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Businesses

A Lawsuit Over Costco Golf Balls Shows Why We Can't Have Nice Things For Cheap (qz.com) 243

Ephrat Livni, writing for Quartz: Unless you're a golfer, you probably don't think about golf balls. But a new US lawsuit about these little-dimpled spheres has an economics lesson for all shoppers, showing why consumers have cause for concern when companies use court for sport. Costco, the wholesale membership club, rocked the golf world in 2016 when it started selling its Kirkland Signature (KS) golf balls at about $15 per dozen, a quarter to a third the price of popular top-ranked balls. Industry insiders called it a "miracle golf ball" for its great performance and low cost, and Costco sold out immediately. It's planning to release more in April. In response to the bargain ball's reception, however, Acushnet -- which makes the popular Titleist balls -- sent the membership club a threatening letter. It accused Costco of infringing on 11 patents and engaging in false advertising for claiming that KS balls meet or exceed the quality standards of leading national brands.
Google

Still More Advertisers Pull Google Ads Over YouTube Hate Videos (morningstar.com) 292

"A week after Google apologized for running customers' advertisements alongside objectionable videos, triggering a change in policy, its YouTube site is still rife with examples that are angering more big advertisers and causing some to cut spending with the tech giant," reports the Dow Jones Newswire. Reporters from the Wall Street Journal spotted ads from Microsoft, Amazon, and Procter & Gamble appearing on hate videos -- and thus indirectly funding them. An anonymous reader quotes their report: Asked about the Journal's finding that their ads were still appearing with such content on YouTube as of Thursday night, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo Inc., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Dish Network Corp. said Friday they were suspending spending on all Google advertising except targeted search ads. Starbucks Corp. and General Motors Co. said they were pulling their ads from YouTube. FX Networks, part of 21st Century Fox Inc., said it was suspending all advertising spending on Google, including search ads and YouTube. Wal-Mart said: "The content with which we are being associated is appalling and completely against our company values."
An executive at one of the affected companies complained that Google "had assured us over the past few days that our brands were safe from this type of content. Despite their assurances, it's clear they couldn't give assurance."
Twitter

Twitter Considers Premium Version After 11 Years As a Free Service (reuters.com) 84

Twitter is considering whether or not to build a premium version of its site for select users. It's unclear what the cost would be at this time, but it's very possible it could be in the form of a subscription. Reuters reports: Like most other social media companies, Twitter since its founding 11 years ago has focused on building a huge user base for a free service supported by advertising. Last month it reported it had 319 million users worldwide. Twitter is conducting a survey "to assess the interest in a new, more enhanced version of Tweetdeck," which is an existing tool that helps users navigate the network, spokeswoman Brielle Villablanca said in a statement on Thursday. She went on: "We regularly conduct user research to gather feedback about people's Twitter experience and to better inform our product investment decisions, and we're exploring several ways to make Tweetdeck even more valuable for professionals." There was no indication that Twitter was considering charging fees from all its users. Word of the survey had earlier leaked on Twitter, where a journalist affiliated with the New York Times posted screenshots of what a premium version of Tweetdeck could look like. That version could include "more powerful tools to help marketers, journalists, professionals, and others in our community find out what is happening in the world quicker," according to one of the screenshots posted on the account @andrewtavani.
Advertising

Google Wants To Create Promotions That Aren't Ads For Its Voice-Controlled Assistant (businessinsider.in) 49

Earlier this month, some Google Home users noticed what appeared to be audio ads for Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" movie. After some intense backlash, the company released a statement claiming that the ad was not an ad, but that it was simply "timely content" that Disney didn't pay for. Google's UK director of agencies, Matt Bush, has since spoken out about the company's plans with advertising via the voice-controlled Assistant. Business Insider reports: Bush explained Google isn't looking to offer brand integrations in voice for the time being, since it didn't have enough data to come up with an ad product that adds value for consumers. "We want businesses to have a phenomenal mobile experience and then building on that have a phenomenal voice experience," Bush told Business Insider at Advertising Week Europe. "That might not be, in the early instances, anything that has to do with commercials at all. It might just be something something that adds value to the consumer without needing to be commercialized." Bush explained that the consumer experience with voice is very different from that of text search because the use cases for voice navigation differ depending on the device the function is used on and the context the user finds themselves in. "We don't want to start putting in commercial opportunities that we think users don't want to interact with," Bush said "We don't want anything to come in-between the user and their access to the information they're actually looking for. If a brand can add value in that space, fantastic." Bush cited mobile search ads as successful executions of using context and personal user insights, but voice promotions are unlikely to take the same form. "It's unlikely to be what you see from search as it currently stands, where you might have three or four ads as the top results of a search," he said.
Google

