Social media companies really do read your posts, emails and documents

Google’s GMail service “scans” your emails and Google Docs to serve you ads. The word “scans” implies scanning for keywords but that is a false assumption about what is actually being done.

Natural language processing technology has advanced to where these algorithms are the equivalent of someone reading all of your emails and taking notes. Literally, online services are reading all of your email and building dossiers on what they think they know about you, ostensibly to better target advertising to you.

Facebook is taking this to extremes, having announced this week that Facebook’s algorithms are analyzing all of your online posts to determine if you suffer from depression and may be suicidal. In the event their algorithm decides you may be showing suicidal tendencies, Facebook alerts the authorities who send first responders to your home.

In other words, Facebook is now operating as an unlicensed health care practitioner and diagnosing your health based on your writings, and without ever having met you or spoken with you.

Facebook uses this information for marketing purposes too – imagine conducting this analysis and then showing you ads for anti-depressants and “talk to your doctor”. Also consider,

“An egregious example of the kind of behavior these companies’ business models encourage surfaced this summer when an internal Facebook sales pitch to advertisers was leaked to an Australian newspaper. Facebook stated it had pinpointed an audience of thousands of young teenagers who felt “insecure,” “defeated,” “nervous,” “failures,” “worthless,” and “needed a confidence boost.” These diagnoses were based on a psychoanalysis of private Facebook information: what users posted, what they liked, how they appeared in photos, who their friends and how depressed were they as well as their search and shopping histories, visits to mental illness sites or hotlines and so forth.” (source)

Twitter analyzes your Tweets, “Likes” and who you follow, plus combines this information with 3rd party advertising networks to create a profile of attributes. You can see this by going to Settings and Privacy and then selecting Your Twitter Data, page down and look at Interests from Twitter and Interests from Partners.

I discovered that almost everything they deduced about me in the Interests from Partners was wrong – seriously wrong. About the only correct items are that I have a cat and a graduate degree (2 actually, but do not tell them!)

All of this collected data is used to fine tune propaganda messaging directed at you. Of course, much of this is advertising; however, ads are also run for political purposes too. In effect, online services are proving our hypothesis – that social media has become the most advanced, friction-less propaganda platform in human history.

Silicon Valley “tech” firms have morphed into the most advanced propaganda operations in human history. Their actions are conducted in secret, they are unbounded, and they are unregulated. Their technology is now used to directly influence you and public policy.

To illustrate, this week, the head of the FCC commented on “net neutrality” and noted that Silicon Valley tech firms promote neutrality of the broadband pipe – while simultaneously censoring discussions conducted on their platform (Twitter and Youtube both do this). As if on cue, almost immediately thereafter, Eric Schmidt, the chairman of Alphabet (parent of Google) announced they will now censor news.google.com to remove stories from Russian media outlets such as RT.

In that instant, Google showed its defense of net neutrality is shallow if not completely hollow. Google wants other people to be forced to be neutral while preserving a right to censorship (including news and political speech, among the most protected of speech in the United States) for itself.

Google, Facebook and Twitter are not merely platforms for the dissemination of propaganda – they are themselves major propagandists seeking to have others adopt their agendas for their benefit.

Google is not just evil (to re-arrange their motto of “Don’t be evil”) but is acting as a menace to democracy itself.

And what could possibly go wrong with Facebook’s surveillance and analyzing our posts and perhaps discovering that we hold views contrary to the power structure?

Someone should write a book about this – I know, they could title it “1984”!

Bottom Line

Online services including Google (Gmail, Docs), Facebook and Twitter and undoubtedly others are doing the machine equivalent of reading your email and documents, taking notes, and analyzing what you are writing to draw conclusions about you.

What could possibly go wrong?

Major global brands pull all ads from Youtube

The Times of London discovered that Youtube was running hundreds of thousands of videos basically containing “scantily clad” children, and those videos had numerous comments containing sexually explicit content. Ads from mainstream companies were running along side these videos – in effect, Google/Youtube was profiting from pedophilia.

