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Tech News

Privacy browser Brave pays 'crypto tokens' for watching its ads

June 20, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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Ad-blocking browser Brave is getting ready to test its Basic Attention Token (BAT) platform, which has been designed to reward users for looking at adverts. The company, founded by Mozilla’s controversial former CEO Brendan Eich, launched the first phase of its model last year, allowing users to anonymously distribute contributions to their favorite creators. Now, it’s testing a version of the browser that shows around 250 prepackaged adverts to users that sign up for early access — a move that’s angered newspaper giants that claim the feature is a violation of copyright.

The key difference between Brave’s preselected ads and conventional ads is that Brave’s are selected by the browser based on its observation of your viewing habits, but no data is shared outside the browser. Traditional adverts are generated by companies that track your activity from one site to another, building a profile of your interests out of your control.

Eventually, users opting in to what Brave calls its “consent-based digital advertising model” will be paid in the company’s crypto-tokens every time they look at or interact with one of these pre-determined adverts. It’s not clear how much you’ll stand to gain, but a blog post from the company claims users will receive 70 percent of the gross ad revenue. That’s not cold hard cash, though. BATs — which Brave has been throwing around in a bid to get people on board with the model — can really only be used to donate to your favorite content creators, although Brave says you’ll eventually be able to use the tokens to unlock premium, paid-for content.

There’s clearly an appetite for this kind of browser. Brave raised $35 million in 30 seconds in a funding round last year, and that was before the Cambridge Analytica scandal threw data privacy and online tracking into the spotlight. The browser is controversial — the “reward” is lacklustre and publishers will undoubtedly put up a fight — but it addresses a growing security concern among consumers, and could well represent the beginning of a shift in the long-established online advertising model.

Tech News

YouTube ran ads on AIDS conspiracy theory videos

June 14, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Dado Ruvic / Reuters

YouTube has run into issues in the past for showing ads before inappropriate videos. In some cases it has caused companies to pull their ads from the platform and at least one firm has put together its own algorithm to identify YouTube channels on which it’s safe to advertise. However, though YouTube has changed its guidelines and hired more human moderators, advertisements are still showing up alongside questionable content. Now, Adweek reports, ads from major companies are appearing before videos featuring fake medical news such as AIDS conspiracy theories.

Undark reported recently that a commercial for a Toyota Corolla appeared before a video denouncing HIV tests and treatments while one for Mercedes-Benz aired before a video titled “The AIDS Myth Unraveled.” Adweek also spotted ads for the website building platform Wix, mattress company Saatva and insurance company Lemonade when viewing AIDS and HIV conspiracy theory videos claiming HIV isn’t dangerous, that it doesn’t cause AIDS and that antiretroviral medications are more dangerous than HIV. None of these claims are backed by the scientific or medical communities and all available evidence supports the contrary. Further, these sorts of videos stand to cause real harm to those with HIV or those at risk of contracting the virus.

Previously, YouTube has come under fire for airing ads alongside videos depicting extremist content, exploiting children and spreading hate speech. Among those that have pulled ads from YouTube at one point or another are AT&T, Verizon and the UK government.

“This should not have happened and we apologize for the mistake,” YouTube said in a statement to Adweek. “The flagged videos earned less than $100 in total over the last 60 days. We immediately removed ads on violating videos and credited advertisers. While our system and controls work as intended 99 percent of the time, there are a small number of instances where they do not and we are committed to closing that gap even further.”

This latest misstep shows that YouTube still has some work to do when it comes to determining which videos should be eligible for ad revenue and as more of these sorts of issues come to light, they’re sure to concern some advertisers going forward. “We make every effort to target our advertising based on demographics of viewers and to prevent advertising on channels that do not share our values,” Wix told Adweek. “Unfortunately, we’re usually made aware of these instances when they are brought to our attention from viewers. It is clear that the platforms themselves must provide better tools to advertisers to limit this sort of activity.”

Tech News

Google is helping users limit targeted ads

June 14, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Google

Facebook isn’t the only one offering tighter controls over ad privacy. Google has introduced a revamped Ad Settings that should make it easier to both learn how ads target you and, more importantly, to reduce that targeting. You now see all the ad targeting factors in one view, with both explanations of their presence and options to either turn them off or tweak the settings. You can’t completely disable ad targeting, but there’s enough here that you can limit it to highly generic factors like the site you’re visiting and the time of day.

When ads do pop up, you’ll also have a better explanation for their presence. The “why this ad?” link is now available on every service that shows Google ads, as well as ‘almost all” of the sites and apps that partner with Google on ads. If you’re scratching your head at a YouTube promo, you’ll know the reasoning behind its appearance and will have a quick way to tweak your settings if you’d rather not see that ad again.

