Start Up: the $3m ad fraud scheme, Vice kills comments, AirPods in place, 2FA for Amazon, and more


The Mac Pro is ancient in computing years – so is it about to be updated in 2017? Photo by wwward0 on Flickr.

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A selection of 13 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Ad fraud scheme cost advertisers at least $3 million per day • AdAge

George Slefo:

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A complex ad fraud scheme has been siphoning $3 million to $5 million per day since October from the largest U.S. brands and media companies, making it the most profitable and advanced operation seen by the industry to date, according to a new report from WhiteOps, an anti-ad fraud security firm.

By comparison, other large, well-known ad-fraud attacks garnered $200,000 to $900,000 a day, WhiteOps said.

A group of Russian hackers were behind the attack, creating more than half a million fake users and 250,000 fake websites to pull off the scheme, according to WhiteOps. Bots, which are used to mimic human behavior to dupe advertisers in paying for impressions never seen by humans, were used to view some 300 million video ads a day, according to the report.

Collectively dubbed “Methbot” by WhiteOps, the bots scammed publications like the Huffington Post, The Economist, Fortune, ESPN, Vogue, CBS Sports and Fox News, the company said.

Overall, about 6,000 publishers were hit, according to the report. Social media websites weren’t immune to the attack, either, as platforms like Facebook were also hit, it said.

WhiteOps said it would not release the names of the brands affected by the attack.

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Bad idea. We should know which brands were affected, because they should know we know we’re being overcharged. Advertising costs are reflected in end-user prices. It would also make the brands more careful.

According to Jason Kint, the money spent is about the same as the video revenue for the 80 most trusted premium publishers. This was really bad.
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We’re getting rid of comments on VICE.com – VICE

Jonathan Smith:

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In theory, comments sections are great. Writers and editors, with their unquenchable thirst for validation, love to hear thoughtful responses from readers. At their best, comments can foster a productive community discussion around a particular story or topic, often providing insight or commentary that might have been missed otherwise. As our colleagues at Motherboard pointed out last year [in announcing they were getting rid of comments, in October 2015], comments sections are really just a continuation of that age-old tradition of letters to the editor, a cherished part of many publications and a valuable way of creating an open dialogue between magazines and the people to whom they are ultimately accountable.

Unfortunately, website comments sections are rarely at their best. Without moderators or fancy algorithms, they are prone to anarchy. Too often they devolve into racist, misogynistic maelstroms where the loudest, most offensive, and stupidest opinions get pushed to the top and the more reasoned responses drowned out in the noise. While we always welcomed your thoughts on how we are actually a right-wing mouthpiece for the CIA, or how much better we were before we sold our dickless souls to the gods of capitalism, or just how shitty we are in general, we had to ban countless commenters over the years for threatening our writers and subjects, doxxing private citizens, and engaging in hate speech against pretty much every group imaginable.

We don’t have the time or desire to continue monitoring that crap moving forward.

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That last sentence is basically what it boils down to. As I’ve said many times, comments on anything but niche sites are haystacks obscuring the occasional needle. They’re broken, and yet they don’t need to be broken; the technology has existed for decades to make them workable – look at Slashdot or StackExchange. (Thanks Stef Pause for the link.)
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Apple AirPods: more than just headphones • Tech.pinions

Ben Bajarin:

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Perhaps my favorite feature is when you take one AirPod out, the music automatically pauses. Put it back in and it resumes flawlessly. This is useful when someone is talking to you and you need an ear free to listen and respond. I have some context with this experience, having used the Plantronics BackBeats Pro 2 which offer a similar smart sensor that pauses your music when you take off the headphones. For whatever reason, I found taking one AirPod out much more convenient than lifting the entire headset off my head. Perhaps just preference, perhaps not. In either case, the seamlessness of this experience is fantastic.

Whenever you need to know the battery level of the AirPods or the charging case, simply open the case next to your iPhone and this screen instantly pops up. Apple is using some sort of close proximity solution because, if you move the case even one foot away and open it, nothing happens on the phone.

I’ve been using Bluetooth headphones for years, so the awesomeness that is wireless headphones was not new to me. But, these were the first I’d used which are independently wireless — not connected to anything. With sports Bluetooth headphones you notice and feel the wire on the back of your neck as you move. Similarly, with over the hear wireless headphones like the Bose QuietComfort or Beats Wireless or similar ones, you feel the band that goes over the top of your head. The point is, they don’t disappear. I was surprised and delighted by how comfortable the AirPods are in my ears and how easily you forget they are there. Interestingly, I feel the same way about my Apple Watch. It seems the theme with both of Apple’s wearable computers (and yes I consider the AirPods to be wearable computers) is comfort to the degree of making them feel as though they disappear. This may be ear-shape dependent so my statement may not be true of everyone but it is with me.

