The Ease with Which Search Marketing Experts Manipulate Relevance and the Clueless

July 8, 2019

The New York Times (paywall, gentle reader, take heed) ran an opinion editorial “real news” item called “I Used Google Ads for Social Engineering.” You can locate the write up on page A 23 of the July 8, 2019, dead tree edition in the version of the paper that is distributed in rural Kentucky. By the way, good luck with that.

The write up contains some interesting factoids; for example:

  1. “Three out of four smart phone owners turn to Google first to address their immediate needs.” (Immediate needs? Remind me where I put the dog’s shock collar? No. Help me insert a video snip in my weekly DarkCyber video? No. Explain why my Android phone no longer allows me to hear voicemail? No. And I could go on but three fourths of my immediate needs require my attention be directed at Google? Really?)
  2. A person has 150 micromoments a day. (No, I don’t know what a micromoment is, and I hope I don’t learn either.)
  3. Redirection is a method which diverts my attention from what I wanted to what Google wanted me to want. (Yeah, that sounds just wonderful.)

The point of the write up is:

Google left behind a blueprint. The blueprint shows, step by step, how you can create your own redirect ads to sway any belief of opinion – held by any Google user, anywhere in the world – of your choice.


Just a question: “Why hasn’t an entity used the technique to deal with the border crisis or Iranian leaders’ desire to generate explosive material if Google Ads are so darned effective?”

The write up admits there are some weaknesses in Google’s approach.

No kidding? How about making Google the focus of what search engine optimization experts actually do: Distort relevance so poor, little Google doesn’t know what’s what about a particular topic?

The write up identifies one measure of success:

Nine days after my campaign began [to prevent suicide], the ads were accepted by Google. My ad was the first result across the United States when someone Google with suicidal intent. I showed unique ads to suicidal people who were physically located around the Golden Gate Bridge. Nearly one in three searches who clicked my ad dialed the hotline – a conversion rate of 28 percent. The average Google Ads conversion rate is 4 percent. The campaign’s 28 percent conversion rate was met in the first week.

Who can dispute the value of Redirect, Google Ads, and clicks?

Not me.

The write up points out:

Click data can be used for harm by a redirector whit bad intentions. If redirectors can groom ISIS sympathizers, they can also use it to groom school shooters. A redirector using a call forwarding service can link up with like minded terrorist by having clickers’ calls directed to their phones.

There you go. The how to manipulate method. Pederasts, are you paying attention? Credit card scammers, pay attention? Contraband vendors, you need Google Ads, right now.

The write up continues:

Using Google’s ISIS campaign blueprint, anyone can access the platform’s precise targeting tools and redirect ads to help further his or her own agenda. For instance, swaying peoples’ political beliefs during an election.

Why does this method work like a champ?

More than 50 percent of people still can’t differentiate between an ad )redirect or not) and an organic result on Google.

The person writing the article was at the time of the writing a Google certified partner and the founder of an outfit called Berlin SEM. I think SEM means “search engine marketing.”

Let’s step back and look at a handful of questions:

  1. Is this “news” or is it a marketing play designed to make the phone ring and the email flow to Berlin SEM?
  2. Are there mechanisms in place at Google or elsewhere to prevent this type of exploitation, what some call a “dark method”?
  3. Are the data presented in the write up or available from other sources able to tie an action to a Google ad budget; that is, “How much does it cost (money and time) to skew an election, cause me to buy an shirt, or perform some other action I did not want to perform?

DarkCyber is one the fence about [a] the benefit of presenting information about behavior manipulation via ads and  [b] the inappropriateness of presenting a partial description of what an effective distortion campaign requires.

But an opinion editorial is not designed to be data heavy, thorough, and comprehensive. In fact, the write up is another example of trying to criticize Google and making the Google method into a service some advertisers will want to use now and more often.

The message strikes DarkCyber as, “That Google advertising is just what I need to make sales.”

Good job. Boost that usage of Google because micromoments are just an opportunity to distort. Don’t forget the tweets, the Facebook posts, the traditional news release, and for fee content placement.