Companies such as HP, Deutsche Bank and others have now pulled all ads from the Youtube platform.

Meanwhile, it was discovered that typing “How to have” in to the Youtube search box returned suggested searches like “How to have sex with children”, “How to have sex with kids”. Youtube itself was offering those suggestions (I verified that this was true, before Youtube removed this “feature”).

More

 

TripAdvisor’s censorship of online reviews more extensive than originally thought #tripadvisor

TripAdvisor admitted to censoring some specific negative reviews by consumers reporting that crimes and acts of violence had occurred at some venues.

Since then, more people have documented that TripAdvisor has censored reports of crime at U.S. hotel and related properties. Update: TripAdvisor caught lying, now said to be under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission.

Unfortunately, online review sites are worthless due to a combination of “gaming the system” with fake reviews (both positive for your business and negative fake reviews for competitive businesses) and active censorship of negative reviews by online review sites such as TripAdvisor.com.

Social media’s ease of publishing has led to a rapid degradation in the quality of material available online. Online reviews are a form of propaganda – intended to influence your decision making. Review web sites know this. Business operators know this.

Now we know this: We intentionally avoided search results that went to TripAdvisor.com for a trip we completed over a week ago. What else can we do?

 

Many online product review sites are paid by the company whose products they review

[I wrote this item in October but never published it. In light of the news about TripAdvisor.com deleting and censoring negative reviews, this item is now relevant. While this post is about mattress reviews, the same principle is at work with TripAdvisor – that is, the review site receives a sales commission for sending a sale to the vendor.]

The following link goes to a very long story about online mattress reviews. The short summary is that many mattress companies pay a sponsorship fee to the online reviewers and have taken extraordinary steps to control online reviews. These reviews have turned into “affiliate marketing” with links to the manufacturer or retailer’s web site with a spiff paid to the reviewer. Reviewers might receive $50 to $250 per mattress sold as affiliate marketing commissions.

Source: The War To Sell You A Mattress Is An Internet Nightmare | Fast Company

As mattress companies put more pressure on reviewers, some reviewers responded by writing negative comments on those that paid them lower spiffs. This eventually translated into lawsuits, followed by settlements and the disappearance of negative product reviews.

Everyone has their hand in someone else’s pockets to the extent that online reviews are today meaningless measure of the actual products. A positive review may be more of an indicator of who is paying whom.

None of this is new. Decades ago, the editor of a well known personal computer industry magazine said they only write positive reviews, and assured us  if they can’t find something positive about a product, then they do not publish a review. (Wink wink).

The only difference is that in the online world, fake reviews are easily accessible and widely distributed and it is easier to create fake review web site. Fake reviews can then be shared on social media.

Note – I probably write twice as many posts as I publish! For what ever reason, I probably have between 100 and 200 unpublished draft posts on this blog!

Facebook Ad scheme looks much like a fake news publishing model

The more we learn about the ads linked variously to parties in Russia, the more they look like online, social media-based, for profit, fake news publishers:

The Facebook ads placed by a Russian troll farm and released on Wednesday by the U.S. Congress Intelligence Committee show that the Russian propaganda campaign of 2016 didn’t favor either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. Instead, it mocked and goaded America, holding up a distorted but, in the final analysis, remarkably accurate mirror.

….

The ads backed white nationalist as well as black causes. They often targeted Clinton before the election but switched to attacking Trump immediately afterwards. The ads against both were even visually similar.

….

Neither the trolls with their tiny budgets — at best, hundreds of thousands of dollars compared with the hundreds of millions spent by the candidates and their U.S. backers — nor Russian state media with their laughable reach compared with U.S. cable TV could have hoped to shape the election outcome.

