Posts tagged Tell

Just How Creepy Can Targeted Ads Get? New Tool Promises To Tell You

Ever find yourself scrolling through a website and seeing an advertisement that’s a little too well-targeted? You know, as if the advertiser knew you recently twisted your ankle and need to buy some sturdier shoes? 

Columbia University researchers are working on XRay, a tool to help innocent Internet users make sense of those ads that stalk us, sometimes in ways that are worse than creepy.

Climbing In Your Inbox, Snatching Your Searches Up

As most people know by now, your personal data is the price you pay for “free” services such as Facebook and Google. When it comes to targeted ads, Google bots scan Gmail accounts looking for keywords to then serve up tailored marketing. Facebook does the same thing with “likes,” status updates and other info. 

How that information is analyzed to create personalized Internet advertising is the mystery the Columbia University researchers want to help solve with XRay, the Web transparency tool they’re currently working on.

XRay, still in development, “detects targeting through input/output correlation.” An Internet user’s “inputs”—email, searches, etc.—are compared to “outputs,” or ads that user is shown. As you can probably guess, most of the ads were largely predictable. If “shoes” shows up in an email you’ve sent, you’ll likely see an advertisement for a shoe sale at a department store.

Targeting, however, doesn’t stop at shoes. In developing XRay, researchers also found invasive ads targeting sensitive topics in user emails, including depression and pregnancy. What’s more, targeting based off such health-related keywords is potentially dangerous. For instance, one test showed that inputs containing the word “depression” would deliver ads for questionable quackery such as shamanic healing.

XRay also demonstrated the danger for consumers when companies misuse such keyword targeting:

Imagine an insurance company wanting to learn about pre-existing conditions of its customers before signing them up. The company could create two ad campaigns, one targeting cancer and the other youth, and assign different URLs to each campaign. It could then offer higher premium quotes to users coming in from the cancer-related ads to discourage them from signing up while offering lower premium quotes to people coming in from the youth-related ads.

XRay is still a prototype. Researchers tested it with Gmail to predict ads based off of email correspondence, and YouTube and Amazon video and purchasing suggestions based on previously viewed items. When widely available, XRay is expected to work across multiple platforms. In initial testing, XRay accurately predicted the types of ads that will be displayed in the future with 80 to 90% accuracy.

XRay’s code will be open source, and eventually this tool will be available to everyone with an Internet connection. Such insight could help the average Internet user better understand how companies use their data. It might also help privacy watchdogs call out malicious advertisers who abuse keyword targeting.

The team will release its research paper this week at USENIX Security 2014, a top security conference in San Diego, Calif. XRay is supported by the National Science Foundation, DARPA, Google and Microsoft. 

Lead image by Asja Boroš

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Interns Tell Us What They Would Change At Silicon Valley’s Top Companies

I saw the massive line of interns long before I could see the venue. The young crowd waiting outside Broadway Studios in San Francisco on Tuesday chatted with friends and checked their phones, eagerly awaiting to get inside.

Interns line up outside of Internapalooza 

Approximately 2,000 interns from around the Bay Area signed up to attend Internapalooza, an industry-sponsored event for Silicon Valley’s interns to meet each other, chat up potential employers, and hear some of the tech industry’s finest give advice and share experiences from their younger, soul-searching years.

Mike Krieger, co-founder of Instagram, Max Levchin, co-founder of PayPal, and top tech journalist Kara Swisher were among speakers. Overall, the lineup  included eight white men, one man of color, and two white women, which spoke volumes about the current state of tech’s not-so-diverse demographics.

Scanning the Internapalooza audience, I was pleasantly surprised at the variety of gender and ethnicity. Examining Silicon Valley’s young generation of interns can tell us a lot about the future of technology and about the new faces of leadership. 

While there is a lack of diversity among tech’s current leaders, the Internapalooza attendees suggest just how multifaceted the future of Silicon Valley may be. 

