BuzzFeed reported, in an extremely detailed article, information about their investigation into a fraud scheme that involved more than 125 Android apps and websites, some of which were targeted ads.
Google has responded in a blog post on the Google Security Blog, with details about what they have done after BuzzFeed informed them about the ad fraud scheme.
In short, the scam involved the TechSnab botnet, which operated by creating hidden browser windows that visit web pages to inflate ad revenue. Google says that malware contains common IP based cloaking, data obfuscation, and anti-analysis defenses. Google also stated that the fraud primary impacted mobile apps. According to Google, those apps were monetizing by using AdMob.
So, basically, what happened was some nefarious people put a ton of effort into finding a way to make money by artificially inflating ad revenue in mobile apps. I find it disgusting that someone out there is so selfish and greedy that they felt the need to do this. I understand that people want to make money – but most people don’t assume that means it is ok for them to commit fraud.
Garbage like the malware used in the fraud scheme clutters up the internet. It has no legitimate purpose at all, and I’m glad that Google is actively tracking this operation.
The only good thing that has come from this situation is that it involved a collaborative effort between BuzzFeed and Google in order stop the problem. Google stated: “Collaboration throughout our industry is critical in helping us to better detect, prevent, and disable these threats across the ecosystem.” I’m hoping the collaboration will make it much harder for people to pull these kind of shenanigans in the future.
Image from StockSnap.io
Google’s Pixel 3 event today didn’t bring too many surprises on the hardware front: most had been leaked well in advance of the presentation. What caught my eye was not a device but a new a new software feature called “Live Albums”.
Dave Loxton, Google Photo Product Manager, explains, “Many of us share the same photos with the same people over and over, whether it’s photos of your children to their grandparents, or cute pics of your pup to your best friend. Every time, we have to find the photos, select the ones we want to share and send them to the right people. And that’s if we even remember to share them at all.
Live albums start out as ordinary albums – you select the special photos of friends, family and pets. Here’s the clever bit…once tagged as a live album, freshly taken photos will be scanned by Google’s AI smarts and if they include people in the live album, they’ll be added into the album automatically.
This is fantastic for those families wanting to share photos with far-flung relatives. Instead of constantly having to remember to send photos to granny in Edinburgh, create a live album of the grandchildren and share it with her. New photos of the children will be added in as they’re taken, and granny gets to see the photos straightaway.
Google touts its Home Hub as being the ideal picture frame to display live album, though it’s only 7″, which I think is a little small for a photo frame. Priced at US$149 or UK£139, the Home Hub is competitively priced against wireless photo frames from the likes of Nixplay. I can see the Home Hub taking market share this Christmas.
The updated version of Photos with live album support will be rolling out shortly, so wait for it to appear on your smartphone.
Alphabet announced that they will be shutting down Google+ for consumers. They are going to continue Google+ for enterprise customers (meaning businesses).
This decision comes after the Wall Street Journal reported that Google exposed the private data of hundreds of thousands of users of the Google+ social network. The Wall Street Journal says Google became aware of this last spring, and opted not to disclose the issue at that time.
I’m not really surprised by the decision to shut down Google+. Recently, Google announced that when someone using Chrome logs into a Google service or site, they would automatically be logged into the Chrome browser with that user account. Matthew Green described this as a “forced log-in policy”.
The first thing I did when I heard about that was delete Chrome off my computer, and remove the Gmail app from my phone. A bit later, I deleted everything that I’d put on my Google+ account.
I suspect I’m not the only one who reacted this way, because Google posted updates based on feedback in a blog post that I did not find to be persuasive. This was followed by the announcement that Google+ for consumers would be shutting down.
The shutdown of Google+ for consumers will take place over a ten-month period. This allows whoever is still using Google+ to have the opportunity to download and migrate their data.
Photo by Charles Deluvio on Usplash
There is something disturbing you should know about Chrome 69 before you update it. S. Bálint pointed out that starting with Chrome 69, logging into a Google Site is tied to logging into Chrome. Matthew Green describes the change as a “forced login policy”, which sounds pretty accurate to me.
The easiest to understand explanation I found about this change comes from S. Bálint’ blog post:
So what changed with Chrome 69? From that version, any time someone using Chrome logs into a Google service or site, they are also logged into Chrome-as-a-broswer with that user account. Any time someone logs out of a Google service, they are also logged out of the browser. Before Chrome 69, Chrome users could decline to be logged into Chrome entirely, skipping the Sync and other features that require a login and they could use Chrome in a logged-out state while still making use of Gmail for example.
I use a Mac, but was using Chrome for a few websites that didn’t work very well on Safari. I noticed that the photo I use on my Gmail account was appearing in the corner of the Chrome browser. I have since deleted Chrome from my computer and the Gmail app from my phone.
