinized Facebook.

Robert Epstein from the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology has spent four years trying to reverse engineer Google’s search algorithms. He believes, based on systematic research, that Google has the power to rig elections through something he calls the search engine manipulation effect (SEME).

Epstein conducted five experiments in two countries to find that biased rankings in search results can shift the opinions of undecided voters. If Google tweaks its algorithm to show more positive search results for a candidate, the searcher may form a more positive opinion of that candidate.

This does add a whole new, insidious dimension to propaganda. Did Orwell foresee algorithms? Further complicating the matter is the element of filter bubbles, through which many consume only information from homogenous sources, allowing no room for contrary facts. The article delves into how propagandists are gaming the system and describes Google’s response, so interested readers may wish to navigate there for more information.

One particular point gives me chills– Epstein states that research shows the vast majority of readers are not aware that bias exists within search rankings; they have no idea they are being manipulated. Perhaps those of us with some understanding of search algorithms can spread that insight to the rest of the multitude. It seems such education is sorely needed.

Cynthia Murrell, February 28, 2017

 

 

Companies As Countries: Facebook Plans for Its Social Nation State

February 26, 2017

I read some of the Facebook manifesto. About half way through the screed I thought I was back in a class I audited decades ago about alternative political structures. That class struck me as intellectual confection, a bit like science fiction in 1962. The Facebook manifesto shared some ingredients, but it is an altogether different recipe for a new type of political construct. Facebook, not Google, is the big dog of information control. Lots of folks will not be happy; for example, traditional “real” journalists who want to pull the info-yarn and knit their vision of the perfect muffler and other countries who want to manage their information flows.

I thought about my “here we go again” reaction when I read “Facebook Plans to Rewire Your Life. Be Afraid.” Sorry, I am not afraid. Maybe when I was a bit younger, but 74 years of “innovative” thinking have dulled my senses. The write up which is from the “real” journalism outfit Bloomberg is more sensitive than I am. If you are a Facebooker, you will be happy with the Zuck’s manifesto. If you are struggling to figure out what is going on with hundreds of millions of people checking their “friends” and their “likes,” you will want to read the “real news” about Facebook.

Spoiler: Facebook is a new type of country.

The write up “reports”:

Facebook — launched, in Zuckerberg’s own words five years ago, to “extend people’s capacity to build and maintain relationships” — is turning into something of an extraterritorial state run by a small, unelected government that relies extensively on privately held algorithms for social engineering.

Yep, the same “we can do it better” thinking has infused many other high technology companies. Some see the attitude as arrogance. I see the approach as an extension of a high school math team. No one in the high school cares that much about the boys and girls who do not struggle to understand calculus. Those in the math club know that the other kids in the school just don’t “get it.”

The thinking has created some nifty technology. There’s the GOOG. There’s Palantir. There’s Uber. No doubt these companies have found traction in a world which seems to lack shared cultural norms and nation states which seem to be like a cookie jar from which elected officials take handfuls of cash.

The write up points out:

As for the “rewired” information infrastructure, it has helped to chase people into ideological silos and feed them content that reinforces confirmation biases. Facebook actively created the silos by fine-tuning the algorithm that lies at its center — the one that forms a user’s news feed. The algorithm prioritizes what it shows a user based, in large measure, on how many times the user has recently interacted with the poster and on the number of “likes” and comments the post has garnered. In other words, it stresses the most emotionally engaging posts from the people to whom you are drawn — during an election campaign, a recipe for a filter bubble and, what’s more, for amplifying emotional rather than rational arguments.

The traditional real journalists are supposed to do this job. Well, that’s real news. The New York Times wants to be like Netflix. Sounds great. In practice, well, the NYT is a newspaper with some baggage and maybe not enough cash to buy a ticket to zip zip land.

