Why Stuff Is Stupid: Yep, Online Is One Factor

May 16, 2022

I read “IQ Scores Are Falling and Have Been for Decades, New Study Finds.” Once again academic research has verified what anyone asking a young person to make change at a fast food restaurant knows: Ain’t happening.

The article reports:

IQ scores have been steadily falling for the past few decades, and environmental factors are to blame, a new study says. The research suggests that genes aren’t what’s driving the decline in IQ scores…

What, pray tell and back up with allegedly accurate data from numerous sources? I learned:

“The causes in IQ increases over time and now the decline is due to environmental factors,” said Rogeburg [Ole Rogeberg, a senior research fellow at the Ragnar Frisch Center for Economic Research in Norway], who believes the change is not due to genetics. “It’s not that dumb people are having more kids than smart people, to put it crudely. It’s something to do with the environment, because we’re seeing the same differences within families,” he said. These environmental factors could include changes in the education system and media environment, nutrition, reading less and being online more, Rogeberg said.

Ah, ha. Media and online.

Were not these innovations going to super charge learning?

I know how it is working out when I watch a teen struggling to calculate that 57 cents from $1.00 is $5.00 and 43 cents. Yes!

I am not sure to what to make of another research study. “Why Do Those with Higher IQs Live Longer? A New Study Points to Answers” reveals:

“The slight benefit to longevity from higher intelligence seems to increase all the way up the intelligence scale, so that very smart people live longer than smart people, who live longer than averagely intelligent people, and so on.” The researchers … found an association between childhood intelligence and a reduced risk of death from dementia and, on a smaller scale, suicide. Similar results were seen among men and women, except for lower rates of suicide, which had a correlation to higher childhood intelligence among men but not women.

My rule of thumb is not to stand in front of a smart self-driving automobile.

Stephen E Arnold, May 16, 2022

Screen Addiction: Digital Gratification Anytime, Anyplace

May 11, 2022

We are addicted to screens. The screens can be any size so long as they contain instantaneous gratification content. Our screen addiction has altered our brain chemistry and Medium explains how in the article, “Your Brain-Altering Screen Addiction Explained. With Ancient Memes.” The article opens by telling readers to learn how much time they spend on their phones by looking at their usage data. It is quickly followed by a line that puts into perspective how much time people spend on their phones related to waking hours.

The shocking fact is that Americans spend four hours on mobile devices and that is not including TV and desktop time! The Center for Humane Technology created the Ledge of Harms, an evidenced-based list of harms resulting from digital addiction, mostly social media. The ledger explains too much screen time causes cognitive impairment and that means:

“The level of social media use on a given day is linked to a significant correlated increase in memory failure the next day.

• The mere presence of your smartphone, even when it’s turned off and face down, drains your attention.

• 3 months after starting to use a smartphone, users experience a significant decrease in mental arithmetic scores (indicating reduced attentional capacity) and a significant increase in social conformity.

• Most Americans spend 1 hour per day just dealing with distractions and trying to get back on track — that’s 5 wasted full weeks a year!

• Several dozen research studies indicate that higher levels of switching between different media channels are significantly linked to lower levels of both working memory and long-term memory.

• Studies even showed that people who opened Facebook frequently and stayed on Facebook longer tended to have reduced gray matter volume in the brain. “

Screen addiction causes harm in the same way as drugs and alcohol. The same thing we turn to reduce depression, anxiety, and isolation creates more of it. Another grueling statistic is that we spend an average of nineteen seconds on content before we switch to another. The switch creates a high by the release of endorphins, so we end up being manipulated by attention-extractive economics.

Tech companies want to exploit this positive feedback loop. Our attention spans are inversely proportional to the better their technology and algorithms are. The positive feedback loop is compounded by us spending more time at home, instead of participating in the real world.

How does one get the digital monkey off one’s back? Cold turkey, gentle reader. Much better than an opioid.

