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  1. Research by a privacy rights advocacy group has found popular mental health websites in the EU are sharing users’ sensitive personal data with advertisers. Europeans going online to seek support with mental health issues are having sensitive health data tracked and passed to third parties, according to Privacy International’s findings — including depression websites passing answers and results of mental health check tests direct to third parties for ad targeting purposes. The charity used the open source Webxray tool to analyze the data gathering habits of 136 popular mental health web pages in France, Germany and the UK, as well as looking at a small sub-set of online depression tests (the top three Google search results for the phrase per country). It has compiled its findings into a report called Your mental health for sale. “Our findings show that many mental health websites don’t take the privacy of their visitors as seriously as they should,” Privacy International writes. “This research also shows that some mental health websites treat the personal data of their visitors as a commodity, while failing to meet their obligations under European data protection and privacy laws.” Under Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), there are strict rules governing the processing of health data — which is classified as special category personal data. If consent is being used as the legal basis to gather this type of data the standard that must be obtained from the user is “explicit” consent. In practice that might mean a pop-up before you take a depression test which asks whether you’d like to share your mental health with a laundry list of advertisers so they can use it to sell you stuff when you’re feeling low — also offering a clear ‘hell no’ penalty-free choice not to consent (but still get to take the test). Safe to say, such unvarnished consent screens are as rare as hen’s teeth on the modern Internet. But, in Europe, beefed up privacy laws are now being used to challenge the ‘data industrial complex’s systemic abuses and help individuals enforce their rights against a behavior-tracking adtech industry that regulators have warned is out of control. Among Privacy International’s key findings are that — 76.04% of the mental health web pages contained third-party trackers for marketing purposes Google trackers are almost impossible to avoid, with 87.8% of the web pages in France having a Google tracker, 84.09% in Germany and 92.16% in the UK Facebook is the second most common third-party tracker after Google, with 48.78% of all French web pages analysed sharing data with Facebook; 22.73% for Germany; and 49.02 % for the UK. Amazon Marketing Services were also used by many of the mental health web pages analysed (24.39% of analyzed web pages in France; 13.64 % in Germany; and 11.76% in the UK) Depression-related web pages used a large number of third-party tracking cookies which were placed before users were able to express (or deny) consent. On average, PI found the mental health web pages placed 44.49 cookies in France; 7.82 for Germany; and 12.24 for the UK. European law around consent as a legal basis for processing (general) personal data — including for dropping tracking cookies — requires it to be informed, specific and freely given. This means websites that wish to gather user data must clearly state what data they intend to collect for what purpose, and do so before doing it, providing visitors with a free choice to accept or decline the tracking. Dropping tracking cookies without even asking clearly falls foul of that legal standard. And very far foul when you consider the personal data being handled by these mental health websites is highly sensitive special category health data. “It is exceedingly difficult for people to seek mental health information and for example take a depression test without countless of third parties watching,” said Privacy International technologist Eliot Bendinelli in a statement. “All website providers have a responsibility to protect the privacy of their users and comply with existing laws, but this is particularly the case for websites that share unusually granular or sensitive data with third parties. Such is the case for mental health websites.” Additionally, the group’s analysis found some of the trackers embedded on mental health websites are used to enable a programmatic advertising practice known as Real Time Bidding (RTB). This is important because RTB is subject to multiple complaints under GDPR. These complaints argue that the systematic, high velocity trading of personal data is, by nature, inherently insecure — with no way for people’s information to be secured after it’s shared with hundreds or even thousands of entities involved in the programmatic chain, because there’s no way to control it once it’s been passed. And, therefore, that RTB fails to comply with the GDPR’s requirement that personal data be processed securely. Complaints are being considered by regulators across multiple Member States. But this summer the UK’s data watchdog, the ICO, essentially signalled it is in agreement with the crux of the argument — putting the adtech industry on watch in an update report in which it warns that behavioral advertising is out of control and instructs the industry it must reform. However the regulator also said it would give players “an appropriate period of time to adjust their practices”, rather than wade in with a decision and banhammers to enforce the law now. The ICO’s decision to opt for an implied threat of future enforcement to push for reform of non-compliant adtech practices, rather than taking immediate action to end privacy breaches, drew criticism from privacy campaigners. And it does look problematic now, given Privacy International’s findings suggest sensitive mental health data is being sucked up into bid requests and put about at insecure scale — where it could pose a serious risk to individuals’ rights and freedoms. Privacy International says it found “numerous” mental health websites including trackers from known data brokers and AdTech companies — some of which engage in programmatic advertising. It also found some depression test websites (namely: netdoktor.de, passeportsante.net and doctissimo.fr, out of those it looked at) are using programmatic advertising with RTB. “The findings of this study are part of a broader, much more systemic problem: The ways in which companies exploit people’s data to target ads with ever more precision is fundamentally broken,” adds Bendinelli. “We’re hopeful that the UK regulator is currently probing the AdTech industry and the many ways it uses special category data in ways that are neither transparent nor fair and often lack a clear legal basis.” We’ve reached out to the ICO with questions. We also asked the Internet Advertising Bureau Europe what steps it is taking to encourage reform of RTB to bring the system into compliance with EU privacy law. At the time of writing the industry association had not responded. The IAB recently released a new version of what it refers to as a “transparency and consent management framework” intended for websites to embed to collect consent from visitors to processing their data including for ad targeting purposes — legally, the IAB contends. However critics argue this is just another dose of business as usual ‘compliance theatre’ from the adtech industry — with users offered only phoney choices as there’s no real control over how their personal data gets used or where it ends up. Earlier this year Google’s lead privacy regulator in Europe, the Irish DPC, opened a formal investigation into the company’s processing of personal data in the context of its online Ad Exchange — also as a result of a RTB complaint filed in Ireland. The DPC said it will look at each stage of an ad transaction to establish whether the ad exchange is processing personal data in compliance with GDPR — including looking at the lawful basis for processing; the principles of transparency and data minimisation; and its data retention practices. The outcome of that investigation remains to be seen. (Fresh fuel has just today been poured on with the complainant submitting new evidence of their personal data being shared in a way they allege infringes the GDPR.) Increased regulatory attention on adtech practices is certainly highlighting plenty of legally questionable and ethically dubious stuff — like embedded tracking infrastructure that’s taking liberal notes on people’s mental health condition for ad targeting purposes. And it’s clear that EU regulators have a lot more work to do to deliver on the promise of GDPR. Source
  2. YouTube is finalizing a plan under which it would no longer serve targeted ads in videos that are popular with kids, Bloomberg reported, citing anonymous sources. The move is intended to appease U.S. regulators that have been investigating whether YouTube violated privacy laws that prohibit online services from collecting data on children, according to the report. Google declined to comment on the report. It’s unclear how YouTube would determine which videos would no longer be eligible to serve targeted ads. Last month, the Federal Trade Commission reached a settlement with Google over allegations that YouTube violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which bans companies from collecting personally identifiable information from children who are under 13, according to the Washington Post. The FTC would impose a multimillion-dollar fine under the agreement, which is subject to Justice Department approval, but other details of the settlement aren’t known, the Post reported. In July 2018, a coalition of 23 advocacy groups alleged in a complaint with the FTC that YouTube has — for years — illegally collected data on children’s video viewing. Kids’ content on YouTube, regardless of intended audience, is hugely popular. A study by the Pew Research Center released last month, analyzing English-language YouTube videos from the platform’s largest channels during the first week of January 2019, found that videos featuring a children who appeared to be under the age of 13 received nearly three times as many views on average as other types of videos. Google’s policies prohibit children under 13 from signing up for a YouTube account, but critics say kids are easily able to watch videos on the site. YouTube offers YouTube Kids, a separate platform with enhanced parental controls and curated video playlists. According to Google, interest-based ads are already prohibited in the YouTube Kids app, as are paid ads with remarketing or other tracking pixels. All ads in YouTube Kids must be pre-approved by YouTube’s policy team, the company says. Separately, this past February, the FTC levied a $5.7 million fine against TikTok, the short-form video app owned by China’s Bytedance, over allegations that predecessor app Musical.ly violated COPPA by failing to get parental consent for users who were under 13. Source