Judge Rejects Google Deal Over Email Scanning (fortune.com) 48

A federal judge in San Francisco slammed a legal settlement that proposed to pay $2.2 million to lawyers, but nothing to consumers who had the contents of their email scanned by Google without their knowledge or permission. From a report: In a 6-page order, Judge Lucy Koh told Google and class action attorneys the proposed settlement was insufficient, in part because it failed to clearly tell consumers what the search giant had done. "This notice is difficult to understand and does not clearly disclose the fact that Google intercepts, scans and analyzes the content of emails sent by non-Gmail users to Gmail users for the purpose of creating user profiles of the Gmail users to create targeted advertising for the Gmail users," Koh wrote.
Security

Millions of Records Leaked From Huge US Corporate Database (zdnet.com) 66

Millions of records from a commercial corporate database have been leaked. ZDNet reports: The database, about 52 gigabytes in size, contains just under 33.7 million unique email addresses and other contact information from employees of thousands of companies, representing a large portion of the US corporate population. Dun & Bradstreet, a business services giant, confirmed that it owns the database, which it acquired as part of a 2015 deal to buy NetProspex for $125 million. The purchased database contains dozens of fields, some including personal information such as names, job titles and functions, work email addresses, and phone numbers. Other information includes more generic corporate and publicly sourced data, such as believed office location, the number of employees in the business unit, and other descriptions of the kind of industry the company falls into, such as advertising, legal, media and broadcasting, and telecoms.
Facebook

'We Didn't Lose Control Of Our Personal Data -- It Was Stolen From Us By People Farmers' (ar.al) 147

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the worldwide web, wrote an open-letter over the weekend to mark the 28th anniversary of his invention. In his letter, he shared three worrisome things that happened over the last twelve months. In his letter, Berners-Lee pointed out three things that occurred over the past 12 months that has him worried: we do not assume control of our personal data anymore; how easy it is for misinformation to spread on the web; and lack of transparency on political advertising on the web. Cyborg rights activist Aral Balkan wrote a piece yesterday arguing that perhaps Berners-Lee is being modest about the things that concern him. From the article: It's important to note that these (those three worrisome things) are not trends and that they've been in the making for far longer than twelve months. They are symptoms that are inextricably linked to the core nature of the Web as it exists within the greater socio-technological system we live under today that we call Surveillance Capitalism. Tim says we've "lost control of our personal data." This is not entirely accurate. We didn't lose control; it was stolen from us by Silicon Valley. It is stolen from you every day by people farmers; the Googles and the Facebooks of the world. It is stolen from you by an industry of data brokers, the publishing behavioural advertising industry ("adtech"), and a long tail of Silicon Valley startups hungry for an exit to one of the more established players or looking to compete with them to own a share of you. The elephants in the room -- Google and Facebook -- stand silently in the wings, unmentioned except as allies later on in the letter where they're portrayed trying to "combat the problem" of misinformation. Is it perhaps foolish to expect anything more when Google is one of the biggest contributors to recent web standards at the W3C and when Google and Facebook both help fund the Web Foundation? Let me state it plainly: Google and Facebook are not allies in our fight for an equitable future -- they are the enemy. These platform monopolies are factory farms for human beings; farming us for every gram of insight they can extract. If, as Tim states, the core challenge for the Web today is combating people farming, and if we know who the people farmers are, shouldn't we be strongly regulating them to curb their abuses?
Windows

Windows 10 Is Just 'A Vehicle For Advertisements', Argues Tech Columnist (betanews.com) 353

A new editorial by BetaNews columnist Mark Wilson argues that Windows 10 isn't an operating system -- it's "a vehicle for ads". An anonymous reader quotes their report: They appear in the Start menu, in the taskbar, in the Action Center, in Explorer, in the Ink Workspace, on the Lock Screen, in the Share tool, in the Windows Store and even in File Explorer.

