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Author: fragglerock

New Announcement! PPC Hero Now Hosts a Job Board

October 3, 2018 No Comments

PPC Hero now hosts a job board! If you are looking for a job in digital marketing or you’re an employer that would love a free option to post a position, read on!

Read more at PPCHero.com
PPC Hero


Apple expands Business Chat with new businesses and additional countries

October 2, 2018 No Comments

Apple Business Chat launched earlier this year as a way for consumers to communicate directly with businesses on Apple’s messaging platform. Today the company announced it was expanding the program to add new businesses and support for additional countries.

When it launched in January, business partners included Discover, Hilton, Lowe’s and Wells Fargo. Today’s announcement includes the likes of Burberry, West Elm, Kimpton Hotels, and Vodafone Germany.

The program, which remains in Beta, added 15 new companies today in the US and 15 internationally including in the UK, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada, Italy, Australia and France.

Since the launch, companies have been coming up with creative ways to interact directly with customers in a chat setting that many users prefer over telephone trees and staticy wait music (I know I do).

For instance, Four Seasons, which launched Business Chat in July, is expanding usage to 88 properties across the globe with the ability to chat in more than 100 languages with reported average response times of around 90 seconds.

Apple previously added features like Apple Pay to iMessage to make it easy for consumers to transact directly with business in a fully digital way. If for instance, your customer service rep helps you find the perfect item, you can purchase it right then and there with Apple Pay in a fully digital payment system without having to supply a credit card in the chat interface.

Photo: Apple

What’s more, the CSR could share a link, photo or video to let you see more information on the item you’re interested in or to help you fix a problem with an item you already own. All of this can take place in iMessage, a tool millions of iPhone and iPad owners are comfortable using with friends and family.

To interact with Business Chat, customers are given messaging as a choice in contact information. If they touch this option, the interaction opens in iMessage and customers can conduct a conversation with the brand’s CSR, just as they would with friends.

Touch Message to move to iMessage conversation. Photo: Apple

This link to customer service and sales through a chat interface also fits well with the partnership with Salesforce announced last week and with the company’s overall push to the enterprise. Salesforce president and chief product officer, Bret Taylor described how Apple Business Chat could integrate with Salesforce’s Service Bot platform, which was introduced in 2017 to allow companies to build integrated automated and human response systems.

The bots could provide a first level of service and if the customer required more personal support, there could be an option to switch to Apple Business Chat.

Apple Business Chat requires iOS 11.3 or higher.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Round up of all things SEO @BrightonSEO

October 2, 2018 No Comments

The event that started in a room above a pub has come a hell of a long way. Thousands were queueing up well before the doors opened. Our day kicked off in Auditorium One with three sessions on Content Marketing.

Ross Tavendale from Pitchbox began with an insightful recount of its first large retainer of $ 50K generating zero links. The reason? The ideation sessions were too subjective. This led to them re-looking at the ideation framework and focus on data-led campaigns. The advice being that you need to ask the question: ‘Why are we doing this?’ Because the data said so. A simple and yet highly accurate statement.

Millennial attention through social media

Sarah Bradley was up next and gave insight into how brands can gain millennials attention through social media. These included being more personal, authentic and creating social responsibility infused content. Her view is that millennials are crying out for brands to ‘get to know them’. They respond to a ‘just ask us’ approach so focus on community management and give them the opportunity to influence the content. If you want to take it a step further, Bradley suggested handing over the reins to your social media or search for a week to the very people who you are selling to as a viable experiment.

Test. Analyze. Repeat.

Heading to Auditorium Two, I found a packed room with every chair and every centimeter of space taken by an audience truly engaged with the content on offer. JP Sherman from Redhat made the claim that ‘knowledge graphs are fun’. While this might be a stretch too far, the data does show that they perform. He gave the sage advice to measure the end results and then track it back. Test. Analyze. Repeat. If it fails, Test. Analyze. Repeat. Until it stops failing. Sound advice.

If the main stages drew in large crowds, the syndicate rooms were actually where the content became more detailed and educational. As CEO of Tug Nick Beck said: “The auditorium speakers might be pay to play but they do deliver solid sessions. However, the real insights come from the smaller stages where the focus is on delivering content which is detailed and educational. The undeniable fact is that BrightonSEO is still the place to be!”