Personally, I’m not entirely clear on what, exactly, Chrome 69 wants to Sync from my Gmail account and the Chrome browser. It feels kind of grabby. The impression I got from the blogs I read (and linked above) is that even if Google says that it’s not automatically activating the Sync feature, that doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t do that in the future.
Google started out with a code of conduct that started with the sentence: “Don’t be evil.” The changes coming to Chrome 69 might not technically be “evil”… but they certainly aren’t nice.
Google has decided to give people greater control with new features in their ad settings. A new feature that is being rolled out allows people to mute reminder ads. This solves the annoying problem of being shown an ad from a website that you browsed and/or already made a purchase from.
You visit Snow Boot Co.’s website, add a pair of boots to your shopping card, but you don’t buy them because you want to keep looking around. The next time that you’re shopping online, Snow Boot Co. might show you ads that encourage you to come back to their site and buy those boots.
Reminder ads like these can be useful, but if you aren’t shopping for Snow Boot Co.’s boots anymore, then you don’t need a reminder about them. A new control within Ads Settings will enable you to mute Snow Boot Co.’s reminder ads.
Today, Google began rolling out this new ability to mute the reminder ads both in apps and on websites. You will be able to mute the reminder ads on websites that partner with Google to show ads. Google plans to expand mute reminder ads tool to control ads on YouTube, Search, and Gmail in coming months.
In addition, Google has updated the Mute This Ad tool. It allows you to stop seeing an add that you do not want to see. The update of this tool means it will now recognize your feedback about a specific ad on any device where you are signed in to your Google Account. The example Google gives is: “If you mute an ad for Snow Boot Co. on your smartphone, it will also be muted on your laptop.”
Google says users will see Mute This Ad in even more places as a result of the update. Google is expanding to tool to work across more apps and websites that partner with Google and that show ads.
Google is ending its First Click Free policy in favor of a Flexible Sampling model. This could change the amount of news websites that you can read without paying for a subscription to one or more of them.
Part of the point of this new change is to enable news websites to provide small samples of their articles for free so readers can determine if they want to buy a subscription. Google explains:
The ecosystem is sustained via two main sources of revenue: ads and subscriptions, with the latter requiring a delicate balance to be effective in Search. Typically subscription content is hidden behind paywalls, so that users who don’t have a subscription don’t have access. Our evaluations have shown that users who are not familiar with the high quality behind a paywall often turn to other sites offering free content. It is difficult to justify a subscription if one doesn’t already know how valuable the content is, and in fact, our experiments have shown that a portion of users shy away from subscription sites. Therefore, it is essential that sites provide some amount of free sampling of their content so that users can learn how valuable their content is.
The Flexible Sampling model will replace First Click Free. It will allow publishers to determine for themselves how many, if any, free articles they want to provide to potential subscribers. It sounds like Google sees the Flexible Sampling model as a “try before you buy” offer.
Google recommends that publishers start by allowing 10 free clicks per month to Google search users in order to preserve a good user experience for new potential subscribers. In addition, Google recommends publishers provide a lead-in of the first few sentences, or 50 to 100 words, of an article, in truncated content. This is intended give readers a clue about what the article is about – without giving them the full article.
The thing to keep in mind is that Google is not requiring news websites (or publishers) to provide lead-in truncated content or to allow users any free clicks per month. The decision about how much content to offer for free is left to individual publishers.
There’s nothing more confusing than trying to unpack a new(ish?) Google feature about so-called “news feeds,” as over the years Google has provided products with names like: Google News, Google Now, Google Plus, and Google Reader. But this next tweak to Google’s system doesn’t have much (if anything) to do with those services.
In an upcoming change to Google’s iOS and Android apps, the search engine giant will be replacing its Google Now service with a “news feed” that’s created based on your own web browsing behavior:
The feed, which includes items drawn from your search history and topics you choose to follow, is designed to turn Google’s app into a destination for browsing as well as search. Google is hoping you’ll begin opening its app the way you do Facebook or Twitter, checking it reflexively throughout the day for quick hits of news and information.
This “news feed” concept sounds an awful lot like the experience provided by monolithic social networking site Facebook. And I guess it makes sense for Google to want to try and siphon off some screen time from Facebook’s massive user base. But doesn’t Google already have a social network of its own?
OK, I get it. This new Google feed thing isn’t really a social network itself. It’s just sorta borrowing the news feed concept made famous by Facebook. When this new feature lands in Google’s mobile apps, it’ll take the place of Google Now, which is described as, “The company’s predictive search feature, which displayed personalized weather, traffic, sports scores, and other information.”
I guess this could be a useful new feature from Google, as the company already knows a lot about its users’ browsing histories. But I doubt many people are going to be giving up the Facebook habit for Google’s news feed.
Especially if there’s no Like button.