Another Xoogler Explains Algorithmic Manipulation

December 25, 2020

I don’t want to make a big deal about a former Google engineer talking about algorithmic manipulation. I know what happened to the Google AI expert who pointed out that training data can and does bias how numerical recipes make decisions.

I spotted this 2019 statement in an ancient write up called “‘YouTube Recommendations Are Toxic,’ Says Dev Who Worked on the Algorithm.” The speaker is a Xoogler (the semi official name for someone who worked at the Google) who allegedly worked on the YouTube recommendation algorithm. Now keep in mind that the Google is a pretty chaotic outfit, and it is possible for people to “work on” something and the outside world will have zero idea whether the contribution was a quality test or something substantive like fiddling thresholds to meet a harried superior’s goal. (Bonus time causes some interesting activities I have heard.)

Here’s the quote, and I have put in bold face the important statement which I found important and possibly accurate:

“It isn’t inherently awful that YouTube uses AI to recommend video for you, because if the AI is well tuned it can help you get what you want. This would be amazing,” Chaslot told TNW. “But the problem is that the AI isn’t built to help you get what you want — it’s built to get you addicted to YouTube. Recommendations were designed to waste your time.”

The write up does not dig into wasting time. I want to share my perception of the time wasting angle. In the good old days, Web sites wanted to be sticky. That’s why mere search engines became portals and eventually massive one stop shops with everything in one “experience.”

For YouTube, the more time a person invests in watching videos on YouTube, the more ads Google can slam into the video. If you think there are a lot of ads for a video now, just wait until the “game plan” is rolled out to the Googlers in the Spring of 2021.

Therefore, the purpose of the YouTube algorithm is to create opportunities to display ads. Are these relevant or irrelevant. I must say that I am quite adept at clicking past blandishments for Grammarly, Liberty Mutual, and many other hapless companies dumping cash into the coffers of the world’s most wonderfulest Web search system. Grammarly, isn’t “wonderfulest” a real word when used with “Google”? Maybe I should as DeepMind? Oh, right. DeepMind is busy doing healthy things and losing hundreds of millions of dollars every year.

Burn that ad inventory. Absolutely.

Stephen E Arnold, December 25, 2020

A Facebook Promise: Good As Gold

December 3, 2020

Oops. A Facebook algorithm’s mistake is causing the company to offer apologies and refunds, we learn from CNBC’s article, “Facebook to Reimburse Some Advertisers After Miscalculating Effectiveness Data.” Citing a report from Ad Exchanger, writer Lucy Handley informs us:

“The company’s ‘conversion lift’ tool suffered a glitch that reportedly affected thousands of ads between August 2019 and August 2020. Facebook fixed the error in September and is now offering a credit to clients ‘meaningfully affected’ by the bug. Conversion lift helps brands understand how ads lead to sales, using a ‘gold-standard methodology’ that links ads on Facebook’s platforms, including Instagram, to business performance, according to an explanation of the tool on Facebook’s website. The free tool shows ads to separate test and control groups and then compares sales conversions for each. Then, based on the results of the study, an advertiser can decide how much to spend on the social network.”

Though the error was discovered and fixed in September, the company is just now getting around to informing clients. According to Facebook, a “small number” of advertisers were affected, though what that behemoth considers a small number is unclear. Handley reminds us:

“This isn’t the first time Facebook has admitted mistakes in reporting. In September 2016, it said it overestimated the average time people spent viewing video ads over a two-year period, and in 2017 a report found that Facebook claimed to reach more people in some U.S. states and cities than official population data said existed in those areas.”

Yep, Facebook is starting 2021 with its true colors flying. I suppose it is nice to see some things remain consistent.

Cynthia Murrell, December 3, 2020

The European Competition Commission Goes for the Throat

November 3, 2020

I wanted to note the October 30, 3030, Reuters’ story “Online Giants Will Have to Open Ad Archives to EU Antitrust Regulators.” At last regulators are taking steps to gain access to the systems and methods used by Google and other online ad giants. The news story helps cement Margrethe Vestager as someone who uses her position to do more than posture. Also, the news story points out that there is a research agency called Algorithm Watch.

The problem is that the companies asked to provide information have legal options. The delays are likely to slow the regulators’ quest for data. If sufficient time goes by, the landscape can be reworked. Internet time is different from regulators’ time.

There is a counter point. Navigate to “Monopoly Power Is Less Dangerous Today Than in Past.” The argument set forth in this Telegraph Herald write up is unlikely to have a significant impact on the good ship SS Margrethe.

Stephen E Arnold, November 3, 2020

Google Filtering: How Smart Is Software?

October 27, 2020

I included a screenshot illustrating YouTube search results which make it clear how to obtain without charge copy-protected commercial software. You can read that story and see the screen shot at this link. I want to document a Reuters’ report called “Italy’s Communications Watchdog Fines Google for Betting Ad.” The news item documents that Google was fined for running gambling ads. The DarkCyber research team has been monitoring some of the questionable video streaming sites. Advertisements are appearing on these sites in greater numbers. What vendors are providing these paid messages? At this time, there’s no open source information about the intermediaries involved.

