On Accountability for Search Engine Content

December 6, 2016

For better or worse, Google and, to a lesser extent other Internet search engines, shape the way many people view the world. That is a lot of power, and some folks are uneasy about allowing those companies to wield it without some sort of oversight. For example, MIT Technology Review asks, “What’s Behind Google’s Secretive Ad-Blocking Policy?” At the heart of the issue is Google’s recent decision to ban ads for payday loans, a product widely considered to be predatory and currently under investigation by the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Reporter Elizabeth Woyke observes that such concerns about gate-keeping apply to other major online companies, like Microsoft, Yahoo, and Baidu. She writes:

Consumers might not realize it, but Google—and other ad-supported search engines—have been making editorial decisions about the types of ads they will carry for years. These companies won the right to reject ads they consider objectionable in 2007, when a Delaware district court ruled that constitutional free-speech guarantees don’t apply to search engines since they are for-profit companies and not ‘state actors.’ The decision cited earlier cases that upheld newspapers’ rights to decide which ads to run.

Google currently prohibits ads for ‘dangerous,’ ‘dishonest,’ and ‘offensive’ content, such as recreational drugs, weapons, and tobacco products; fake documents and academic cheating services; and hate-group paraphernalia. Google also restricts ads for content it deems legally or culturally sensitive, such as adult-oriented, gambling-related, and political content; alcoholic beverages; and health care and medicine. It may require additional information from these advertisers and limit placement to certain geographical locations.”

Legal experts, understandably, tend to be skittish about ceding this role to corporations. How far, and in which directions, will they be allowed to restrict content? Will they ever be required to restrict certain content that could cause harm? And, where do we as a society draw those lines? One suggestion that seems to make sense is a call for transparency. That way, at least, users could tap into the power of PR to hold companies accountable. See the write-up for more thoughts on the subject from legal minds.

Cynthia Murrell, December 6, 2016

In Connected World, Users Are Getting Reared as Slaughter Animals

November 22, 2016

Yahoo, Facebook, Google, WhatsApp, Instagram and Microsoft all have one thing in common; for any service that they provide for free, they are harnessing your private data to be sold to advertisers.

Mirror UK recently published an Op-Ed titled Who Is Spying on You? What Yahoo Hack Taught Us About Facebook, Google, and WhatsApp in which the author says:

Think about this for a second. All those emails you’ve written and received with discussions about politics and people that were assumed to be private and meant as inside jokes for you and your friends were being filtered through CIA headquarters. Kind of makes you wonder what you’ve written in the past few years, doesn’t it?

The services be it free email or free instant messaging have been designed and developed in such a way that the companies that own them end up with a humongous amount of information about its users. This data is sugarcoated and called as Big Data. It is then sold to advertisers and marketers who in the garb of providing immersive and customized user experience follow every click of yours online. This is akin to rearing animals for slaughtering them later.

The data is not just for sale to the corporates; law enforcement agencies can snoop on you without any warrants. As pointed out in the article:

While hypocritical in many ways, these tech giants are smart enough to know who butters their bread and that the perception of trust outweighs the reality of it. But isn’t it the government who ultimately ends up with the data if a company is intentionally spying on us and building a huge record about each of us?

None of the tech giants accept this fact, but most are selling your data to the government, including companies like Samsung that are into the hardware business.

Is there are a way that can help you evade this online snooping? Probably no if you consider mainstream services and social media platforms. Till then, if you want to stay below the radar, delete your accounts and data on all mainstream email service providers, instant messaging apps, service providing websites and social media platform.

Vishal Ingole, November 22, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

Verizon AOL May Allow 500 People to Find Their Future Elsewhere

November 17, 2016

With or without Yahoot — sorry, I meant, Yahoo — is a darned exciting outfit for a Baby Bell. I read “Verizon Owned AOL to Layoff 500 Employees, Mostly in Corporate Unit: Source.” With all the chatter about fake news, let me state that I believe everything I read about Verizon, AOL, and every other online centric outfit in the datasphere. No distortion exists in bizarro world. Unnamed sources are the only type of source that has any traction today.

The write up says:

Digital media company AOL, owned by Verizon Communications Inc, will lay off five  per cent of its workforce, or about 500 employees, a source familiar with the situation said.