The fresh faces of Internapalooza

Waiting in line to get into the sold-out event  felt worse than waiting in line to get into a club. 

Interns stood shoulder-to-shoulder inside the steamy venue. A few wore business casual, but many were decked out in the true tech wear of t-shirts, jeans and backpacks. The aroma of free hot dogs didn’t help the claustrophobia, nor with the nostalgic feeling of filing into college orientation.

Many of the interns in attendance were  college students or recent college graduates—50% of attendees were rising seniors at their universities. One hundred attendees were interns at Salesforce, 90 came from Google, 50 interned at Facebook and another 50 at Apple. Close to 200 interns hailed from UC Berkeley, and more than 150 attendees studied either at Harvard, Stanford or MIT.

Interns take their seats to hear from more than 10 leaders in tech

The Silicon Valley culture of interns is unlike the Devil Wears Prada, fetching-coffee type of industry jobs, or the kinds of cheap labor positions that are pervasive within Manhattan and Los Angeles’ media-based internships.

Here in San Francisco’s tech industry, companies actively seek interns as potential full-time employees, and not just semester-by-semester rotations of unpaid staff. It’s a competitive market and the statistics of the attendees at Internapalooza are proof. Over half of the interns in attendence major in computer science, and 80% have studied something related to engineering.

Re/code’s Kara Swisher telling it like it is

Speakers hit the stage around 7 p.m, giving life advice in an almost believable, I was a kid once too! fashion. Quick words were said about the necessity of figuring out the rest of their lives. These pieces of advice must have seemed daunting and unreachable coming from the leaders who have already made achievements in technology.

For the many interns looking to break into Silicon Valley, their personal stories were a little more raw.

Cori Shearer, Intern at Pandora

Hearing about Internapalooza from a Bay Area interns group on Facebook, Cori Shearer attended, wanting to be inspired.

“I’m always on the hustle and grind, so sometimes I need events like this to reinvigorate my energy and to remind myself why I’m here in the first place,” says Shearer.

An intern at Pandora, Shearer works in sales technology and on building ad products.

She is also quick to discuss the need for more diversity in tech—noting that many startup’s lack of gender and racial variety occurs when founders look only towards their friends to build their company.

“You need to be in business with people who aren’t like you, and take risks to start your own company. As a female minority, I really want to do something innovative and helpful in the future,” says Shearer.

The Pandora intern hopes to see more people of color on stage at events like Internapalooza.

“Not seeing people on stage that looks like you has an effect because you want to be able to look up to someone,” says Shearer. “This affects future generations, but I am hopeful for change.”

Brian Clanton, Intern at Zynga

Developer Brian Clanton is a first-time intern at Zynga, and hopes one day to become a development lead.

Clanton says he finds it difficult to set himself apart from other interns in Silicon Valley’s ultra-competitive race towards tech employment. This feeling is made all too real while standing amongst the hundreds of interns gathered in the venue.

“In order to set myself apart I need to do well in school, gain lots of work experience, and just work on different projects,” says Clanton.

We awkwardly shuffle amongst groups of interns and gawk at the sheer number of people in attendance. I ask him about the fanaticism surrounding Silicon Valley. What makes the tech industry such an appealing place to work?

“Kids want to work in Silicon Valley because there’s an image projected out there that it’s a lot of fun, and that all of these companies have great working environments. They have hammocks! It appeals to a younger generation,” says Clanton.

Meron Foster, Intern at Captûre Wines

Meron Foster says that she wants to pursue technology because that’s where the future lies. An intern at Captûre Wines, Foster works in sales and events, but not being a technically-inclined person often leaves her feeling left out of the tech bubble.

“It’s tough to find jobs in Silicon Valley. It’s a tight-knit circle, and if you’re not ‘a techie’, it’s intimidating to break into that culture. But I’m good at sales and marketing. It’s just hard to portray that to the tech industry without any tech skills,” says Foster.

Like Shearer, Foster wants to see more people of color working in tech. Although the hundreds of interns at Internapalooza are diverse in gender and ethnicity, the leaders of tech companies often are not.