  3. Angry users have begun to complain that Huawei is displaying advertisements on the lock screen of its smartphones, seemingly without warning or any sort of announcement. Huawei, for its part, says that it’s not the one placing the ads on people’s phones. “The ads are not initiated by Huawei. We encourage individuals to check app settings, or follow publicly available directions on how to remove lock screen ads,” Huawei said in a statement to Digital Trends. In a tweet, an Honor representative confirmed that Honor isn’t serving ads on Honor phones in any market. According to Huawei, the ads are stemming from some third-party services or apps, and not from Huawei itself. For comparison, Huawei pointed to a similar issue that affected Samsung phones about a year ago. That said, it doesn’t seem to add up — after all, the ads are being placed in Huawei’s Magazine cycle of wallpapers, and it seems highly coincidental that a number of Huawei phone owners would all experience the same issue on the same day, while those on other phones haven’t run into the problem. A number of people on Reddit reported finding advertisements on their lock screen. One Redditor, who goes by the username Quacksnooze, posted a screenshot of a Booking.com ad that suddenly appeared on their phone. Others reported getting ads as well. According to the Reddit thread, four images related to Booking.com were added to the Huawei phone’s wallpaper rotation, meaning that they would start showing up as wallpapers like any other image. The images could be manually deleted, but it’s possible more could be added in the future. You can also get around the issue by not using Huawei’s Magazine lock screen wallpaper, but that’s a bit of a frustrating solution. People have reason to be upset. At the best of times, advertisements online can be intrusive, and having ads placed on the phone’s lock screen can remove some of the customization and personalization that people get with their phones. It’s not just cheaper phones that are getting ads either — even high-end devices, like the Huawei P20, seem to be getting them. Huawei has come under fire in the U.S. recently: The Trump administration recently blacklisted the company, banning U.S. firms from selling parts or software to it (or buying from it) without prior permission from the government. The move is sure to impact Huawei’s bottom line. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen advertising like this on a smartphone, but there’s usually some sort of trade-off. For example, Amazon serves ads on its Prime-exclusive phones, but you at least get a discount on the phone itself. Some cheaper devices sometimes have ads in an effort to subsidize the cost of the phone for the manufacturer. Xiaomi has placed ads on its phone at times, but this is listed in the company’s Terms of Service that device owners may see ads from time to time. There’s really no excuse, however, to place ads on high-end, expensive phones that customers are paying for — and we wouldn’t be surprised to see customers turn away from Huawei for implementing things like this. Updated on June 13, 2019: Huawei has responded to a request for comment. Source
  4. Spotify pursues emotional surveillance for global profit Music is emotional, and so our listening often signals something deeply personal and private. Today, this means music streaming platforms are in a unique position within the greater platform economy: they have troves of data related to our emotional states, moods, and feelings. It’s a matter of unprecedented access to our interior lives, which is buffered by the flimsy illusion of privacy. When a user chooses, for example, a “private listening” session on Spotify, the effect is to make them feel that it’s a one-way relation between person and machine. Of course, that personalization process is Spotify’s way of selling users on its product. But, as it turns out, in a move that should not surprise anyone at this point, Spotify has been selling access to that listening data to multinational corporations. Where other platforms might need to invest more to piece together emotional user profiles, Spotify streamlines the process by providing boxes that users click on to indicate their moods: Happy Hits, Mood Booster, Rage Beats, Life Sucks. All of these are examples of what can now be found on Spotify’s Browse page under the “mood” category, which currently contains eighty-five playlists. If you need a lift in the morning, there’s Wake Up Happy, A Perfect Day, or Ready for the Day. If you’re feeling down, there’s Feeling Down, Sad Vibe, Down in the Dumps, Drifting Apart, Sad Beats, Sad Indie, and Devastating. If you’re grieving, there’s even Coping with Loss, with the tagline: “When someone you love becomes a memory, find solace in these songs.” Over the years, streaming services have pushed a narrative about these mood playlists, suggesting, through aggressive marketing, that the rise of listening by way of moods and activities was a service to listeners and artists alike—a way to help users navigate infinite choice, to find their way through a vast library of forty million songs. It’s a powerful arm of the industry-crafted mythology of the so-called streaming revolution: platforms celebrating this grand recontextualization of music into mood playlists as an engine of discovery. Spotify is currently running a campaign centered on moods—the company’s Twitter tagline is currently “Music for every mood”—complete with its own influencer campaign. But a more careful look into Spotify’s history shows that the decision to define audiences by their moods was part of a strategic push to grow Spotify’s advertising business in the years leading up to its IPO—and today, Spotify’s enormous access to mood-based data is a pillar of its value to brands and advertisers, allowing them to target ads on Spotify by moods and emotions. Further, since 2016, Spotify has shared this mood data directly with the world’s biggest marketing and advertising firms. Streaming Intelligence Surveillance In 2015, Spotify began selling advertisers on the idea of marketing to moods, moments, and activities instead of genres. This was one year after Spotify acquired the “music intelligence” firm Echo Nest. Together they began looking at the 1.5 billion user-generated playlists at Spotify’s disposal. Studying these playlists allowed Spotify to more deeply analyze the contexts in which listening was happening on its platform. And so, right around the time that Spotify realized it had 400,000 user-generated barbecue playlists, Brian Benedik, then Spotify’s North American Vice President of Advertising and Partnerships, noted in an Ad Age interview that the company would focus on moods as a way to grow its advertising mechanism: “This is not something that’s just randomly thrown out there,” Benedik said. “It’s a strategic evolution of the Spotify ads business.” As of May 1, 2015, advertisers would be able to target ads to users of the free ad-supported service based on activities and moods: “Mood categories like happy, chill, and sad will let a brand like Coca-Cola play on its ‘Open Happiness’ campaign when people are listening to mood-boosting music,” the Ad Age article explained. Four years later, Spotify is the world’s biggest streaming subscription service, with 207 million users in seventy-nine different countries. And as Spotify has grown, its advertising machine has exploded. Of those 207 million users, it claims 96 million are subscribers, meaning that 111 million users rely on the ad-supported version. Spotify top marketing execs have expressed that the company’s ambition is “absolutely” to be the third-largest player in the digital ad market behind Google and Facebook. In turn, since 2015, Spotify’s strategic use of mood and emotion-based targeting has only become even more entrenched in its business model. “At Spotify we have a personal relationship with over 191 million people who show us their true colors with zero filter,” reads a current advertising deck. “That’s a lot of authentic engagement with our audience: billions of data points every day across devices! This data fuels Spotify’s streaming intelligence—our secret weapon that gives brands the edge to be relevant in real-time moments.” Another brand-facing pitch proclaims: “The most exciting part? This new research is starting to reveal the streaming generation’s offline behaviors through their streaming habits.” Today, Spotify Ad Studio, a self-service portal automating the ad-purchase process, promises access to “rich and textured datasets,” allowing brands to instantly target their ads by mood and activity categories like “Chill,” “Commute,” “Dinner,” “Focus/Study,” “Girls Night Out,” and more. And across the Spotify for Brands website are a number of “studies” and “insights reports” regarding research that Spotify has undertaken about streaming habits: “You are what you stream,” they reiterate over and over. In a 2017 package titled Understanding People Through Music—Millennial Edition, Spotify (with help from “youth marketing and millennial research firm” Ypulse) set out to help advertisers better target millennial users by mood, emotion, and activity specifically. Spotify explains that “unlike generations past, millennials aren’t loyal to any specific music genre.” They conflate this with a greater reluctance toward labels and binaries, pointing out the rising number of individuals who identify as gender fluid and the growing demographic of millennials who do not have traditional jobs—and chalk these up to consumer preferences. “This throws a wrench is marketers’ neat audience segmentations,” Spotify commiserates. For the study, they also gathered six hundred in-depth “day in a life” interviews recorded as “behavioral diaries.” All participants were surveilled by demographics, platform usage, playlist behavior, feature usage, and music tastes—and in the United States (where privacy is taken less seriously), Spotify and Ypulse were able to pair Spotify’s own streaming data with additional third-party information on “broader interests, lifestyle, and shopping behaviors.” The result is an interactive hub on the Spotify for Brands website detailing seven distinct “key audio streaming moments for marketers to tap into,” including Working, Chilling, Cooking, Chores, Gaming, Workout, Partying, and Driving. Spotify also dutifully outlines recommendations for how to use this information to sell shit, alongside success stories from Dunkin’ Donuts, Snickers, Gatorade, Wild Turkey, and BMW. More startlingly, for each of these “moments” there is an animated trajectory of a typical “emotional journey” claiming to predict the various emotional states users will experience while listening to particular playlists. Listeners who are “working,” for instance, are likely to start out feeling pressured and stressed, before they become more energized and focused and end up feeling fine and accomplished at the end of the playlist queue. If they listen while doing chores, the study claims to know that they start out feeling stressed and lazy, then grow motivated and entertained, and end by feeling similarly good and accomplished. In Spotify’s world, listening data has become the oil that fuels a monetizable metrics machine, pumping the numbers that lure advertisers to the platform. In a data-driven listening environment, the commodity is no longer music. The commodity is listening. The commodity is users and their moods. The commodity is listening habits as behavioral data. Indeed, what Spotify calls “streaming intelligence” should be understood as surveillance of its users to fuel its own growth and ability to sell mood-and-moment data to brands. A Leviathan of Ads The potential of music to provide mood-related data useful to marketers has long been studied. In 1990, the Journal of Marketing published an article dubbed “Music, Mood and Marketing” that surveyed some of this history while bemoaning how “despite being a prominent promotional tool, music is not well understood or controlled by marketers.” The text outlines how “marketers are precariously dependent on musicians for their insight into the selection or composition of the ‘right’ music for particular situations.” This view of music as a burdensome means to a marketer’s end is absurd, but it’s also the logic that rules the current era of algorithmic music platforms. Unsurprisingly, this 1990 article aimed to overcome challenges for marketers by figuring out new ways to extract value from music that would be beyond the control of musicians themselves: studying the “behavioral effects” of music with a “special emphasis on music’s emotional expressionism and role as mood influencer” in order to create new forms of power and control. Today, marketers want mood-related data more than ever, at least in part to fuel automated, personalized ad targeting. In 2016, the world’s largest holding company for advertising and PR agencies, WPP, announced