Google News: Not So Much News As Control and Passive Aggressive Offense

February 12, 2019

I read “One Analyst’s Attempts to Demystify the Types of Traffic Google Sends Publishers.” The write up explains some of the clever ways Google manages its traffic and any related data linked to the traffic and content objects.

To put it another way, Google is continuing its effort to control content for its own purposes, not the publishers’, not the users’ or the advertisers’ goals.

The article makes it clear that Google is adapting in a passive aggressive manner to the shift from desktop boat anchor search to the more popular mobile device approach to search.

Users want information and no longer are troubled with thinking up a query, deciding what service to use, or questioning the provenance of the information.

The write up takes a bit of time to figure out. There are acronyms, Googley lingo, and data which may be unfamiliar to most readers. Spend a few minutes and AMP up your understanding of what Google is doing to help out — wait for it — itself.

Surprise, right?

The downstream implications of this approach are interesting. Perhaps an analyst will tackle the issues related to:

  • Time disconnects between event and inclusion of “news”
  • Ability to “route” and “filter” from within the Google walled garden
  • Implications of inserting “relevant” ads into what may be shaped streams so that ad inventory can be whittled down.

Interesting and just the tip of the Google content management iceberg.

Stephen E Arnold, February 12, 2019

Once a Phone Company, Always a Phone Company

February 12, 2019

American life is not complete without the media generating some form of fear. The newest craze scaring people from the airwaves is their location data. PPC Land reports the story in, “Carriers Are Only One Source Used By Data Aggregators, And This Source Is Now A Threat In The US.” One way that mobile phone providers make a profit is selling their customers’ information to advertisers and other third party agencies. Among the user information sold is a customer’s location.

It sounds banal at first—your location is sold, then ads for specific products and services near you pop up on your mobile device. Then the Big Brother syndrome and privacy fears kick in. The big stink is that bounty hunters can use customers’ data to track targets down to their specific location. Yes, that is scary, but how many people have bounty hunters stalking them?

Mobile phone carriers assure customers that their safety and privacy are top priority. Roadside assistance is referenced as one way specific location information is used. The FCC and Congress are abuzz about this threat, but how are phone providers really selling the information?

“Mobile Carriers use data aggregators to monetize location data. Verizon has contracts with LocationSmart and Zumigo. Verizon says the location data used by the location aggregator programs are limited to coarse (rather than precise) location information. Coarse location information is derived from the Verizon network and is significantly less accurate than a precise location. Precise information are usually from GPS, and is obtained with apps installed on mobile phones (like maps, or car services).”

But mobile phone providers are not the only ways to track an individual’s location: cell IDs, Wifi, beacons, landlines, carriers, beacons, SDKs on apps that use locations, GSIDS, and IP addresses are all used to track location. Phones are a handy device.

Whitney Grace, February 12, 2019

Mobile Search: Pervasiveness Arrives

December 13, 2018

If you want to order a pizza, there is an app for that. If you want to shop for clothing, there is an app for that. If you want to design an app, there is an app for that and if you want to search on your mobile device you have to use an app…until now. VentureBeat shares that there is a new way to search on mobile devices without having to open an app: “SwiftKey Now Lets You Search The Web From The Android Keyboard App.”

SwiftKey, a Microsoft owned company, invented a new way to search on mobile devices, specifically Android phones. The SwiftKey is a keyboard app that allows users to type quicker on touch screens and now they can search the Internet directly from the keyboard. SwiftKey also users predictive analytics to make suggestions and they can swipe over letters instead of having to individually touch them. It is powered by Bing search, not a surprise.

“The update seems to be mostly about enabling users to share content they find on the web without having to switch between multiple apps on their phone. For example, you can search for local restaurants inside SwiftKey and give friends recommendations by screenshotting, cropping, and sharing the results. Or let’s say a friend sends a message asking you to look into some flight options for an upcoming trip. Rather than switching from WhatsApp to Google or SkyScanner, you can simply bring up the little toolbar at the top of the keyboard, enter your flight criteria, and share what you find through WhatsApp without leaving the service.”

Another handy feature is if a user types in a URL into the search box and takes them directly to the Web site over a search results list.

The SwiftKey is competition for Google’s GBoard. It streamlines mobile search by taking out some of the clunky steps, but it is going to have issues before it is perfected.

Whitney Grace, December 13, 2018

A Secret Revealed: Mobiles Can Double Surveillance Devices

October 7, 2018

The real journalists have revealed a secret known to hundreds of thousands of people, maybe more. Navigate to “Are the Presidential Alerts Capable of Accessing Your Phone’s Mic and Camera.” The answer comes from a true wizard, a model entrepreneur. The expert is John McAfee, an interesting person with a remarkable biography.

