Researchers Use Google Trends Data to Gauge Economic Uncertainty

May 14, 2018

Repository for economic research Munich Personal RePEc Archive (MPRA) announces the paper, “Google ItUp! A Google Trends-Based Uncertainty Index for the United States and Australia.” We are intrigued by this use of Google Trends data. The introduction specifies:

“This paper constructs Google Trends-based uncertainty indices (GTU indices henceforth) for the United States and Australia. These indices are based on uncertainty-related keywords frequently mentioned in reference economic documents like the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book for the United States and the Reserve Bank’s Monetary Policy Statement for Australia. These documents gather information on current economic conditions based on interviews with key business contacts, economists, and market experts (among other sources). Hence, they are likely to be a good proxy of entrepreneurs’ uncertainty as regards future business conditions. …

And we noted this statement:

“Google Trends data are freely available in real time. The first characteristic facilitates the replicability of scientific analysis, while the second one is consistent with the idea of constructing leading indicators, which is relevant for sharpening the identification of causal relationships.”

The paper, available as a PDF here, is credited to researchers at Italy’s University of Padova and at the University of Melbourne in Australia. It describes how the team constructed their “GTU index,” their verification procedures, and their conclusions, followed by an informative list of references. We also learn that the Australian Research Council provided financial support for this research. The PDF noted above is freely accessible, so navigate there for more information.

Cynthia Murrell, May 14, 2018

Finally Some Good News About Parental Oversight

May 12, 2018

We do not like being the bearer of bad news and anxiety about the internet and our life on the internet, but that is normally where the action is. So, it feels quite rewarding to report on a story that has a real happy ending, especially for children. YouTube recently beefed up its oversight of kids’ videos, according to a recent How-To Geek post, “New YouTube Kids Setting Allows Only Videos Viewed by Actual Humans.”

According to the story:

“Parents: you can now set YouTube Kids to only show videos verified to be kid-friendly by an actual human being.

“The setting is opt-in: you have toggle the “Approved content only” option for each of your children under “My Kids.” Once you do the YouTube Kids app will be limited only to videos confirmed as kid friendly by a human reviewer.”

Don’t get us wrong, this is a great step toward protecting our kids from videos that look as if they are geared toward younger viewers, only to find they are violent, sexualized, or worse. However, putting humans in charge of what is and is not appropriate for kids is sort of like Facebook putting humans in charge of what is and is not considered hate speech. It’s a move toward a real solution, but it is not yet all the way there. Let’s hope YouTube keeps developing this idea.

Patrick Roland, May 12, 2018

Houston, We May Want to Do Fake News

May 2, 2018

The fake news phenomenon might be in the public eye more, thanks to endless warnings and news stories, however that has not dulled its impact. In fact, this shadowy form of propaganda seems to flourish under the spotlight, according to a recent ScienceNews story, “On Twitter, The Lure of Fake News is Stronger than Truth.”

According to the research:

“Discussions of false stories tended to start from fewer original tweets, but some of those retweet chains then reached tens of thousands of users, while true news stories never spread to more than about 1,600 people. True news stories also took about six times as long as false ones to reach 1,500 people. Overall, fake news was about 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than real news.”

That’s an interesting set of data. However, anyone quick to blame spambots for this amazing proliferation of fake news needs to give it a second look. According to research, bots are not as much to blame for this trend than humans. This is actually good news. Ideally, changes can be made on the personal level and we can eventually stamp out this misleading trend of fake news.

But if fake news “works”, why not use it? Not even humans can figure out what’s accurate, allegedly accurate, and sort of correct but not really. Smart software plus humans makes curation complex, slow, and costly.

That sounds about right or does it?

Patrick Roland, May 2, 2018

Geotargeting: Getting Popular

May 1, 2018

Businesses, governments, and organizations are asking, “How can AI be used?” The better question to ask is, “What can AI not do?” Along with spying on the Chinese’s good behavior and people’s personal information on social media, the Smart Data Collective posted that “Malicious AI? Report Shines Dark Light On Geotargeting.”

What is geotargeting? Geotargeting is using locations specific data to keep a close eye on selected targets. Social media data plays a part too. It is astonishing and creepy how much AI can pull from information placed on the Internet. Ever since Russia intervened in the 2016 election, policymakers are cracking down on data-based marketing. What is even worse is that hackers are already using AI against the innocent.

New policies are being put into place and Mark Zuckerberg is even being held (hopefully) accountable for how Facebook has taken advantage of data.

“People are growing more and more suspicious of AI. The new malicious AI report, which was written by 26 experts from academia, industry, and 12 other fields, identifies AI as a potential culprit in the threat to “political security.” The report says that AI “can automate tasks involved in surveillance” by analyzing “mass-collected data,” which it can use to create propaganda and deceptive content, such as misleading videos and fake news. The more trolls and hackers use AI to threaten the political security of democracies, the more likely democracies and companies are to regulate the use of big data.”