Whitney Grace, May 11, 2022

Online Advertising: The Wild West Digital Saloon Has Some Questionable Characters Dealing Cards

May 9, 2022

I love the illustrations of life in the Wild West. Rough guys are riding next to clueless buffalos and pumping hot lead into the creatures. There are sketches of shoot outs in the streets in front of the curious. I find native Americans leaping off a rocky knob to stab a fur-bedecked beaver trapper fascinating. But I have a special place in my heart for the gamblers and card sharp in the Silver Spur Saloon.

After reading Bored Panda’s “30 Times People Spotted Shady Ads On Facebook Marketplace And Shared Them In This Online Group,” the digital ad dive is hoppin’ 24×7. Yippy Ki-Yay! Among the examples an octopus with offensive hand gestures on each tentacle and something called a cursed rocktopus with rock heads for hands.

Odd but small fish compared to the information in “”Ad Tech Firms Faulted on Gannett’s Error” and the title on the jump “Ad-Tech Firms Under Fire.” Yep, two headlines, just slightly different. What’s the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal doing with this Gannett and under fire thing?

The “real news” is that the octopus-type outfit Gannett output incorrect (whatever that means) data. And — gasp! — advertising tech outfits “failed to connect the dots and alert their clients…”.

I liked this statement because it is so darned suggestive and appears to raise an issue that some ad mavens don’t want to discuss:

Some publishing and ad executives said the situation at Gannett raised concerns about whether the industry is missing other substantial discrepancies or intentional, fraudulent behavior.

Yep, the real bad F word: Fraud.

Mellifluous, isn’t it?

The write up contains what strike me as PR emissions about knowing about the fraudulent behavior and not taking action.

But let’s step back from the specifics of one estimable outfit like Gannett.

Here’s a list of online advertising topics I find enjoyable to contemplate:

  • How does smart software match ads; for example, I watch a video about a Russian oligarch’s yacht and I get an ad for Grammarly on YouTube? Are those ad dollars going to result in my buying Grammarly? Nope. Does YouTube care? Nope. Does Grammarly care? Nope, their marketing person wants to hit the numbers. How? Not a question anyone pushes forward is my hunch.
  • How does NewsNow.co.uk’s ad system display in line ads to me for a product I bought in the previous week to 10 days? Will that advertiser get me to buy another winter coat even though it is spring in rural Kentucky? Nope. Does the advertiser’s money deliver? Not from what I see.
  • Why do queries on ad-supported search engines return ad results unrelated to my query? Are those ads going to cause me to license a smart cyber security system? Nope. In fact, I just wrote a report explaining that many cyber security vendors are like local gyms. These folks sell official proof of good intentions. Will 90 percent of gym members lift a dumbbell more than once or twice? Sure, sure those folks do.

I was asked eight or nine years ago to give a talk in Manhattan about potential online ad fraud. The person doing the inviting wanted me to focus on Google, DoubleClick, and the information I discovered reading the DoubleClick patents and open source information about the company.

I declined. I sure didn’t want anyone in the Mad Ave game getting angry. Even more important I had zero desire to talk about a topic which would generate undue excitement.

Like old fashioned advertising, junkets to Hawaii, gifts, and wild and crazy fees without guarantees have long been associated with Mad Ave. Digital advert5ising is just like the good, old days just accelerated to Internet time and the ethical approach of certain outstanding companies which I shall not name.

Fraud? That ain’t the half of it.

Stephen E Arnold, May 9, 2022

Who Reads Dumped Once Confidential Documents?

April 27, 2022

I read “They’ve Leaked Terabytes of Russian Emails, But Who’s Reading?” The write up strikes me as a paean for open information flow in Russia and perhaps other nation states. There is a “way to go” for the distributed Denial of Secrets crowd.

I noted this passage in the original article:

In the “Russia” category, the leaks now include a huge cross-section of Russian society, including banks, oil and gas companies, and the Russian Orthodox Church. Relative to some of the other leaked content sourced by DDoSecrets, the Blagoveshchensk emails represent only a mid-sized leak. The smallest data set (a list of the personal details for 120,000 Russian soldiers in Ukraine) is a mere 22MB while the largest (20 years of emails from a Russian state-owned broadcaster) is a whopping 786GB.

Then there is the implicit question, “Who sees this stuff?”

