Online Ad Fraud! Who Knew?

October 24, 2018

I read “Apps Installed On Millions Of Android Phones Tracked User Behavior To Execute A Multimillion-Dollar Ad Fraud Scheme.” Goodness, first my faith in Facebook’s data about video ad performance was eroded a tiny bit. Now there are allegations about Android app ad fraud. The write up uses the word “cabal.”

The online advertising business, in my opinion, has been a bastion of integrity. Sure, there were baseless assertions about robot clickers which depleted a competitor’s online ad checkbook. There were squishy numbers about the number of human eyeballs versus crawler clicks. And there were ads for interesting products and services which online ad vendors suggested were real, true blue commercial messages.

Yes, integrity. Online advertising. Bound at the hip.

But there is this write up in Buzzfeed which states:

But an investigation by BuzzFeed News reveals that these seemingly separate apps and companies are today part of a massive, sophisticated digital advertising fraud scheme involving more than 125 Android apps and websites connected to a network of front and shell companies in Cyprus, Malta, British Virgin Islands, Croatia, Bulgaria, and elsewhere. More than a dozen of the affected apps are targeted at kids or teens, and a person involved in the scheme estimates it has stolen hundreds of millions of dollars from brands whose ads were shown to bots instead of actual humans.

I know that it takes smart filters to verify apps in crime free locations like Cyprus, Malta, and Bulgaria. And the British Virgin Islands? Unthinkable.

But the article presents some data which suggest that a modest amount of money is in play; to wit:

App metrics firm AppsFlyer estimated that between $700 million and $800 million was stolen from mobile apps alone in the first quarter of this year, a 30% increase over the previous year. Pixalate’s latest analysis of in-app fraud found that 23% of all ad impressions in mobile apps are in some way fraudulent. Overall, Juniper Research estimates $19 billion will be stolen this year by digital ad fraudsters, but others believe the actual figure could be three times that.

Google, of course, was quick to take action. Google cares.

I am disappointed that this infinitesimal aberrations in an integrity filled business have been reported as “true” fact.

More data are needed, please. I know that Facebook and Google can explain this misguided assertion.

My goodness, manipulation of online advertising. Shocking. Shocking.

Stephen E Arnold, October 24, 2018

IBM: Watson, What Happened?

October 18, 2018

I read “IBM Surprises Investors with Quarterly Revenue Decline.” The write up states:

The company broke its three-quarter string of revenue growth with a 2 percent drop in total revenue to $18.76 billion, down from $19.15 billion a year ago.

The article pointed out:

Most notably, Cognitive Solutions revenues fell 5 percent, to $4.15 billion, against analyst estimates of $4.3 billion. That division, which includes IBM’s analytics business as well as the Watson cognitive computing platform, was pulled down by weakness in some horizontal categories such as collaboration, commerce and talent management.

Watson, what happened?

But IBM pointed out that it is starting to see “green shoots.” I think this means that growth is evident in some sectors.

IBM is a consulting company which still sells mainframes. Enough said.

Stephen E Arnold, October 18, 2018

Omnity Search: Adjusting Fast and Slow

October 14, 2018

Beyond Search maintains a file about the Omnity search system. We noted that a new white paper became available in April 2018. If you want a copy of the 42 page document, you can download a free copy at this url.

The white paper is interesting because it suggests that the current methods of finding information are “inherently biased.” Omnity’s indexing is different; for example:

Omnity has developed a semantic signature technology that impartially and mathematically articulates the deep structure of a document, and self-assembles by inter-connecting to other documents with similar structure.

Omnity may be the first search and retrieval syst4em to embrace blockchain technology, but we are not 100 percent certain. Frankly we don’t pay much attention to distributed databases because the technology is another spin down database lane and the next big thing mall.

The document contains some interesting diagrams. Some of these remind us of sense making systems for law enforcement and intelligence professionals. The company positions itself against Palantir and Quid as well as Bloomberg and Lexis Nexis. Surprisingly Linguamatics is a “leader” like Omnity.

What is fascinating is that Omnity seems to be embracing the digital currency approach to raising funds. One of the firm’s advisors is the really famous Danny Kahneman.

My recollection is that Omnity was going to knock Google search off its mountain top. Then Omnity shifted to a commercial model like the old Dialog Information Services. Now it is blending findability with blockchain and crypto currency.

More information about the company is at Get the white papers. Check out the diagrams. One question is, “Should Palantir and Quid be looking over their individual and quite broad shoulders?”

Omnity’s approach is a good example of search vendors repositioning fast and slow.

Stephen E Arnold, October 15, 2018

COBOL Cowboys. Where Are the Cowgirls? Where Is the Trail Boss?

October 4, 2018

I love ThomsonReuters. Every once in a while, its real journalists craft a gem. I submit that “Banks Scramble to Fix Old Systems as IT Cowboys Ride into Sunset.” I will not point out that eliminating the “the” before “sunset” is a quite trendy touch.

The point of the write up is that when a bank hires an individual to work on systems, that engineer may love python, tolerate C, and maybe invite Java in for coffee once a month or so.