Questions:

  1. Why doesn’t filtering by key word work for Google advertisements? Gambling seems to be a no brainer.
  2. Why are Google YouTube search results providing recently updated links to video content which appears to violate a number of rules and regulations? The word “crack” is like gambling a seemingly obvious yellow caution light.
  3. What are the names of the ad agency intermediaries providing advertisements to what appear to be illegal video streaming sites?

Interesting? The DarkCyber research team finds the subject engaging. Smart software seems to have some blind spots.

Stephen E Arnold, October 27, 2020

Streaming Data: Does the Information Presage the Future for Google Advertising?

October 12, 2020

DarkCyber is not populated with work hour gamers. (Tibby is the exception.) One of the research team spotted “Streamlabs & Stream Hatchet Q3 Live Streaming Industry Report.” The summary contained an interesting factoid, which we assume is spot on. Here it is:

Twitch now represents 91.1% of the market share for hours streamed, up 14.5% from last quarter. This massive increase can be attributed to Mixer’s shutdown, which captured 14.2% of all content live-streamed last quarter. That is compared to Facebook Gaming, which now represents 3.4% of the market share, and increased by 1% since last quarter, and YouTube Gaming, which now represents 5.5% of the market share, and decreased by 1.2% since last quarter.

The data prompted a question from one of the DarkCyber researchers:

What is the likelihood that Amazon’s online streaming advertising follows a similar path?

At lunch on October 8, a number of ideas floated above the miasma of take out Chinese:

  1. No way, José. Google will find a way to get into the online streaming money flow.
  2. Yikes. Google may be too distracted by removing features from its lackluster mobile devices, fending off regulators, and dealing with its “human resource” issues to respond in an effective manner.
  3. The Bezos bulldozer grinds forward. The effectiveness of Amazon in multiple market sectors may push Google and others aside. Product searches and product advertising are likely to be more important as the retail sector in the US erodes.

Which is it? Worth watching.

Stephen E Arnold, October 12, 2020

After 20 Plus Years, Whoa! Surveillance by Big Tech

August 10, 2020

DarkCyber has noted a flurry of write ups expressing surprise, rage, indignation, and blusterification at the idea of a commercial company collecting data. Hello, services are free for a basic reason: Making money. Part of making money is to have something that other companies and organizations will purchase. A good example is personal information about users of free services. The way big companies work is that there is a constant pressure to find new ways to generate money. Thus, there are data sucking apps; there are advertisements and more advertisements; there are subscriptions which lock in revenue while providing an Amazon-style we know a lot about those who shop on Amazon; and there are many ornaments on these methods.

I got a kick out of “Silicon Valley’s Vast Data Collection Should Worry You More Than TikTok.” We know the story well. Commercial firms in the US gather data and license it, often to marketing firms and to other organizations. After two decades of blissful ignorance a devoted band of “real” journalists are now probing the core business model of many technology centric companies.

Give me a break. We are talking decades of business processes designed to generate useful reports from flows of actions by individuals. In some countries, the government performs this task. In others, commercial enterprises do the work and license the normalized data to governments.

This passage from the write up tickled my funny bone:

And none of this is unreasonable. We should be worried about private companies and governments potentially collecting data on millions of unsuspecting people and censoring content they don’t like. But those based in China represent just a sliver of that threat.

Yep, the old “woulda, coulda, shoulda” ploy. May I remind you, gentle reader, that we are decades into the automation of data about the actions of individuals. These are the happy and often ignorant humanoids who download apps, run queries, click on videos, and send personal message while leaving a data trail a foot deep and a mile wide.

And now the need for something?

And data collection is not a technical and economic issue. Nope. Data collection is politics; for example:

TikTok’s critics might point to the increasingly scary behavior of China’s government as to why Chinese control of information is particularly alarming. They’re right about the behavior, but they curiously ignore the fact that the United States itself is currently governed by a far-right demagogue with his own concentration camps and authoritarian repression, and that the party behind him, which aligns entirely with his politics, reliably cycles into power at least once every eight years.

What’s the fix? Well, “oppose it all.”

Where were the regulators, the users, and the competitors 20 years ago? Probably in grade school, blissfully unaware that those handheld gadgets would become more important than other activities. Okay, adult thumbtypers, your outrage is interesting. Step back, and perhaps you can see why the howls of outrage, the references to evil forms of government, and the horrors of toting around a device that usually provides real time documentation of one’s actions as a bad thing.

But after 20 years, is it surprising that personal data actions are captured, analyzed, and used to provide more data “stuff” to consume? As I said, its been 20 years with no lessening of the processes. Complain to your parents. Maybe they dropped the ball? Commercial enterprises and governments are like beavers. And beavers do what beavers do.

Stephen E Arnold, August 10, 2020

Hippy Dippy New Age Insight: Ads Are Numerous

July 30, 2020

I want to keep this brief. The number of ads is increasing. Avoiding them is difficult. Why? Zero controls, zero social responsibility, and zero regulatory oversight.