May I offer a few possibilities?

  1. Individuals at NATO
  2. Nation states involved in the Five Eyes
  3. Intelligence analysts within the European Union
  4. Big data mavens looking for content with which to train smart software
  5. Curious individuals with access to translate dot google dot com.

There may be others, but the straw man question? Either hand waving or stumbling.

Stephen E Arnold, April 27, 2022

Gambling Addict: Is Your Time Arriving?

April 25, 2022

Addiction squared might not be such a good idea. Vox reports, “Phones Can Be Addictive. Sports Betting, Too. Now We’re Combining Them.” Writer Peter Kafka ponders:

“Remember when we decided that spending too much time on our phones was a bad thing? That immersing ourselves in our iPhones could be unhealthy, or even addictive? That was a couple of years ago. So riddle me this: Now something that we already know is potentially addictive — sports betting — is available on those phones, accompanied by a media blitz promising a path to easy money. But people raising concerns about that combination seem few and far between. So what happens to the sports betting industry if someone — namely Apple or Google, which have enormous control over what you can do with your phones — decides they do have a problem with that? Because whether you approve of gambling or not, it seems obvious that making it easily available to anyone with a phone and debit card, with few to no restrictions and a ton of advertising encouraging you to place your bets, is going to lead to problems for some people. This isn’t one of those stories about the unintended consequences we get from tech: It’s right there, on the surface.”

Yes, the evidence is clear when one looks at New Jersey, which was the state that prompted the Supreme Court in 2018 to let states legalize online sports betting. According to the executive director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, calls for help related to sports betting increased to 17% of calls, up from 3%. Such concerns seem to be far outweighed by the money to be made, both for states seeking tax dollars and companies looking to rake in the profits. From the established MGM Resorts to startups like DraftKings and FanDuel, companies are spending billions to lure users.

Kafka goes on to ponder the positions of tech companies, relates a bit of his own experience, and points to Atlanta Falcons player Calvin Ridley as a cautionary tale. Isn’t anyone worried, he asks? Nah, fostering addiction for profit is a perfectly acceptable business model these days.

Cynthia Murrell, April 25, 2022

Seniors Can Soon Experience Their Oats

April 14, 2022

If TikTok is for Gen Z, Facebook is the digital home for about half of Gen X, Baby Boomers, and whatever members of the Silent and Greatest Generations have made their way online. (For their part, Millennials seem to be everywhere.) According to a recent Pew survey, almost 72 million Americans over 50 use Facebook and, for many, it is the only social media platform they use. Now, though, there is an alternative made just for the grey-haired set. Ars Technica reports, “AARP-Backed Social Network Looks to Lure Older Users from Facebook.” We learn:

“The nonprofit funded the creation of Senior Planet Community, a social media network that encourages users to join pre-existing groups around shared interests, including gardening, travel, fitness, food, and technology. In that way, it feels more like a pared-down version of Reddit or a small collection of forums. The social network was developed by an AARP affiliate, Older Adults Technology Services. … Besides its focus on the 50-plus set, Senior Planet Community stands apart from Facebook in that it’s not commercial. The site has no advertising or membership fees. Unless the cost to run the site grows substantially, that probably won’t present much of a problem. AARP isn’t saying how much it has put into Senior Planet Community, but the organization is famously well-capitalized, with $2.3 billion in net assets and $1.7 billion in revenue in 2020. At present, the site is bare-bones when compared with Facebook. There’s no mobile app yet, though OATS says it hopes to develop one. The site is mobile-friendly at least, and all the requisite features are there, including groups, photo sharing, @-mentions, notifications, and direct messaging.”

Writer Tim De Chant points out the platform has a list of “house rules” meant to keep discussions both courteous and truthful. A more civilized atmosphere may indeed entice elders, but we have yet to learn how the site will handle moderation. Senior Planet Community spent a just month in private beta before recently opening to seniors everywhere, inviting them to “age with attitude.” Exactly how much attitude will be tolerated remains to be seen.