that it had struck a multi-year partnership with Spotify, giving the conglomerate unprecedented access to Spotify’s mood data specifically. The partnership with the WPP, it turns out, was part of Spotify’s plan to ramp up its advertising business in advance of its IPO. WPP is the parent company to several of the world’s largest and oldest advertising, PR, and brand consulting firms, including Ogilvy, Grey Global Group, and at least eighteen others. Across their portfolio, WPP owns companies that work with numerous mega-corporations and household brands, helping shill everything from cars, Coca-Cola, and KFC to booze, banks, and Burger King. Over the decades, these companies have worked on campaigns spanning from Merrill Lynch and Lay’s potato chips to Colgate-Palmolive and Ford. Additionally, WPP properties also include tech-focused companies that claim proficiency in automation- and personalization-driven ad sales, all of which would now benefit from Spotify’s mood data. The 2016 announcement of WPP and Spotify’s global partnership in “data, insights, creative, technology, innovation, programmatic solution, and new growth markets” speaks for itself: WPP now has unique listening preferences and behaviors of Spotify’s 100 million users in 60 countries. The multi-year deal provides differentiating value to WPP and its clients by harnessing insights from the connection between music and audiences’ moods and activities. Music attributes such as tempo and energy are proven to be highly relevant in predicting mood, which enables advertisers to understand their audiences in a new emotional dimension. What’s more, WPP-owned advertising agencies could now access the “Wunderman Zipline™ Data Management Platform” to gain direct access to Spotify users’ “mood, listening and playlist behavior, activity and location.” They’d also potentially make use of “Spotify’s data on connected device usage” while the WPP-owned company GroupM specifically would retain access to “an exclusive infusion of Spotify data” into its own platform made for corporate ad targeting. Per the announcement, WPP companies would also serve as launch partners for new types of advertising and new markets unveiled by Spotify, while procuring “visibility into Spotify’s product roadmap and access to beta testing.” At the time the partnership was announced, Anas Ghazi, then Managing Director of Global Partnerships at WPP’s Data Alliance, noted that all WPP agencies would be able to “grab these insights. . . . If you think about how music shapes your activity and thoughts, this is a new, unique play for us to find audiences. Mood and moments are the next pieces of understanding audiences.” And Harvey Goldhersz, then CEO of GroupM Data & Analytics, salivated: “The insights we’ll develop from Spotify’s behavioral data will help our clients realize a material marketplace advantage, aiding delivery of ads that are appropriate to the consumer’s mood and the device used.” Ongoing Synergies While this deal was announced via the WPP Data Alliance, visiting that particular organization’s website now auto-directs back to the main WPP website, likely a result of corporate restructuring that WPP underwent over the past year. Currently, the only public-facing evidence of the relationship between WPP and Spotify is listed online under the WPP-owned data and insights company Kantar, which WPP describes as “the world’s leading marketing data, insight and consultancy company.” What might Kantar be doing with this user data? The current splash video deck on its website is useful: it claims to be the first agency to use “facial recognition in advertising testing,” and it professes to be exploring new technologies “from biodata and biometrics and healthcare, to capturing human sentiment and even voting intentions by analyzing social media.” And, finally, it admits to “exploiting big data, artificial intelligence and analytics . . . to predict attitudes and behavior.” When we reached out to see if the relationship between Kantar and Spotify had changed since the initial 2016 announcement, Kantar sent The Baffler this statement: The 2016 Spotify collaboration was the first chapter of many-a collaboration and has continued to evolve to meet the dynamic needs of our clients and marketplace. Spotify continues to be a valued partner of larger enterprise and Kantar with on-going synergies. One year after the announcement of the partnership, in 2017, Spotify further confirmed its desire to establish direct relationships with the world’s biggest advertising agencies when it hired two executives from WPP: Angela Solk, now Global Head of Agency Partnerships, whose job at Spotify includes teaching WPP and other ad agencies how to best make use of Spotify’s first-party data. (In Solk’s first year at Spotify, she helped create the Smirnoff Equalizer; in a 2018 interview, she reflected on the “beauty” of that branded content campaign and Spotify’s ability to extract listener insight and make it “part of Smirnoff’s DNA.”) Spotify also hired Craig Weingarten as its Head of Industry, Automotive, which now leads Spotify’s Detroit-based auto ad sales team. According to its own media narrative, Spotify offers data access to brands that competitor platforms do not, and it has gained a reputation for its eagerness to share its first-party data. At advertising conferences and in the ad press, Spotify top ad exec Marco Bertozzi has emphasized how Spotify hopes to widely share first-party data, going so far as to confess, “When other walled gardens say no to data questions . . . we say yes.” (Bertozzi was also the mind behind an internal Spotify campaign adorably branded “#LoveAds” to combat growing societal disgust with digital advertising. #LoveAds started as a mantra of the advertising team, but as Bertozzi proudly explained in late 2018, “#LoveAds became a movement within the company.”) Spotify has spent tremendous energy on its ad team’s proficiency with cross-device advertising options (likely due to the imminent ubiquity of Spotify in the car and the so-called “smart home”), as well as “programmatic advertising,” otherwise understood as the targeted advertising sold through an automated process, often in milliseconds—Spotify seeks to be the most dominant seller of such advertising in the audio space. And there’s also the self-serve platform, direct inventory sales, Spotify’s private marketplace (an invite-only inventory for select advertisers), programmatic guaranteed deals (a guaranteed volume of impressions at a fixed price)—the jargon ad-speak lists could go on and on. Trying to keep tabs on Spotify’s advertising products and partnerships is dizzying. But what is clear is that the hype surrounding these partnerships has often focused on “moods and moments”-related data Spotify offers brands—not to mention the company’s penchant for allowing brands to combine their own data with Spotify’s. In 2017, Spotify’s Brian Benedik told The Drum that Spotify’s access to listening habits and first-party data is “one of the reasons that some of these big multi-national brands like the Samsungs and the Heinekens and the Microsofts and Procter and Gambles of the world are working with us a lot closer than they ever have . . . they don’t see that or get that from any other platform out there.” And it appears that things will only get darker. Julie Clark, Spotify’s Global Head of Automation Sales, said earlier this year in an interview that its targeting capabilities are growing: “There’s deeper first party-data that’s going to become available as well.” Mood-Boosterism Recently, I tried out a mood-related experiment on Spotify. I created a new account and only listened to the “Coping with Loss” playlist on loop for a few days. I paid particular attention to the advertisements that I was served by Spotify. And while I do not know for sure whether listening to the “Coping with Loss” playlist caused me to receive an unusually nostalgic Home Depot ad about how your carpets contain memories, or an ad for a particularly angsty new album called Amidst the Chaos, the extent to which Spotify is matching moods and emotions with advertisements certainly makes it seem possible. What was clearer: during my time spent listening exclusively to songs about grieving, Spotify was quick to recommend that I brighten my mood. Under the heading “More like Coping With Loss . . .” it recommended playlists themed for Father’s Day and Mother’s Day, and playlists called “Warm Fuzzy Feelings,” “Soundtrack Love Songs,” “90s Love Songs,” “Love Ballads,” and “Acoustic Hits.” Spotify evidently did not want me to sit with my sorrow; it wanted my mood to improve. It wanted me to be happy. This is because Spotify specifically wants to be seen as a mood-boosting platform. In Spotify for Brands blog posts, the company routinely emphasizes how its own platform distinguishes itself from other streams of digital content, particularly because it gives marketers a chance to reach users through a medium that is widely seen as a “positive enhancer”: a medium they turn to for “music to help them get through the less desirable moments in their day, improve the more positive ones and even discover new things about their personality,” says Spotify. “We’re quite unique in that we have people’s ears . . . combine that with the psycho-graphic data that we have and that becomes very powerful for brands,” said Jana Jakovljevic in 2015, then Head of Programmatic Solutions; she is now employed by AI ad-tech company Cognitiv, which claims to be “the first neural network technology that unearths patterns of consumer behavior” using “deep learning” to predict and target consumers. The fact that experience at Spotify could prepare someone for such a career shift is worth some reflection. But more interestingly, Jakovljevic added that Spotify was using this data in many ways, including to determine exactly what type of music to recommend, which is important to remember: the data that is used to sell advertisers on the platform is also the data driving recommendations. The platform can recommend music in ways that appease advertisers while promising them that mood-boosting ad space. What’s in question here isn’t just how Spotify monitors and mines data on our listening in order to use their “audience segments” as a form of currency—but also how it then creates environments more suitable for advertisers through what it recommends, manipulating future listening on the platform. In appealing to advertisers, Spotify also celebrates its position as a background experience and in particular how this benefits advertisers and brands. Jorge Espinel, who was Head of Global Business Development at Spotify for five years, once said in an interview: “We love to be a background experience. You’re competing for consumer attention. Everyone is fighting for the foreground. We have the ability to fight for the background. And really no one is there. You’re doing your email, you’re doing your social network, etcetera.” In other words, it is in advertisers’ best interests that Spotify stays a background experience. When a platform like Spotify sells advertisers on its mood-boosting, background experience, and then bakes these aims into what it recommends to listeners, a twisted form of behavior manipulation is at play. It’s connected to what Shoshana Zuboff, in The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for A Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, calls the “behavioral futures market”—where “many companies are eager to lay their bets on our future behavior.” Indeed, Spotify seeks not just to monitor and mine our mood, but also to manipulate future behavior. “What we’d ultimately like to do is be able to predict people’s behavior through music,” Les Hollander, the Global Head of Audio and Podcast Monetization, said in 2017. “We know that if you’re listening to your chill playlist in the morning, you may be doing yoga, you may be meditating . . . so we’d serve a contextually relevant ad with information