Pundits, Brahmins, and former middle school teachers have been reporting about this RIF or reduction in force. Hey, there’s nothing like a Thanksgiving treat to make folks feel really great about their job. On the bright side, a certain president elect is hiring.

AOL may become two mini businesses:

  1. Media, search and communications
  2. Advertising technology and other assorted infrastructure enabled products and services.

Another rumor is that something called “Be On” may be reshaped. A copy of the Xoogler Tim Armstrong’s message to employees appears on Business Insider. Variety points out that the RIFs are “unrelated to Verizon’s Yahoo Bid,” which raises the question, “Why is AOL dumping staff?” No answer, of course.

Fortune Magazine recycles a Silicon Valley “real” news outfit with this second hand statement from the Xoogler Tim Armstrong:

“The layoffs are related to a 2017 strategy where we will add to our business. These are super targeted by area and we will be re-growing especially in video and mobile.

Yep, Happy Thanksgiving.

Stephen E Arnold, November 17, 2016

Reading Verizon Tea Leaves

October 27, 2016

I read “Verizon: ‘We have to assume’ Yahoo’s Massive Hack Is a Major Deal.” The write up summarizes a telephone call between Verizon and folks who care about the former Baby Bell. Tucked into the news report were some interesting factoids, which I assume to be accurate. The write up is from a real newspaper close to Jeff Bezos’ warm, kind heart.

Image result for 1890 boxing posters

Is a dust up between the former Baby Bell (Verizon) and the Purple Haze machine on the horizon?

Here are the factoids I noted:

Verizon’s chief financial officer seems to suggest that Yahoo’s security woes and loss of a few (okay, 500 million user credentials) may have a material impact on the Yahoo deal. I interpret “material” as meaning [a] We will buy the Purple Haze machine but for less than $4.8 billion or [b] Adios, Yahoo.

The write up included this intriguing paragraph:

Verizon will take “some time” to determine the fate of the deal, Shammo [Verizon CFO] said, unless Yahoo “comes up with a different process” for interacting with its buyer.

I translated into Kentucky speak the paragraph as meaning “Verizon will go slow” and “Yahoo needs to figure out a way to answer our questions and learning to speak Baby Bell.” Both of these statements would be interpreted as criticism here in Harrod’s Creek. Fisticuffs can break out in the local watering hole for similar perceived problems in information exchanges.

Stephen E Arnold, 27, 2016

Yahoo: Email Tizzy Makes One Dizzy

October 27, 2016

I read “Yahoo Wants the US to Explain Its Email Surveillance Order.” The write up suggests that “reports of its email scanning system [are] misleading.” Right, but who talked about the email scanning? The US government or Yahoo? My recollection is that Yahoo offered the information. Now Yahoo wants the US government to explain a task which I assume was either privileged or not for public dissemination. But what do I know? I am in rural Kentucky, observing the Purple Haze machine from afar. Thank goodness.

The write up earned this highlight from my passionate purple marker:

In a letter to James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, Yahoo’s general counsel, Ron Bell, called on the government to clarify the “national security orders they issue to internet companies to obtain user data.”  The company said that although the letter references allegations made against Yahoo, “it is intended to set a stronger precedent of transparency for our users and all citizens who could be affected by government requests for user data.” “We appreciate the need for confidentiality in certain aspects of investigations involving public safety or national security,” the letter reads, “However, transparency is critical to ensure accountability and in this context must include disclosing how and under what set of circumstances the US government uses specific legal authorities, including the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act [FISA], to obtain private information about individuals’ online activities or communications.”

There you go. Yahoo at the Yahooligans’ best.

I noted this statement from the article too:

“As we’ve [Yahoo]  said before, recent press reports have been misleading; the mail scanning described in the article does not exist on our systems,” the company said. “We therefore trust that the US government recognizes the importance of clarifying the record in this case,” the company added.

Okay, Yahoo, what are the odds that the US government will jump through a hoop for you? I don’t see Yahoo as much of a ringmaster these days. Yahoo leaves me dizzy because the Yahooligans may be in a tizzy.