Reported most useful SEO tools

The man who is famous for wearing an orange suit and writing ‘Spaghetti Code’ Christoph Cemper, gave a detailed list of the most useful SEO tools including:

  1. Google Search Console – see real rankings; see real DTR; get link data; combine link data
  2. Google Analytics – combine GA with Google search console; collect historical data
  3. Google Tag Manager – speed and tracking
  4. Keyword tool.io – comprehensive keyword database
  5. Keyword tracker.io – SEOmonitor.com. No fancy stuff
  6. XENU – errors; broken links; unlimited; free
  7. Screaming Frog – real free for up to 500 URLs
  8. Site bulb
  9. Yoast SEO – supports word press
  10. JSON -LD Tester –
  11. Structured Data Testing Tool
  12. HREF LANG Checker – free tool; make sure HREF language link to the right pages and check the ref of those
  13. JS – CSS Beautifier
  14. Link Clump
  15. User Agent Switcher – see cloaked stuff
  16. Keywords Everywhere – chrome extension; search volume; CPC; competitor
  17. Link Redirect Trace
  18. LRT Link Checker Extension
  19. LRT SEO Toolbar – shows SERP numbers; experts; SERP sorting; domain metrics and keyword rankings
  20. LRT Power Trust

SEO is about trust

Checklists were a common theme throughout BrightonSEO and Alex Rapallo, Digital Marketing Manager at Barclays Corporate Banking, summed it up: “The atmosphere here has a great social vibe without the expected corporate element. The content has been more checklist base this year and this lends itself to delivering more digestible takeaways to take back to the workplace. One of the overriding takeaways is that SEO is about trust. If you rank well in SEO, your brand is perceived as a more trustful company.”

Amazon SEO tools

Prabhat Shah from DaytoDayeBay gave another checklist session on Amazon SEO tools and why Amazon SEO matters. In fact, throughout the day, Amazon showed why it deserves it’s place in the trioply, as it was referenced more frequently throughout the event and eclipsed Google which was notably absent from the discussions and speaker content.

  1. Sonar – helps find the keywords that people search in keywords. See product relevancy visually; identify most searched keywords; show competitors
  2. Sellics – helps manage PPC campaigns on Amazon; what no of product is ranking; which page you’re ranking on; gets a list of converting and non-converting keywords
  3. Xsellco
  4. Amzscout
  5. Splitly – A/B testing for images, keywords, titles, and hidden keywords
  6. Helium IO Magnet
  7. Keyword tool. Io
  8. Amzdatastudio – helps to find out the keywords that are ranking other peoples’ products
  9. Amazon KW Index Checker – finds out if a particular keyword is ranking your product or not; bulk upload and search volume
  10. Jungle Scout – estimated bid price
  11. Misspelling Checker

Practical learning

This educationally led session was one of many during the event. David Stubbings, Senior Content Manager at Guinness World Records said:

“It’s about learning and getting an understanding of technical solutions that will benefit our SEO. I had an expectation that BrightonSEO would be more tech focused this year, What I have found is that it has provided more practical learning and has encouraged me to think differently.

SEO is more important than ever and one of the key reasons for this is voice activation, of which SEO has an obvious advantage in capitalizing.”

Future views of SEO and SERPs

The livener before lunch was the enigmatic Grant Simmons, VP at homes.com who stole the show with an interactive session on SEO toolbelt which will vanquish Google SERPs. From his claim that those who work in SEO are question engineers to his advice that success will come from questioning not why your competitor is above you, but what you are missing that is ranking you below them. Compare and contrast on each aspect from the snippet to the image to the title tag and improve on each area. If the juice isn’t worth the squeeze, don’t waste time on it. Filter and focus on what is important to your business.

The afternoon may not have had as many stand out sessions but there were plenty that provided future views of SEO and practical nuggets. Three sessions covered SERPs with the most interesting approach coming from Patrick Reinhart with Indexation, Cannibalization, Experimentation, Oh My! Oh my indeed as his views were strong and well presented. This session was one of many that were of a high standard.

Interactive content: harder for Google to cannibalize and more valuable to the user

Rand Fishkin closed the event with bullish statements such as “The harder a tactic becomes the more of a competitive advantage it gives us”.  It seems like Rand’s relationship with Google has soured somewhat, and he definitely let that come across in his talk!

Fishkin presented a view that Google is ranking google-hosted sites more highly (sites where you can scroll through the site without ever having to leave the search engine results page). Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn are now following suit – e.g. ranking blogs hosted on LinkedIn more highly than those hosted elsewhere. The intention of which is, of course, to keep you on that site, rather than directing you away. Fishkin did give some advice on how to respond.

Leverage every scrap of traffic google still sends to your site, use clickthrough rate estimates in keyword research, shift content marketing to keywords Google is less likely to cannibalize – longtail.

And the best advice of all is to “interactive content is the way to do content marketing in the future” – harder for Google to cannibalize and more valuable to the user.

“The harder this gets, the better we do.”

While Rand doesn’t like the way it’s going – he doesn’t think it’s right or ethical, he thinks it’s monopolizing – but “we live in the real world”.  It is in this world that he offers solutions on what you can do to combat Google cannibalizing your SEO; control what appears for your brand – monitor the SERPs and Influence the publishers to get listed on other more highly ranking websites.