The real news story makes an interesting assertion:

It’s absurd to expect humility from Silicon Valley heroes. But Zuckerberg should realize that by trying to shape how people use Facebook, he may be creating a monster. His company’s other services — Messenger and WhatsApp — merely allow users to communicate without any interference, and that simple function is the source of the least controversial examples in Zuckerberg’s manifesto. “In Kenya, whole villages are in WhatsApp groups together, including their representatives,” the Facebook CEO writes. Well, so are my kids’ school mates, and that’s great.

But great translates to “virtual identify suicide.”

The fix? Get those billion people to cancel their accounts. Yep, that will work in the country of Facebook. I am, however, not afraid. Of course, I don’t use Facebook, worry about likes, or keep in touch with those folks from that audited class.

From my point of view, Facebook and Google to a lesser extent have been chugging along for years. Now the railroad want to lay new track. Your farm in the way? Well, there is a solution. Build the track anyway.

Stephen E Arnold, February 26, 2017

Mobile App Usage on the Rise from 34% of Consumer Time in 2013 to 50% in 2016

February 24, 2017

Bad news, Google. The article titled Smartphone Apps Now Account for Half the Time Americans Spend Online on TechCrunch reveals that mobile applications are still on the rise. Throw in tablet apps and the total almost hits 60%. Google is already working to maintain relevancy with its In Apps feature for Androids, which searches inside apps themselves. The article explains,

This shift towards apps is exactly why Google has been working to integrate the “web of apps” into its search engine, and to make surfacing the information hidden in apps something its Google Search app is capable of handling.  Our app usage has grown not only because of the ubiquity of smartphones, but also other factors – like faster speeds provided by 4G LTE networks, and smartphones with larger screens that make sitting at a desktop less of a necessity.

What apps are taking up the most of our time? Just the ones you would expect, such as Facebook, Messenger, YouTube, and Google Maps. But Pokemon Go is the little app that could, edging out Snapchat and Pinterest in the ranking of the top 15 mobile apps. According to a report from Senor Tower, Pokemon Go has gone beyond 180 million daily downloads. The growth of consumer time spent on apps is expected to keep growing, but comScore reassuringly states that desktops will also remain a key part of consumer’s lives for many years to come.

Chelsea Kerwin, February 24, 2017

 

Google Loon Balloons: Still Aloft

February 23, 2017

I enjoy thinking about Google’s Loon balloons. Others are fascinated as well. For instance, the renowned journalistic outfit CBS News showed a happy face. Navigate to “Can Google’s Internet Beaming Balloons Beat the Wind?” The answer, I thought, is obvious, “Darn right.” The write up told me:

Engineers involved in the eccentric project, a part of the X Lab owned by Google’s corporate parent Alphabet Inc., say they have come up with algorithms that enable the high-flying balloons to do a better job anticipating shifting wind conditions so they hover above masses of land for several months instead of orbiting the earth.

The idea is that instead of being blown like a US government balloon from the DC area to Pennsylvania, the Loon balloon would circle an area. Smart software does the trick. The technology allows the Google to deploy fewer balloons to provide Internet access (and ads) to those parts of the world where water, not online connectivity, is a big deal.

The write up points out:

The Alphabet subsidiaries operating outside Google, a hodgepodge of far-flung projects, have lost a combined $7.1 billion during the past two years. In an acknowledgement of their lofty goals and risky nature, Alphabet CEO Larry Page calls them “moonshots.”

I noted that moon rhymes with loon.

The relative of Dr. Edward Teller allegedly said that the new approach plays “a game of chess with the wind.”

Anyone remember that old TV commercial, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature”? With some interesting weather manifesting itself here in good old rural Kentucky and near the Oroville Dam, Google believes it will look that Mother Nature in the eye and say, “Checkmate.” Weather is not match for the Googlers.

Oh, one question: What does Google do if those now enabled with Google Loon balloons spend most of their time on Facebook? Can Google knock out the Zuck?