Stephen E Arnold, October 27, 2016

Trending Topics: Google and Twitter Compared

October 25, 2016

For those with no time to browse through the headlines, tools that aggregate trending topics can provide a cursory way to keep up with the news. The blog post from communications firm Cision, “How to Find Trending Topics Like an Expert,” examines the two leading trending topic tools—Google’s and Twitter’s. Each approaches its tasks differently, so the best choice depends on the user’s needs.

Though the Google Trends homepage is limited, according to writer Jim Dougherty, one can get further with its extension, Google Explore. He elaborates:

If we go to the Google Trends Explore page (google.com/trends/explore), our sorting options become more robust. We can sort by the following criteria:

*By country (or worldwide)

*By time (search within a customized date range – minimum: past hour, maximum: since 2004)

*By category (arts and entertainment, sports, health, et cetera)

*By Google Property (web search, image search, news search, Google Shopping, YouTube)

You can also use the search feature via the trends page or explore the page to search the popularity of a search term over a period (custom date ranges are permitted), and you can compare the popularity of search terms using this feature as well. The Explore page also allows you to download any chart to a .csv file, or to embed the table directly to a website.

The write-up goes on to note that there are no robust third-party tools to parse data found with Google Trends/ Explore, because the company has not made the API publicly available.

Unlike Google, we’re told, Twitter does not make it intuitive to find and analyze trending topics. However, its inclusion of location data can make Twitter a valuable source for this information, if you know how to find it. Dougherty suggests a work-around:

To ‘analyze’ current trends on the native Twitter app, you have to go to the ‘home’ page. In the lower left of the home page you’ll see ‘trending topics’ and immediately below that a ‘change’ button which allows you to modify the location of your search.

Location is a huge advantage of Twitter trends compared to Google: Although Google’s data is more robust and accessible in general, it can only be parsed by country. Twitter uses Yahoo’s GeoPlanet infrastructure for its location data so that it can be exercised at a much more granular level than Google Trends.

Since Twitter does publicly share its trending-topics API, there are third-party tools one can use with Twitter Trends, like TrendoGate, TrendsMap, and ttHistory. The post concludes with a reminder to maximize the usefulness of data with tools that “go beyond trends,” like (unsurprisingly) the monitoring software offered by Daugherty’s company. Paid add-ons may be worth it for some enterprises, but we recommend you check out what is freely available first.

Cynthia Murrell, October 25, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

McPaper Broils Marissa Mayer: The Yahoo Saga Continues

October 19, 2016

I read “Marissa Mayer’s Diminishing Legacy at Yahoo.” My first reaction was, “What legacy?” I know that Yahoo, like Hewlett Packard, will become fodder for business school case studies. But legacy? The write up surprised me too. The write up includes some juicy quotes from “experts” about the firm; for example:

The most recent revelations (of spying) “are just kind of piling on,” says Rita McGrath, professor of management at Columbia Business School, who, like other management experts, concede Mayer’s failure to turn around Yahoo will shadow her. “I don’t think it’s like she was a goddess and now these revelations have destroyed her. It’s almost along the lines of, ‘We almost expected that.'”

Okay, a Xoogler fails. But “We almost expected that.” I knew Yahoo was struggling when the outfit hired a person with a questionable academic past. The Yahooligans have, in fact, had management issues for years. Anyone remember Terry Semel, who wanted to make Yahoo into a “media company.” I still don’t know what a “media company” means.


The write up states:

Nearly 50 members of Congress on Friday asked the Obama administration for more information “as soon as possible” on Yahoo’s cooperation with the government. Yahoo, in turn, has called itself a “law-abiding company.”

In today’s fractious political environment, getting 50 politicos to agree on anything suggests that  the Yahoo thing is a big deal.

I found this statement fascinating because [a] it assumes that the Verizon deal will actually take place and [b] that Ms. Mayer is performing in an above average manner, which does not match up with my analysis. Anyway, here’s the expert’s sunny statement:

“She’ll be remembered as the CEO who sold Yahoo to Verizon,” says Greg Sterling, a contributing editor at Search Engine Land, a site that covers the search industry. He gives Mayer a “B” for her stint at Yahoo. “Her legacy will be judged, in part, on what Verizon does with Yahoo.”

I love the “B.”

A good turn of phrase is “suicide mission.” The idea that no manager could survive Yahoo is one that probably resonates with some Yahoohooligans. For me, I think of the company as YaHOOT: More of a comedy of craziness than an outfit ready for the 21st century.