Many others who have tried them have commented on how well they stay in your ears. I found this to be true.

«

I wonder if there’s some sort of NFC element to the proximity sensor? Either that, or it’s some version of the”time of flight” system used to decide whether someone is using man-in-the-middle when you unlock your Mac with your Apple Watch; but that uses Wi-Fi.
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How Apple alienated Mac loyalists • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman:

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Take the company’s attempt to create a longer-lasting battery for the MacBook Pro. Apple engineers wanted to use higher capacity battery packs shaped to the insides of the laptop versus the standard square cells found in most machines. The design would have boosted battery life. 

In the run-up to the MacBook Pro’s planned debut this year, the new battery failed a key test, according to a person familiar with the situation. Rather than delay the launch and risk missing the crucial holiday shopping season, Apple decided to revert to an older design. The change required roping in engineers from other teams to finish the job, meaning work on other Macs languished, the person said. The new laptop didn’t represent a game-changing leap in battery performance, and a software bug misrepresented hours of power remaining. Apple has since removed the meter from the top right-hand corner of the screen. 

In the Mac’s heyday, people working on new models could expect a lot of attention from Ive’s team. Once a week his people would meet with Mac engineers to discuss ongoing projects. Mac engineers brought prototypes to Ive’s studio for review, while his lieutenants would visit the Mac labs to look at early concepts. Those visits have become less frequent since the company began focusing more on more-valuable products like the iPhone and iPad, and the change became even more obvious after the design team’s leadership was shuffled last year, according to a person familiar with the situation.

In another sign that the company has prioritized the iPhone, Apple re-organized its software engineering department so there’s no longer a dedicated Mac operating system team. There is now just one team, and most of the engineers are iOS first, giving the people working on the iPhone and iPad more power. 

«

Gurman also suggests that engineers are given competing specs – and this can lead to late shipping, for instance on the Macbook of 2015, which he says was meant to appear in 2014.

Notably, he doesn’t know whether the Mac Pro is dead, or just being revamped.
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Apple’s Tim Cook assures employees that it is committed to the Mac and that ‘great desktops’ are coming • TechCrunch

Matthew Panzarino got a copy of an internal employee Q+A that Tim Cook held with Apple staff via bulletin board:

»

Q: We had a big MacBook Pro launch in October and a powerful upgrade to the MacBook back in the spring. Are Mac desktops strategic for us?

TC: The desktop is very strategic for us. It’s unique compared to the notebook because you can pack a lot more performance in a desktop — the largest screens, the most memory and storage, a greater variety of I/O, and fastest performance. So there are many different reasons why desktops are really important, and in some cases critical, to people.

The current generation iMac is the best desktop we have ever made and its beautiful Retina 5K display is the best desktop display in the world. 

Some folks in the media have raised the question about whether we’re committed to desktops. If there’s any doubt about that with our teams, let me be very clear: we have great desktops in our roadmap. Nobody should worry about that.

«

I wouldn’t be too worried that Cook doesn’t explicitly mention the Mac Pro. He’s smart enough to know that this stuff will always leak – remember how at Nokia the “burning platform” memo, which began as a speech, leaked out into the world – and so he isn’t going to pre-announce anything.

Cook also spoke about going to the Trump tech meeting, and his defence is that you have to be there to put your position; else your voice won’t be heard.
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Inside Amazon’s clickworker platform: how half a million people are being paid pennies to train AI • TechRepublic

Hope Reese and Nick Heath on Amazon’s human-powered Mechanical Turk [AMT] offering, which pays people tiny amounts to do small computer-based tasks:

»

So what do Turkers make, on average? It’s hard to say. But Adrien Jabbour, in India, said “it’s an achievement to make $700 in 2 months of work, working 4-5 hours every day.” Milland reported that she recently made $25 for 8 hours of work, and called that “a good day.” Just over half of Turkers earn below the US federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, according to a Pew Research Center study.

LaPlante talked about the difficult choices she needs to make, juggling work and life. “I have to decide: Do I take that job, or do I go to my family dinner?”

“For people living paycheck-to-paycheck on this kind of thing, on the edge of being evicted,” she said, “those decisions are difficult.”

For those working on AMT, there’s a frustrating reality: Not all Turkers are created equal.

Amazon’s system designates certain workers “Master’s Level.” When a new requester posts a HIT, it’s automatically defaulted to find Turkers at this level—which costs more for the requester, and pays more for the worker.

If you don’t have that designation, you are eligible for far fewer jobs.

One weekday in March, Milland said, there were 4911 available tasks on Mechanical Turk. She was eligible for 393 of them—just 8%.