He revealed:

“The ‘Presidential alerts,’” McAfee tweeted Wednesday, “they are capable of accessing the E911 chip in your phones – giving them full access to your location, microphone, camera and every function of your phone. This not a rant, this is from me, still one of the leading cybersecurity experts. Wake up people!”

Here in Harrod’s Creek, no information about the impact of this super big secret has reached us.

We assume the reporter to whom Mr. McAfee revealed this cogent, lucid statement did not die of heart failure.

That good. We think.

Stephen E Arnold, October 7, 2018

Surf with Freedom: China, Iran, Russia, and Other Countries May Not Notice

October 5, 2018

How does this sound to you?

Intra included the following feature list:

• Free access to websites and apps blocked by DNS manipulation
• No limits on data usage and it won’t slow down your internet connection
• Open source
• Keep your information private – Intra doesn’t track the apps you use or websites you visit
• Customize your DNS server provider — use your own or pick from popular providers

You can get the scoop by reading “On Protected: Your Connection Is Protected from DNS Attacks.”

The service is provided by Jigsaw, an outfit under the wing of Google.

The article explains:

With Intra, they’ve created an app that protects against DNS manipulation. This is an app for the world to access the entire internet without, for example, government censorship.

For now this is an Android app, which may be a mobile phone operating system less of a hurdle for some surveillance activities. Of course, authorities in China, Iran, and Russia will remain unaware of this Google-centric app. I wonder if anyone in the US will notice?

Nah, probably not. I like the warnings issued to me by my browsers about unsafe sites, and I think the outcomes of DNS manipulations are interesting.

Stephen E Arnold, October 5, 2018

Google: A Small Fine, Fuschia, and Maybe Some KaiOS

July 23, 2018

A modest fine from the EU and the buzz about a replacement for Android have not slowed Google’s innovative pace. With Android on most mobile phones, Google is seeking a way to refuel its mobile ad goals. The future may be Fuschia, but Google seems to want a Plan B.

The need to ensure internet access in emerging markets is one key factor in a recent financial decision by Google, we learn from the International Business Times’ article, “Why Is Google Funding Feature Phone Operating System KaiOS?” Writer Mike Luces reports that Google has made a Series A investment of $22 million in Kai Technologies, maker of an operating system that already powers some 40 million feature phones around the world. The article observes:

“,,, KaiOS stated that Google made the investment to ensure that new feature phones will have access to the internet, especially those sold in emerging markets. ‘This funding will help us fast-track development and global deployment of KaiOS-enabled smart feature phones, allowing us to connect the vast population that still cannot access the internet, especially in emerging markets,’ KaIOS CEO Sebastian Codeville said. KaiOS is currently powering the feature phones manufactured by TCL, HMD Global and Micromax. Google has already developed apps for KaiOS, so this new investment is seen as the tech giant’s way of ensuring its presence in the feature phone market without really developing and releasing hardware. Google is instead bringing its famous Android apps to KaiOS, including Google Maps, YouTube, Google Search and even its smart assistant, Google Assistant.”

Luces also observes that the moves takes place as the smartphone market in general appears to be slowing down. Another important item of information—KaiOS phones already outnumber iPhones in India, a huge market. We are interested to see what affects this investment will have. Founded in 2016, Kai Technologies is based in San Diego and maintains facilities in several cities. They are also hiring right now, in case anyone is interested.

The Beyond Search team assumes that Margrethe Vestager may be interested in KaiOS.

Cynthia Murrell, July 23, 2018

WhatsApp: Electronic Messages Exert Force

July 11, 2018

WhatsApp, the social messaging wunderkind app, has been making major headway in the market, nearing usage rates of early Facebook and Twitter. Nowhere is WhatsApp making a greater impact than in Brazil, where the political landscape itself is being transformed via the app, as we discovered in a recent Washington Post story, “WhatsApp is Upending the of Unions in Brazil, Next it May Transform Politics.”

According to the story:

“Nearly two-thirds of Brazil’s 200 million people use WhatsApp to share memes, set up meetings and, increasingly, vent about politics. Now, the messaging app is helping Brazilians undermine established power structures, injecting a level of unpredictability and radicalization into a country beset by economic and political crises.”

It’s not just Brazil that is being impacted by WhatsApp and its ability to connect people. The South American nation is only one of a handfuls of examples, many of the life-and-death variety. For example, The Guardian claims that several political activists embedded in repressive regimes have been using WhatsApp to skirt punishment and organize groups aimed at upending the government. This is promising news and a great example of the disruption that many Silicon Valley startups envisioned when they created their social media platforms. Three cheers for more of this.