I Was Horrified at How Many Ads the New Brave Browser and VPN for iOS Blocked” is amusing because it reveals the lack of awareness of the zip zip mobile world in which some hippy dippy New Age “real” news publications thrive.

The article states:

I visited a few of my favorite sites and then was promptly horrified when it told me that in about 3 minutes of browsing, it had blocked 107 ads and trackers and given me 2 HTTPS upgrades. Supposedly, this saved me five seconds of my life.

Not for long. Online advertisers share some DNA with bad actors creating novel malware. One difference: Law enforcement pursues the malware wizards. Online advertising outfits get invited to testify to a Congressional committee.

Stephen E Arnold, July 30, 2020

Scam Ads: Easy to Do Apparently

July 8, 2020

A somewhat shocking assertion appears in “Easy for Fraudsters to Post Scam Ads on Facebook and Google.” The article reports that researchers posted fake ads on Google:

They found that Google did review the adverts submitted, but failed to verify whether the business was real and did not ask for ID. In under an hour, the adverts were approved by the search engine firm for both dummy businesses, gaining almost 100,000 impressions over the space of a month. The fake advert for Natural Hydration was displayed above the official NHS Scotland pages when users searched for “hydration advice”.

A Facebook ad was given similar treatment:

using a personal Facebook account, Which? created a business page on the social network for Natural Hydration and produced a range of posts with pseudo health advice to promote it. A paid promotion of the page gained some 500 likes in the space of a week. Facebook responded to the investigation saying the page set up by Which? does not violate its community standards and is not currently selling products.

Are these data accurate? Regulatory authorities seem to lack tools to influence the large online advertising monopolies.

Stephen E Arnold, July 8, 2020

Facebook Ad Boycott Risk: The Mark of El Zucko

July 2, 2020

I have a general rule: Those with power are likely to stomp on little people like me. What happens when companies that need access to Facebook users get cute with El Zucko?

Mr. Zuckerberg may not have a sword like El Zorro’s, but he has a digital cattle probe, and he can crank up the voltage.

Moral: A big advertiser better be a heck of a lot bigger than El Zucko, or the advertiser will end up with some memorable Facebook moments. Not all of these love taps with the cattle probe will be “likes.”

The trust outfit published “Facebook Frustrates Advertisers As Boycott over Hate Speech Kicks Off.” The message I carried away from the trust outfit’s “real” news story was that Facebook keeps on being Facebook.

Let’s consider the advertisers’ options:

First, advertisers can route their digital advertising to services which disseminate content on AdF.ly type networks. If you are not familiar with this fine option, check it out. If AdF.ly is a bit too avant garde, there is lovable Alphabet Google YouTube. Ads can appear in interesting contexts. Because the AGY systems are dynamic, one may not know where ads appear. Not to worry, right?

Second, advertisers can run into the arms of those lovable Amazonians. Pitching consulting services on Amazon is tricky, but it is not impossible. Options range from zippy videos for the Twitch.tv consumers, or one can team up with a vendor of something and package one’s consulting service with the tangible product as an after purchase “training” or “support” option.

Third, advertisers can hunt down the ad sales professionals at print publications. These individuals are easy to spot. Their schedules are vacant like their eyes. Well, maybe that is a haunted look related to fear. Just buy space in ever popular publications like the local newspaper. Alternatively why not buy double truck ads in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. Those must work. IBM ran it’s “we are in a yellow submarine” ad a few days ago.

Fourth, advertisers can pay search engine optimization experts to pump their message hither and yon using every conceivable type of digital channel available. Everyone loves irrelevant content and links to big company Web sites where emails can be provided and money spent.

Fifth, hang it up. Emulate the businesses which are closing. Blame it on the pandemic, the surge, or whatever.

Net net: Facebook for the foreseeable future has considerable power. El Zucko can keep on doing what he does best; that is, whatever he wants. When he decides to raise ad rates and change the rules of his game, he will. There are ways to implement differential pricing and other types of hair shirt freebies for certain advertisers.

The mark of El Zucko may be a painful burn and a giant Z on an expanse of advertiser skin in the game.

Stephen E Arnold, July 2, 2020

Alphabet Wants to Spell Money with Shop-able Ads

June 30, 2020

Yes, YouTube will become more shop-able. The news shocked no one on the DarkCyber research team. YouTube videos are almost unwatchable. Pre-rolls, interstitials, and post-rolls. Auto-playing of ads when autoplace is set to off. Such convenience, such excellent user experience.

YouTube Launches a New Ad Format That Showcases Product Images” reports:

YouTube created a new ad format that makes the platform more shoppable. The ad format will feature product images for viewers to browse, by integrating company pages into the video platform. Companies can have products displayed through the new ad format by syncing Google Merchant Center with video ad materials. Following that companies can decide which products to feature.

This sounds exciting. Perhaps advertisers taking a break from Facebook will embrace the new platform? What’s next? How about videos which contain zero YouTube creator content. Just one ad surrounded by the “See Also” ads the magic algorithm suggests.

Relevance? Perfect. Efficient. Plus Aerie might get another Google ad research outsourcing contract. The internal professionals are just too darned busy.

Stephen E Arnold, June 30, 2020

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