Microsoft has lost its grip on what is acceptable, and even goes as far as pretending that these ads serve users more than the company -- "these are suggestions", "this is a promoted app", "we thought you'd like to know that Edge uses less battery than Chrome", "playable ads let you try out apps without installing". But if we're honest, the company is doing nothing more than abusing its position, using Windows 10 to promote its own tools and services, or those with which it has marketing arrangements.

The article suggests ads are part of the hidden price tag for the free downloads of Windows 10 that Microsoft offered last year (along with the telemetry and other user-tracking features). Their article has already received 357 comments, and concludes that the prevalence of ads in Windows 10 is "indefensible".
Privacy

Tim Berners-Lee Warns About the Web's Three Biggest Threats (webfoundation.org) 91

Sunday was the 28th anniversary of the day that 33-year-old Tim Berners-Lee submitted his proposal for the World Wide Web -- and the father of the web published a new letter today about "how the web has evolved, and what we must do to ensure it fulfills his vision of an equalizing platform that benefits all of humanity."

It's been an ongoing battle to maintain the web's openness, but in addition, Berners-Lee lists the following issues: 1) We've lost control of our personal data. 2) It's too easy for misinformation to spread on the web. 3) Political advertising online needs transparency and understanding. Tim Berners-Lee writes:
We must work together with web companies to strike a balance that puts a fair level of data control back in the hands of people, including the development of new technology like personal "data pods" if needed and exploring alternative revenue models like subscriptions and micropayments. We must fight against government over-reach in surveillance laws, including through the courts if necessary. We must push back against misinformation by encouraging gatekeepers such as Google and Facebook to continue their efforts to combat the problem, while avoiding the creation of any central bodies to decide what is "true" or not. We need more algorithmic transparency to understand how important decisions that affect our lives are being made, and perhaps a set of common principles to be followed. We urgently need to close the "internet blind spot" in the regulation of political campaigning.
Berners-Lee says his team at the Web Foundation "will be working on many of these issues as part of our new five year strategy," researching policy solutions and building progress-driving coalitions, as well as maintaining their massive list of digital rights organizations. "I may have invented the web, but all of you have helped to create what it is today... and now it is up to all of us to build the web we want -- for everyone." Inspired by the letter, very-long-time Slashdot reader Martin S. asks, does the web need improvements? And if so, "I'm wondering what Slashdotters would consider to be a solution?"
AMD

Message For AMD: Open PSP Will Improve Security, Hinder Intel 52

futuristicrabbit writes: AMD has faced calls from Edward Snowden, Libreboot and the Reddit community to release the source code to the AMD Secure Processor (PSP), a network-capable co-processor which some believe has the capacity to act as a backdoor. Opening the PSP would not only have security benefits, but would provide AMD with a competitive advantage against rival chipmaker Intel. Lisa Su, the CEO of AMD, is reportedly seriously considering the change, and the community is working hard to make sure she makes the right decision. In an AMD AMA post via Reddit, user 1n5aN1aC provided several arguments for why the company should release the PSP source code to the Coreboot / Libreboot project (or publicly). The arguments center around security, economic incentives, advertising, brand perception, and mindshare. AMD replied: "Thanks for the inquiry. Currently we do not have plans to release source code but you make a good argument for reasons to do so. We will evaluate and find a way to work with security vendors and the community to everyone's benefit." The product manager for AMD, AMD_james, continued in response to a follow-up comment that claims AMD is "not considering it all but only want to appease the potential buyers." AMD_james replied: "Thanks for the feedback. Please believe me that this has CEO level attention and AMD is investigating the steps and resources necessary to support this. It is not the work of a minute, so please bear with us as we define what we can do." What are your arguments for (or against) the idea of AMD releasing the source code to the AMD Secure Processor?
Social Networks

