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Mobile Data May Help Fight Disease

September 14, 2016

Data from smartphones and other mobile devices may give us a new tool in the fight against communicable diseases.  Pen State News reports, “Walking and Talking Behaviors May Help Predict Epidemics and Trends.” A recent study, completed by an impressive roster of academics at several institutions, reveals a strong connection between our movements and our communications. So strong, in fact, that a dataset on one can pretty accurately predict the other. The article cites one participant, researcher Dashun Wang of Penn State:

[Wang] added that because movement and communication are connected, researchers may only need one type of data to make predictions about the other phenomenon. For instance, communication data could reveal information about how people move. …

The equation could better forecast, among other things, how a virus might spread, according to the researchers, who report their findings today (June 6) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In the study, they tested the equation on a simulated epidemic and found that either location or communication datasets could be used to reliably predict the movement of the disease.

Perhaps not as dramatic but still useful, the same process could be used to predict the spread of trends and ideas. The research was performed on three databases full of messages from users in Portugal and another (mysteriously unidentified) country and on four years of Rwandan mobile-phone data. These data sets document who contacted whom, when, and where.

Containing epidemics is a vital cause, and the potential to boost its success is worth celebrating. However, let us take note of who is funding this study: The U.S. Army Research Laboratory, the Office of Naval Research, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and the James S. McDonnell Foundation’s program, Studying Complex Systems. Note the first three organizations in the list; it will be interesting to learn what other capabilities derive from this research (once they are unclassified, of course).

Cynthia Murrell, September 14, 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/

Verizon Strategizes to Get Paid for Installing Big Brand Apps That You Will Probably Never Open

September 5, 2016

The article titled Verizon Offered to Install Marketers’ Apps Directly on Subscribers’ Phones on AdAge discusses the next phase in Verizon’s marketing strategy, a seeming inheritance of product placement: automatic installations for big brands onto your phone. Next time you notice an app that you didn’t download on your phone, look no further. Verizon has been in talks with both retail and finance brands about charging between $1 and $2 per device, which sounds small until you multiply it by 75 million Verizon smartphone subscribers. The article discusses some of the potential drawbacks.

Verizon has stoked some user frustration in the past with “bloatware,” as have many carriers and phone manufacturers. Bloatware comprises the often irrelevant apps that arrive pre-installed on phones, though they’re less often major brands’ apps and more often small, proprietary services from the carriers and manufacturers…There is no guarantee, however, that Verizon subscribers open the apps they find pre-installed on their phones. “If a user is not interested, they just delete it without activating.

Sara Choi, COO of AirFox, is quoted in the article making a great point about the importance to carriers to innovate new strategies for profit growth. Ultimately, the best use for this marketing technique is a huge number of immediate downloads. How to engage users once you have gotten into their phones is the next question. If this goes through, there will be no need to search to get an ad, which could mean bad news for online ad search.

Chelsea Kerwin, September 5, 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/

Google vs. Europe Becomes Three-Front War

September 2, 2016

The article titled European Commission Files Third Antitrust Charge Against Google on The Guardian discusses the most recent accusation against Google by the European Commission. This time, they took aim at AdSense advertising. The antitrust commissioner Margrethe Vestager announced that Google is preventing the visibility of competitors and favoring its own shopping service as well. The article states,

The EU regulator accuses Alphabet’s Google of abusing its dominance in search to benefit its own advertising business, which has historically been the company’s main revenue stream. The EC also reinforced its existing charge against Google’s shopping service…The EU’s concerns around Google’s adverts relate to the company’s AdSense for Search platform, in which Google acts as an intermediary for websites such as those of online retailers, telecoms operators or newspapers, with searches producing results that include search ads.

Alphabet’s Google has been given 10 weeks to answer the commission’s statement of objections. If the company is found guilty, its fines will consist of up to 10% of its global turnover. While Google works on its response to the charges, another investigation by the EU continues. The latter involves Google’s preferential treatment of its own products such as Google Chrome through its Android system.