The rework could be a helpful addition if you’re worried that Google’s ad targeting is a little too on the nose. It’s also a hedge against mounting pressure for Google to do more. The company has come under scrutiny multiple times for its approach to privacy as of late, and this could prove that it’s making a serious effort to address your concerns.

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Facebook won't exempt publishers from new political ad policy

June 13, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images

If publishers think Facebook would give them an exemption from its new political ad disclosure policy, they have another thing coming. The social network’s Campbell Brown has rejected calls for publisher exemptions to the “paid for” label in a blog post, arguing that equal treatment is necessary to ensure the policy works. It would “go against our transparency efforts,” Brown said, and would be ripe for abuse. A “bad actor” could hide its identity by claiming to be a publisher, and news outlets can take definite political stances.

Brown also denied allegations that this was a “criticism or judgment” of publishers. It’s just meant to encourage “more informed consumption,” he said.

This isn’t likely to satisfy publishers who’ve seen their ads and promoted posts vanish and have sometimes turned to registering as political advertisers to get news stories into people’s feeds. However, they might get Facebook to change its mind regardless of how much they push for a special exemption. The company is determined to prevent election meddling, and has been willing to take drastic steps (such as blocking all foreign ads during Ireland’s referendum) to avoid even a hint of impropriety. The new disclosure policy is consistent with that take-no-chances attitude.

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Facebook tells advertisers to get consent for email and phone targeting

June 13, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Facebook has had no shortage of privacy debacles lately, and it’s taking steps to prevent another one before it starts. The company has instituted requirements for its Custom Audience advertising that, as of July 2nd, will tell them to ask permission for targeting ads based on contact info like email addresses and phone numbers. They’ll also have declare how they got that contact info (direct consent, partners or a mix of both).

You’ll have more control as a user. The “why am I seeing this?” link with each ad will show just who was responsible for the targeting information an whether or not your contact info was involved (say, an email subscription). If you object to a company using those methods, you can block their ads.

The system isn’t perfect, as it requires advertisers to tell the truth about where they got their info. It’s entirely possible that a company will simply lie about the origins in order to hawk their wares to customers. This at least creates a record of that deception, though, and may open the eyes of companies that didn’t realize they should get your explicit say-so.

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Facebook may ban businesses that mislead users about products

June 12, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Facebook

In an effort to improve the quality of its advertisements, Facebook will take action against businesses that consistently provide inaccurate shipping times and/or misrepresent what they are selling. According to the social network’s research, these are the two biggest frustrations among users in regard to products they have purchased from Facebook advertisers. A new tool, launched today around the world, will allow people to review businesses they’ve purchased items from.

If a business receives a lot of negative feedback, Facebook will share that information with the business and suggest ways to improve. If the feedback continues to be negative, Facebook will take action against the company, which includes reducing the number of ads the business is allowed to run. If the company still refuses to make improvements, it could lead to an outright ban on the business from Facebook.

In order to leave feedback about a business you’ve purchased a product from via Facebook, just go to your “Ads Activity” page. You can finds ads you’ve clicked on and leave a review about your experience.

Tech News

Facebook is selling ad spots in its Marketplace listings

June 7, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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China Stringer Network / Reuters

Facebook is going to put ads in its Marketplace section for online classifieds. That’s right, in addition to seeing posts for things like used couches and bed frames, you’ll likely see advertisements for Bed, Bath & Beyond and Pier 1. In addition to that, now you’ll be able to pay to “Boost” a listing, much like you would a News Feed post or event listing. As TechCrunch reports, these user-paid Boosts don’t offer any sort of granularity to who they’re targeting.

Instead of being able to drill down so your ad for a used camera lens will only appear to folks who’ve indicated on their profile or posts that they’re interested in photography, options are limited to appearing for adult users in surrounding ZIP codes. Apparently as part of click-based optimization, as more people start clicking on your ad, said post will begin appearing to people with similar demographics.

Facebook said that the limited targeting is a test to help folks find local buyers, and the tool was based on Marketplace user feedback.

Business advertising on Marketplace is live right now as part of a small test run, with Facebook saying that over the next few weeks, it’ll open up Marketplace ads to all advertisers targeting users in Australia, Canada, the US and New Zealand.

There’s a scene in The Social Network where Jesse Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerberg character argues that putting ads on the site would be like shutting down the party before anyone knew what the party was about. Well, in reality, Facebook knows exactly what the party is about: selling as much advertisement as possible.

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Google suspends election ads in Washington state

June 7, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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Google has bowed to pressure from Washington state and will no longer run local election advertisements starting from today. Attorney General Bob Ferguson recently accused Google and Facebook — which have received about $1.5 million and $3.4 million in relation to advertising respectively — of shielding the public from information about who is buying the political ads they see. Ferguson’s subsequent lawsuit argued that both companies had failed to adhere to the state’s stipulated campaign finance laws.