“Events like this have a lot of young people of color here. Tech has lots of folks of Asian descent, but that’s still a specific color that tech indulges in. This will change with time. There are so many different people, and tech is not closed off to us,” says Foster.

Bay Area interns gathered together

As I leave the venue, the doorman tells me more than 60 interns who could not initially enter waited throughout the night to get inside. With such overwhelming interest, the tech industry is clearly not hurting for qualified candidates. The draw of Silicon Valley for these interns may be as superficial as hammocks and nap pods, or perhaps it’s the in desire for inclusion and for more diverse representation. 

The students at Internapalooza overall were intelligent, driven, and hopeful for positive change.  We are in good hands. 

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Why Google’s Reported CPC Declines Can’t Tell The Story Of “A Mobile Advertising Problem”

It’s still happening. Google reported on Thursday that the average cost-per-click (CPC) was down again in Q2 from the prior year, marking the eleventh consecutive quarter in which the average CPC fell year-over-year. Some analysts and news outlets have been pointing to this as evidence of…



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How To Tell If Amazon’s Netflix For Books Is For You

My Amazon Kindle has me pegged. I have the ad-supported Paperwhite, which means anytime my Kindle sleeps, it shows me an advertisement for a book Amazon thinks I’d like to read. More often than not, it’s correct, and I’ll click on the ad and buy the e-book, usually for a price in the range of 99 cents to $5.

Which is why I’m the perfect audience for Kindle Unlimited, Amazon’s new e-book subscription service launching today. At first blush, it seems like a great deal—but I’m not going to buy it just yet.

Is It A Good Deal?

Kindle Unlimited offers Kindle device or Kindle application users unlimited access to more than 600,000 books for $9.99 per month. (For comparison, that’s out of approximately 2.7 million ebooks Amazon offers in the U.S.) The subscription also includes three months of free Audible service, giving users access to more than 2,000 audiobooks. 

The Netflix-style subscription service features some popular titles, including the Hunger Games trilogy, the Harry Potter series, The Lord of The Rings trilogy, thousands of classics like Animal Farm, as well as books only published on Kindle. What you won’t find are current bestsellers or any other titles from the big five publishers like Simon and Schuster and Hachette Book Group. (Hachette is currently embroiled in a dispute with Amazon stemming from failed contract negotiations that have troubled the companies for months.)

The Netflix model for reading is nothing new. Amazon Unlimited will be joining startups like Oyster and Scribd that offer similar services for less money.

The books are only available for as long as you have a Kindle Unlimited subscription—so you don’t own them. But it offers more titles as well as access to audio books compared to Amazon’s other e-book borrowing service the Kindle Owners Lending Library, available only to Amazon Prime subscribers with Kindle devices.

Amazon recently hiked the cost of Prime membership to $99 per year. So, if you’re already paying for Prime, Kindle Unlimited isn’t worth it.

However, if you’re a voracious reader with a Kindle or its Android or iOS app, a $10 per month e-book subscription might save you some money.

What’s not clear is how authors or publishers make out in this deal. According to the Washington Post, “once a subscriber has read a certain percentage of a given book, it’s considered a “sale,” and the company that runs the subscription pays the publisher for it.”

Amazon is offering a 30-day free trial subscription to Kindle Unlimited so people can find out if they’re willing to fork over $10 per month for e-books. I’ve already downloaded a couple myself.

Image screencapped from Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited video

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SPONSOR MESSAGE: A Backlink Analysis Will Tell You Exactly Where You Stand

Building links is like building relationships; you want to make sure you are connected to the right people. A backlink analysis will show you which connections are helping and/or hurting your website. Our knowledgeable team will carefully analyze your backlink portfolio and set up a convenient time…



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5 Ways to Tell if Your Content Marketer is on The Up And Up

Not all SEOs are shysters. Too many, however, are. Not all content marketers are shady either. Still, too […]

The post 5 Ways to Tell if Your Content Marketer is on The Up And Up appeared first on Search Engine Journal.