The write up reports that a banker allegedly said:

It [dealing with COBOL based systems] is immensely complex which sells new IT infrastructure to banks. “Legacy systems from different generations are layered and often heavily intertwined.

No kidding. Who knew? I recall the Year 2000 hysteria which sparked a bit of interest in COBOL. My memory may be fading. Perhaps that money gusher for COBOL professionals was an illusion.

A couple of observations:

First, COBOL has been around for 60 years. Innovations and alternatives have been around for decades. The failure of major institutions to invest in infrastructure is one reason why Amazon could provide a solution. There’s more money in banking than there is in selling eBooks, by the way.

Second, the notion of programmers as cowboys strikes me as odd when the #MeToo movement and its assorted fireworks are in evidence. A modest nod to non male COBOL wizards seems to be an odd omission. I saw the word cowboys and I wondered if the folks running this outfit should be asked to create a more appropriate name; for example, Gender Neutral COBOL Remediation or GNCR. I like it. Perhaps a Twitter storm will erupt.

Third, years ago I assumed Boards of Directors were supposed to provide inputs and help senior management figure out what to do with computers, software, and other business decisions. Have the Boards of Directors remained unaware of technological advances for more than half a century? That’s a question to which the answer seems to be, “Yes.” I am assuming that the TR write up is on the money.

Finally, what’s up with bank regulatory entities? It seems to me that somewhere along the regulatory chain the question, “What should be the minimum for bank technology enhancements?” I wonder if IBM has played a small role in keeping those mainframes humming? No, IBM would not make it difficult (technically or financially) to get free from the mainframe grasp. I assume I could ask Watson, but maybe not.

To sum up, ThomsonReuters’ article is a gem. I wonder if ThomsonReuters is running obsolete computer and network infrastructure hardware? Are these some DEC 20s lurking in Boston? Are banks able to search their documents in a reliable, satisfactory way? Why have the trail bosses lost the cattle?

Yikes, too many questions.

Stephen E Arnold, October 4, 2018

Financial Tremors?

September 12, 2018

The folks with crypto currency may be having a bit of a thrill. The volatility suggests that bits and bytes may not be as stable as owning a chunk of real estate in Tokyo.

We have also noted rumblings elsewhere. Smart software, for example. Many hopes, of course, but there may be some downstream consequences. Salmon finding life difficult may be one metaphor.

It has become a weekly, maybe even daily, routine: some alarmist talks about the dangers of AI on a particular industry, we get scared, the news cycle moves on, and everyone forgets. However, a warning is lurking that has the potential to have some staying power. We learned more from a recent Technology Review story, “The World Economic Forum Warns That AI Might Destabilize The Financial System.”

We learned:

[A]rtificial intelligence will disrupt the industry by allowing early adopters to outmaneuver competitors. It also suggests that the technology will create more convenient products for consumers, such as sophisticated tools for managing personal finances and investments.

We also noted:

But most notably, the report points to the potential for big financial institutions to build machine-learning-based services that live in the cloud and are accessed by other institutions.

This is a very volatile situation, especially as so much finance is starting to hinge on machine learning. For example, many retirement plans are shifting funds around based on AI insights. But take hope for what it is. Quantum computing may be just around the corner.

Patrick Roland, September 13, 2018

IBM Embraces Blockchain for Banking: Is Amazon in the Game Too?

September 9, 2018

IBM recently announced the creation of LedgerConnect, a Blockchain powered banking service. This is an interesting move for a company that previously seemed to waver on whether it wanted to associate with this technology most famous for its links to cryptocurrency. However, the pairing actually makes sense, as we discovered in a recent IT Pro Portal story, “IBM Reveals Support Blockchain App Store.”

According to an IBM official:

“On LedgerConnect financial institutions will be able to access services in areas such as, but not limited to, know your customer processes, sanctions screening, collateral management, derivatives post-trade processing and reconciliation and market data. By hosting these services on a single, enterprise-grade network, organizations can focus on business objectives rather than application development, enabling them to realize operational efficiencies and cost savings across asset classes.”

This, in addition, to recent news that some of the biggest banks on the planet are already using Blockchain for a variety of needs. This includes the story that the Agricultural Bank of China has started issuing large loans using the technology. In fact, out of the 26 publicly owned banks in China, nearly half are using Blockchain. IBM looks pretty conservative when you think of it like that, which is just where IBM likes to be.

Amazon supporst Ethereum, HyperLedger, and a host of other financial functions. For how long? Years.

Patrick Roland, September 9, 2018

Wake Up Time: IBM Watson and Real Journalists

August 11, 2018

I read “IBM Has a Watson Dilemma.” I am not sure the word “dilemma” embraces the mindless hyperbole about Vivisimo, home brew code, and open source search technology. The WSJ ran the Watson ads which presented this Lego collection of code parts one with a happy face. You can check out the Watson Dilemma in your dead tree edition of the WSJ on page B1 or pay for online access to the story at

The needle point of the story is that IBM Watson’s push to cure cancer ran into the mushy wall composed of cancerous cells. In short, the system did not deliver. In fact, the system created some exciting moments for those trying to handcraft rules to make Dr. Watson work like the TV show and its post production procedures. Why not put patients in jeopardy? That sounds like a great idea. Put experts in a room, write rules, gather training data, and keep it update. No problem, or so the received wisdom chants.