Combo propaganda campaigns are more effective and warrant more comprehensive explanation, analysis, and discussion, not advertorials.

Stephen E Arnold, July 8, 2019

Euphemizing the Valley

July 1, 2019

The Guardian newspaper revealed the terms it associates with the wild, wonderful world of Silicon Valley. “How to Speak Silicon Valley: 53 Essential Tech-Bro Terms Explained” is “your guide to understanding an industry where capitalism is euphemized. I was hoping for a 21st century version of Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary. No, and the Guardian is unlikely to cause Mr. Bierce to return from Chihuahua, Mexico, to enhance and sharpen the Guardian’s work.

Let’s look at an example of Mr. Bierce’s work:

“Lottery: A tax on people who are bad at math.”? Ambrose Bierce, The Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary

Now the Guardian’s 21st century approach:

Facebook (n) Your mom’s favorite social media platform.

As Mr. Bierce noted:

Pitiful: The state of an enemy or opponent after an imaginary encounter with oneself.? Ambrose Bierce, The Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary

Stephen E Arnold, July 1, 2019

Thomson Reuters: Whither Palantir Technologies

May 6, 2019

When I was working on a profile of Palantir Technologies for a client a couple of years ago, I came across a reference to Thomson Reuters’ use of Palantir Technologies smart system. News of the deal surfaced in a 2010 news release issued on Market Wired, but like many documents in the “new” approach to Web indexing, the content is a goner.

My memory isn’t what it used to be, but I recall that the application was called QA Studio. The idea obviously was to allow a person to ask a question using the “intuitive user interface” which the TR and Palantir team created to generate revenue magic. The goal was to swat the pesky FactSet and Bloomberg offerings as well as the legion of wanna-be analytics vendors chasing the Wall Street wizards.

Here’s a document form my files showing a bit of the PR lingo and the interface to the TR Palantir service:


I am not sure what happened to this product nor the relationship with the Palantir outfit.

I assume that TR wants more smart software, not just software which creates more work for the already overburdened MBAs planning the future of the economic world.

One of the DarkCyber researchers spotted this news release, which may suggest that TR is looking to the developer of OS/2 (once used by TR as I recall) for smart software: “IBM, Thomson Reuters Introduce Powerful New AI and Data Combination to Simplify How Financial Institutions Tackle Regulatory Compliance Challenges.”

The news release informed me that:

IBM and Thomson Reuters Regulatory Intelligence will now offer financial institutions access to a RegTech solution delivered from the IBM Cloud that features real-time financial services data from thousands of content sources. Backed by the power of AI and domain knowledge of Promontory Financial Group, the collaboration will enable risk and compliance professionals to keep pace with regulatory changes, manage risk and reduce the overall cost of compliance.

I learned:

Thomson Reuters and IBM have been collaborating on AI and data intelligence since 2015, bringing together expertise and technology to solve industry-specific problems in areas such as healthcare and data privacy. Today’s announcement represents another step forward in helping businesses combat their most pressing regulatory challenges.

The most interesting word in the news release is “holistic.” I haven’t encountered that since “synergy” became a thing. Here’s what the TR IBM news release offered:

Featuring an updated user experience to allow for increased engagement, IBM OpenPages with Watson 8.0 transforms the way risk and compliance professionals work. By providing a holistic view of risk and regulatory responsibilities, OpenPages helps compliance professionals actively participate in risk management as a part of their day-to-day activity. In addition to integrating Thomson Reuters Regulatory Intelligence, IBM OpenPages with Watson incorporates the expertise of Promontory Financial Group to help users of OpenPages create libraries of relevant regulatory requirements, map them to their internal framework and evaluate their impact to the business.

Yep, OpenPages. What is this? Well, it is Watson, but that doesn’t help me. Watson is more of a combo consulting-licensing thing. In this implementation, OpenPages reduces risk and makes “governance” better with AI and advanced analytics.

Analytics? That was the purpose of Palantir Technologies’ solution.