Cynthia Murrell, April 14, 2022

Googley Fact-Checking Efforts

April 14, 2022

Perhaps feeling the pressure to do something about the spread of falsehoods online, “Google Rolls Out Fact-Checking Features to Help Spot Misinformation” on developing news stories, reports Silicon Republic. The company’s product manager Nidhi Hebbar highlighted several of these features in a recent blog post. One is the search platform’s new resource page that offers suggestions for evaluating information. Then there is a new label within Google Search that identifies stories frequently cited by real news outfits. We also learn about the company’s Fact Check Explorer, which answers user queries on various topics with fact checks from “reputable publishers.” We are told Google is also going out of its way to support fact-checkers. Writer Leigh McGowran explains:

“Google has also partnered with a number of fact-checking organisations globally to bolster efforts to deal with misinformation. This includes a collaboration with the International Fact Checking Network (IFCN) at the non-profit Poynter Institute. This partnership is designed to provide training and resources to fact checkers and industry experts around the world, and Google said the IFCN will create a new programme to help collaboration, support fact checkers against harassment and host training workshops. Google is also working with the collaborative network LatamChequea to train 500 new fact checkers in Argentina, Colombia, Mexico and Peru.”

The problem of misinformation online has only grown since it became a hot topic in the mid-teens. The write-up continues:

“Events such as the Covid-19 pandemic and the US Capitol riots in January 2021 flung online misinformation into the sphere of public debate, with many online platforms taking action on misleading or inaccurate info, whether posted deliberately or otherwise. Misinformation has come to the fore again with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as people have reported seeing misleading, manipulated or false information about the conflict on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and Telegram.”

Will Google’s resources help stem the tide?

Cynthia Murrell, April 14, 2022

Online Advertising: A Trigger Warning May Be Needed

March 18, 2022

I read “How Can We Know If Paid Search Advertising Works?” The write up is about Google but it is not about Google in my opinion. A number of outfits selling messages may be following a well worn path: Statistical mumbo jumbo and fear of missing out on a big sale.

Advertising executives once relied on the mostly entertaining methods captured in “Mad Men.” In the digital era, the suits have been exchanged for khakis, shorts, and hoodies. But the objective is the same: Find an advertiser, invoke fear of missing out on a sale, and hauling off the cash. Will a sale happen? Yeah, but one never really knows if it was advertising, marketing, or the wife’s brother in law helping out an very odd younger brother who played video games during the Thanksgiving dinner.

The approach in the article is a mix of common sense and selective statistical analysis. The selective part is okay because the online advertisers engage in selective statistical behavior 24×7.

Here’s a statement from the article I found interesting:

It was almost like people were using the paid links, not to learn about products, but to navigate to the site. In other words, it appeared like selection bias with respect to paid click advertising and arrival at the site was probably baked into their data.

The observation that search sucks or that people use ads because they are lazy are equally valid. The point is that online advertisers a fearful of missing a sale. These lucky professionals will, therefore, buy online ads and believe that sales are a direct result. But there may be some doubt enhanced by the incantations of the Web marketing faction of the organization who say, “Ads are great, but we have to do more search engine optimization.”

A two-fer. The Web site and our products/services are advertised and people buy or “know” about our brand or us. By promoting the Web site we get the bonus sales from the regular, non paid search findability. This argument makes many people happy, particularly the online ad sales team and probably the SEO consulting experts. The real payoff is that the top dog’s anxiety level decreases. He/she/them is/are happier campers.

Identifying causal effects does not happen with wishes.

I am no expert in online advertising. I think the write up suggests that the data used to prove the value of online advertising is shaped. Wow, what a surprise? Why would the leaders in selling online advertising craft a message which may not be anchored in much more than “wishes”.

Money? Yep, money.

