Cognitive Blind Spot 4: Ads. What Is the Big Deal Already?

October 11, 2023

Vea4_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb_t[1]_thumb_thumbNote: This essay is the work of a real and still-alive dinobaby. No smart software involved, just a dumb humanoid.

Last week, I presented a summary of Dark Web Trends 2023, a research update my team and I prepare each year. I showed a visual of the ads on a Dark Web search engine. Here’s an example of one of my illustrations:


The TorLanD service, when it is accessible via Tor, displays a search box and advertising. What is interesting about this service and a number of other Dark Web search engines is the ads. The search results are so-so, vastly inferior to those information retrieval solutions offered by intelware vendors.

Some of the ads appear on other Dark Web search systems as well; for example, Bobby and DarkSide, among others. The advertisements off a range of interesting content. TorLanD screenshot pitches carding, porn, drugs, gadgets (skimmers and software), illegal substances. I pointed out that the ads on TorLanD looked a lot like the ads on Bobby; for instance:


I want to point out that the Silk Road 4.0 and the Gadgets, Docs, Fakes ads are identical. Notice also that TorLanD advertises on Bobby. The Helsinki Drug Marketplace on the Bobby search system offers heroin.

Most of these ads are trade outs. The idea is that one Dark Web site will display an ad for another Dark Web site. There are often links to Dark Web advertising agencies as well. (For this short post, I won’t be listing these vendors, but if you are interested in this research, contact benkent2020 at yahoo dot com. One of my team will follow up and explain our for-fee research policy.)

The point of these two examples is make clear that advertising has become normalized, even among bad actors. Furthermore, few are surprised that bad actors (or alleged bad actors) communicate, pat one another on the back, and support an ecosystem to buy and sell space on the increasingly small Dark Web. Please, note that advertising appears in public and private Telegram groups focused on he topics referenced in these Dark Web ads.

Can you believe the ads? Some people do. Users of the Clear Web and the Dark Web are conditioned to accept ads and to believe that these are true, valid, useful, and intended to make it easy to break the law and buy a controlled substance or CSAM. Some ads emphasize “trust.”

People trust ads. People believe ads. People expect ads. In fact, one can poke around and identify advertising and PR agencies touting the idea that people “trust” ads, particularly those with brand identity. How does one build brand? Give up? Advertising and weaponized information are two ways.

The cognitive bias that operates is that people embrace advertising. Look at a page of Google results. Which are ads and which are ads but not identified. What happens when ads are indistinguishable from plausible messages? Some online companies offer stealth ads. On the Dark Web pages illustrating this essay are law enforcement agencies masquerading as bad actors. Can you identify one such ad? What about messages on Twitter which are designed to be difficult to spot as paid messages or weaponized content. For one take on Twitter technology, read “New Ads on X Can’t Be Blocked or Reported, and Aren’t Labeled as Advertisements.”

Let me highlight some of the functions on online ads like those on the Dark Web sites. I will ignore the Clear Web ads for the purposes of this essay:

  1. Click on the ad and receive malware
  2. Visit the ad and explore the illegal offer so that the site operator can obtain information about you
  3. Sell you a product and obtain the identifiers you provide, a deliver address (either physical or digital), or plant a beacon on your system to facilitate tracking
  4. Gather emails for phishing or other online initiatives
  5. Blackmail.

I want to highlight advertising as a vector of weaponization for three reasons: [a] People believe ads. I know it sound silly, but ads work. People suspend disbelief when an ad on a service offers something that sounds too good to be true; [b] many people do not question the legitimacy of an ad or its message. Ads are good. Ads are everywhere. and [c] Ads are essentially unregulated.

What happens when everything drifts toward advertising? The cognitive blind spot kicks in and one cannot separate the false from the real.

Public service note: Before you explore Dark Web ads or click links on social media services like Twitter, consider that these are vectors which can point to quite surprising outcomes. Intelligence agencies outside the US use Dark Web sites as a way to harvest useful information. Bad actors use ads to rip off unsuspecting people like the doctor who once lived two miles from my office when she ordered a Dark Web hitman to terminate an individual.