Rand is a short-term pessimist but a long-term optimist: “the harder this gets the better we do” and BrightonSEO was certainly the place where optimism was rife.

Veronica Irons, Head of Digital at Guinness World Records adds: “There are misconceptions about an event dedicated to SEO that it will be boring. The reality is that BrightonSEO is far from that. The quality of sessions has been exceptional and appeal to all disciplines. Ultimately, SEO is definitely something you can’t ignore.”

Not only is SEO something you can’t ignore. BrightonSEO is an event that cannot and should not be ignored. Until next year Brighton!

Eoin O’Neill is CTO & Global Head of SEO at Tug

Search Engine Watch


Facebook breach hit up to 5M EU users, and it faces up to $1.63B in fines

October 1, 2018 No Comments

Less than 10 percent of the 50 million users attacked in Facebook’s recent breach lived in the European Union, tweeted the Irish Data Protection Commission which oversees privacy in the region. However, Facebook still could be liable for up to $ 1.63 billion in fines, or 4 percent of its $ 40.7 billion in annual global revenue for the prior financial year, if the EU determines it didn’t do enough to protect the security of its users.

Facebook wrote in response to the IDPC’s tweet that “We’re working with regulators including the Irish Data Protection Commission to share preliminary data about Friday’s security issue. As we work to confirm the location of those potentially affected, we plan to release further info soon.”

Facebook alerted regulators and the public to the breach Friday morning after discovering it Tuesday afternoon. That’s important because it came under the 72-hour deadline for announcing hacks that can trigger an additional fine of up to 2 percent of a company’s global revenue if not met.

That hack saw sophisticated attackers combine three bugs in Facebook’s profile, privacy, and video uploading features to steal the access token of 50 million users. These access tokens could allow the attackers to take over user accounts and act as them on Facebook, Instagram, Oculus, and other sites that rely on Facebook’s login system. The EU’s GDPR laws threaten heavy fines for improper security practices and are seen as stricter than those in the US, so its findings during this investigation carry weight.

The big question remains what data was stolen and how it could potentially be misused. Unless investigators or journalists discover a nefarious application for that data, such as how Cambridge Analytica’s illgotten data was used to inform Donald Trump’s campaign strategy, it’s unlikely for the public to see this as more than just another of Facebook’s constant privacy scandals. It could still trigger regulation, or push partners away from using Facebook’s login system, but the world seems to be growing numb to the daily cybersecurity breaches that plague the internet.


Social – TechCrunch


Meet Adam Mosseri, the new head of Instagram

October 1, 2018 No Comments

Former Facebook VP of News Feed and recently appointed Instagram VP of Product Adam Mosseri has been named the new head of Instagram following the resignation of Instagram’s founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger last week.. “We are thrilled to hand over the reins to a product leader with a strong design background and a focus on craft and simplicity — as well as a deep understanding of the importance of community” the founders wrote. “These are the values and principles that have been essential to us at Instagram since the day we started, and we’re excited for Adam to carry them forward.”

Systrom will recruit a new executive team including heads of product, operations, and engineering to replace himself, Instagram COO Marne Levine who went back to lead Facebook partnerships last month, and engineering leader James Everingham who moved to Facebook’s blockchain team in May before finishing at Instagram in July. Instagram’s product director Robby Stein is a strong candidate for the product head decision, as he’s been overseeing Stories, feed, Live, direct messaging, camera and profile.

Instagram’s founders announced last week that they were leaving the Facebook corporation after sources told TechCrunch the pair had dealt with dwindling autonomy from Facebook and rising tensions with its CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The smiling photo above seems meant to show peace has been restored to Instaland, and counter the increasing perception that Facebook breaks its promises to acquired founders. TechCrunch has previously reported Mosseri was first in line for the role according to sources, and The Information later wrote that some inside the company saw him as a lock.

Mosseri’s experience dealing with the unintended consequences of the News Feed such as fake news in the wake of the 2016 election could help him predict how Instagram’s growth will affect culture, politics, and user well-being. Over the years of interviewing him, Mosseri has always come across as sharp, serious, and empathetic. He comes across as a true believer that Facebook and its family of apps can make a positive impact in the world, but congniscent of the hard work and complex choices required to keep them from being misused.

Born and raised in New York, Mosseri started his own design consultancy while attending NYU’s Gallatin School Of Interdisciplinary Study to learn about media and information design. Mosseri joined Facebook in 2008 after briefly working at a startup called TokBox. Tasked with helping Facebook embrace mobile as design director, he’s since become part of Zuckerberg’s inner circle of friends and lieutenants. Mosseri later moved into product management and oversaw Facebook’s News Feed, turn it into the world’s most popular social technology and the driver of billions in profit from advertising. However, amidst his successes, Mosseri also oversaw Facebook Home, the flopped mobile operating system, and the was the officer on duty when fake news and Russian election attackers proliferated.