Let’s step back. What is the news release saying? These thoughts zoomed through my now confused brain:

  • TR licensed Palantir’s system which delivers some of the most advanced analytics offered based on my understanding of the platform. Either TR can’t make Palantir do what TR wants to generate revenue or Palantir’s technology is falling below the TR standard for excellence.
  • TR needs a partner which can generate commercial sales. IBM is supposed to be a sales powerhouse, but IBM’s financial performance has been dicey for years. Palantir, therefore, may be underperforming, and IBM’s approach is better. What?
  • IBM’s Watson TR solution works better than IBM’s forays into medicine, enterprise search, cloud technology for certain government entities, and a handful of other market sectors. What?

To sum up, I am not sure which company is the winner in this TR IBM deal? One hypothesis is that both TR and IBM hope to pull a revenue bunny from the magic hat worn by ageing companies.

The unintentional cold shoulder to Palantir may not be a signal about that firm. But with IPO talk circulating in some circles, Palantir certainly wants outfits like TR to emit positive vibes.

Interesting stuff this analytics game. I suppose one must take a “holistic” view. Will there be “synergy” too?

Stephen E Arnold, May 6, 2018

Yahoo News: So Why Was This Facebook Story Ignored?

April 29, 2019

Short honk: I read in Yahoo Finance this story: “Facebook’s Chris Cox Was More Than Just the World’s Most Powerful Chief Product Officer.” Here’s the statement which caught my attention:

Despite Cox’s crucial importance to this crucially important company—he has been the most important chief product officer in the world—Cox is relatively little known outside the company. And while widely hailed for his personability, he’s also “difficult to deeply get to know,” according to one long-time friend. In this article we offer the most in-depth profile to date of a gifted and still very young man, who has played a seminal role in molding a now feared and polemicized behemoth.

Okay, here’s a pat on the back. Now the question this story and the comment above sparked in my mind:

What took so long for real news people to focus on this influential person?

Yahoooo. And what is “personability,” a Yahoo-ism?

Stephen E Arnold, April 29, 2019

IBM and Oracle: Losers?

April 11, 2019

I found a bit of irony in the revelation that IBM and Oracle are big losers in the US government’s JEDI procurement. If there ever were an old school, doddering outfit, it is the New York Times. Yet without much self awareness, the dead tree crowd puts a jab at IBM and Oracle in their report that two horses are approaching the finish line. “Amazon and Microsoft Are 2 Finalists for $10 Billion Pentagon  Contract” makes this point:

IBM and Oracle had also bid for the project, known as the joint enterprise defense infrastructure, or JEDI. But the Defense Department concluded that they did not meet the minimum requirements for the program.

After looking at the NYT’s “Internetting” section, the newspaper, I asked, “What’s the minimum requirement for technology related information?” No one from Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, or Oracle would comment? Former employees out too? What about one of the Beltway Bandits? How about an IBM Federal Systems’ retired person? A former DoD officer?

What about IBM and Oracle? Any business impact of this negative information about these companies? A business school professor? A Beltway bandit?

Forget interviews.

What about the also ran when the US government goes with Microsoft and its cloud confection or Amazon with its bulldozer approach to online?

Which does one short? The NYT does the “Internetting” thing. Not even particularly well.

Stephen E Arnold, April 11, 2019

Making, Not Filtering, Disinformation

April 8, 2019

I spotted a link to this article on Sunday (April 7, 2019). The title of the “real news” report was “Facebook Is Asking to Be Regulated but Wants to Choose How.” The write ostensibly was about Facebook’s realization that regulation would be good for everyone. Mark Zuckerberg wants to be able to do his good work within a legal framework.

I noted this passage in the article:

Facebook has been in the vanguard of creating ways in which both harmful content can be generated and easily sent to anyone in the world, and it has given rise to whole new categories of election meddling. Asking for government regulation of “harmful content” is an interesting proposition in terms of the American constitution, which straight-up forbids Congress from passing any law that interferes with speech under the first amendment.