Chelsea Kerwin, September 2, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

These Emojis Are Logical

August 9, 2016

Emojis are a secondary language for many people, especially the younger sect, and whole messages can be conveyed within a few images.  Someone needs to write an algorithm to translate emoji only messages, but machine learning has not yet reached the point where it can understand all the intricacies associated with emojis.  Or has it?  TechCrunch shares that “Dango Mind-Melds With Emoji Using Deeping Learning And Suggests Them While They Type.”

Dango is an emoji suggestion chatbot.  Unlike the Microsoft chatbot that became anti-Semitic and misogynist in a matter of hour, Dango just wants to give you emoji suggestions to pep up your messages:

“Okay, so Dango is one of those virtual assistants that lives in your chat apps, and this one is based on a neural network that has been trained with millions of examples to understand what emoji mean. So not only can it suggest an appropriate one, but it can translate entire sentences. Its icon is a weird piece of cute cake, which sits above your keyboard watching you type. It’s free for Android right now, with an iOS version coming out eventually.”

Aww, it’s a little cake icon that sits above your keyboard.  Is it not tempting already to download it make Dango your friend?  The cute factor comes after the deep machine learning took place.

The Dango programmers used a recurrent neural network to teach Dango how to decipher the meaning of emoji.  It would guess, then check against real world examples, then adjust its parameters when it was wrong.  The guesses were assembled in a “semantic space” that relates the emojis to concepts (check the article for the visualization).

Dango is constantly updating itself to be on top of the latest slang and memes, including the negative aspects of the language.  Dango is still learning, especially when it comes to translating entire sentences to pictures.  Before you say that the written language cannot be replicated in little images, it was done eons ago by Egyptians, Sumerians, Phoenicians, and still by the Chinese, Japanese, and other Asian cultures.

 

 

Whitney Grace, August 9, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

There is a Louisville, Kentucky Hidden /Dark Web meet up on August 23, 2016.
Information is at this link: https://www.meetup.com/Louisville-Hidden-Dark-Web-Meetup/events/233019199/

Amazon: Not the Corner Store? Big Insight

July 21, 2016

I love Amazon almost as much as I love Google. I would have a tough time deciding which of these services warrants more of my affection, trust, and respect. I said to myself “Bummer” when I read “Amazon’s Dominance Is Bad for Your Business.” I recently ordered a paperback from Amazon and noticed that the 150 page monograph was a $1,000, not $10. Anyone could have clicked the incorrect link between the correctly priced volume and the used discounted books. Amazon respected my klutziness, and I think I got my money back after I sent the $1000 paperback back to the outstanding merchant. This firm obviously valued its paperback more highly than the half dozen vendors selling the same paperback for $10. What more could one want? (One of my goslings asked me, “Why does Amazon list certain products at vastly inflated prices? I don’t know. I love Amazon. Love is blind.)

The write up includes a quote allegedly generated by the world’s smartest person, Jeff Bezos; to wit:

“…Amazon should approach these small publishers the way a cheetah would pursue a sickly gazelle.”

I like that. Google’s meat eating dinosaur is, after all, dead unless the team solving death brings T Rex back to life. A cheetah is a here and now creature able to snag small, sickly, or inept prey with a batting average a major league player would covet.

The write up also states:

Amazon has done a very good job with search and discovery on mobile,” BloomReach marketing chief Joelle Kaufman said. “They are capturing the lion’s share of mobile revenue. Consumers said they start on a cellphone and they use it as a research tool. But 81 percent want to buy on that laptop/desktop.”

Google, it seems, is an also ran in the shopping search sector. But what about Amazon’s competitors and merchants who do not want to sell their products via Amazon?

The answer is, according to the write up:

There are still a plethora of avenues to make sales through, and portals to gain consumer attention. Despite Amazon’s utter dominance in the U.S. e-retail market, you can still grow your business, and become highly successful along the way. Just remember the importance of content, social media, and a great attitude. If David had submitted to Goliath’s size before the battle had begun, he never would have realized his own strength and capabilities.

This sounds like Google Adwords, Snapchat, and YouTube videos to me? Those work really well for mom and pop merchants (at least for the small number remaining in the good, old USA), small businesses, and unfunded start ups.