How Many Snapchat Clones Does It Take For Facebook To Lose Its Self-Respect? (theguardian.com) 62

Alex Hern, writing for The Guardian: Over the past year, Facebook has shown an almost monomaniacal dedication to taking on Snapchat by importing its defining features wholesale into the company's own apps. Facebook Live has "masks" now (think Snapchat's Lenses). Instagram has geostickers (like Snapchat's location-aware stickers.) WhatsApp has "Status" (think Snapchat Stories). Instagram has "Stories" (think ... Snapchat stories). The latest fruit of Facebook's labours is Messenger Day -- "a way for you to share these photos and videos -- as they happen -- by adding to your Messenger Day, where many of your friends can view and reply to them". It's Snapchat Stories. Again. [...] Facebook has seen potential threats on the horizon before, but its chequebook has always been enough to ward off real danger: that's why it bought Instagram, that's why it bought WhatsApp, and that's why it tried to buy Snapchat. But it couldn't get the company's fiercely independent co-founder, Evan Spiegel, to sell. And now it's in uncharted waters, with a competitor stealing advertising revenue, desirable millennial users, and industry credibility, and with no obvious way to reverse that trend. Facebook's time at the top probably isn't up. But its self-respect deficit is going to take years to pay off.
Advertising

Microsoft Is Spamming Windows 10 File Explorer With Ads For OneDrive Storage (digitaltrends.com) 281

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Digital Trends: While Microsoft is addressing some other complaints about Windows 10 in the upcoming Creators Update -- such as privacy concerns over the data that's being transmitted and issues regarding how the operating system updates itself -- the company seems intent on retaining Windows 10's advertising functionality. In fact, it has apparently been adding OneDrive commercials to File Explorer, ExtremeTech reports. Basically, you might start seeing a new promotion for OneDrive when you're perusing your file structure in Windows 10. OneDrive is baked into Windows 10 and can't easily be uninstalled, and Microsoft wants to make sure you know that the 5GB of free OneDrive storage can be easily upgraded to significantly more space. Turning off the OneDrive advertising isn't without consequences. You can go to the View menu in File Explorer, then Options, and select "Change folder and search options." In the next window, select the View menu, then scroll down to and uncheck the "Show sync provider notifications" option. Note that while this should disable the OneDrive ads, it will also stop you from seeing potentially important notifications from OneDrive. The report notes that, while these OneDrive ads aren't new, "they seem to be showing up more often for more people."
Communications

New Technique Turns Random Objects Into FM Radio Stations (thestack.com) 69

"A new technology is enabling everyday objects, such as posters and clothing, to be transformed into FM radio stations," reports The Stack, citing research from the University of Washington. An anonymous reader quotes their report. The team has introduced a technique called "backscattering" which uses ambient low-power radio signals to broadcast messages from random objects to smartphones in the local vicinity.The researchers hope that the development could help support various smart city applications, and picture a future where anything from a poster at a bus stop to a road sign can transmit audio updates and information to passers-by.

During testing, the researchers were able to use the backscattering technique to create a "singing poster" which could send out the music of an advertised band to smartphone users at a distance of up to 4 meters and to cars in an 18-meter [59-foot] radius. "What we want to do is enable smart cities and fabrics where everyday objects in outdoor environments -- whether it's posters or street signs or even the shirt you're wearing -- can 'talk' to you by sending information to your phone or car," explained lead faculty and UW assistant professor of computer science and engineering Shyam Gollakota.