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I’ll Tell You A Secret: Anonymous Apps Matter

Until recently, I kept all my secrets to myself.

Sometimes I want to share my thoughts online, but find them too personal for Twitter, and not necessarily appropriate for Facebook. I want to share these thoughts anonymously, either because they’re raw emotions, or because I find them embarrassing for some reason, even if they’re funny and true.

But then there’s Secret, the anonymous social networking app. Its notes and rumors have led technology reporters like me on wild goose chases, trying to confirm bits of gossip, from the true (“Nike is shutting down their wearables division”) to the false (“Evernote is getting acquired”), sparking heated debates among entrepreneurs and investors.

Secret is a bit like a high school bathroom stall, where anonymous comments are etched with the tips of sharp pens, but carry questionable legitimacy.

When Secret launched in January, early adopters were mainly the tech elite, journalists, startup founders and Facebook or Google employees seeking an outlet for gossip, snark and the occasional lie. My Secret feed—formed by posts from friends in my phone book, posts they had liked, or posts near me—was an endless stream of garbage about funding rounds, sexual conquests, or outright character assassinations (and even gossip about some of my good friends). 

But then something happened. When Secret began reaching iPhone users outside of Silicon Valley and New York, the Secrets changed. No longer were they all immature; Secrets had developed feelings, and felt more human. I saw requests for prayer, professions of love, and pictures of cancer-free medical scans. They were honest-to-goodness Secrets, and I felt myself slowly becoming a fan of the application I loathed so much at first.

Some of the trash still lingers, but Secret is beginning to become an anonymous application that can be a vehicle for good. 

Secret’s founders want it to be a safe place where people can talk anonymously without receiving flak from friends or family like they might on Facebook or Twitter. Its vision falls in line with other anonymous apps, most notably Whisper, an application that has allegedly saved someone from suicide

At the South By Southwest festival in March, Secret cofounder David Byttow said, “We don’t have to be nice, but we should be kind.” I initially scoffed at this idea, thinking it was completely naive, but now it makes sense. It’s cathartic to surrender your own secrets, and to read others. But there’s also an element of Schadenfreude that will never really go away. 

Breaking Up With Our Social Identity

On social networks like Facebook and Twitter, we are increasingly tied to our real-world identities, whether we use pseudonyms or not. We share our thoughts and feelings, and our friends and followers can see and comment on what we say. We appear in online searches, and our words or pictures are saved to social networks, forever aligning us with things we’ve said or done over the years, even if they’re trivial or awkward. 

As more companies begin to adopt social logins for products and services, not only are your life’s conversations a part of the online social fabric, but so are your purchases, movements, and Likes. Facebook, for instance, is poised to integrate with everything, and uses your personal information to sell advertising. Twitter, in its quest to be like Facebook, hopes to do the same.

There have always been options to remain anonymous, or at least pseudonymous, online, but all of your conversations are usually associated with a username. Anonymous applications, on the other hand, ditch the necessity of usernames altogether: No one can follow all your posts or comments, it’s just you and a bunch of other anonymous strangers sharing your thoughts.

With Secret, you can share as much or as little as you want anonymously—though your friends from your address book that also have Secret will be notified when “a friend” posts. Comments are anonymous, too. Tiny icons identify the same commenter in a thread, but they change with each post, so no one can tell which secrets you share, or which you comment on. 

On anonymous apps like Secret and Whisper, you don’t have an identity, and your Internet history doesn’t haunt you in the form of advertising. 

Overcoming Challenges

It’s doubtful anonymous applications will ever be as popular as other mobile apps like Instagram or Snapchat. 

Secret, available only for iOS, is ranked fairly low in the App Store—it’s No. 97 in the U.S. for social networking. Whisper, almost a full year older than Secret, is more popular as the No. 35 social networking app in the US. 