and tonality and pace to that particular moment.” Very Zen! Spotify’s treatment of its mood and emotion data as a form of currency in the greater data marketplace should be considered more generally in the context of the tech industry’s rush to quantify our emotions. There is a burgeoning industry surrounding technology that alleges to mine our emotional states in order to feed AI projects; take, for example, car companies that claim they can use facial recognition to read your mood and keep you safer on the road. Or Facebook’s patents on facial recognition software. Or unnerving technologies like Affectiva, which claim to be developing an industry around “emotion AI” and “affective computing” processes that measure human emotions. It remains to be seen how Spotify could leverage such tech to maintain its reputation as a mood-boosting platform. And yet we should admit that it’s good for business for Spotify to manipulate people’s emotions on the platform toward feelings of chillness, contentment, and happiness. This has immense consequences for music, of course, but what does it mean for news and politics and culture at large, as the platform is set to play a bigger role in mediating all of the above, especially as its podcasting efforts grow? On the Spotify for Brands blog, the streaming giant explains that its research shows millennials are weary of most social media and news platforms, feeling that these mediums affect them negatively. Spotify is a solution for brands, it explains, because it is a platform where people go to feel good. Of course, in this telling of things, Spotify conveniently ignores why those other forms of media feel so bad. It’s because they are platforms that prioritize their own product and profit above all else. It’s because they are platforms governed by nothing more than surveillance technology and the mechanisms of advertising. Source
  5. Apps have been downloaded over 50 million times. Google has failed to removed them, even if they blatantly break their own license. A security researcher with antivirus maker ESET has discovered a collection of 19 Android apps that pose as GPS applications but which don't do anything but show ads on top of the legitimate Google Maps service. "They attract potential users with fake screenshots stolen from legitimate Navigation apps," said Lukas Stefanko, the ESET researcher who found them, who pointed out the 19 apps have been downloaded more than 50 million times. The apps "pretend to be full featured navigation apps, but all they can do is to create useless layer between User and Google Maps app," the researcher said. Stefanko says that the apps don't have any actual "navigation technology" and they only "misuse Google Maps." "Once user clicks on Drive, Navigate, Route, My Location or other option, Google Maps app is opened," Stefanko said. Furthermore, one of the apps, named "Maps & GPS Navigation: Find your route easily!," even has the gall to request payment to remove ads, which it's showing on top of an already freely available service like Google Maps. The apps' names and links, as provided by Stefanko to ZDNet, are: GPS Maps, Route Finder - Navigation, Directions GPS, Maps & Navigation GPS Route Finder - GPS, Maps, Navigation & Traffic GPS, Maps, Navigations - Area Calculator GPS , Maps, Navigations & Directions Maps GPS Navigation Route Directions Location Live Live Earth Map 2019 - Satellite View, Street View Live Earth Map & Satellite View, GPS Tracking Traffic Updates: GPS & Navigation Free-GPS, Maps, Navigation, Directions and Traffic Voice GPS Driving Directions, Gps Navigation, Maps GPS Live Street Map and Travel Navigation GPS Street View, Navigation & Direction Maps GPS Satellite Maps Free GPS, Maps, Navigation & Directions Maps & GPS Navigation: Find your route easily! Voice GPS Navigation Maps Driving GPS Navigation & Tracker GPS Voice Navigation Maps, Speedometer & Compass Stefanko said he reported all apps to Google's Play Store staff more than a month ago. While the apps aren't malicious, you'd think Google would be interested in removint these apps, as all break Google's own Maps Platform licensing terms, which according to paragraph 3.2.4 (c), prohibits third-parties from using the Maps platform to power a similar service. ZDNet has sent a request for comment to Google regarding the issue raised by Stefanko today and will update when we receive a response. The researcher also shared a video of one of the apps in action, wrapping original Google Maps functionality and pestering the user with ads. Source
  6. Instagram just got caught selling advertisements to the same follower-buying companies it claimed to have banned back in November. Back in November, Instagram claimed it banned all accounts that were obtained by third-party apps. These apps allow people to purchase followers and likes from fake accounts and bots. An investigation by TechCrunch found that despite Instagram’s claims, the app was still allowing these companies to place ads. TechCrunch reached out to Instagram to find out why they were still selling these ads. Instagram claimed that they removed the ads and that the accounts are still banned. However, they still saw ads for companies that promote buying followers even after their conversation. In November, Instagram said they were using AI technology to detect and erase “fake” accounts that follow, like and comment on people’s posts for a fee. Instagram responded to the findings of the investigation with a statement. “Nobody likes receiving spammy follows, likes and comments. It’s really important to us that the interactions people have on Instagram are genuine, and we’re working hard to keep the community free from spammy behavior.” “Services that offer to boost an account’s popularity via inauthentic likes, comments and followers, as well as ads that promote these services, aren’t allowed on Instagram. We’ve taken action on the services raised in this article, including removing violating ads, disabling Pages and accounts, and stopping Pages from placing further ads.” “We have various systems in place that help us catch and remove these types of ads before anyone sees them, but given the number of ads uploaded to our platform every day, there are times when some still manage to slip through. We know we have more to do in this area and we’re committed to improving.” Source
  7. Having established itself as a top streaming service with now more than 200 million users, Spotify this year is preparing to focus more of its attention on podcasts. The company plans bring its personalization technology to podcasts in order to make better recommendations, update its app’s interface so people can access podcasts more easily and broker more exclusives with podcast creators. It’s also getting into the business of selling ads within podcasts as a means of generating revenue from this increasingly popular form of audio programming. In fact, Spotify has already begun to dabble in podcast ad sales, ahead of this larger push. Spotify, we’ve learned, has been selling its own advertisements in its original podcasts since mid-2018 year, including in programs like Spotify Original “Amy Schumer Presents: 3 Girls, 1 Keith,” “The Joe Budden Podcast,” “Dissect,” “Showstopper” and others. With more exclusives planned for the year ahead, the portion of Spotify’s ad business focused on podcasts will also grow. The company appears to be taking a different approach to working with podcasters than it does with working with music artists. Today, Spotify gives artists tools that help share their work and be discovered — it invested in distribution platform DistroKid, for example, and now lets artists submit tracks for playlist consideration. With podcasters, however, Spotify wants to either bring their voices in-house, or at least exclusively license their content. “Over the last year, we become very focused on building out a great podcast universe,” said head of Spotify Studios Courtney Holt, speaking at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this week. “The first step was to make sure that we’ve got the world’s best podcasts on Spotify, and integrated the experience into the service in a way that allowed people to build habits and behavior there,” he said. “What we started to see is that the types of podcasts that really were working on Spotify were ones where they were really authentic voices… so we just decided to invest more in those types of voices,” Holt added. Spotify’s collection of originals has been steadily growing over the past year. Last August, for example, Spotify nabbed an exclusive deal with the “Joe Budden” podcast, which is aimed at hip-hop and rap culture fans, and launched its first branded podcast, “Ebb & Flow,” focused on hip-hop and R&B. Its full original lineup today also includes “Dissect,” Amy Schumer’s “3 Girls, 1 Keith,” “Mogul,” “The Rewind with Guy Raz,” “Showstopper,” “Unpacked,” “Crimetown” (its first season was wide, the second season is exclusive to Spotify), “UnderCover” and “El Chapo: El Jefe y su Juicio.” At CES, Spotify announced the addition of one more — journalist Jemele Hill is coming to Spotify with an exclusive podcast called “Unbothered,” which will feature high-profile guests in sports, music, politics, culture and more. In growing its collection of originals, the company found that podcasters who joined Spotify exclusively were actually able to grow their audience, despite leaving other distribution platforms. For example, the Joe Budden podcast had its highest streaming day ever after joining Spotify. This has led Spotify to believe that influencers in the podcast community will be able to bring their community with them when they become a Spotify exclusive, and then further grow their listener base by tapping into Spotify’s larger music user base and, soon, an improved recommendation system. There are other perks for Spotify, too — when users come to Spotify and begin to listen to podcasts, they often then spend more time engaged with the app, it found. “People who consume podcasts on Spotify are consuming more of Spotify — including music,” said Holt. “So we found that in increasing our [podcast] catalog and spending more time to make the user experience better, it wasn’t taking away from music, it was enhancing the overall time spent on the platform,” he noted. While chasing exclusive deals to bring more original podcasts to Spotify will be a big initiative this year, Spotify will continue to offer its recently launched podcasts submission feature to everyone else. With this sort of basic infrastructure in place, Spotify now wants to help users discover new podcasts and improve the listening experience. One aspect of this will involve pointing listeners to other podcast content they may like. For instance, Spotify could point Joe Budden fans to other podcasts about hip-hop and rap. It will also leverage its multi-year partnership with Samsung to allow listeners to pick up where they left off in an episode as they move between different devices. And it will turn its personalization and recommendation technology to podcasts — including the ads in the podcasts themselves. “Think about what we’ve done around music — the more understanding you have around the music you stream, the more we can personalize the ad experience. Now we can take that to podcasts,” said Brian Benedik, VP and Global Head of Advertising Sales at Spotify, when asked about the potential for Spotify selling ads in podcasts. The company has been testing the waters with its own podcast ad sales since mid 2018, Benedik said. The sales are handled in-house by Spotify’s ad sales team for the time being. Benedik had also appeared on a panel this week at CES, where he talked about the value of contextual advertising — meaning, ads that can be personalized to the user based on factors like mood, behavior and moments. This data could be appealing to podcast advertisers, as well. But to scale its efforts around podcast ads, Spotify will need to invest in digital ad insertion technology. We’re hearing that Spotify is currently deciding whether that’s something it wants to build in-house or acquire outright. Spotify’s rival Pandora went the latter route. It closed on the acquisition of adtech company Adswizz in May 2018, then introduced capabilities for shorter, more personalized ads in August. By November, Pandora announced it was bringing its Genome technology to podcasts, which allowed for a recommendation system. Now Spotify aims to catch up. The addition of podcasts has reoriented Spotify’s focus as a company, Holt said. “We’re an audio company. We’re trying to be the world’s best audio service,” he told the audience at CES. “It’s a pure play for us. We’re seeing increased engagement; there’s great commercial opportunities from podcasting that we’ve never seen on the platform… and, obviously, exclusives are to give us something that makes the platform truly unique — to have people come to Spotify for something you can’t get anywhere else is the sort of cherry on top of that entire strategy,” Holt said. Source