After going on parental leave this year, Mosseri returned to take over the role of Instagram VP of Product Kevin Weil as he move to Facebook’s blockchain team. A source tells TechCrunch he was well-received and productive since joining Instagram, and has gotten along well with Systrom. Mosseri now lives in San Francisco, close enough to work from both Instagram’s city office and South Bay headquarters. He’ll report to Facebook’s chief product officer Chris Cox as he did at Facebook. Cox wrote “Kevin and Mike, we will never fill your shoes. But we will work hard to uphold the craft, simplicity, elegance, and the incredible community of Instagram: both the team and the product you’ve built.”

“The impact of their work over the past eight years has been incredible. They built a product people love that brings joy and connection to so many lives” Mosseri wrote about Instagram’s founders in an…Instagram post. I’m humbled and excited about the opportunity to now lead the Instagram team. I want to thank them for trusting me to carry forward the values that they have established. I will do my best to make them, the team, and the Instagram community proud.”

Mosseri will be tasked with balancing the needs of Instagram such as headcount, engineering resources, and growth with the priorities of its parent company Facebook, such as cross-promotion to Instagram’s younger audience and revenue to contribute to the corporation’s earnings reports. Some see Mosseri as more sympathetic to Facebook’s desire than Instagram’s founders, given his long-stint at the parent company and his close relationship with Zuckerberg. Interestingly, Zuckerberg wasn’t mentioned or pictured in the transition announcement and hasn’t posted anything congratulating Mosseri as is common in Facebook’s employee culture. Zuckerberg may be seeking to reduce the appearance that he’s playing puppet master and instead does actually let Instagram run independently.

The question now is whether users will end up seeing more notifications and shortcuts linking back to Facebook, or more ads in the Stories and feed. Instagram hasn’t highlighted the ability to syndicate your Stories to Facebook, which could be boon for that parallel product. Instagram Stories now has 400 million daily users compared to Facebook Stories and Messenger Stories’ combined 150 million users. Tying them more closely could seem more content flow into Facebook, but it might also make users second guess whether what they’re sharing is appropriate for all of their Facebook friends, which might include family or professional colleagues.

Mosseri’s most pressing responsibility will be reassurring users that the culture of Instagram and its app won’t be assimilated into Facebook now that he’s running things instead of the founders. He’ll also need to snap into action to protect Instagram from being used as a pawn for election interference in the run-up to the 2018 US mid-terms. While he’ll never have the same mandate and faith from employees that the founders did, Mosseri is the experienced leader Instagram needs to grapple with its scaled-up influence.

Mobile – TechCrunch


How the Changing Paid Search Landscape Will Impact Marketers

October 1, 2018 No Comments

With the changing times comes the challenge of testing new AI features, discernment about how to utilize new features to optimize your post-click experience, and all while staying compliant with Google’s restrictions.

Read more at PPCHero.com
PPC Hero


You can’t have an outstanding team without an outstanding culture

September 30, 2018 No Comments

There’s a reason why our team thinks we are a great place to work and no, its not because we have a ping pong table set up. See more about Hanapin’s latest certification + we’ll let you in on a little secret!

Read more at PPCHero.com
PPC Hero


Facebook is weaponizing security to erode privacy

September 30, 2018 No Comments

At a Senate hearing this week in which US lawmakers quizzed tech giants on how they should go about drawing up comprehensive Federal consumer privacy protection legislation, Apple’s VP of software technology described privacy as a “core value” for the company.

“We want your device to know everything about you but we don’t think we should,” Bud Tribble told them in his opening remarks.

Facebook was not at the commerce committee hearing which, as well as Apple, included reps from Amazon, AT&T, Charter Communications, Google and Twitter.

But the company could hardly have made such a claim had it been in the room, given that its business is based on trying to know everything about you in order to dart you with ads.

You could say Facebook has ‘hostility to privacy‘ as a core value.

Earlier this year one US senator wondered of Mark Zuckerberg how Facebook could run its service given it doesn’t charge users for access. “Senator we run ads,” was the almost startled response, as if the Facebook founder couldn’t believe his luck at the not-even-surface-level political probing his platform was getting.

But there have been tougher moments of scrutiny for Zuckerberg and his company in 2018, as public awareness about how people’s data is being ceaselessly sucked out of platforms and passed around in the background, as fuel for a certain slice of the digital economy, has grown and grown — fuelled by a steady parade of data breaches and privacy scandals which provide a glimpse behind the curtain.