Source: Facebook Ads Reveal the Real Russian Game – Bloomberg

If you click the “ads” link you can see some of the ads. They look very similar to the type of inflammatory, emotion hooking posts used by for profit fake news publishers.

There is not enough information released by Congress to tell if these ads linked back to ad supported pages. While links are shown in the metadata files, they go to FB pages that no longer exist.

Avoid TripAdvisor.com? Online reviews were censored, worked as propaganda

Update: TripAdvisor claimed to have apologized about deleting negative reviews but it turns out they lied about their apology: They had not apologized to the victim. One Senator is requesting the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to investigate TripAdvisor over their use of false reviews. TripAdvisor’s stock price fell this week from about $40/share to $31/share and one analyst is forecasting a $28/share price. In August, several analysts had forecast $44-$47 share prices for TRIP.

 

As noted previously, online reviews of products and services are subject to manipulation. The problem is so bad that at least two online businesses help you identify fake reviews on Amazon.com: FakeSpot and ReviewMeta.

TripAdvisor is an online web site that offers user written travel reviews. But they did not disclose that TripAdvisor deliberately censored certain negative reviews of travel destinations and services according to a long report by USA Today.

TripAdvisor intentionally removed factual negative reviews – such as those by victims of crime and women who were sexually assaulted at facilities. In one example, TripAdvisor removed 27 negative reviews of one resort. Additionally, many of TripAdvisor’s “destination experts” who act as moderators have financial interests in the destination – such as they run a business in the area.

TripAdvisor did not disclose to users of the web site that they censored certain negative reviews.

TripAdvisor is an ad-based service that receives a commission when users click through links on the site to book hotels, for example.

Censorship and Cherry-Picking

Consequently, TripAdvisor became a propaganda operation – using the method of censorship to create artificially positive views of destinations and travel services. The effect is to present users with a cherry-picked selection of overly positive reviews – by censoring truthful bad reviews.

USA Today: TripAdvisor removed warnings about rapes and injuries at Mexico resorts, tourists say.

Update: TripAdvisor says they are no longer censoring reviews.

TripAdvisor official statement acknowledges they did indeed censor certain reviews in the past and blames it on a “family friendly” wording policy such that reporting about a crime in a review was not “family friendly”. TripAdvisor continued this policy for many years, in spite of numerous users trying to get their attention.

The company has a conflict of interest in that their income comes from ad-sales and especially commissions paid by destinations when users click through to purchase travel services.

What we need next is an online review web site – that reviews online review web sites! And which will be filled with bogus reviews too!

Zuckerberg says Facebook is open to social media laws regarding foreign interference

“I’ve expressed how upset I am that the Russians tried to use our tools to sow mistrust,” he said. “What they did is wrong and we are not going to stand for it. For those who have followed Facebook you know that when we set our minds to something, we’re going to do it.”

Source: Zuckerberg Is ‘Dead Serious’ About Russia, Open to Legislation – Bloomberg

Unfortunately, as documented on this blog, there is extensive creation and distribution of fake news and related propaganda from people in the United States.

The root problem is that share-able social media is a friction-less platform for the spread of propaganda messaging. No one has identified an effective solution to corral this serious problem.

Faceback ads reach 4 out of every 3 teens in the U.S.!

Facebook ads also reach 12 out of every 7 young adults in the U.S.!

Facebook makes up their advertising reach numbers:

According to Facebook, there are 41 million adults between the ages of 18 and 24. However, according to data from the U.S. census, there are just 31 million. Facebook also says there are 60 million between the ages of 25 and 34, while the U.S. census puts its estimate at just 35 million.

Source: Facebook Claims It Reaches More People Than the U.S. Census Data Says Exist – Adweek

And apparently for just $100,000, you can reach 126 million people!

For just a few million $s you could reach trillions of people on earth!

Note

I have not written much about the use of Facebook by propagandists linked to Russia.  These stories may be standard issue social media-based fake news using inflammatory posts designed for online sharing, with the goal of driving eye balls to ad filled web pages. In other words, it just a business.