Ads are unregulated and full of surprises. But the cognitive blind spot for advertising guarantees that the technique will flourish and gain technical sophistication. Are those objective search results useful information or weaponized? Will the Dark Web vendor really sell you valid stolen credit cards? Will the US postal service deliver an unmarked envelope chock full of interesting chemicals?

Stephen E Arnold, October 11, 2023

Digital Work: Pick Up the Rake and Get with the Program

June 27, 2023

Vea4_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb_t[1]Note: This essay is the work of a real and still-alive dinobaby. No smart software involved, just a dumb humanoid.

The sky is falling, according to “AI Is Killing the Old Web, And the New Web Struggles to Be Born.” What’s the answer? Read publications like the Verge online, of course. At least, that is the message I received from this essay. (I think I could hear the author whispering, “AI will kill us all, and I will lose my job. But this essay is a rizz. NYT, here I come.”)

6 27 raking leaves

This grumpy young person says, “My brother dropped the car keys in the leaves. Now I have to rake— like actually rake — to find them. My brother is a dork and my life is over.” Is there an easy, quick fix? No, the sky — not leaves — are falling when it comes to finding information, according to the Verge, a Silicon Valley-type “real” news outfit. MidJourney, you have almost captured the dour look of a young person who must do work.

I noted this statement in the essay:

AI-generated misinformation is insidious because it’s often invisible. It’s fluent but not grounded in real-world experience, and so it takes time and expertise to unpick. If machine-generated content supplants human authorship, it would be hard — impossible, even — to fully map the damage. And yes, people are plentiful sources of misinformation, too, but if AI systems also choke out the platforms where human expertise currently thrives, then there will be less opportunity to remedy our collective errors.

Thump. The sky allegedly has fallen. The author, like the teen in the illustration is faced with work; that is, the task of raking, bagging, and hauling the trash to the burn pit.

What a novel concept! Intellectual work; that is, sifting through information and discarding the garbage. Prior to Gutenberg, one asked around, found a person who knew something, and asked the individual, “How do I make a horseshoe.” After Gutenberg, one had to find, read, and learn information.” With online, free services are supposed to just cough up the answer. The idea is that the leaves put themselves in the garbage bags and the missing keys appear. It’s magic or one of those Apple tracking devices.

News flash.

Each type of finding tool requires work. Yep, effort. In order to locate information, one has to do work. Does the thumb typing, TikTok consuming person want to do work? From my point of view, work is not on the menu at Philz Coffee.

New tools, different finding methods, and effort are required to rake the intellectual leaves and reveal the lawn. In the comments to the article, Barb3d says:

It’s clear from his article that James Vincent is more concerned about his own relevance in an AI-powered future than he is about the state of the web. His alarmist view of AI’s role in the web landscape appears to be driven more by personal fear of obsolescence than by objective analysis.

My view is that the Verge is concerned about its role as a modern Oracle of Delphi. The sky-is-falling itself is click bait. The silliness of the Silicon Valley “real” news outfit vibrates in the write up. I would point out that the article itself is derivative of another article from an online service Tom’s Hardware.

The author allegedly talked to one expert in hiking boots. That’s a good start. The longest journey begins with a single step. But learning how to make a horse shoe and an opinion about which boot to purchase are two different tasks. One is instrumental and the other is fashion.

No, software advances won’t kill the Web as “we” know it. As Barb3d says, “Adapt.” Or in my lingo, pick up the rake, quit complaining, and find the keys.

Stephen E Arnold, June 27, 2023

Yandex: Just Helping Others to Understand Geography

June 14, 2022

The Yandex news has been interesting. Some staff turnover. Some outages. Some changes to Yandex images. But there’s more! Example:

On June 3, European Union introduced sanctions against one of the company’s founders, Arkady Volozh prompting his immediate resignation.

Russia’s Yandex Maps to Stop Displaying National Borders” also reports:

the company said that their updated digital maps would “focus on natural features rather than on state boundaries.”