The legacy notion caps the write up. The point, it seems to me, is that USA Today is happy with Ms. Mayer because she is a female CEO in the often testosterone fueled Sillycon Valley scene. I highlighted the following statement in apologetic purple:

Elizabeth Ames, senior vice president of alliances, marketing and programs at the Anita Borg Institute: “With so few women in these high-profile positions, it is a test case — and that’s a pretty big burden for anyone. And it holds true for minorities in the same situation.” Mayer also brought buzz, appeal and interest to Yahoo after two of her predecessors — Carol Bartz and Scott Thompson — damaged the company’s brand, according to Search Engine’s Sterling. “The burden of expectations was too great,” he says. “She herself couldn’t revive that company. She did as well as anybody can, but she couldn’t get the rock all the way up the hill.”

About that “B”: Were the acquisitions given a pass.

Stephen E Arnold, October 19, 2016

Why Verizon Is Just Great

October 18, 2016

I read “Verizon CEO ‘Not That Shocked’ about Yahoo Breach That Exposed 500 Million Users.” I noted two candidates for my Quotes to Note file.

Here’s the first attributed to Lowell McAdam, CEO of Verizon:

“…occasionally they’re [bad actors] going to land a punch. Certainly not anything we wanted to have happen. Certainly we’re going to do everything we can to fortify ourselves.

Here’s the second statement:

we still see a real value to the asset there. But in fairness, we’re still understanding what was going on, to define whether it’s a material impact to the business or not. But the industrial logic of doing this merger still makes a lot of sense.

Yes, industrial logic. Working well for Yahoo.

Stephen E Arnold, October 18, 2016

Yahoo and Email Trick. Trick?

October 17, 2016

I read “Users Accuse Yahoo of Email Trick.” The headline is interesting, but I don’t think of Yahoo as a tricky outfit. I would suggest words along the lines of clumsy, mismanaged, inept, and clueless.

The write up suggests that Yahoo took an action to make it difficult and impractical for a person to move email from Yahoo to another service. Evidence of the cloud of unknowing swathing Yahoo in a purple haze which seems to have wafted over the BBC is this statement:

Yahoo has denied that it has made it deliberately difficult for customers to migrate to another email provider. It follows the disabling of an email-forwarding feature which allows people to migrate automatically. Yahoo said it was a “temporary” move while it worked on improvements.

My view is that Yahoo may be incapable of planning an action. My hunch is that Yahoo’s disorganization and dysfunctional decision making reached a conclusion independent of the Verizon sale, public opinion, thoughts about Yahoo mail users heading for Yandex or some other service.

What’s remarkable is that the BBC write up does not question the actions of Yahoo in a manner less like Lucy picking on Charlie Brown and more like the characters in “Silicon Valley.”

On the other hand, maybe Yahoo is shooting an episode of “Silicon Valley” and following the writers’ directions? That makes more sense than some of the behaviors of Yahoot I have watched in Yahoo’s version of reality TV.

Stephen E Arnold, October 17, 2016

Yahoo and Its PR Challenge

October 13, 2016

Navigate to “Why We Should All Dump Yahoo Now.” (I am not sure about the “all,” of course.) The site provides a form, which looks like this:


The text takes the form of an “oath.” These are similar to the documents folks sign for some jobs and certain government work. The lingo states:

By signing this pledge, I confirm that I have deleted my Yahoo account because I care about my own privacy and security and I want to make it clear to the government, to Yahoo and to other internet companies that they cannot compromise my security, privacy and safety without consequence. I have shared this information with my friends and family whose safety and security may also be at risk.

The idea is that Yahoot is a company which compromised users’ security. Heck, the Office of Personnel Management and the people leaving unsecured laptops in airport lounges do this too.

The difference is that Yahoot is a bit of a fumbler when it comes to management. There’s the peanut butter memo, the Xoogler steering the Purple Monster toward digital sandbars, and the thrill of sagging revenues.

Yahoo, in short, has a bit of a PR problem. Who is mounting this campaign? No clue. The Icann whois may be wonky now but it may be Fight for the Future / Center for Rights:




Stephen E Arnold, October 13, 2016


Stephen E Arnold, October 21, 2016

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