I also circled this statement:

Facebook went to the extraordinary lengths of taking out “native advertising” in the Daily Telegraph. In other words ran a month of paid-for articles demonstrating the sunnier side of tech, and framing Facebook’s efforts to curb nefarious activities on its own platform. There is nothing wrong with Facebook buying native advertising – indeed, it ran a similar campaign in the Guardian a couple of years ago – but this was the first time that the PR talking points adopted by the company have been used in such a way.

From Mr. Zuckerberg’s point of view, he is sharing his ideas.

From the Guardian’s point of view, he is acting in a slippery manner.

From the newspapers reporting about his activities and, in the case of the Washington Post, providing him with an editorial forum, news is news.

But what’s the view from Harrod’s Creek? Let me share a handful of observations:

  1. If a person pays money to a PR firm to get information in a newspaper, that information is “news” even if it sets forth an agenda
  2. Identifying disinformation or weaponized information is difficult, it seems, for humans involved in creating “real news”. No wonder software struggles. Money may cloud judgment.
  3. Information disseminated from seemingly “authoritative” sources is not much different from the info rocks from a digital slingshot. Disgruntled tweeters and unhappy Instagramers can make people duck and respond.

For me, disinformation, reformation, misinformation, and probably regular old run-of-the-mill information is unlikely to be objective. Therefore, efforts and motivations to identify and filter these payloads is likely to be very difficult.

Stephen E Arnold, April 8, 2019

Internetting with the New York Times: Print Instead of Video

April 8, 2019

What happens when one converts an idea for a video about hot Internet topics into print on standard newspaper? The answer is, “Internetting.”

My dead tree edition of the gray lady included a supplement called “Internetting.” There was on Sunday, April 7, 2019, a fan’s tweet about the 11 page section:


Frankly, I am not sure what the heck the section was designed to convey. I did spot an info bubble that informed me: A video print adventure through a  Jacques Derrida-inspired project.

I went through the unconnected printed sheets and noted that the word “video” was struck out. To me that meant, “This is a paper version of a video.” Okay, the information appeared on paper; therefore, the 11 printed sheets were not a video. A strike out? Would I be confused? Was the Internetting information a bit of humor. A Saturday Night Live sketch gone wrong?

I looked at each of the sheets and scanned the information on each page. I was baffled by “Dogs Took Over the Internet. Our Souls Are at Stake.” I thought cats owned the Internet. If not, felines should be the lions of digital.

One thing is sure: I am glad I no longer work in New York City and am exposed to this type of hip new thinking when I left my lousy apartment on 39th and went to the dark, semi clean deli, rode in the weird elevators at 245 Park Avenue, and tried to get to the Thai joint on 7th Avenue.

Video into print, printed in a way different from a “regular” newspaper, and filled with definitely odd ball information. No fake news here, gentle reader. Just an artifact of a newspaper adrift in a digital sea. Strike out video. Tell that to Twitch and YouTube consumers. My hunch is that popular YouTubers and Twitchers may not have seen the printed Intenetting thing.

These people were busy doing videos, not paper.

Stephen E Arnold, April 8, 2019

Google: News Corp. Wants to Grill Some Digital Shrimp

April 2, 2019

An article at The Sydney Morning Herald, “What Rupert Murdoch Really Wants from Google and Facebook,” points out that political opposites Rupert Murdoch and Elizabeth Warren agree on one thing—Google has too much power. While Warren vows to promote tech competition by breaking up Google (along with Amazon and Facebook), should she become US president, Murdoch’s company News Corp has petitioned its country’s regulatory agency to do the same. Writer John McDuling observes that it is unlikely, for several reasons, that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) will take such an action. He writes:

“So, what are Murdoch and News Corp really up to then? Playing hardball, as usual. The call to break up Google kept the pressure on the search giant, and made the ACCC’s existing proposals to regulate it (and Facebook) seem tame by comparison. Back in December, the ACCC proposed a new body to scrutinize the opaque algorithms that power Google searches and Facebook’s news feed, and their conduct in the ad market. The tech giants and their supporters have dismissed the proposal as a weird, intrusive overreach. But now, all of a sudden, with the global media talking about a Google split, it seems relatively uncontroversial. …