Advertising

Curated Advertising Is Coming To Highway Billboards (technologyreview.com) 110

Curated advertising may be coming to a highway near you. "A startup called Synaps Labs has brought it to the physical world by combining high-speed cameras set up a distance ahead of the billboard (about 180 meters) to capture images of cars," reports MIT Technology Review. "Its machine-learning system can recognize in those images the make and model of the cars an advertiser wants to target. A bidding system then selects the appropriate advertising to put on the billboard as that car passes." From the report: There is a lot an advertiser can tell about you from the car you drive, says Synaps. Indeed, recent research from a group of university researchers and led by Stanford found that -- using machine vision and deep learning -- analyzing the make, model, and year of vehicles visible in Google Street View could accurately estimate income, race, and education level of a neighborhood's residents, and even whether a city is likely to vote Democrat or Republican. Synaps's business model is to sell its services to the owners of digital billboards. Digital billboard advertising rotates, and more targeted advertising can rotate more often, allowing operators to sell more ads. According to Synaps, a targeted ad shown 8,500 times in one month will reach the same number of targeted drivers (approximately 22,000) as a typical ad shown 55,000 times. In Russia, Synaps expects to be operating on 20 to 50 billboards this year. The company is also planning a test in the U.S. this summer, where there are roughly 7,000 digital billboards, a number growing at 15 percent a year, according to the company. (By contrast, there are 370,000 conventional billboards.) With a row of digital billboards along a road, they could roll the ads as the cars move along, making billboard advertising more like the storytelling style of television and the Internet, says Synaps's cofounder Alex Pustov.
Advertising

Snapchat Wanted $150K To Not Run NRA Ads On Gun Control Group Videos (thenextweb.com) 377

New submitter bababoris writes: It appears that Snapchat's Rob Saliterman attempted to "encourage" Everytown for Gun Safety to advertise with Snapchat or risk having National Rifle Association (NRA) ads run during their Live Story promoting gun safety. The Next Web reports: "Everytown for Gun Safety is an advocacy group that focuses on gun safety and violence issues. According to Mic, it reached out to Snapchat in 2016 to inquire about an advertising campaign for its #WearOrange event, held on National Gun Violence Awareness Day. A Snapchat representative, Rob Saliterman, responded to Everytown with a quote of $150,000. This would allow Snapchat users to engage with the event using custom filters and lenses created specifically for it. Realizing that another department within Snapchat had undercut him, he fired off an email suggesting that Everytown pay up, lest National Rifle Association (NRA) adverts appear on their videos."
Music

Radio Is the Worst Place To Listen To Music, Says Jay Z (qz.com) 203

An anonymous reader shares a Quartz report: In a candid interview between Frank Ocean and Jay Z that aired on Apple Music's Beats 1 radio station last week, the latter spent a good portion mourning the golden days of radio, where he got his own start in the 1990s as a hip-hop artist. Said Jay, about modern radio: "It's pretty much an advertisement model. You take these pop stations, they're reaching 18-34 young, white females. So they're playing music based on those tastes. And then they're taking those numbers and they're going to advertising agencies and people are paying numbers based on the audience that they have. So these places are not even based on music. Their playlist isn't based on music... A person like Bob Marley right now probably wouldn't play on a pop station. Which is crazy. It's not even about the DJ discovering what music is best. You know, music is music. The line's just been separated so much that we're lost at this point in time."
Databases

CloudPets IoT Toys Leaked and Ransomed, Exposing Kids' Voice Messages (androidpolice.com) 64

"According to security researcher Troy Hunt, a series of web-connected, app-enabled toys called CloudPets have been hacked," reports Android Police. "The manufacturer's central database was reportedly compromised over several months after stunningly poor security, despite the attempts of many researchers and journalists to inform the manufacturer of the potential danger. Several ransom notes were left, demanding Bitcoin payments for the implied deletion of stolen data." From the report: CloudPets allow parents to record a message for their children on their phones, which then arrives on the Bluetooth connected stuffed toy and is played back. Kids can squeeze the stuffed animal's paw to record a message of their own, which is sent back to the phone app. The Android app has been downloaded over 100,000 times, though user reviews are poor, citing a difficult interface, frequent bugs, and annoying advertising. Hunt and the researchers he collaborated with found that the central database for CloudPets' voice messages and user info was stored on a public-facing MongoDB server, with only basic hashes protecting user addresses and passwords. The same database apparently connected to the stored voice messages that could be retrieved by the apps and toys. Easy access and poor password requirements may have resulted in unauthorized access to a large number of accounts. The database was finally removed from the publicly accessible server in January, but not before demands for ransom were left.
Businesses