  8. Google has announced that starting in December 2018, Chrome 71 will remove all ads on sites that have repeatedly performed abusive behavior. With Chrome 71, Google is stepping up its fight against the internet’s abusive ads problem by blocking every ad on a site that persistently shows them. Abusive ads come in many forms, but broadly speaking cause your browser to misbehave by either generating fake system messages, automatically redirecting you, or attempt to steal personal information. This isn’t the first time that Google has tried to use Chrome to address the problem. Back in July, Chrome 68 would prevent sites from opening new tabs or windows if they were reported for serving abusive experiences. Chrome 71, scheduled for release in December, will give site owners a 30 day grace period to clean up their site after an abusive experience is reported. Failure to remove the abusive ads will cause Chrome to block every ad on the site — regardless of whether they are classed as abusive or not. Although users will have the option of turning this filtering off, the majority are likely to leave their settings at their default values, effectively withholding a huge portion of a flagged site’s revenue. It’s a big incentive for sites to prevent this bad behavior, even if it’s an uncomfortable reminder of how much power Google now holds over the internet. Source
  9. (Reuters Health) - Those cute little apps your child plays with are most likely flooded with ads - some of which are totally age-inappropriate, researchers have found. A stunning 95 percent of commonly downloaded apps that are marketed to or played by children age five and under contain at least one type of advertising, according to a new report in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics. And that goes for the apps labeled as educational, too, researchers say. Often the ads are intrusive, spread across in a banner or even interrupting play, said study coauthor Dr. Jenny Radesky, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan and the University of Michigan C. S. Mott Children’s Hospital. Perhaps the most insidious ads are the ones you need to click a little “x” to get rid of, Radesky said. “The little ‘x’ doesn’t show up for about 20 seconds,” she explained. “If you’re a 2- or 3-year-old you might think the ad is a part of the game. And you don’t know what to do. You might click on the ad and that could take you to the app store. Many of these ads require you to do things before the ‘x’ will appear.” Some ads are for products that aren’t appropriate for kids, Radesky said. “I’ve seen banner ads for bipolar treatment in some of these apps,” she added. One app geared to young children had a popup that linked to a political game showing “a cartoon version of Trump trying not to push the red button that will send nukes,” Radesky said. “My son asked, ‘what is he talking about, is he going to blow up the world?’” One big problem with ads in apps aimed at very young children is the kids often can’t tell where the game leaves off and the ad begins. “There’s science to show that children aged 8 and younger can’t distinguish between media content and advertising,” Radesky said. Radesky originally was working on a study to explore how parents use their mobile devices. After noticing the kid-oriented apps on the parents’ phones, she and her colleagues decided this was a topic that should be looked at. The researchers scrutinized 135 of the most downloaded free and paid apps in the “age five and under” category in the Google Play app store. Among them were free apps with 5 to 10 million downloads and paid apps with 50,000 to 100,000 downloads. Of the 135 apps, 129, or 95 percent, contained at least one type of advertising, which included use of popular cartoon characters to sell products, teasers suggesting the purchase of the “full” version of the app, and advertising videos that interrupted play to promote in-app purchases or purchases of other products. “What we found,” Radesky said, “was lots and lots of advertising.” The new findings “are frightening,” said Dr. Albert Wu, an internist and professor of health policy & management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “This strikes me as a Trojan horse for tots. Even being charitable to all these companies, I think these apps are deceptive at best and unethical at worst.” Wu was especially disappointed to find “this even applies to apps labeled as educational. It’s giving ‘educational’ a bad name. And it really does beg for a bigger role for the government in regulation even if there are some voices out there calling for less government. I think it would be important for the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) to step in.” The idea that there is so much advertising in the apps, “is giving me even more reason to want to restrict screen use in my own children,” Wu said. The new findings have prompted advocates to file a complaint with the FTC. The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, along with other child advocacy groups, plans to file the complaint in conjunction with the release of the study results. Source
  10. manu

    Adblocker scripts

    AdsBypasser Script Summary: This user script helps you skip ads' count-down or continue page and block pop-up windows changelog: https://github.com/adsbypasser/adsbypasser/blob/master/CHANGELOG.md Lite edition removes image-hosting site support from Full edition. If you prefer to use other userscripts to deal with image-hosting sites, you can use the Lite edition. Configure settings Nano ADblocker Just another adblocker Nano Adblocker is based on uBlock Origin. Please open an issue if there is something you want us to know. Note: If you see different version available to different browsers then chances are the new release is stuck in review queue again. Get it for Chrome Get it for Firefox (Dev) Get it for Edge Get Nano Defender, the perfect companion extension for Nano Adblocker -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Nano Defender (a.k.a. uBlock Protector) An anti-adblock defuser for Nano Adblocker and uBlock Origin Nano Defender can only protect either Nano Adblocker or uBlock Origin, and will prioritize Nano Adblocker. Note: On Microsoft Edge, Nano Defender only works with Nano Adblocker, due to the low quality of Edge port of uBlock Origin. On Safari, Nano Defender does not work at all. TO install follow instructions given at homepage https://jspenguin2017.github.io/uBlockProtector/
  11. Add “a phone number I never gave Facebook for targeted advertising” to the list of deceptive and invasive ways Facebook makes money off your personal information. Contrary to user expectations and Facebook representatives’ own previous statements, the company has been using contact information that users explicitly provided for security purposes—or that users never provided at all—for targeted advertising. A group of academic researchers from Northeastern University and Princeton University, along with Gizmodo reporters, have used real-world tests to demonstrate how Facebook’s latest deceptive practice works. They found that Facebook harvests user phone numbers for targeted advertising in two disturbing ways: two-factor authentication (2FA) phone numbers, and “shadow” contact information. Two-Factor Authentication Is Not The Problem First, when a user gives Facebook their number for security purposes—to set up 2FA, or to receive alerts about new logins to their account—that phone number can become fair game for advertisers within weeks. (This is not the first time Facebook has misused 2FA phone numbers.) But the important message for users is: this is not a reason to turn off or avoid 2FA. The problem is not with two-factor authentication. It’s not even a problem with the inherent weaknesses of SMS-based 2FA in particular. Instead, this is a problem with how Facebook has handled users’ information and violated their reasonable security and privacy expectations. There are many types of 2FA. SMS-based 2FA requires a phone number, so you can receive a text with a “second factor” code when you log in. Other types of 2FA—like authenticator apps and hardware tokens—do not require a phone number to work. However, until just four months ago, Facebook required users to enter a phone number to turn on any type of 2FA, even though it offers its authenticator as a more secure alternative. Other companies—Google notable among them—also still follow that outdated practice. Even with the welcome move to no longer require phone numbers for 2FA, Facebook still has work to do here. This finding has not only validated users who are suspicious of Facebook's repeated claims that we have “complete control” over our own information, but has also seriously damaged users’ trust in a foundational security practice. Until Facebook and other companies do better, users who need privacy and security most—especially those for whom using an authenticator app or hardware key is not feasible—will be forced into a corner. Shadow Contact Information Second, Facebook is also grabbing your contact information from your friends. Kash Hill of Gizmodo provides an example: ...if User A, whom we’ll call Anna, shares her contacts with Facebook, including a previously unknown phone number for User B, whom we’ll call Ben, advertisers will be able to target Ben with an ad using that phone number, which I call “shadow contact information,” about a month later. This means that, even if you never directly handed a particular phone number over to Facebook, advertisers may nevertheless be able to associate it with your account based on your friends’ phone books. Even worse, none of this is accessible or transparent to users. You can’t find such “shadow” contact information in the “contact and basic info” section of your profile; users in Europe can’t even get their hands on it despite explicit requirements under the GDPR that a company give users a “right to know” what information it has on them. As Facebook attempts to salvage its reputation among users in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, it needs to put its money where its mouth is. Wiping 2FA numbers and “shadow” contact data from non-essential use would be a good start. Source: EFF