On the data scandal front Facebook has reigned supreme, whether it’s as an ‘oops we just didn’t think of that’ spreader of socially divisive ads paid for by Kremlin agents (sometimes with roubles!); or as a carefree host for third party apps to party at its users’ expense by silently hovering up info on their friends, in the multi-millions.

Facebook’s response to the Cambridge Analytica debacle was to loudly claim it was ‘locking the platform down‘. And try to paint everyone else as the rogue data sucker — to avoid the obvious and awkward fact that its own business functions in much the same way.

All this scandalabra has kept Facebook execs very busy with year, with policy staffers and execs being grilled by lawmakers on an increasing number of fronts and issues — from election interference and data misuse, to ad transparencyhate speech and abuse, and also directly, and at times closely, on consumer privacy and control

Facebook shielded its founder from one sought for grilling on data misuse, as UK MPs investigated online disinformation vs democracy, as well as examining wider issues around consumer control and privacy. (They’ve since recommended a social media levy to safeguard society from platform power.) 

The DCMS committee wanted Zuckerberg to testify to unpick how Facebook’s platform contributes to the spread of disinformation online. The company sent various reps to face questions (including its CTO) — but never the founder (not even via video link). And committee chair Damian Collins was withering and public in his criticism of Facebook sidestepping close questioning — saying the company had displayed a “pattern” of uncooperative behaviour, and “an unwillingness to engage, and a desire to hold onto information and not disclose it.”

As a result, Zuckerberg’s tally of public appearances before lawmakers this year stands at just two domestic hearings, in the US Senate and Congress, and one at a meeting of the EU parliament’s conference of presidents (which switched from a behind closed doors format to being streamed online after a revolt by parliamentarians) — and where he was heckled by MEPs for avoiding their questions.

But three sessions in a handful of months is still a lot more political grillings than Zuckerberg has ever faced before.

He’s going to need to get used to awkward questions now that lawmakers have woken up to the power and risk of his platform.

Security, weaponized 

What has become increasingly clear from the growing sound and fury over privacy and Facebook (and Facebook and privacy), is that a key plank of the company’s strategy to fight against the rise of consumer privacy as a mainstream concern is misdirection and cynical exploitation of valid security concerns.

Simply put, Facebook is weaponizing security to shield its erosion of privacy.

Privacy legislation is perhaps the only thing that could pose an existential threat to a business that’s entirely powered by watching and recording what people do at vast scale. And relying on that scale (and its own dark pattern design) to manipulate consent flows to acquire the private data it needs to profit.

Only robust privacy laws could bring Facebook’s self-serving house of cards tumbling down. User growth on its main service isn’t what it was but the company has shown itself very adept at picking up (and picking off) potential competitors — applying its surveillance practices to crushing competition too.

In Europe lawmakers have already tightened privacy oversight on digital businesses and massively beefed up penalties for data misuse. Under the region’s new GDPR framework compliance violations can attract fines as high as 4% of a company’s global annual turnover.

Which would mean billions of dollars in Facebook’s case — vs the pinprick penalties it has been dealing with for data abuse up to now.

Though fines aren’t the real point; if Facebook is forced to change its processes, so how it harvests and mines people’s data, that could knock a major, major hole right through its profit-center.

Hence the existential nature of the threat.

The GDPR came into force in May and multiple investigations are already underway. This summer the EU’s data protection supervisor, Giovanni Buttarelli, told the Washington Post to expect the first results by the end of the year.

Which means 2018 could result in some very well known tech giants being hit with major fines. And — more interestingly — being forced to change how they approach privacy.

One target for GDPR complainants is so-called ‘forced consent‘ — where consumers are told by platforms leveraging powerful network effects that they must accept giving up their privacy as the ‘take it or leave it’ price of accessing the service. Which doesn’t exactly smell like the ‘free choice’ EU law actually requires.

It’s not just Europe, either. Regulators across the globe are paying greater attention than ever to the use and abuse of people’s data. And also, therefore, to Facebook’s business — which profits, so very handsomely, by exploiting privacy to build profiles on literally billions of people in order to dart them with ads.

US lawmakers are now directly asking tech firms whether they should implement GDPR style legislation at home.

Unsurprisingly, tech giants are not at all keen — arguing, as they did at this week’s hearing, for the need to “balance” individual privacy rights against “freedom to innovate”.

So a lobbying joint-front to try to water down any US privacy clampdown is in full effect. (Though also asked this week whether they would leave Europe or California as a result of tougher-than-they’d-like privacy laws none of the tech giants said they would.)

The state of California passed its own robust privacy law, the California Consumer Privacy Act, this summer, which is due to come into force in 2020. And the tech industry is not a fan. So its engagement with federal lawmakers now is a clear attempt to secure a weaker federal framework to ride over any more stringent state laws.