What’s this “real news” statement mean?

My thought is that national borders can be fuzzy and then defined as necessary.

The map is not the territory as YouTube videos about a certain dust up near the Black Sea makes evident.

Stephen E Arnold, June 14, 2022

More Search Excitement: Apple Google Payoff Alleged

January 5, 2022

I read “Class Action Lawsuit Filed in California Alleging Google Is Paying Apple to Stay Out of the Search Engine Business.” Now that lawyers are digitally aware professionals cades after the online money magnets began operations, interesting allegations are zipping around. I commented about the shallowness of some pundits’ understanding of the fuzzy wuzzy concept of “search.” (Chemical informatics, anyone or train movement in Ukraine?)

This news release may be a way for a law firm to generate some buzz, or it may be a valid proposition. Either way, the allegation is interesting. The source document states:

The complaint charges that Google and Apple agreed that Apple would not compete in the internet search business against Google.  The complaint claims that the means used to effectuate the non-compete agreement included; (1) Google would share it’s search profits with Apple; (2) Apple would give preferential treatment to Google for all Apple devices; (3) regular secret meetings between the executives of both companies; (4) annual multi-billion-dollar payments by Google to Apple not to compete in the search business; (5) suppression of the competition of smaller competitors and foreclosing competitors from the search market; (6) acquiring actual and potential competitors.

Plus, I love the word “effectuate.”

This is worth watching. From my point of view, the effort seems like trying to alter the characters in a film like the “Wolf of Wall Street.”

Stephen E Arnold January 5, 2022

DuckDuckGo Email Protection Now in Beta

August 4, 2021

DuckDuckGo has released a new privacy-centric service. The Verge reports, “DuckDuckGo Launches New Email Protection Service to Remove Trackers.” Famous for its non-tracking search platform, the company also offers mobile and desktop browser extensions and is working on its own privacy-focused desktop browser. Metasearch to browser to email: the company aims to protect privacy across the online environment. The article describes how the email service removes trackers, and one can find details on how its other offerings work at its website. It all sounds very effective, and we are glad to see these measures in place. However, we have a question: What about those log files? I suppose we are to assume no admin ever, ever looks at that data.

Writer Dave Gershgorn describes how the Email Protection tool works:

The company’s new Email Protection feature gives users a free ‘’ email address, which will forward emails to your regular inbox after analyzing their contents for trackers and stripping any away. DuckDuckGo is also extending this feature with unique, disposable forwarding addresses, which can be generated easily in DuckDuckGo’s mobile browser or through desktop browser extensions. The personal DuckDuckGo email is meant to be given out to friends and contacts you know, while the disposable addresses are better served when signing up for free trials, newsletters, or anywhere you suspect might sell your email address. If the email address is compromised, you can easily deactivate it. These tools are similar to anti-tracking features implemented by Apple in iOS 14 and iOS 15, but DuckDuckGo’s approach integrates into iOS, Android, and all major web browsers. DuckDuckGo will also make it easier to spin up disposable email addresses on the fly, for newsletters or anywhere you might share your email. Tackling email privacy has been a major goal for DuckDuckGo, as the company pushes for privacy-friendly methods for various online tasks.”

According to this 2017 study, more than 70 percent of email lists employ trackers that tell advertisers when, where, and on what device a message is opened. This information, of course, is then used to build advertising profiles. DuckDuckGo knows switching email addresses is a hassle most users would be unwilling to endure, so it came up with this intermediary layer. Naturally, the tool integrates with the company’s browser extensions. One limitation—while a user can respond to email that comes in to their address, one cannot use it to initiate a new email thread. Email Protection is currently in beta; no word on when we can expect the tool to be released to the public.