Stephen E Arnold,  February 23. 2017

Fight Fake News with Science

February 1, 2017

With all the recent chatter around “fake news,” one researcher has decided to approach the problem scientifically. An article at Fortune reveals “What a Map of the Fake-News Ecosystem Says About the Problem.” Writer Mathew Ingram introduces us to data-journalism expert and professor Jonathan Albright, of Elon University, who has mapped the fake-news ecosystem. Facebook and Google are just unwitting distributors of faux facts; Albright wanted to examine the network of sites putting this stuff out there in the first place. See the article for a description of his methodology; Ingram summarizes the results:

More than anything, the impression one gets from looking at Albright’s network map is that there are some extremely powerful ‘nodes’ or hubs, that propel a lot of the traffic involving fake news. And it also shows an entire universe of sites that many people have probably never heard of. Two of the largest hubs Albright found were a site called Conservapedia—a kind of Wikipedia for the right wing—and another called Rense, both of which got huge amounts of incoming traffic. Other prominent destinations were sites like Breitbart News, DailyCaller and YouTube (the latter possibly as an attempt to monetize their traffic).

Albright said he specifically stayed away from trying to determine what or who is behind the rise of fake news. … He just wanted to try and get a handle on the scope of the problem, as well as a sense of how the various fake-news distribution or creation sites are inter-connected. Albright also wanted to do so with publicly-available data and open-source tools so others could build on it.

Albright also pointed out the folly of speculating on sources of fake news; such guesswork only “adds to the existing noise,” he noted. (Let’s hear it for common sense!) Ingram points out that, armed with Albright’s research, Google, Facebook, and other outlets may be better able to combat the problem.

Cynthia Murrell, February 1, 2017

Facebook and Google: The M Word Is Not Enough. The C Word Arises.

January 19, 2017

I believe everything I read on the Internet. I am so superficial. Perhaps I am the most superficial person living in rural Kentucky. The write up “The Google-Facebook Online Ad Cartel is the Biggest Competition Problem” seems to be the work of a person who specializes in future Internet competition. He has worked for presidents and written op eds for “real” journalistic outfits. I am convinced… almost.

The main point of the write up is that Facebook and Google operate as a cartel. I highlighted this statement:

Google commands ~90% market share of mobile search and search advertising. It protects those monopolies with an anti-competitive moat around Alphabet-Google by cross-subsidizing the global offering over 200 expensive-to-create, products and services for free, i.e. dramatically below Google’s total costs. Those many expensive subsidized products and services make Google’s moat competitively impregnable, because no competitor could afford to recreate them without a highly profitable online ad business, and the Goobook ad cartel forecloses that very competitive possibility.

The statement echoes Chaos Monkeys, the tell all about the high flying world of Silicon Valley.

I also noted:

In early 2013, Facebook launched its alternative to Google search, called “Facebook Graph Search” in partnership with Microsoft’s Bing search engine. Then in 2014, Google and Facebook obviously, abruptly, and relatively quietly, chose to no longer directly compete with one another. In the first half of 2014, Google reversed course in social, defunding Google+, ending its forced integration, and announcing the shutdown of Orkut, Google’s 300 million user social network. In the second half of 2014, Facebook quietly dropped its Facebook Graph Search alternative to Google search and its search partnership with Microsoft’s Bing.

One consequence is:

Goobook’s customers – advertisers — pay higher ad prices and have less cohesive and effective ad campaigns under the Goobook ad cartel than they would have if Google and Facebook continued to compete. No material competition to keep them honest, also means Google and Facebook can avoid third party accountability for the core advertising activity metrics that they use to charge for their ad services.

The net net is that US laws and policies:

favors free-content models over paid content models, ultimately produces monopolies and monopolies colluding in cartel behaviors that are hostile to property rights. Monopsonies [sic] de facto forcing property owners to offer their property for sale at a wholesale price at zero, is anti-competitive and predatory. Free is not a price, it’s a subsidy or a loss.

No monopoly word. The cartel word is the moniker for these two esteemed outfits grouped under the neologism “Goobook.” WWTD? Oh, that means “What will Trump do?” Perhaps the Trump White House will retain the author as a policy adviser for cartels?