We also circled with our yellow marker pen:

“[News Corp] also proposed a system where Google (and presumably Facebook) could pay ‘license fees’ to publishers to compensate them for the benefit they derived from their content. … The new proposal sounds more like the systems used around the world to decide royalties paid by streaming services and radio stations to songwriters and record labels. It would involve a new statutory framework, and independent economic analysis of the benefits of news to the platforms to help determine payments to publishers.”

As for Warren, the article notes voters across the US political spectrum are nervous about the power wielded by tech giants, implying she is after political points. (Whether the famously divided US Congress can or will actually do anything about the issue remains to be seen, we’re reminded.) Another wrinkle, McDuling observes, is the growing “tech-driven cold war” between the US and China. Anything that disempowers the companies in question could help China—a talking point they are likely to wield in their defense. Apparently, the conversation around the power of tech giants is just salivating at the thought of throwing some digital shrimp on the barbie.

Cynthia Murrell, April 2, 2019

Intercept Intercepted?

March 28, 2019

While it is an old swan song, journalism continues to take a big hit when it comes to the Internet. The Columbia Journalism Review shares how The Intercept recently took a big hit in, “The Intercept, A Billionaire Funded Public Charity, Cuts Back.” First Look Media is a digital media company founded by a tech billionaire Pierre Omidyar and it owns the Intercept, a public charity journalism Web site that solicits donations from its readers to support “fearless, independent journalism.”

The Intercept’s co-founder Laura Poitras was “surprised” when she heard that 4% of her research team had to be downsized. The employee cuts may be perceived as out of step with how a public service is supposed to work. But reader support is not enough to keep it going. Omidyar was the biggest backer for First Look Media and he pumped his own money into the service, relying on his stocks from PayPal and eBay. Maybe tax concerns are an issue.

Omidyar started his digital journalism company in 2013 hoping to create a beacon for old-fashioned journalism in the industry’s changing face. It went well in the beginning, but it did not take long for his company to be reporting on the wrong type of content. Journalists were unhappy with the company’s culture and many left without looking back.

The salaries are also making people scratch their heads:

“ ‘I was recruited to work with First Look before it was publicly announced,’ Marcy Wheeler, a national security journalist best known for her coverage of Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia and the Trump campaign, wrote in a January 2018 essay. ‘The initial discussions pertained to a full-time job, with a generous salary. But along the way—after Glenn and Jeremy Scahill had already gotten a number of other people hired and as Pierre Omidyar started hearing from friends that the effort was out of control—the outlet decided that they were going to go in a different direction. They’d have journalists—Glenn and Jeremy counted as that. And they’d have bloggers, who would get paid less.’ That discrepancy, and the indignity of being treated as a less-than-full journalist, led to her resignation.’”

The top brass’s salaries are not going to change, while those lower on the totem pole are squished. Perhaps a library will step forward to house the information. Moscow State University perhaps?

Whitney Grace, March 28, 2019

Google, the Ad Giant, Funds Local Media

March 26, 2019

I found “Exclusive: Google Funds Creation of New Local Media Companies” quite interesting. Some publishers Google directly contributed to many publications slide into a sluggish Sargasso of red ink.

The write up states:

McClatchy [Google’s first news partner] will be the first of many “experiments” within the Local Experiment Project. The goal is to use the lessons from McClatchy’s efforts, and others in the future, to create a network of shared insights that can be leveraged by everyone in the local news business.

Yep, everyone except those selected by the new Local Experiments Project.

One question, “How long will the experiment last?” If Google kills the service, what happens to the partners? What happens to everyone? Perhaps Tim Andrews of Patch local news fame will return to the GOOG to get news back on track? That’s the net net net, as Mr. Andrews has been known to say.

Stephen E Arnold, March 26, 2019

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