How Cable Monopolies Hurt ISP Customers (backchannel.com) 89

"New York subscribers have had to overpay month after month for services that Spectrum deliberately didn't provide," reports Backchannel -- noting these practices are significant because together Comcast and Charter (formerly Time Warner Cable) account for half of America's 92 million high-speed internet connections. An anonymous reader quotes Backchannel: Based on the company's own documents and statements, it appears that just about everything it has been saying since 2012 to New York State residents about their internet access and data services is untrue...because of business decisions the company deliberately made in order to keep its capital expenditures as low as possible... Its marketing department kept sending out advertising claims to the public that didn't match the reality of what consumers were experiencing or square with what company engineers were telling Spectrum executives. That gives the AG's office its legal hook: Spectrum's actions in knowingly saying one thing but doing another amount to fraudulent, unfair, and deceptive behavior under New York law...

The branding people went nuts, using adjectives like Turbo, Extreme, and Ultimate for the company's highest-speed 200 or 300 Mbps download offerings. But no one, or very few people, could actually experience those speeds...because, according to the complaint, the company deliberately required that internet data connections be shared among a gazillion people in each neighborhood... [T]he lawsuit won't by itself make much of a difference. But maybe the public nature of the attorney-general's assault -- charging Spectrum for illegal misconduct -- will lead to a call for alternatives. Maybe it will generate momentum for better, faster, wholesale fiber networks controlled by cities and localities themselves. If that happened, retail competition would bloom. We'd get honest, straightforward, inexpensive service, rather than the horrendously expensive cable bundles we're stuck with today.

The article says Spectrum charged 800,000 New Yorkers $10 a month for outdated cable boxes that "weren't even capable of transmitting and receiving wifi at the speeds the company advertised customers would be getting," then promised the FCC in 2013 that they'd replace them, and then didn't. "With no competition, it had no reason to upgrade its services. Indeed, the company's incentives went exactly in the other direction."
HP

HP Is Advertising Its Real, Modern Printers on This Fake, Awkward '80s Computer Show (adweek.com) 86

T.L. Stanley, writing for AdWeek: It's a fine line between effective '80s homage and clumsy retro spoof, with the latter usually involving a lot of overplayed visual gags like brick-sized cell phones and VHS tapes. Cue pointing and laughing. This new HP video, dubbed "Computer Show," hits the sweet spot perfectly with its recreation of a Reagan-era public access show about technology, but with a fish-out-of-water spin. The host is stuck in time -- stilted stage manner, goofy haircut and all -- but his guests are current-day tech pioneers. Awkward hilarity ensues. The short film, made by Giant Spoon and Sandwich Video for HP, sets up a print-off between HP's PageWide super-fast model and a dot matrix supplied by an employee of the neighborhood "Kwikopy."
The Internet

How is The New York Times Really Doing? (om.co) 408

Wired magazine did a profile on The New York Times in its this month's issue. Talking about the paper's transition from print to more digital-focus than ever, author Gabriel Snyder wrote, "It's to transform the Times' digital subscriptions into the main engine of a billion-dollar business, one that could pay to put reporters on the ground in 174 countries even if (OK, when) the printing presses stop forever." Veteran journalist Om Malik analyzes the numbers: -> The company reported revenue of nearly $1.6 billion in 2016 -- remarkably consistent with prior years.
-> Print advertising revenue dipped by $70 million year-over-year to $327 million in 2016.
-> Digital advertising revenue, while a meaningful portion of the Times' revenue, did not grow enough to offset vanishing print ad dollars.
-> Total digital ad revenue in 2016 was $206 million, up only 6% from the prior year.
-> The key revenue driver for the New York Times has been its digital subscription business, which added more than half a million paid subscribers in 2016. Thanks in part to interest around the presidential election, the newspaper added 276,000 new digital subscribers in Q4, the single largest quarterly increase since 2011 (the year the pay model was launched).

The Times' digital success is hinged upon two major drivers: affiliate revenues from services like the Wirecutter and digital subscriptions. Advertising might be a good short term bandaid, but the company needs to focus on how to evolve away from it even more aggressively. The Times needs to simplify their sign-up experience and make it easier for people to pay for the subscriptions. As of now, it is like the sound you hear when scratching your nails on a piece of glass.

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