The WSJ reports in a “real” news way:

…Watson’s recommendations can be wrong.

Yep, hitting 85 percent accuracy may be wide of the mark for some cognitive applications.

From a practical standpoint, numerical recipes can perform some tasks to spin money. Google ads work this magic without too much human fiddling. (No, I won’t say how much is “too much.”)

But IBM believed librarians, uninformed consultants who get their expertise via a Gerson Lehrman phone session, and from search engine optimization wizards. IBM management did not look at what search centric systems can deliver in terms of revenue.

Over the last 10 years, I have pointed out case examples of spectacular search flops. Yet somehow IBM was going to be different.

Sorry, search is more difficult to convert to sustainable revenues than many people believe. I wonder if those firms which have pumped significant dollars into the next best things in information access look at the Watson case and ask themselves, “Do you think we will get our money back?”

My hunch is that the answer is, “No.”

For me, I will stick to humanoid doctors. Asking Watson for advice is not something I want to do.

But if you have cancer, why not give IBM Watson a whirl. Let me know how that works out.

Stephen E Arnold, August 11, 2018

Tech Is Not Elite

July 7, 2018

The top one percent is a silly notion. Tech is not elite. Only some technologists are elite. Proof you ask. Navigate to “Mark Zuckerberg Tops Warren Buffett to Become the World’s Third-Richest Person.” The write up points out:

Zuckerberg, who trails only Inc. founder Jeff Bezos and Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates, eclipsed Buffett Friday as Facebook shares climbed 2.4 percent, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Generalizations are not necessarily accurate.

Stephen E Arnold, July 7 2018

Amazon and Google: Two Different Investment Angles

July 1, 2018

I read “Alphabet Joins $300m Funding Round for Electric Scooter Start-Up.” (You may have to pay to read this because the outfit that thought Endeca was the next big thing in search charges for scooter stories.) I thought about Segways, the allegedly revolutionary personal transportation scooter. Lessons may be needed even though there once was a Segway polo league. Practical and no horsey duties after a match.

I assume that Alphabet Google sees smaller scooters as the next big thing. Is this a strategic investment, a tactical play, or just a nifty idea warranting Google bucks?

I thought about Amazon’s investment in PillPack. You can get some of the business information at this link.

Somewhere in Twitterland, an ink stained wretch may come up with the title for a post called “A Tale of Two Investments.” I would flip to the end of the write up to answer the question:

Which company is making a more strategic play?

From my vantage point in Harrod’s Creek, these two deals illustrate a difference between the GOOG and the Bezos buck machine. Younger people dig scooters. Scooters are fun.

Filling prescriptions and then following the orders of a real live doctor is another. Plus, some ageing American is into prescriptions. Boomers are a here and now market. I for one dislike going to the pharmacy, giving codes, showing IDs, and answering questions to get whatever my cardiologist thinks is good for me.

I assume that if a millennial falls off a scooter or is hit by an autonomous vehicle, that click to buy outfit will be ready to respond. Google will let the Lime rider snag another scooter when he or she is once again ready to move from Point A to Point B as long as it is not raining, snowing, too far, requires a jaunt on an expressway, or a short cut through a field.

Stephen E Arnold, July 1, 2018

Real of Fake News: Did the NSA Help Develop Bitcoin?

June 15, 2018

Here in Harrod’s Creek, one can buy corn meal and squirrel meat using the barter method. Put that quart jar of moonshine on the counter and pick up your vittles. No digital currency here.

Therefore, the assertion in “The NSA Helped to Invent Bitcoin, Founder of World’s Second Largest Cryptocurrency Ethereum Claims” puzzles the Beyond Search and DarkCyber research team. The source is impeccable: The UK tabloid Metro.

We learned:

Vitalik Buterin, the Russian-born creator of Ethereum, suggested the National Security Agency (NSA) was involved in the development of the virtual currency.

With Amazon on the Ethereum bandwagon, we think that currency and transaction platform is worth monitoring.

But did a US government agency create Bitcoin? Metro reports:

Earlier this year, it was reported that a boss of the Russian cybersecurity firm Kaspersky made a similar claim. ‘Bitcoin is a project of American intelligence agencies, which was designed to provide quick funding for US, British and Canadian intelligence activities in different countries,’ she said, according to Sputnik News. ‘[The technology] is privatized just like the Internet, GPS and TOR. In fact, it is dollar 2.0. Its rate is controlled by the owners of exchanges.’

We’ll stick to old fashioned currencies and the staple one of our contract workers manufactures in another hollow. White lightning can change one’s perception of reality. A reporter, for example, hot on the trail of Satoshi Nakamoto might have taken a slurp.

Stephen E Arnold, June 15, 2018

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