  12. Yahoo Mail and AOL Mail, which both fly under the Oath banner, a Verizon owned company, scan emails that arrive in user inboxes to improve advertisement targeting. An article published by The Wall Street Journal (sorry, no link as it is paywalled), suggests that Oath's email scanning may go beyond what users of the service may deem acceptable. According to the article, Yahoo is scanning commercial emails of all free users who did not opt-out of personalized advertisement to improve targeted advertising. Yahoo creates profiles of users by assigning them to certain groups or categories. A user who receives receipts for online purchases may be put into different categories based on the purchases, frequent traveler for example for users who get emails about several plane tickets in a period of time. Yahoo Mail users who get brokerage emails, e.g. trade confirmations, may be assigned to the investors group. While the exact classification and profiling system is unknown, it is clear that it uses information found in emails to profile users. The system places a cookie on users systems that identifies the interest groups the Yahoo user is associated with. Companies and advertisers may use the data to serve personalized advertisement to users and the paper suggests that Oath may also use receipts in the Yahoo Mail inbox as proof to advertisers that a particular campaign worked. Yahoo confirmed to The Wall Street Journal that it scans commercial emails only, and that the algorithms the company uses strip out personal information to make sure that those are not leaked in any way. The company claimed that the majority of emails that arrive in user inboxes are commercial in nature, and that the system is adjusted when the need arises to avoid wrong classifications and other issues. Yahoo customers have some options to deal with the email scanning: Close the account. Opt-out of interested-based ads and hope for the best. Closing an email account is problematic for a number of reasons. Users have to find another email provider, may want to back up all emails they received over the years, and may even want to keep the account open for a period to make sure no mail is lost. Closing the account may require that users change email addresses on websites, for instance those that they signed up for using the email address. One good option to back up all emails is the free MailStore Home software for Windows. It is capable of backing up all emails on the local system. You can read my review of MailStore Home here. The desktop email client Thunderbird is another option. Tip: Find out how to delete your entire Yahoo account. We published the guide after a Reuter's article suggested that Yahoo has been working with U.S. intelligence services to search all customer emails. Opt-out of interest-based ads on Yahoo Yahoo customers can opt-out of interest-based ads. Yahoo notes on the page that opting-out will stop the analysis of communication content for advertising purposes among other things. You can opt out of interest-based advertising, analysis of communications content for advertising purposes, and the sharing of your information with partners for data matching and appends using the tools on this page. Perform the following steps to opt-out. Visit The Ad Internet Manager page on the Yahoo website. Click on the opt-out button to opt-out of interest-based ads and thus also the analysis of communication content for advertising purposes. The button should change to a "opt-in" button after the request has been processed. Switch to "On Yahoo", and opt-out there as well. Note that the use of ad-blockers or content-blockers may prevent the opt-out from working correctly. Closing Words I don't know how good Yahoo's algorithms are to distinguish between commercial emails and others; the past has shown that it is tricky to get it right. Yahoo customers who use email may want to opt-out of the automated scanning to avoid any issues related to the scanning; some may want to create new email accounts at providers that don't scan emails or put privacy first. Examples of such providers are Startmail or ProtonMail. Now You: Would you use email providers that scan your emails for commercial purposes? Source
  13. Paying for a premium service is the absolute best way to stream your favorite songs—you’ll get a better selection and more importantly, few, if any, frustrating ads. But Spotify is still pushing its free streaming option to keep growing, despite that being one of the biggest, dumbest sticking points in Spotify’s tussle with the music industry. Though its free service comparatively sucks, Spotify has improved it this year, giving listeners more choices for how they stream songs on their phones. Free Spotify may have another upgrade on the way, too: The company is currently testing letting users “skip audio and video ads any time they want, as often as they want, allowing them to quickly get back to music,” Ad Age reports. This test is only live in Australia for now, but Spotify aims to one day bring the option to everyone, according to the report. The move could make Spotify more money per ad for the ads users don’t skip, but hopefully the average listener will also have to deal with fewer ads overall. We’ve reached out to Spotify for more information and will update this story once we hear back. Update 12:55pm ET: A Spotify spokesperson tells Gizmodo that the company “will consider expanding” its ad skipping experiment “to additional markets in the future.” They added, “We are committed to our freemium model and will continue innovating our products to ensure the best experience on both our free and premium tiers.” Source
  14. Income, pregnancies, personal activities, all up for grabs Facebook’s advertising platform is riddled with loopholes that can help miscreants obtain private information on individual users, according to a recent study. Personally identifiable details – such as someone's email address, full name, date of birth, and home address – are used with their likes and dislikes to slot them into categories for targeted adverts. That means advertisers can zero in on their products' ideal buyers, and, say, sling expensive pet food ads at rich dog owners. However, these systems can also be exploited by scumbags to potentially slurp sensitive records. Researchers at the University of Southern California, in the US, studied Facebook’s targeted advertising capabilities in detail, and published their findings in a paper late last month. “We focus on three downsides: privacy violations, microtargeting (i.e., the ability to reach a specific individual or individuals without their explicit knowledge that they are the only ones an ad reaches) and ease of reaching marginalized groups,” the pair, Irfan Faizullabhoy and Aleksandra Korolova, stated in their paper's abstract. How it works Anyone with a Facebook profile can set up what's called a custom audience that defines a particular demographic for ad targeting. The trick here is to provide just enough information, and game the system, to narrow down the audience search results not to a select bunch of people, but down to just one unlucky person on the social network. Although Facebook treats that as an invalid demographic, its other tool, audience insights, which lets advertisers learn more about groups of netizens reached by adverts, can be used with that tiny custom audience to reveal that one person's private information. It means a miscreant can go on a fishing expedition, looking for a particular person or type of person, and extract private information, such as that person's age, income, how many people they live with, their personal activities, and so on, by combining the custom audience search function and the audience insights analytics. It seemingly gives anyone the power to learn more about strangers' lives – and there are more than 2,000 types of information that can be discerned per individual user. The researchers experimented with the analytics functions with the consent of their Facebook friends, who they asked to temporarily unfriend them. The duo found the audience insights results to be “highly accurate” when pulling up data on their pals. Information that can be gleaned from that tiny audience of one can range from hobbies to their family's details. “Questions such as, 'is this person [or] their wife pregnant?' 'how old are their children?' 'do they like to gamble?' 'are they living at home, or with roommates?' 'do they hunt?' can all be answered, efficiently and at no cost, by anyone,” Faizullabhoy and Korolova warned. The minimum number of people in a custom audience is, right now, 20. It’s a low number compared to 1,000 for Google, 300 for LinkedIn, and 500 for Twitter. By peppering in 19 fake or complicit accounts, for example, advertisers, and anyone else curious, can narrowly target and snoop on just a single person, or a group of people by going through them one at a time. Another potential flaw relates to Facebook allowing advertisers to refine their audience by location to within a one-mile radius. Small areas or even single houses can be targeted, as long as there are at least 20 users that match the advert’s criteria. It’s particularly concerning if those areas include vulnerable people who frequent planned parenthood clinics, rehab centers, or medical facilities, as they might be more easily picked out by ad campaigns. “It's difficult to predict how such a powerful tool can be abused by a clever and resourceful adversary, especially because neither researchers nor users have full transparency into what is feasible using Facebook's advertising platform and what data about them is being used when ad matching and reporting is performed,” Korolova, an assistant professor of computer science, told The Register. When the duo asked Facebook to increase the custom audience size to somewhere between 500 and 1,000, the Silicon Valley giant ignored the request, and still hasn't addressed it. For the geolocation targeting issue, the researchers were asked to “clarify how this bug is able to compromise the integrity of Facebook user data, circumvent the privacy protections of Facebook user data, or enable access to a system within Facebook’s infrastructure.” After the pair replied, Facebook did not respond, and even closed the bug bounty report, so that they could no longer engage in any sort of dialog. In the paper, Faizullabhoy and Korolova said they believed the reason why it was so easy to snoop on people via Facebook's ad platform was down to the website's careless approach to privacy. Facebook simply doesn’t care, they stated, to put it bluntly. “Facebook’s response to our white hat reports of 'single person targeting' that 'this is working as designed' shows an apathy toward micro-targeting and circumventions of the rudimentary micro-targeting protections Facebook has put in place,” the duo stated in their paper. Facebook declined to comment. Even when appearing before US Congress this week, CEO Mark Zuckerberg continued to dodge questions about the true nature of Facebook’s abilities to silently and secretly track millions of people’s online and offline activities, and how it that information may be passed to third parties with dodgy intentions. Facebook’s response: Do as little as possible When the researchers alerted Facebook to these vulnerabilities, they were stonewall. At one point, though, Facebook agreed to increase the number of people able to be targeted using the custom audience tool and audience insights analytics from one to 20. The researchers were required to submit video proof of the network's shortcomings, and were awarded $2,000 from the website's bug bounty program. When the duo asked Facebook to increase the custom audience size to somewhere between 500 and 1,000, the Silicon Valley giant ignored the request, and still hasn't addressed it. For the geolocation targeting issue, the researchers were asked to “clarify how this bug is able to compromise the integrity of Facebook user data, circumvent the privacy protections of Facebook user data, or enable access to a system within Facebook’s infrastructure.” After the pair replied, Facebook did not respond, and even closed the bug bounty report, so that they could no longer engage in any sort of dialog. In the paper, Faizullabhoy and Korolova said they believed the reason why it was so easy to snoop on people via Facebook's ad platform was down to the website's careless approach to privacy. Facebook simply doesn’t care, they stated, to put it bluntly. “Facebook’s response to our white hat reports of 'single person targeting' that 'this is working as designed' shows an apathy toward micro-targeting and circumventions of the rudimentary micro-targeting protections Facebook has put in place,” the duo stated in their paper. Facebook declined to comment. Even when appearing before US Congress this week, CEO Mark Zuckerberg continued to dodge questions about the true nature of Facebook’s abilities to silently and secretly track millions of people’s online and offline activities, and how it that information may be passed to third parties with dodgy intentions. Source