Stephen E Arnold, January 19, 2017

The Government Has a Sock Puppet Theater

January 13, 2017

Law enforcement officials use fake social media accounts and online profiles to engage with criminals.  Their goal is to deter crime, possibly even catching criminals in the act for a rock solid case.  While this happened way back in 2011, the comments are still coming.  In light of the recent presidential election and the violent acts of the past year, it is no wonder the comments are still fresh.  Tech Dirt talked about how the, “US Military Kicks Off Plan To Fill Social Networks With Fake Sock Puppet Accounts.”

The goal was for a company to develop a software that would allow one person to create and manage various social media profiles (including more than one profile on the same platform).  These accounts will then, and we are speculating on this given how dummy accounts have been used in the past, to catch criminals.  The article highlights how the government would use the sock puppet accounts:

Apparently a company called Ntrepid has scored the contract and the US military is getting ready to roll out these “sock puppet” online personas. Of course, it insists that all of this is targeting foreign individuals, not anyone in the US. And they promise it’s not even going to be used on US-based social networks like Facebook or Twitter, but does anyone actually believe that’s true?

Then the comments roll in a conversation that a span of five years the commentators argue about what it means to be American, reaffirming that the US government spies on its citizens, and making fun of sock puppets.

Whitney Grace, January 13, 2017

Yahoo Takes on ISIS, in Its Way

January 9, 2017

The article on VentureBeat titled Yahoo Takes Steps to Remove Content Posted From ISIS and Other Terrorist Groups remarks on the recent changes Yahoo made to its community guidelines. The updated guidelines now specify that any content or accounts involved with terrorist organizations, even those that “celebrate” violence connected to terrorist activity are up for deletion or deactivation. The article speaks to the relevance of these new guidelines that follow hard upon the heels of Orlando and San Bernardino,

Twitter has responded as well, “suspending over 125,000 accounts” related to terrorism. Messaging app Telegram has also blocked 78 channels that engaged in ISIS-related activity. Kathleen Lefstad, Yahoo’s policy manager for trust and safety, wrote that this new category is in addition to other types of content that are flagged, including hate speech, bullying or harassment, and sharing adult or sexualized content of someone without their consent.

ISIS has grown infamous for its social media presence and ability to draw foreign supporters through social media platforms. Yahoo’s crackdown is a welcome sign of awareness that these platforms must take some responsibility for how their services are being abused. Priorities, folks. If Facebook’s machine learning content security can remove any sign of a woman’s nipple within 24 hours, shouldn’t content that endorses terrorism be deleted in half the time?

Chelsea Kerwin, January 9, 2017

Infomania, the FOMO Struggles of Millennials

January 9, 2017

The article titled Drowning In a Sea of Information on Clayton d’Arnaut’s online magazine Digital Culturist questions the effect of unlimited information on the audience that can’t seem to stop looking for more. Like bears preparing for hibernation, we seek out connections, news, memes, ideas, and opinions. Perhaps we believe that if we “know” enough, we can never die. But what does it mean if all the information we search on Google, we take in, but then almost immediately discard? Decreased attention spans, concentration, chronic distraction, creativity, these are just a few of the symptoms of our maniacal dependence on information. The article concludes,

A few months ago I took part in Infomagical, an experiment hosted by the WNYC podcast Note to Self. The purpose of this experiment is “to turn all of your information portals into overload-fighting machines.” It worked. After a full week of information consumption challenges and monitoring my progression, I felt clear, focused, organized, and more creative. I felt like someone took my brain and wrung it out like a wet sponge?—?refreshed and ready to tackle the next thing.

This sort of cleanse might be difficult, but it might be necessary to prevent us from losing our minds, literally and figuratively, if d’Arnault is to be believed. I have, on occasion, closed a tab open to Facebook only to be confronted with another tab open to Facebook. Did I close that one immediately or check the second tab? An Infomanic never consumes and tells.

Chelsea Kerwin, January 9, 2017

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