The great challenge with anonymous apps is to add new users, but also convince people they’re not mobile versions of a Burn Book. If people can’t keep their posts clean, harm and gossip could eat these apps and alienate those users that use these platforms as places of refuge, not resentment. 

PostSecret is a perfect example of how an anonymous mobile app can fail. As a website and art project, PostSecret.com features postcards with images, drawings, and admissions from people all around the world. Anonymous writers submit their thoughts and feelings to the PostSecret blog, and the moderator publishes selections for the world to enjoy.

PostSecret launched a mobile application in late 2011 that took out the middleman—the moderator—and let users post their own secrets directly to an app. It cost $1.99 and was extremely short-lived. The app was shut down in January 2012 after users, moderators and the creator’s family were threatened. The website, however, is still running today.

Navigating moral issues and privacy is something anonymous apps will have to contend with. Secret is dealing with that by taking down destructive posts and letting users flag posts as inappropriate. But some high-profile people don’t think that’s enough.

Marc Andreessen, Netscape founder and Silicon Valley investor, went on a Twitter rant last month bashing anonymous apps.

“Such experiments start out as naughty fun, end with broken hearts and ruined lives. In the end everyone regrets participating in them,” Andreesen wrote. 

Secret was also blamed for sparking the drama surrounding a prominent engineer’s departure from GitHub and the maelstrom of bad press that followed.

In order for Secret or Whisper to avoid the same fate as PostSecret, it will have to heavily monitor posts to prevent harmful posts from spreading. Of course, gossip, whether true or not, will always spread, and any platform that makes it easier will be filled with it. 

How Anonymity Could Succeed

Now more than ever consumers are worried about their privacy online, so if there’s an optimal time for anonymous apps to make it into our mobile devices, it’s now.

Even Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appears to be warming up to the idea of online anonymity, having “talks” with Secret that have spurred rumors of an acquisition

But if Secret wants to become part of my regular app repertoire, a number of personalization filters need to be implemented. For instance, I should be able to block certain words or phrases like “Threesomes” and “Y Combinator” from showing up in my feed. Additionally, the ability to opt out of sending friends notifications when you post would encourage me to write more secrets.

 

Eventually, Secret’s algorithms should begin to learn the type of posts I enjoy—for instance, ones containing positive or humorous sentiment—it could show me more of those, while hiding negative, un-funny posts lower in the feed.

There are many Secret topics I’d like to avoid, but also some I want to follow; I imagine I’m not the only one. If topics were searchable or tagged, people could follow certain Secrets and create anonymous support groups for themselves.

Moms are a great example. Many women probably experience negative aspects of motherhood but feel guilty writing about it anywhere online. With Secret, they can post their complaints as easy as sending a text message to their best friend, and they won’t be judged for complaining about their screaming toddler. 

It’s easy to scoff at anonymous apps when our own feeds are filled with filth. But as I’ve learned (and come to enjoy), when anonymous, humans have equal capacity to be supportive and cruel. And once app makers allow the cruelty to be filtered out, anonymous apps can become the public diaries we always wanted, all the while keeping our pen names private. 

Lead image courtesy of Mack Male on Flickr. All other images screenshots from Selena Larson’s Secret app. 

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A Knowledge Gap Analysis Will Tell You What Web Analytics Can’t

Too much emphasis is placed on web analytics to determine what changes to make to improve a website’s conversion rates. Here’s why conducting a knowledge gap analysis should be your first step to find ways to increase your conversions.

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What Do Google’s Earnings Reports Tell Us About AdWords Trends?

Google published their quarterly earnings last week, but they tell us quite a lot about what is happening on AdWords across the market. Paid search budgets are growing. But what’s the story with mobile and why aren’t CPCs rising?

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Matt Cutts on How to Tell Google When Multiple Domains are Related

How should you handle linking between many different country specific sites, or several sites your company owns that are all related, without running afoul of Google for unnatural linking? Google’s Matt Cutts shares advice on how to not look spammy.

View full post on Search Engine Watch – Latest

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