  15. It appears ads, which are becoming increasingly pervasive on Microsoft’s Windows 10 operating system, have now reached the Windows 10 Mail app. Users on Reddit are now reporting that a banner has shown up in the Windows 10 Mail app in a space above the Mail, Calendar and People buttons. The banner cannot be removed except by closing the menu, and currently advertises the Office 365 subscription service. The ads in the mail app are somewhat ironic, given Microsoft’s ad campaign against Google a decade ago, criticising the company for reading user’s email and showing them ads appropriate to the content of the email. Gmail is, of course, a free service, while most users pay for Windows 10 when they purchase their PC, making the operating system ads a deal Windows 10 users have not really signed up for. The current ads appear to be a test at present, and it is not clear how Microsoft is targeting them, though of course Windows 10 does include a privacy control related to Microsoft collecting data specifically for targetted ads, suggesting these ads are not being shown randomly. How do our readers feel about this latest move by Microsoft to monetize Windows? Let us know below. Source: Microsoft start testing ads in Windows 10 Mail and Calendar app ( MSPoweruser)
  16. New UpdateChecker Coinminer Package Also Displays Ads to Further Piss You Off These days it is not uncommon to find both adware and miners being installed together through adware bundles. These programs, though, are typically not created by the same developer and are just being included as different "offers" by the software monetization company. After examining a new malware sample that was sent to BleepingComputer, I discovered that a new malware called "UpdateChecker" not only includes a miner, but also includes an adware component that displays a popup ad every 60 minutes. UpdateChecker being distributed as a Adobe Flash Player update While I have not been able to find the site that actually pushes this malware, based on the "update_flash_player----3006603784----33362_ac4-461___.exe" name of the main installer, it's clear that it is being distributed as a fake update to Adobe Flash Player. It has become more and more common for fake Adobe Flash update sites to be created that push malware and JS script downloaders onto unsuspecting users. These users then run the executables thinking it's a Flash Update, but will have malware installed on their computer instead. An example of what one of these fake Flash Update sites look like can be seen below. Fake Flash Update Site Fake Update installs a adware and miner package When this particular fake Flash Player update is installed, it will connect to the fup.host site and download a zip file that contains the adware and miner malware package. This package is then unzipped into the %UserProfile%\AppData\Local\Microsoft\WindowsUpdate\ folder as shown below. Malware Folder As you can see, quite a few files are extracted and we will take a look at most of them below. The most important file is the updatechecker.exe file, which acts as the main controller for the rest of the malware package. Updatechecker.exe will be configured to start automatically when a user logs into Windows by creating an autorun called "WindowsUpdateChecker". When Updatechecker.exe is launched, it will read its configuration from the file located at update.json. This file contains the advertisement URL it should open, the frequency that an ad should be displayed, the max amount of ads, a list of Chrome extensions that are force installed, and a URL that will be opened on first run. Update.json File Updatechecker.exe will then launch the taskhostw.exe executable, which is the included Monero miner. This miner will read its configuration and what mining pools it should connect to from the config.json file. A removal guide for this miner can be found here. Config.json File Updatechecker will continue running in the background and based on the settings in the config.json will display advertisements at various intervals. The default setting is to show advertisements 24 times a day at 60 minute intervals. The ads that are displayed will be for unwanted chrome extensions, adult sites, online stores with affiliate links, and other unwanted programs. Advertisement Displayed by UpdateChecker Finally, Updatechecker will occasionally launch the update.exe executable, which will connect to the fup.host site to check for an updated zip file. If one is detected, it will download it and extract the components. To make it difficult to remove, Updatechecker.exe will automatically be launched again if you attempt to kill it and will automatically relaunch the taskhostw.exe miner if it is not running. Therefore, to remove it you will need to do so from safe mode or useing a security program. Thankfully, most anti-malware programs including Emsisoft and Malwarebytes are able to remove it for free. As it has become very common for malware to be distributed as an update to a popular program, you should never download and install Flash, Java, video player, or any other update from random sites. Instead only install them from the actual developer's site or a very trusted site. IOCs Hashes: Hosts: Source
  17. Adguard provides you with a reliable and manageable protection that immediately and without your participation filters the loading web pages. Adguard removes all the annoying ads, blocks loading of dangerous websites, and will not allow anyone to track your activities on the Internet. When processing a web page, Adguard does several things at once: 1. Removes ads and online tracking code directly from the page. 2. Checks a page against our database of phishing and malicious sites. 3. Checks apps downloaded from unknown sources. WHAT'S NEW PREMIUM features Unlocked A small update (release candidate) that fixes one major and a couple of minor bugs. [Fixed] "Protection" button misbehaves The AOT (ahead-of-time) compilation method on Android 7.x could remove whole chunks of AdGuard code on its optimization step. This led to various problems, including the persistance of VPN connection despite the disabled protection. [Fixed] bccard.com, local.gosi.go.kr are not accessible with the HTTPS filtering enabled [Fixed] Alisa is broken in Yandex.Browser alpha This app has no advertisements Download: Site: https://www.upload.ee Sharecode[?]: /files/7601338/AdGuard-Premium-2.10.155.apk.html
  18. straycat19

    Ad Feeder IPs and Blocking

    I was getting a bunch of ads that adguard and ublock origin could not stop. They would initially open a webpage with an address like lqpkjasgqjve.com/ and then real ad pages. If I blocked lqpkjasgqjve.com/ then I might not get ads for a little while but then a new page bkmtspywevsk.com would open and send me to another real ad page. Block that and another web page, mictxtwtjigs.com/ would be the initial page. I chased these web sites, adding them to ublock until it became obvious something else was happening. The initial page with the 10 character addresses passed so fast that the only way to see them was to press print screen real quick when they first came up, I literally only had a second. I then traced the websites and found that they all came back to the same group of IP addresses. I block that entire group with my firewall - Since then I have not had one ad pop up in any browser. Now I just get a notification that my firewall blocked an IP if the website uses that service to feed ads to its visitors.
  19. Adblock Plus Acquires Pirate Bay Founder’s Micropayment Service Flattr The company behind the popular Adblock Plus software has acquired Flattr, the micropayment service co-founded by Pirate Bay's Peter Sunde. With the deal the two companies hope to take their partnership to the next level, offering publishers a way to get paid without having to show annoying ads. After Pirate Bay co-founder Peter Sunde cut his ties with the notorious torrent site he moved on to several new projects. The micropayment system Flattr is one of his best-known ventures. With Flattr, people can easily send money to the websites and services they like, without having to enter their payment details time and time again. Last year Flattr partnered with Adblock Plus to launch a new service Flattr Plus, allowing publishers to generate revenue directly from readers instead of forcing ads upon them. Flattr Plus is built on the existing micropayment platform that was launched in 2010. Through a new browser add-on it allows users to automatically share money with website owners when an ad is blocked. Today, the cooperation between the two companies is strengthened even further after eyeo, the parent company of Adblock Plus, aquired Flattr. “Over the past ten months, we collaborated closely and in fact, became one team with a joint vision. So it was just natural to remove the remaining structural barriers and make it official,” Sunde says, commenting on the announcement. “We’re excited to continue our work on the Flattr project to give back control to the users of the internet. They should decide how they want to use the internet and how they want to support the content they enjoy.” Talking to TorrentFreak, Sunde says that he’ll stay on as an unpaid advisor. He has no official stake in Flattr so Hollywood shouldn’t expect to see any of the proceeds of the deal. That said, he’s put a lot of work in the company over the past eight years, building it from the ground up, so it’s a big step to let someone else take over. “It’s just that Flattr is my baby and she got married to someone who will take care of her from now,” says Sunde, summarizing his feelings. Flattr co-founder Linus Olsson will stay on to lead the Flattr operation, and other staff members will keep their jobs as well. Sunde will have an advisory role in the company, and continues to work on various side-projects, including a new privacy service he’ll launch soon. Source
  20. A fake Flash Player update ad on Skype | via reddit A number of users are complaining that the popular communication application Skype has been hosting rogue advertisements, which has a large risk of triggering malware. The issue was elevated to reddit last Wednesday, where the original poster complained that a malicious ad appeared while he was on Skype's home screen, and it was pretending to be a Flash update for the computer's browser. As the redditor points out, the ad would prompt the user to download an HTML application named "FlashPlayer.hta," designed to look like a legitimate program. However, once opened, it would download a malicious payload, which could potentially harm a computer in the long run. The poster has successfully deconstructed the code, and has posted it publicly on reddit. In an investigation by ZDNet, the experts they contacted found the following regarding rogue Skype ads: According to Ali-Reza Anghaie, co-founder of cybersecurity firm Phobos Group, the issue is what is called a "two-stage dropper". "It's effectively the utility component of the malware that then decides what else to do based on the command and control it connects to", he shared. While the domain used by the attacker no longer exists, Anghaie believes that it very likely serves ransomware. Other people have complained about malicious ads inside Skype, with the fake Flash update as a common denominator. Responding to the issue, a Microsoft spokesperson said that the issue was a "social-engineering effort," and that they should not be held responsible for the malicious content. The company further explains: As stated, it pays to be careful in opening suspicious content off the internet. Many are out there to deceive users, and steal sensitive information, aside from malware's usual work of wreaking havoc in our computers. Source