Cynthia Murrell, August 4, 2021

Search Share, Anyone? Qwant, Swisscows, Yandex, Yippy? (Oh, Sorry, Yippy May Be a Goner)

May 17, 2021

A recent study by marketing firm Adam & Eve DDB examined the impact of search-result placement on brand visibility over the past six years. McLellan Marketing Group summarizes the findings in it’s post, “Share of Search.” A company’s “share of search” is the percentage of searches for its product category that result in its site popping up near the top. The Google Analytics dashboard helpfully displays organizations’ referrals for specific keywords and phrases, while the Google Keyword Tool reports overall searches for each term or phrase. The study checked out the metrics for three examples. We learn:

“[Adam & Eve DDB’s Les] Binet explored three categories: an expensive considered purchase (automotive), a commodity (gas and electricity) and a lower-priced but very crowded brand segment (mobile phone handsets). The results were very telling. Here are some of the biggest takeaways:

Share of search correlates with market share in all three categories.

Share of search is a leading indicator/predictor of share of market – when share of search goes up, share of market tends to go up, and when share of search goes down, share of market falls.

This long-term prediction can also act as an early warning system for brands in terms of their market share.

Share of voice (advertising) has two effects on share of search: a significant short-term impact that produces a big burst but then fades rapidly, and a smaller, longer-term effect that lingers for a very long time.

The long-term effects build on each other, sustaining and growing over time.

Share of search could also be a new measure for brand strength or health of a brand by measuring the base level of share of search without advertising.

While share of search provides essential quantitative data, brands should also use qualitative research and sentiment analysis to get a more robust picture.”

We are told that when a brand’s search share surpasses its market share, growth is on the way. Yippee! How can one ensure such a result? Writer Drew McLellan reminds us that relevant content tailored to one’s audience is the key to organic search performance. Or one could just take the shortcut: buying Facebook and Google ads also does the trick. But we wonder—where is the fun in that? Yippy? Yippy? Duck Ducking the search thing?

Cynthia Murrell, May 17, 2021

More Pix Online: 700K Images from the Rijksmuseum

January 22, 2021

We spotted this news item: “Over 700,000 Pairings from the Rijksmuseum Online Copyright Free.” These, according to the write up, are copyright free. The source of the money for this project was BankGiro Lottery, which is a culture lottery. I love that phrase “culture lottery.” I wonder if Russian individuals of character will implement similar terminology? You can access the service at this link.

The value of any image collection is one’s ability to locate a picture by artist, date, subject, and hopefully the name of the individual who made the painting possible for the museum to acquire. Art, like yachts, often has a fascinating back-story.

I ran this query: Canal boats.

The system displayed:


I clicked on Canals Boats and Ships. Notice that my “canal” was expanded to include “canals.” The term “boats” was matched exactly.

That’s a step forward considering the issues I have encountered with Internet Archive, Google Life collection, Library of Congress, and other image services.

My family was forced out of Amsterdam in 1605. Perhaps by getting image search to mostly work, the citizens are extending an olive branch to the remaining Arnolds.

Stephen E Arnold, January 22, 2021

Enterprise Search Art

December 8, 2020

I noted Pixeltrue’s collection of Covid art. Take a look. Very good work. But — there is a but when Beyond Search looks at Covid art. One of the Beyond Search team revised the captions for several of the images so that each reflects more accurately what we call “search syndrome.”


Headache: The direct result of a free Web search results page.

Plus, choking when reviewing irrelevant results:


Gag, hack, hack.

Stephen E Arnold, December 8, 2020

Stupid Enterprise Search Promotions

July 6, 2020

Check out these incredibly silly pitches for the same market study about enterprise search:


This is an example of search engine optimization gaming the Google Alert system. Ridiculous SEO play and a ridiculous report.

The offending company appears to be:

Advance Market Analytics


Stephen E Arnold, July 6, 2020

New Arnold-Steele Discussion: Findability Is Terrible

May 7, 2020

Robert David Steele, a former CIA professional, stored a video of our recent discussion about finding open source information. The main point is that findability has degraded to the point that results are generally useless. Bing, Google, and other ad-supported systems have abandoned precision and relevance. Search results are a dog’s breakfast. To view the findabiity discussion, navigate to this link. The video was produced by Mr. Steele.

Stephen E Arnold, May 7, 2020

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