Teens in Macedonia and other countries (not just Russia) are making a great income writing fake news stories for sharing and selling eyeballs to advertisers, targeting political activists in the U.S.

There are a great many documented fake news publishers, operating on this business model because it works and its profitable!

Inflammatory issue-oriented ads and fake news posts said to have originated with in Russia may be social media-based online publishers, selling eyeballs to advertisers. Who knows? May be there is more to the story but after a year of government investigations, the story mutated from Russia hacked the election to someone in Russia bought Facebook ads and posted fake news. This sounds similar to a classic social media-based, online, for profit, fake news publishing model. There are more descriptions of the postings in this article and they sound a lot like fake news publishing. (Update – But also see this newer post about Internet Research [Agency] – they use the methods of fake news publishers but their goal may not be making a profit. Their social media activities took all sides – for and against candidates and issues: “Their goal is to create confusion and dissent. The target is the U.S. and NATO, not any particular candidate. They just want chaos“.)

The real story here is how surprisingly easy it is for anyone to use Facebook, Twitter and Google as a platform for the mass dissemination of propaganda messaging.

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Disney’s “secret army” of Moms spread Disney promotional propaganda #marketing #astroturf

Disney has a secret army of mothers who flood the internet with Disney propaganda

While this sounds like a big deal and “secret” and what not, it is just “astro turf” public relations.

“Grassroots” organizing is when a group of people supposedly come together to promote something (often political or government policy related). The idea is that it is a movement that arose from the people.

In reality, nearly all “grassroots” movements today are “astro turf” operations, carefully orchestrated and run by public relations organizations. To learn more about how astro turf operations are run, see our previous post on astro turf propaganda. The best astro turf operations enlist participants who do not even realize that are being controlled as part of a public relations operation – participants think they are part of a grassroots movement!

Disney has enlisted an estimated 1,300 mothers who frequently blog about positive Disney experiences. Disney provides them with enhanced experiences at Disney theme parks with the hope this leads to further positive messaging, influencing the bloggers friends and followers  Participants blog and share their positive experiences on social media, enabling Disney to incorporate an astro turf army of moms into their social media marketing (also known as propaganda). The Mom’s who participate are fully aware of the PR efforts underway by Disney; this is not a secret.

None of this is new! Astro turf lobbying and astro turf marketing have gone on for years. Social media is merely a new platform for astro turf marketing.

Corollary: Absolutely nothing can be taken at face value: The innocent comments about a great experience at a restaurant or theme park may very well be sponsored. “Grass roots” lobbying efforts for a local city park or a state or Federal law are almost always driven by a professional public relations agency engaged in astro turfing. Social media  has expanded the ease with which fake grassroots messaging can be quickly delivered to millions of people.

Astro turf marketing is a powerful and effective method of propaganda that is frequently used to sell a product, service or an idea (such as new government program or policy).

“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you” – Joseph Heller

Here are the set of advertising trackers used by a local newspaper that is part of the USA Today Network, owned by Gannett Communications, the largest newspaper publisher in the U.S.

65 of them on a single page!

Separately, I paged down through my Twitter feed and after a few pages, a total of 119 trackers were blocked – so far. If I continued paging through the feed, even more trackers were blocked.

Trackers could be used merely to determine how many times an ad has been displayed, or how many times seen by the same browser, or to gather information.

In reality, they are tracking as much as possible and stuffing it into giant databases. If you visited 3 web sites that displayed DoubleClick ads, as an example, they can link together your visits between those web sites. Over time, they can discern your interests (do you visit many computer or photography related web sites?) and probably your sex, age and income range. This data is extremely valuable to advertisers as it enables them to target ads right at your interests!

You can block many trackers using browser plug ins or privacy browsers like Epic. You can and should frequently delete your browsing history and “cookies” to reduce the effectiveness of these data collections.