  21. As a follow up to its study which found up to $16.4 billion could be lost to ad fraud in 2017, The&Partnership is, well, basically demanding that Google, Facebook, et al open up their walled gardens and allow inside third party purveyors of ad verification solutions such as Adloox, a company The&Partnership partnered with for the study. The&Partnership argues ad spend lost to ad fraud could be reduced to single digits if only the giants would allow in solutions such as Adlooz. Currently the big boys don't allow in third party solutions of this type. Arguing for a doorway into the walled garden, The&Partnership Founder Johnny Hornby said, "Without this, not only are these platforms denying our clients the clean, brand-safe environments they quite rightly demand - but advertisers also lack full transparency and visibility in terms of the money they are losing to fraudulent advertising and advertising that never gets seen. If Google wants to see advertisers returning to YouTube in significant numbers. it is going to have to move quickly." Hornby suggests Google needs to do two things, "Firstly, Google needs to stop marking its own homework, fully opening up its walled gardens to independent, specialist ad verification software, to give brands the visibility and transparency they deserve. Secondly, Google will need to start looking at brand safety from completely the other end of the telescope. Instead of allowing huge volumes of content to become ad-enabled every minute, and then endeavoring to convince advertisers that the dangerous and offensive content among it will be found and weeded out, it should be presenting advertisers only with advertising opportunities that have already been pre-vetted and found to be 100% safe." Does anyone think Google is actually going to allow this? Of course, they could just buy Adloox and then there might be some actual headway. By Richard Whitman http://www.mediapost.com/publications/article/297997/agency-urges-google-to-allow-third-party-ad-verifi.html
  22. Windows 10 already shows users ads on the lock screen and the Start Menu, but now Microsoft appears to be promoting its services via Windows' File Explorer. Want more about Windows? Various Windows 10 users are reporting seeing adverts for Microsoft's cloud storage service OneDrive while browsing files on their machine. The ad offers 1TB of OneDrive storage for $6.99 per month, and is technically a 'sync notification', designed to let people know they can get more than the 5GB of free storage that comes with a Microsoft account. Ads for apps and services are already shown throughout Windows 10, and can be found on the Start Menu and lock screen. The introduction of promotions to File Explorer has been heavily criticized by some Microsoft watchers, and marks a widening of advertising to new areas of Windows 10. Most of the ads in the Windows 10 are pitched as suggestions for apps and services that might appeal to the user, and some users don't appear to notice them. But to some they are intrusive, and if they are offensive to you there are steps you can take to remove them. Follow the video guide to ensure you won't see these ads again. Video Source
  23. In many ways, Windows 10 is the best version of Windows ever. The operating system has grabbed a considerable amount of market share thanks to the free upgrade offer from Microsoft. Windows 10 users often complain about ads on the lock screen and app suggestions on the Start, and how Microsoft is pushing advertising in its latest version of Windows operating system. As if ads and suggestions were not enough on the Start and lock screen, Microsoft is displaying ads (Microsoft likes to call it as notification!) right in your File Explorer starting with Creators Update for Windows 10. Yes, Windows 10 will now display ads and notifications in the Windows Explorer as well. The so called Sync provider notification feature, according to Microsoft, is designed to help users by displaying quick, easy information about things that can improve the overall experience with Windows 10. The notifications appear just below the address bar as you can see in the picture above. While most users will not mind seeing information about Windows 10 and newly added features, Microsoft is using the space to display ads as well. For instance, according to a Reddit user, Windows 10 File Explorer is displaying OneDrive and Office 365 subscription offers. Luckily, there is an option in Windows 10 Folder Options to turn off Sync provider notifications or notifications in File Explorer. Method 1 of 2 Turn off ads in Windows Explorer in Windows 10 Complete the given below directions to disable Sync provider notifications or ads in File Explorer. Step 1: Open File Explorer. Click File menu and then click Change folder and search options or Options to open Folder Options. Step 2: In the Folder Options dialog, click on the View tab to switch to the same. Step 3: Here, under the Advanced settings, look for an option called Show sync provider notifications. Uncheck Show sync provider notifications and then click Apply button. That’s it! Windows 10’s File Explorer should now stop showing ads or notifications. Method 2 of 2 Disable notifications/ads in File Explorer via Registry Step 1: First of all, open Registry Editor. Type Regedit in Start menu or taskbar search box and then press Enter key. If you see the UAC prompt, click Yes button to open Registry Editor. Step 2: In the Registry Editor window, navigate to the following key: HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\ CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced Step 3: On the right-side, look for ShowSyncProviderNotifications DWORD, double-click on it and finally, change its value data to 0 (zero) to turn off notifications. To show notifications again, change the value data to 1. NOTE: If ShowSyncProviderNotifications DWORD doesn’t exist, right-click on an empty spot, click New, click DWORD (32-bit) and name it as ShowSyncProviderNotifications. Guide source
  24. Don't believe what Microsoft tells you -- Windows 10 is not an operating system. Oh, sure, it has many features that make it look like an operating system, but in reality it is nothing more than a vehicle for advertisements. Since the launch of Windows 10, there have been numerous complaints about ads in various forms. They appear in the Start menu, in the taskbar, in the Action Center, in Explorer, in the Ink Workspace, on the Lock Screen, in the Share tool, in the Windows Store and even in File Explorer. Microsoft has lost its grip on what is acceptable, and even goes as far as pretending that these ads serve users more than the company -- "these are suggestions", "this is a promoted app", "we thought you'd like to know that Edge uses less battery than Chrome", "playable ads let you try out apps without installing". But if we're honest, the company is doing nothing more than abusing its position, using Windows 10 to promote its own tools and services, or those with which it has marketing arrangements. Does Microsoft think we're stupid? See also: Oh joy -- playable ads arrive in Windows 10 How to disable ads in File Explorer in Windows 10 When Windows 10 first hit computers without a price tag, questions were asked about what the hidden cost might be. We've talked about the various telemetry, privacy-invading and tracking features that are to be found, and this is certainly part of the price one pays for a free operating system ... sorry, ad platform. But as more and more ads have gradually crept into Windows 10, the implications of using Windows 10 become ever clearer. Microsoft has boasted about the millions and millions of computers that now have Windows 10 installed. These are not just additions to the user-base, they are consumers ready to be advertised at. It is a captive audience staring at screens all around the world -- perfect for pummelling with ads as there's nowhere to hide! Microsoft is not only incredibly aggressive with its advertising, it is also disgustingly sneaky. Many of the various forms of advertising that can be found in Windows 10 can be disabled, but don't expect this to be easy, particularly if you're not completely au fait with the world of technology. The settings and toggles that need to be changed are far from obviously placed, and the misleading wording used (yes, we're looking at you OneDrive ads in File Explorer...) means many people would simply have no idea what the settings refer to even if they stumbled across them by accident. Seriously... who would think that in order to hide the OneDrive ads, you'd need to flick a toggle labeled Show sync provider notifications? Over the months since the Windows 10's launch, poor users have been gradually pushed harder and harder. It's as though Microsoft is trying to see just how much it can get away with before people reach breaking point. The company is utterly shameless, and it's high time more people spoke out about it. Microsoft has found itself in court on more than one occasion for anticompetitive behavior with Internet Explorer, and if its actions with ads are anything to go by it would appear that the company has learned nothing about stopping abusing its position. As each new layer of advertising has been revealed in Windows 10, Microsoft has managed to annoy and alienate more users. Each time there have been plenty of people to jump to the company's defense and stick up for what it is doing. But the sheer prevalence of ads in myriad forms is making Microsoft's actions indefensible. It might feel as though we're going over old ground here, and we are. Microsoft just keeps letting us (and you) down, time and time and time again. It's time for things to change, but will Microsoft listen? Source: Microsoft is disgustingly sneaky: Windows 10 isn't an operating system, it's an advertising platform (BetaNews)
  25. Microsoft Edge Browser Accused of Displaying Fake News in New Tabs News outlet partnership go wrong for Edge users All the news is delivered by MSN with help from news outlets across the world, and while at first glance everything should be pretty helpful for users, it turns out that the browser is suffering from an issue that the Internet is trying to deal with as we speak: fake news. A number of users have turned to the built-in Windows 10 Feedback Hub app to complain about what they claim to be fake news displayed in Microsoft Edge, explaining that the balanced news that they should find in the browser do not exist and most sources are trying to give articles a certain spin that shouldn’t be there. “I have been disgusted to read such clearly slanted stories. I would prefer to read news reports that allowed me to draw my own conclusions that did not seem intent on spinning the news in one direction or another. It is time that you offered BALANCED news instead of relying on your partnerships with news outlets that clearly have an agenda in their news reporting,” one such comment reads. Microsoft still tightlipped Microsoft Edge does not allow users to edit news sources, but only to choose the categories they want to receive articles for, so there’s no way to deal with the alleged fake news without the company’s own tweaks. Of course, Microsoft Edge does not deliberately spread fake news, and if this is indeed happening, it’s only the fault of the sources that the browser is configured to use to show articles in the start page and in new tabs. Microsoft, however, hasn’t said a single thing until now and is yet to respond to the suggestion posted in the Feedback Hub, so it remains to be seen if the company gives more power to users to configure news sources or if the company itself removes sources involved in spreading fake news. Source
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