Is what’s good for Amazon good for us or was it “What’s good for General Motors is good for the USA”? When will Amazon address the shortcomings I find in Amazon search? Maybe never. If it is not broken, why try to fix it. That’s why suggested prices are irrelevant in the Amazon jungle.

Stephen E Arnold, July 21, 2016

Stepes: Human Translation at Your Fingertips

June 24, 2016

Though today’s machine translation is a convenient way to quickly get the gist of a foreign-language passage, it has its limitations; professionals still turn to human translation services when it counts. A new platform, Stepes Translate, can bridge the gap (at least until algorithms catch up). Its chat-based format makes it as convenient as machine translation, but there is an actual, multi-lingual human at the other end. BusinessWire reports, “Stepes Extends Google Translate Model to Live Human Translation.” The press release explains:

“Stepes Translate uses the familiar side by side interface of machine translation platforms like Google Translate. Anyone requesting translation simply enters their text into the source field. Next, Stepes immediately identifies an appropriate translator from its network of more than 60,000 in-country translators through mobile notification. The translator begins to translate immediately on his/her smartphone while the requesting user can see their progress live. For most requests, the translation is completed within minutes and appears in the target field for the requesting user to see. … Whereas traditional translation software is overly technical and thus not easily accessible to many translators, Stepes’ mobile technology makes translation tools intuitive.”

Stepes can translate more than 100 languages, and offers a 3-tiered pricing based on quality. If you don’t mind a few awkward passages and humorous phrasings, there is the Basic, 10-cents/word plan. If you need to make a good impression, or the document has legal implications, you’ll want to spring for the Premium, 16-cents/word option.

A project of localization firm CSOFT, Stepes Translate is also known as the Social Translation Experiment Project and Eco System. The acronym is also a nod to the European steppes, the region from which sprung hundreds of the world’s major languages. Headquartered in Beijing, CSOFT (or Communications Solutions Of Foreign Trade) was established in 2003. The company attributes their global success to a strong emphasis on customer service.

Cynthia Murrell, June 24, 2016

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

Bzzz. Bzzz, Hello, Ms. Android, It Is Time to Wake Up.

June 20, 2016

Here in rural Kentucky, I thought the Alphabet Google thing had no chinks in its digital armor. Search. Bingo. Loon balloons. Bingo. YouTube videos of cats. Bingo, bingo.

Then I read an allegedly accurate write up called “Huawei Hedges Bet on Google’s Android, Plans In-House OS.” The subtitle hinted as a fork, not a benign open source fork, but a rootin’, tootin’ go-our-own-way change of direction:

Like Samsung before it, Huawei hopes to have a “Plan B” should Android terms go bad.

China has a way of keeping some people alert. There is the communications dust up with Taiwan. There is the island in the sea thing. Then there is the Apple hassle. The middle kingdom seems to be front and center is food fairs too.

The write up reported:

To spearhead the development of an in-house operating system—and improve its Android skin—Huawei has hired former Apple designer Abigail Brody. The report says that the non-Android OS “isn’t far along” and is a “contingency measure” in case Google’s current Android terms become undesirable to Huawei.

Huawei is the number three smartphone OEM, behind Samsung and Apple. The Chinese company isn’t a huge deal in the West, though—a big portion of those sales come from Huawei’s home turf. Huawei is often seen as being in a position similar to Samsung’s, just at an earlier stage of development. Like Samsung, Huawei is a massive company. It’s the world’s largest telecom equipment manufacturer, and it designs its own SoCs. Now Huawei is taking another page from the Samsung playbook and is trying to develop an Android alternative.

The Alphabet Google thing now has to worry about another outfit nosing into the phone operating system business.

My thought is that South Korea is a bit more business friendly to the US than its neighbors to the north.

I am hoping the Alphabet Google thing does not suffer a challenge to its hegemony. After all, what’s the big deal when a US company suggests to a foreign government that it changes its ways. Look at the big picture, not a mere detail.

Stephen E Arnold, June 29, 2016

Google Changes Its Algorithm Again

May 26, 2016

As soon as we think we have figured out how to get our content to the top of Google’s search rankings, the search engine goes and changes its algorithms.  The Digital Journal offers some insight into “Op-Ed: How Will The Google 2016 Algorithm Change Affect Our Content?”