Patrick Roland, July 11, 2018

Dark Purpose Apps: Are These a Big New Thing?

June 23, 2018

Very few apps are made with the intent to cause harm to others, but that doesn’t stop criminals from using good apps for bad purposes. What seemed to have started with stories of people having their homes robbed after posting vacation photos on Facebook has taken a darker turn, as we discovered in a recent New York Times piece, “Hundreds of Apps Can Empower Stalkers to Track Their Victims.”

According to the story:

“More than 200 apps and services offer would-be stalkers a variety of capabilities, from basic location tracking to harvesting texts and even secretly recording video, according to a new academic study. More than two dozen services were promoted as surveillance tools for spying on romantic partners, according to the researchers and reporting by The New York Times.”

Oddly, these apps are also being used by many dark web deviants who are suffering under increased government and law enforcement crackdowns of their domains. Several dark web criminals have switched to very public apps to evade police, much like a bank robber escaping into a crowd to lose the cops. Look for more stories like this in the future as criminals find more ways to exploit the tools and apps we all use everyday.

Patrick Roland, June 23, 2018

Talking to Software: Policeware Vendors Ignored This Next Big Thing

June 9, 2018

On the flight from somewhere in Europe to Kentucky, I reflected on the demonstrations, presentations, and sales pitches to which I was exposed at a large international law enforcement and intelligence conference.

I realized that none of the presenters or enthusiastic marketers tried to tell me about chatbots. The term refers to a basket of technologies that allow a user to ignore tapping or keyboarding to get actionable information.

When the flight landed, I noted a link in my feed stream to “Chatbots Were the Next Big Thing: What Happened?” My personal experience from four days of talking to humans and listening to explainers was that chatbots were marginalized, maybe left in the office file cabinet.

The write up states:

…Who would monopolize the field, not whether chatbots would take off in the first place:

“Will a single platform emerge to dominate the chatbot and personal assistant ecosystem?”

One year on, we have an answer to that question.

No.

Because there isn’t even an ecosystem for a platform to dominate.

That seems clear.

The write up points out that chatbots were supposed to marginalize applications. One of the more interesting items of information in the article is a collection of chatbots stuck for an answer.

Net net: Like quantum computing, smart software has potential. But technologies with potential have been just around the corner for many years.

Marketing, confident assertions, and bold predictions are one thing. Delivering high value results remains a different task.

Stephen E Arnold, June 9, 2018

Want Mobile Traffic? New Tactics May Be Needed

May 30, 2018

I read “Mobile Direct Traffic Eclipses Facebook.” Like any research, I like to know the size of the sample, the methodology, and the “shaping” which the researchers bring to the project. To answer these questions, one must see other sources cited in the write up, including Nieman Lab, which appears to be recycling Chartbeat data. In short, I don’t know much about the research design or other aspects of the research.

Nevertheless, I noted a handful of statements or “facts” which on the surface struck me as interesting. The study data appear to support the assertion that “mobile does not equal social”.

First, the study reports that “mobile direct to traffic has surpassed Facebook.” I think this means that if those in the sample use a mobile device, some of those users use an app or a browser to go directly to a site. At first glance, Facebook seems to be a major player but it is, according to the survey, trending down from being the gateway to information for some mobile device users.

Second, the write up points out sites offering “content” are not losing visitors. On one hand, the finding suggests that Facebook is not a gateway trending upwards. I have seen reports suggesting that Facebook has been negatively affected by the Cambridge Analytica matter, but I have also seen reports which assert that Facebook is adding users. Which is it? That’s the question, isn’t it?

Third, the Chartbeat data put Google as the leading source of traffic to sites. What this means is that the “gap” between Facebook and Google as referrers seems to be getting bigger. Bad news for Facebook and good news for Google if the data are accurate.

Several observations:

  • The data, if accurate, make it clear that Google and its Android operating system have a clear path to the barn
  • Facebook may have to begin the process of adapting to mobile users who do not use Facebook as the gateway to the Internet (whatever that ends up being)
  • Governments interested in censoring certain content streams have a crude road map for determine what online destinations should be cut off from the information superhighway. (The law enforcement addiction to Facebook and Twitter may require some special treatment at clinics run by Google and high traffic destinations accessed via an app.)

To sum up, if the data in the Chartbeat report are accurate, changes are underway. Some positive, some negative. There is, however, that “if.”

Stephen E Arnold, May 30, 2018

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