Europe and its GDPR obviously can’t be rolled over like that, though. Even as tech giants like Facebook have certainly been seeing how much they can get away with — to force a expensive and time-consuming legal fight.

While ‘innovation’ is one oft-trotted angle tech firms use to argue against consumer privacy protections, Facebook included, the company has another tactic too: Deploying the ‘S’ word — security — both to fend off increasingly tricky questions from lawmakers, as they finally get up to speed and start to grapple with what it’s actually doing; and — more broadly — to keep its people-mining, ad-targeting business steamrollering on by greasing the pipe that keeps the personal data flowing in.

In recent years multiple major data misuse scandals have undoubtedly raised consumer awareness about privacy, and put greater emphasis on the value of robustly securing personal data. Scandals that even seem to have begun to impact how some Facebook users Facebook. So the risks for its business are clear.

Part of its strategic response, then, looks like an attempt to collapse the distinction between security and privacy — by using security concerns to shield privacy hostile practices from critical scrutiny, specifically by chain-linking its data-harvesting activities to some vaguely invoked “security purposes”, whether that’s security for all Facebook users against malicious non-users trying to hack them; or, wider still, for every engaged citizen who wants democracy to be protected from fake accounts spreading malicious propaganda.

So the game Facebook is here playing is to use security as a very broad-brush to try to defang legislation that could radically shrink its access to people’s data.

Here, for example, is Zuckerberg responding to a question from an MEP in the EU parliament asking for answers on so-called ‘shadow profiles’ (aka the personal data the company collects on non-users) — emphasis mine:

It’s very important that we don’t have people who aren’t Facebook users that are coming to our service and trying to scrape the public data that’s available. And one of the ways that we do that is people use our service and even if they’re not signed in we need to understand how they’re using the service to prevent bad activity.

At this point in the meeting Zuckerberg also suggestively referenced MEPs’ concerns about election interference — to better play on a security fear that’s inexorably close to their hearts. (With the spectre of re-election looming next spring.) So he’s making good use of his psychology major.

“On the security side we think it’s important to keep it to protect people in our community,” he also said when pressed by MEPs to answer how a person who isn’t a Facebook user could delete its shadow profile of them.

He was also questioned about shadow profiles by the House Energy and Commerce Committee in April. And used the same security justification for harvesting data on people who aren’t Facebook users.

“Congressman, in general we collect data on people who have not signed up for Facebook for security purposes to prevent the kind of scraping you were just referring to [reverse searches based on public info like phone numbers],” he said. “In order to prevent people from scraping public information… we need to know when someone is repeatedly trying to access our services.”

He claimed not to know “off the top of my head” how many data points Facebook holds on non-users (nor even on users, which the congressman had also asked for, for comparative purposes).

These sorts of exchanges are very telling because for years Facebook has relied upon people not knowing or really understanding how its platform works to keep what are clearly ethically questionable practices from closer scrutiny.

But, as political attention has dialled up around privacy, and its become harder for the company to simply deny or fog what it’s actually doing, Facebook appears to be evolving its defence strategy — by defiantly arguing it simply must profile everyone, including non-users, for user security.

No matter this is the same company which, despite maintaining all those shadow profiles on its servers, famously failed to spot Kremlin election interference going on at massive scale in its own back yard — and thus failed to protect its users from malicious propaganda.

TechCrunch/Bryce Durbin

Nor was Facebook capable of preventing its platform from being repurposed as a conduit for accelerating ethnic hate in a country such as Myanmar — with some truly tragic consequences. Yet it must, presumably, hold shadow profiles on non-users there too. Yet was seemingly unable (or unwilling) to use that intelligence to help protect actual lives…

So when Zuckerberg invokes overarching “security purposes” as a justification for violating people’s privacy en masse it pays to ask critical questions about what kind of security it’s actually purporting to be able deliver. Beyond, y’know, continued security for its own business model as it comes under increasing attack.

What Facebook indisputably does do with ‘shadow contact information’, acquired about people via other means than the person themselves handing it over, is to use it to target people with ads. So it uses intelligence harvested without consent to make money.

Facebook confirmed as much this week, when Gizmodo asked it to respond to a study by some US academics that showed how a piece of personal data that had never been knowingly provided to Facebook by its owner could still be used to target an ad at that person.

Responding to the study, Facebook admitted it was “likely” the academic had been shown the ad “because someone else uploaded his contact information via contact importer”.

“People own their address books. We understand that in some cases this may mean that another person may not be able to control the contact information someone else uploads about them,” it told Gizmodo.

So essentially Facebook has finally admitted that consentless scraped contact information is a core part of its ad targeting apparatus.

Safe to say, that’s not going to play at all well in Europe.

Basically Facebook is saying you own and control your personal data until it can acquire it from someone else — and then, er, nope!