In early 2016, Google announced they were going to update their Truth Algorithm and it carries on many of the aspects they have been trying to push.  Quality content over quantity is still very important.  Keyword heavy content is negated in favor of pushing Web sites that offer relevant, in-depth content and that better answer a user’s intent.

SEO changes took a dramatic turn with a Penguin uploaded and changes in the core algorithm.  The biggest game changer is with mobile technologies:

“The rapid advancement of mobile technologies is deeply affecting the entire web scenario. Software developers are shifting towards the development of new apps and mobile websites, which clearly represent the future of information technology. Even the content for mobile websites and apps is now different, and Google had to account for that with the new ranking system changes. The average mobile user is very task oriented and checks his phones just to quickly accomplish a specific task, like finding a nearby café or cinema. Mobile-oriented content must be much shorter and concise than web-oriented one. The average web surfer wants to know, learn and explore things in a much more relaxed setting.”

Google wants to clear its search results of what is known as unviable information and offer users a better quality search experience for both their mobile devices and standard desk computers.  Good to know that someone wants to deliver a decent product.

 

Whitney Grace, May 26, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

Half of Online News Produced by Just Ten Publishers

May 19, 2016

The wide-open Internet was supposed to be a counterweight to the consolidation of news media into fewer and fewer hands. Now, though, PublishersDaily reports that “10 Publishers Account for Half of All Online News.” The article cites a recent study from SimilarWeb, which examined 2015’s top online news publishers, on both mobile and desktop platforms. Writer Erik Sass summarizes:

“Overall, the top 10 publishers — together owning around 60 news sites — account for 47% of total online traffic to news content last year, with the next-biggest 140 publishers accounting for most of the other half, SimilarWeb found.

“The biggest online news publisher for the U.S. audience was MSN, owner of MSN.com, with just over 27 billion combined page views across mobile and desktop, followed by Disney Media Networks, owner of ESPN and ABC News, with 25.9 billion.

“Time Warner, owner of CNN and Bleacher Report, had 14.8 billion, followed by Yahoo with 10.3 billion, and Time, Inc. with 10.2 billion.

“A bit further down the totem poll were CBS Corp., owner of Cnet.com, with 9.9 billion combined page views; NBC Universal, with 9.5 billion; Matt Drudge, with 8.5 billion; Advance Publications, with 8 billion; and Fox Entertainment Group, owner of Fox News, with 7.9 billion.”

Sass goes on to cover page views for specific publications and outlines which outfits are leading in mobile. Interestingly, it seems smaller publishers are doing especially well on mobile platforms. See the write-up for more details.

 

Cynthia Murrell, May 19, 2016

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

 

Parts Unknown of Dark Web Revealed in Study

May 13, 2016

While the parts unknown of the internet is said to be populated by terrorists’ outreach and propaganda, research shows a different picture. Quartz reports on this in the article, The dark web is too slow and annoying for terrorists to even bother with, experts say. The research mentioned comes from Thomas Rid and Daniel Moore of the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. They found 140 extremist Tor hidden services; inaccessible or inactive services topped the list with 2,482 followed by 1,021 non-illicit services. As far as illicit services, those related to drugs far outnumbered extremism with 423. The write-up offers a few explanations for the lack of terrorists publishing on the Dark Web,

“So why aren’t jihadis taking advantage of running dark web sites? Rid and Moore don’t know for sure, but they guess that it’s for the same reason so few other people publish information on the dark web: It’s just too fiddly. “Hidden services are sometimes slow, and not as stable as you might hope. So ease of use is not as great as it could be. There are better alternatives,” Rid told Quartz. As a communications platform, a site on the dark web doesn’t do what jihadis need it to do very well. It won’t reach many new people compared to “curious Googling,” as the authors point out, limiting its utility as a propaganda tool. It’s not very good for internal communications either, because it’s slow and requires installing additional software to work on a mobile phone.”

This article provides fascinating research and interesting conclusions. However, we must add unreliable and insecure to the descriptors for why the Dark Web may not be suitable for such uses.

 

Megan Feil, May 13, 2016

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

 

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