One scary AI trick is geotargeting, where companies can push advertising directly to customers’ and law enforcement can track people of interested all based on a persons’ cell phone data. Bad actors can use geotargeting for personal drone attacks. Scary! There are not any amendments currently protecting AI, so the legal ramifications are still up in the air.

Remember, however, that AI is a neutral tool. Humans are creatures of habit. Plotting geo-behaviors can be a useful, insightful exercise.

Whitney Grace, May 1, 2018

An Interesting Use of Instagram

April 22, 2018

There is an opioid dealer nearby. In fact, this drug kingpin is not standing on the corner or lurking on college campuses, this supplier is right at your fingertips. Thanks to a recent article, the plague of drug sales through popular and public social media platforms has caught the attention of some powerful people. We learned about these developments in a recent Wired article, “One Woman Got Facebook to Police Opioid Sales on Instagram.”

While it’s a little confusing, the basic story goes that one woman who discovered opioid sales on Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) reached out to Facebook, urging them to take action, through a rival social platform, Twitter. The tactic worked, even getting the FDA involved.

According to the story:

“It shouldn’t take this much effort to get people to realize that  you have some responsibility for the stuff on your platform…A 13 year old could do this search and realize there’s bad stuff on your platform — and probably has — you don’t need the commissioner of the FDA to tell you that.”

However, the act of policing drug sales on social media platforms and the dark web is not as easy as one might think. Yes, they shut down offending accounts, but beyond that there is little that can be done. According to the story, it outlawed certain hashtags, like it had done before. “Instagram previously restricted the drug-related hashtags, #Xanax and #Xanaxbar and banned #weedforsale and #weed4sale.”

It’s a small step, but hopefully one that will lead to greater and greater progress. For more information, learn more about CyberOSINT (the Dark Web) here.

Patrick Roland, April 21, 2018


Online Shopping: Held Back by HTML and Google. Hmmm.

April 20, 2018

e-Commerce has certainly marginalized some traditional retail stores. But, Main Street still exists and so do the some shops. What works in Silicon Valley, does not work very well in some cities. Think Peoria, Illinois.

The new monopolists have found their niche. The question becomes, “Why are there some functions and businesses which have not be more dramatically changed by online?” We were surprised to read the views of one expert who claims two reasons: HTML and Google. According to a Tech Crunch piece, “The Sudden Death of the Website.” The reason is that HTML is not robust enough to handle e-Commerce’s demands, but also Google is the problem:

“The second problem with the Web is Google. When we started to build websites in the ’90s, everyone was trying to design their virtual stores differently. On one hand, this made them interesting and unique; on the other, the lack of industry standards made them hard to navigate — and really hard to “index” into a universal card catalog.”

Hardly convincing stuff. But according to other experts, search isn’t the only thing slowing down e-commerce. The big data powering Amazon and others has allowed for fast shipping and hassle-free returns. According to Forbes, that’s actually what will take down e-commerce. They describe the return policies as a ticking time bomb and use LL Bean’s recent decision to stop no-questions asked returns as an example.

There you have it: HTML and Google. Unfortunately the Beyond Search goose is not convinced. Some digital magic does not make sense in rural Kentucky. Walking to the local store works pretty well because what works in San Mateo does not work in Harrod’s Creek.

Cynthia Murrell, April 20, 2018

Online Tracking of Weapons Can Be a Challenge

April 17, 2018

Gun sales online are prompting a lot of governmental concern, but not just in America. Australia, a nation with one of the lowest gun violence rates in the world, recently began cracking down on dark web sales of firearms with the help of US authorities. The results were promising, but still a little concerning. We learned more from a recent Daily Mail article, “Gun Trafficking Groups Selling to Australia Have Been Sentenced.”

According to the story, a seller of guns that were sent to Australia recently got three years in prison for the illegal transactions. We learned:

“The Atlanta-based group advertised guns for sale on the underground website BlackMarketReloaded that operated on The Onion Router, which masks the identity of its users, according to prosecutors.”

However, finding them through the murky waters of covert internet sites was nearly as tough as physically locating the guns. The story also pointed out, “In an attempt to avoid detection in the US Post or overseas the group hid the firearms in electronic equipment before placing them in packages.”

The Herculean effort needed to capture this dark web gun lord sounds similar to the recent arrest of one of Europe’s biggest online arms dealers, who was tracked down in Spain. This was the result of multiple countries and multiple agencies working for months to find this single person.

Clearly, the task of wiping the Dark Web clean of guns is difficult, but thankfully not impossible. We hope to hear about more success stories like this in the future. For more information, learn more about CyberOSINT (the Dark Web) here.

Patrick Roland, April 17, 2018

Ah, Information Weaponization. Who Would Do That?

April 11, 2018

People are always asking how companies like Facebook, Google, Spotify, and Amazon are able to get to the top of their industries. The answer is very simple: data. While the data these companies use is ordinary by industry standards, how they use it is the most important factor. Facebook, Spotify, Amazon, and Google receive user data and leverage or weaponize it. Forbes explains how important leveraged data is in the article, “How To Successfully Weaponize Your Data.”