Yet given the reach of its network, the chances of your data not sitting on its servers somewhere seems very, very slim. So Facebook is essentially invading the privacy of pretty much everyone in the world who has ever used a mobile phone. (Something like two-thirds of the global population then.)

In other contexts this would be called spying — or, well, ‘mass surveillance’.

It’s also how Facebook makes money.

And yet when called in front of lawmakers to asking about the ethics of spying on the majority of the people on the planet, the company seeks to justify this supermassive privacy intrusion by suggesting that gathering data about every phone user without their consent is necessary for some fuzzily-defined “security purposes” — even as its own record on security really isn’t looking so shiny these days.

WASHINGTON, DC – APRIL 11: Facebook co-founder, Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg prepares to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill April 11, 2018 in Washington, DC. This is the second day of testimony before Congress by Zuckerberg, 33, after it was reported that 87 million Facebook users had their personal information harvested by Cambridge Analytica, a British political consulting firm linked to the Trump campaign. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

It’s as if Facebook is trying to lift a page out of national intelligence agency playbooks — when governments claim ‘mass surveillance’ of populations is necessary for security purposes like counterterrorism.

Except Facebook is a commercial company, not the NSA.

So it’s only fighting to keep being able to carpet-bomb the planet with ads.

Profiting from shadow profiles

Another example of Facebook weaponizing security to erode privacy was also confirmed via Gizmodo’s reportage. The same academics found the company uses phone numbers provided to it by users for the specific (security) purpose of enabling two-factor authentication, which is a technique intended to make it harder for a hacker to take over an account, to also target them with ads.

In a nutshell, Facebook is exploiting its users’ valid security fears about being hacked in order to make itself more money.

Any security expert worth their salt will have spent long years encouraging web users to turn on two factor authentication for as many of their accounts as possible in order to reduce the risk of being hacked. So Facebook exploiting that security vector to boost its profits is truly awful. Because it works against those valiant infosec efforts — so risks eroding users’ security as well as trampling all over their privacy.

It’s just a double whammy of awful, awful behavior.

And of course, there’s more.

A third example of how Facebook seeks to play on people’s security fears to enable deeper privacy intrusion comes by way of the recent rollout of its facial recognition technology in Europe.

In this region the company had previously been forced to pull the plug on facial recognition after being leaned on by privacy conscious regulators. But after having to redesign its consent flows to come up with its version of ‘GDPR compliance’ in time for May 25, Facebook used this opportunity to revisit a rollout of the technology on Europeans — by asking users there to consent to switching it on.

Now you might think that asking for consent sounds okay on the surface. But it pays to remember that Facebook is a master of dark pattern design.

Which means it’s expert at extracting outcomes from people by applying these manipulative dark arts. (Don’t forget, it has even directly experimented in manipulating users’ emotions.)

So can it be a free consent if ‘individual choice’ is set against a powerful technology platform that’s both in charge of the consent wording, button placement and button design, and which can also data-mine the behavior of its 2BN+ users to further inform and tweak (via A/B testing) the design of the aforementioned ‘consent flow’? (Or, to put it another way, is it still ‘yes’ if the tiny greyscale ‘no’ button fades away when your cursor approaches while the big ‘YES’ button pops and blinks suggestively?)

In the case of facial recognition, Facebook used a manipulative consent flow that included a couple of self-serving ‘examples’ — selling the ‘benefits’ of the technology to users before they landed on the screen where they could choose either yes switch it on, or no leave it off.

One of which explicitly played on people’s security fears — by suggesting that without the technology enabled users were at risk of being impersonated by strangers. Whereas, by agreeing to do what Facebook wanted you to do, Facebook said it would help “protect you from a stranger using your photo to impersonate you”…

That example shows the company is not above actively jerking on the chain of people’s security fears, as well as passively exploiting similar security worries when it jerkily repurposes 2FA digits for ad targeting.

There’s even more too; Facebook has been positioning itself to pull off what is arguably the greatest (in the ‘largest’ sense of the word) appropriation of security concerns yet to shield its behind-the-scenes trampling of user privacy — when, from next year, it will begin injecting ads into the WhatsApp messaging platform.

These will be targeted ads, because Facebook has already changed the WhatsApp T&Cs to link Facebook and WhatsApp accounts — via phone number matching and other technical means that enable it to connect distinct accounts across two otherwise entirely separate social services.

Thing is, WhatsApp got fat on its founders promise of 100% ad-free messaging. The founders were also privacy and security champions, pushing to roll e2e encryption right across the platform — even after selling their app to the adtech giant in 2014.

WhatsApp’s robust e2e encryption means Facebook literally cannot read the messages users are sending each other. But that does not mean Facebook is respecting WhatsApp users’ privacy.

On the contrary; The company has given itself broader rights to user data by changing the WhatsApp T&Cs and by matching accounts.