Stephen E Arnold, March 18, 2022

Online Gambling in Brazil: Pinga and Soccer Fun

March 8, 2022

In the 1950s, my family lived in Brazil. Our city was Campinas. At that time, it was an okay, sort of an out-of-the-way place. I recall a couple of things from my childhood. Mr. Ricci, a family friend, pointed out individuals who drank pinga at a tiny bar, took a couple of staggering steps, and leaned against a wall until the shock wave subsided. Pinga (now called cachaça or caninha) was cheap and packed an alcohol content around 38 to 48 percent. I also recall street vendors with stands papered with lottery tickets. The idea was that Brazilians really believed that a big pay day awaited the lucky gambler. Mr. Ricci, as I recall, said, “Own the lottery. Don’t play the lottery.” After watching the pinga lovers and the lottery ticket buyers, I carried away a life long aversion to alcohol and gambling. Pretty silly, right?

If a young child about 11 years old could figure out that many Brazilians liked gambling and distilled sugar cane, one would think others would too. Nope. Just do a couple of carnivals or check out the action outside the stadium when Palmeiras plays Fluminense.

I thought about my memories of Campinas as I read “Brazil’s Move to Legalize Sports Gambling Is Fueling a Digital Gold Rush.” The article states:

With the help of Eccles, the Brazilian startup followed a game plan similar to FanDuel’s and convinced regulators that fantasy gaming should be considered a game of skill, rather than luck. Now, armed with 1.6 million users in Brazil, Rei do Pitaco is ready to move into traditional sports gambling when it becomes fully regulated. [Emphasis added]

Yep, skill. Just like card counting or being James Bond at the baccarat table.

Several observations:

  • Digitizing gambling puts Teflon on exploiting some people who bet on many things
  • Pinga lubricates decision making for some people
  • Organized operators can put a finger on the scales in some athletic contests

Net net: Digitizing lowest common denominator activities is a way for some to demonstrate skill. Sure enough.

Stephen E Arnold, March 7, 2022

Virtual Landscapes Treacherous Terrain for Children

March 7, 2022

Society was not ready. Despite decades of science fiction that predicted the seedy side of the metaverse, those making it a reality are failing to protect minors who wander into its dark corners. BBC News reports, “Metaverse App Allows Kids into Virtual Strip Clubs.” Reporters Angus Crawford and Tony Smith describe the disturbing visit a BBC researcher made to one of those dives. They write:

“A researcher posing as a 13-year-old girl witnessed grooming, sexual material, racist insults and a rape threat in the virtual-reality world. The children’s charity [the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children] said it was ‘shocked and angry’ at the findings. Head of online child safety policy Andy Burrows added the investigation had found ‘a toxic combination of risks’. The BBC News researcher – using an app with a minimum age rating of 13 – visited virtual-reality rooms where avatars were simulating sex. She was shown sex toys and condoms, and approached by numerous adult men.”

The post shares both a video of the researcher describing the experience and her written summary, so navigate there for her alarming account. It is even more disturbing to learn actual children, not just undercover researchers, are confirmed to be subjected to these experiences. We learn:

“BBC News also spoke to a safety campaigner who has spent months investigating VRChat and who now posts his videos on YouTube. He has spoken to children who say they were groomed on the platform and forced to take part in virtual sex. … The safety campaigner explained because VR is so immersive, children actually have to act out sexual movements.”

We also have this distressing detail from Limina Immersive owner Catherine Allen, who was researching virtual reality experiences:

“She described one incident in a Meta-owned app where she encountered a seven-year-old girl. A group of men surrounded them both and joked about raping them. Ms Allen said she had to step between the men and the child to protect her. ‘I shouldn’t have had to do that, but that’s because there’s no moderation, or apparently very little moderation.’”

Some may downplay this problem because it is not “real life,” but the purpose of VR is to make things a realistic as possible. Especially for children, the distinction can be merely academic; the trauma is no doubt real. The write-up criticizes Facebook for making unregulated third-party content available through its Meta Quest app store with absolutely no age verification required. Zuckbook points out it provides tools that allow players to block other users but, considering the risks, that is too little too late. The article suggests parents check what VR apps their kids are using and test drive them for themselves. We also receive this helpful tip:

“Many apps allow users to simultaneously ‘cast’ their experience to a phone or laptop, so a parent can watch what’s going on at the same time as their child plays.”

It is up to parents to be vigilant, since those providing access to the metaverse are more interested in profits than in our children’s safety.

Cynthia Murrell, March 7, 2022

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