Companies receive terabytes of data, but they can weaponize it by using artificial intelligence algorithms to perform specific tasks. As AI becomes more widespread, it will be easier to adopt and figure out how to use it to augment your company. They key will not be getting more or different data than your competition, it will be acquiring better data and then:

“In order to use this information effectively, you must first decide what your goal is — more sales, higher foot traffic in stores, higher awareness of a product, etc. — and then look at the data to see if it is in the right format for use with deep learning. This is something that’s hard to explain simply, but fundamentally, data has to be in a disaggregated state. That means you don’t really need to know how many people visited a store, but instead when exactly each person visited. You no longer need to understand how many sales you’ve made, but what each sale was and to whom. This is important because it allows you to break down the impact that various decisions or strategies have, and evaluate whether or not it’s something you want to continue in the long term. It also allows you to see how trends emerge and follow their trajectory.”

The article then fades into details about the importance of deep learning and how a company’s future success depends on adopting it and leveraging data. Weaponized data is important and will be crucial in the future, but do not forget about the basics of running a company.

Whitney Grace, April 11, 2018

Payoff in Shopping Speed Up

March 30, 2018

Mobile shopping is a major priority for just about anyone who does sales outside of only a brick and mortar store. The increasing attention to this economy has led to the big names online beefing up their services and the results are astounding. We learned more from a recent IT ProPortal story, “Google Reveals New Mobile Shopping Tools.”

According to the story:

“Businesses have not prioritized their mobile sites and now that more online shopping than ever is done from a smartphone, this needs to change.  Google’s analysis suggests that by improving mobile load time from six to three seconds that an average site could see an increase of $255,000 in annual revenue.”

That’s an incredible number, especially for smaller businesses. But that’s not all. Oddly, some of the most impressive innovations in mobile shopping comes from the restaurant industry. Coffee shops and pizza delivery joints have led the way, but recently, places like Burger King are getting in on the action and seeing an impact. What kind of conclusion can we draw from this? Not a ton, but just that your mobile shopping experience is going to increase, but we have a hunch that along with this money that is to be made the proliferation of advertisements will soon follow in ingenuity.

Patrick Roland, March 30, 2018

Palantir Executive Reveals How Silicon Valley Really Works

March 5, 2018

I usually ignore the talking heads on the US television cable channels. I did perk up when I heard a comment made by Alex Karp, one of the founders of Palantir Technologies. The company’s Gotham and Metropolitan product lines (now evolved to a platform called Foundry), its licensing deals with Thomson Reuters, and the company’s work for commercial organizations is quite interesting. Most consumers and many users of high profile online services are unaware of Palantir. Some click centric outfits like Buzzfeed rattle the Palantir door knob with revelations about the super low profile company. The reality is that Palantir is not all that secret. In fact, a good online researcher can unearth examples of the company’s technology, including its plumbing, its interfaces, and its outputs. Dig further, and one can pinpoint some of the weaknesses in the company’s technology, systems, methods, and management approach.

In the CNBC interview, which appeared as an online story “CNBC Exclusive: CNBC Transcript: Palantir Technologies Co-Founder & CEO Alex Karp Joins CNBC’s Josh Lipton for Rare Interview Airing Today,” I noted several insights. Critics of Palantir might describes these comments in another way, but for me, I thought the ideas expressed were interesting and suggestive.

Here’s the first one:

I believe that Silicon Valley is creating innovation without jobs, and it’s really hurting our world.

I read this to mean that if one cannot get hired in a world infused with smart software, job hunters and seekers are dead in the water. Those homeless people, by extension, will replicate the living conditions in shanties in Third World countries. Most Silicon Valley cheerleaders sidestep what is a massive phase change in society.

The second statement I noted is:

Realize that most Silicon Valley companies don’t care and nor do they have a corporate responsibility to care.

For me, Mr. Karp is making clear that chatter from FAGMA (Facebook, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Apple) about doing the right thing, trying to be better, and accepting the responsibility which falls upon the shoulders of quasi-monopolies is just that—chatter. Palantir, it seems, is a critic of the Silicon Valley way. I find this fascinating.

The third statement I circled is:

We are primarily a creative organization, so that means we create, we try not to look at what other people are doing, or obviously not overly.

This statement does not hint at the out of court settlement with i2 Group. The legal dust up, which I discussed in this post, was not mentioned by either the interlocutor or Mr. Karp. The omission was notable. I don’t want to be skeptical of this “creative organization” phrase, but like many people who emerged from the start up scene, the “history” of innovation often has an important story to tell. But unless the CNBC interviewer knows about the allegations related to the ANB file format and other Analysts Notebook functions, the assertion creeps toward becoming a fact about Palantir’s innovation. (Note: I was an adviser to i2 Group Ltd., before the company’s founders sold the enterprise.)

The original interview is interesting and quite revelatory. Today, I believe that history can be reshaped. It’s not fake news; it’s a consequence of how information is generated, disseminated, and consumed in an uncritical way.

Stephen E Arnold, March 5, 2018

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