So, really, it’s all just one big Facebook profile now — whichever of its products you do (or don’t) use.

This means that even without literally reading your WhatsApps, Facebook can still know plenty about a WhatsApp user, thanks to any other Facebook Group profiles they have ever had and any shadow profiles it maintains in parallel. WhatsApp users will soon become 1.5BN+ bullseyes for yet more creepily intrusive Facebook ads to seek their target.

No private spaces, then, in Facebook’s empire as the company capitalizes on people’s fears to shift the debate away from personal privacy and onto the self-serving notion of ‘secured by Facebook spaces’ — in order that it can keep sucking up people’s personal data.

Yet this is a very dangerous strategy, though.

Because if Facebook can’t even deliver security for its users, thereby undermining those “security purposes” it keeps banging on about, it might find it difficult to sell the world on going naked just so Facebook Inc can keep turning a profit.

What’s the best security practice of all? That’s super simple: Not holding data in the first place.


Social – TechCrunch


Spotify ends test that required family plan subscribers to share their GPS location

September 30, 2018 No Comments

Spotify has ended a test that required its family plan subscribers to verify their location, or risk losing accessing to its music streaming service. According to recent reports, the company sent out emails to its “Premium for Family” customers that asked them to confirm their locations using GPS. The idea here is that some customers may have been sharing Family Plans, even though they’re not related, as a means of paying less for Spotify by splitting the plan’s support for multiple users. And Spotify wanted to bust them.

Spiegel Online and Quartz first reported this news on Thursday.

Of course, as these reports pointed out, asking users to confirm a GPS location is a poor means of verification. Families often have members who live or work outside the home — they may live abroad, have divorced or separated parents, have kids in college, travel for work or any other number of reasons.

But technically, these sorts of situations are prohibited by Spotify’s family plan terms — the rules require all members to share a physical address. That rule hadn’t really been as strictly enforced before, so many didn’t realize they had broken it when they added members who don’t live at home.

Customers were also uncomfortable with how Spotify wanted to verify their location — instead of entering a mailing address for the main account, for instance, they were asked for their exact (GPS) location.

The emails also threatened that failure to verify the account this way could cause them to lose access to the service.

Family plans are often abused by those who use them as a loophole for paying full price. For example, a few years ago, Amazon decided to cut down on Prime members sharing their benefits, because they found these were being broadly shared outside immediate families. In its case, it limited sharing to two adults who could both authorize and use the payment cards on file, and allowed them to create other, more limited profiles for the kids.

Spotify could have done something similar. It could have asked Family Plan adult subscribers to re-enter their payment card information to confirm their account, or it could have designated select slots for child members with a different set of privileges to make sharing less appealing.

Maybe it will now reconsider how verification works, given the customer backlash.

We understand the verification emails were only a small-scale test of a new system, not something Spotify is rolling out to all users. The emails were sent out in only four of Spotify’s markets, including the U.S.

And the test only ran for a short time before Spotify shut it down.

Reached for comment, a Spotify spokesperson confirmed this, saying:

“Spotify is currently testing improvements to the user experience of Premium for Family with small user groups in select markets. We are always testing new products and experiences at Spotify, but have no further news to share regarding this particular feature test at this time.”

Mobile – TechCrunch


Alphabet’s Chronicle launches an enterprise version of VirusTotal

September 29, 2018 No Comments

VirusTotal, the virus- and malware-scanning service owned by Alphabet’s Chronicle, launched an enterprise-grade version of its service today.

VirusTotal Enterprise offers significantly faster and more customizable malware search, as well as a new feature called Private Graph, which allows enterprises to create their own private visualizations of their infrastructure and malware that affects their machines.

The Private Graph makes it easier for enterprises to create an inventory of their internal infrastructure and users to help security teams investigate incidents (and where they started). In the process of building this graph, VirtusTotal also looks are commonalities between different nodes to be able to detect changes that could signal potential issues.

The company stresses that these graphs are obviously kept private. That’s worth noting because VirusTotal already offered a similar tool for its premium users — the VirusTotal Graph. All of the information there, however, was public.

As for the faster and more advanced search tools, VirusTotal notes that its service benefits from Alphabet’s massive infrastructure and search expertise. This allows VirusTotal Enterprise to offer a 100x speed increase, as well as better search accuracy. Using the advanced search, the company notes, a security team could now extract the icon from a fake application, for example, and then return all malware samples that share the same file.

VirusTotal says that it plans to “continue to leverage the power of Google infrastructure” and expand this enterprise service over time.

Google acquired VirusTotal back in 2012. For the longest time, the service didn’t see too many changes, but earlier this year, Google’s parent company Alphabet moved VirusTotal under the Chronicle brand and the development pace seems to have picked up since.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


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