In response, Google announced via an AdWords policy update that it would suspend ads concerning ballot measures and candidates for both local and state elections. Google representative Alex Krasov told GeekWire that the tech company “take(s) transparency and disclosure of political ads very seriously” and it would make sure its systems are in alignment with the revised campaign disclosure law.

New requirements from the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) mandate that “information regarding political advertising or electioneering communications must be made available” and the maintenance of corresponding records is required for “no less than three years” after the election in question. From now on, digital communication platforms like Google and Facebook need to be able to provide a description of the audiences and geographic locations targeted, as well as the complete number of impressions advertisements generate.

This is an unusual move by Google, which has no previous track record of pausing political ads across a US state. However, in the wake of allegations that the 2016 presidential election was sabotaged by Russian cyberattacks and the GDPR‘s commitment to transparency and user privacy, it appears Google is choosing to adapt rather than face even more outside pressure.

Regardless, this isn’t a prohibition. It’s a pause. Facebook is yet to make a public response following the lawsuit, but has already promised to start clearly labeling political ads (and outing who paid for them) from this spring.

Tech News

Facebook’s new political ad policies have problems of their own

June 1, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Ted Soqui via Getty Images

Last month, Facebook launched its new political ad policies, which require ads to say who paid for them and those purchasing ads to go through a verification process. The rules are meant to prevent some of the problems that occurred during the 2016 US presidential election, during which Russian groups purchased Facebook ads with the intent of sowing political discord. But while the more rigorous process seems like a step in the right direction, it has come with a few issues of its own.

Some of the problems aren’t terribly surprising — new guidelines are sure to cause some growing pains especially since many political campaigns are already well underway throughout the country. The Tampa Bay Times reports that over a dozen Florida candidates, including Governor Rick Scott, candidate for governor Chris King and Representative Ron DeSantis have had their ads taken down since the new policies were put into place. And many of the ads in question, some of which were posted before the new rules took effect, were removed because they didn’t properly specify who paid for them.

But other issues aren’t just consequences of adjusting to new regulations. Instead, they appear to be snags in Facebook’s political ad-recognizing systems as well as pitfalls stemming from a purposefully wide scope as to what qualifies as a political ad or issue.

An ad for a podcast featuring an interview with the author of a new book about Russian media coverage of Donald Trump, a promotion of an article on the Flint water crisis and one for a report about a pro-law enforcement license plate have all been removed by Facebook for violating the new policies, despite not being political advertisements. But while these removals seem like accidental casualties of a system that’s still being tweaked, Facebook’s policies are actually meant to pick these posts up by design. Though ads for candidates running for public office are naturally included in the new political ad policies, so are ads that relate “to any national legislative issue of public importance.” And those issues include the military, the environment, budget, crime, civil rights, guns, taxes and a number of other broad categories.

“When you want to give people more information about political content, the obvious question is what do we consider ‘political?'” Katie Harbath, head of Facebook’s global government and elections effort, said in a Facebook announcement last month. “The answer might seem to be that ads that advocate for a certain candidate or cause, but just looking at ads on either side of a candidate race would not go far enough. And after making that initial announcement in October, we heard feedback from a range of independent stakeholders and third parties that we should also include issue ads or ads about important topics being discussed across the country.”

However, there have been some head-scratching removals including ads from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, Bush’s Baked Beans, restaurants, a cat rescue organization, a winery and apparel stores. “Enforcement is never perfect at launch, but that’s why we have processes in place for people and advertisers to help us improve,” Rob Leathern, Facebook’s director of product management, told The Verge. Those very well could be side effects of a system that still needs adjusting, but of concern is how the new policies are affecting publishers.

The Verge reports that publishers like Vice News, Vox, the Asia Times, Brut, NowThis, Business Insider, Newsmax, the Washington Examiner and Melville House have all had ads and promoted posts taken down. Ahead of the implementation of the new policies, the News Media Alliance, which represents some 2,000 news organizations, sent Facebook a letter, calling the rules “problematic” and saying, “Your plan to group quality publishers alongside political advocacy, which the ad archive will do, dangerously blurs the lines between real reporting and propaganda. It is a fundamental mischaracterization of journalism that threatens to undermine its ability to play its critical role in society as the fourth estate.” Some publishers are resorting to registering as political advertisers in order to get their promoted posts through the system.

“We won’t always get it right. We know we’ll miss some ads and in other cases we’ll identify some we shouldn’t,” Facebook said last month. “We’ll keep working on the process and improve as we go.” We’ve reached out to Facebook about the current problems with the new policies and we’ll update this post if we hear more.

Images: Facebook via The Tampa Bay Times and Facebook via Slate