So how does one attain a “Master’s Level” designation? No one knows.

Milland has seen unqualified people—those with a low number of completed tasks, low approval ratings, false accounts, or suspensions—all earn a Master’s Level.

“There does not seem to be any rhyme or reason,” she said.

Amazon won’t reveal their criteria to attain this level. (TechRepublic reached out to Amazon for comment, but after initially agreeing, the company later declined to be interviewed for this story.)

«

Non-cooperation is so common by these companies; the struggle to earn a useful amount of money for those feeding AMT is shocking. And that’s before you get to the bit where they’re meant to be teaching machines perhaps to replace them.
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The travels of Mrs. Murray’s Toyota unveil terror-finance network • WSJ

Christopher Stewart, Rob Barry and Mark Maremont:

»

Annie Murray had no idea how her champagne-colored 2009 Toyota Land Cruiser made its way from her hometown of Columbus, Georgia., to a dirt parking lot in West Africa.

She drove that car to church every week until circumstance, bad luck and the repo man took it away last winter. Her Toyota landed in Benin—at a car lot U.S. officials have alleged was a front for a global money-laundering network benefiting Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group backed by Iran.

The Land Cruiser had traveled more than 5,700 miles along a well-worn U.S.-Benin trade route that federal agents thought they had cleaned up five years ago in a terror-finance case.

«

It’s really quite weird.
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[Exclusive] First Intel Core i7-7700HQ laptop benchmarks!

“The team”:

»

We can’t name the brand and the model of the Kaby Lake notebook we have but for the purpose of fair comparison with 6700HQ we took the results of HP Pavilion 15 Gaming which has similar form factor.

 Cinebench 11 Cinebench 15 NovaBench 3
 Intel Core i7-6700HQ (HP Pavilion 15 Gaming) 7.39 664 826
 Intel Core i7-7700HQ 7.53 (+2%) 684 (+3%) 877 (+6%)

A difference from 2% to 6% can’t be a very good reason for postponing the purchase of a new notebook until January when Intel will announce the new processors. However, such improvement was somehow expected given the performance gaps between the last Intel Core generations.

«

Knowing that you’d only get a 2-6% performance improvement will certainly stop people complaining that the MacBook Pro doesn’t have Kaby Lake, right?
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Nintendo Switch CPU and GPU clock speeds revealed • Eurogamer.net

Richard Leadbetter:

»

As many have speculated, the new Nintendo hardware does indeed feature two performance configurations – and the console is categorically not as capable in mobile form, compared to its prowess when docked and attached to an HDTV. And we can confirm that there is no second GPU or additional hardware in the dock itself regardless of the intriguing patents that Nintendo has filed suggesting that there might be. With battery life and power throughput no longer an issue, the docked Switch simply allows the GPU to run much faster. And to put it simply, there is a night and day difference here.

Where Switch remains consistent is in CPU power – the cores run at 1020MHz regardless of whether the machine is docked or undocked. This ensures that running game logic won’t be compromised while gaming on the go: the game simulation itself will remain entirely consistent. The machine’s embedded memory controller runs at 1600MHz while docked (on par with a standard Tegra X1), but the default power mode undocked sees this drop to 1331MHz. However, developers can opt to retain full memory bandwidth in their titles should they choose to do so.

As things stand, CPU clocks are halved compared to the standard Tegra X1, but it’s the GPU aspect of the equation that will prove more controversial. Even while docked, Switch doesn’t run at Tegra X1’s full potential. Clock-speeds are locked here at 768MHz, considerably lower than the 1GHz found in Shield Android TV, but the big surprise from our perspective was the extent to which Nintendo has down-clocked the GPU to hit its thermal and battery life targets. That’s not a typo: it really is 307.2MHz – meaning that in portable mode, Switch runs at exactly 40% of the clock-speed of the fully docked device.

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Basically, it’s a two-year-old tablet.
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How to enable two-factor authentication on Amazon • Electronic Frontier Foundation

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Holiday shopping is in full swing this week as we enter the eighth day of the 12 Days of 2FA. Today we’ll look at how to enable two-factor authentication on Amazon to protect your financial information, shopping preferences, and purchases.

Amazon supports 2FA via both text messages and an authenticator app. Authenticator apps are generally more secure and avoid a lot of the downfalls of text messages. However, text messages are more practical if you do not use a smartphone. Consider your threat model and choose the best mode for you. Note, however, that Amazon requires a phone number to enable 2FA regardless of the method you choose.

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Amazon UK doesn’t offer 2FA, but it does offer two-step authentication: you enter your password and then a code is sent to your phone which you have to enter. Useful for security nonetheless.
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Politics and change: reflections of an American immigrant tech worker • SD Times

Al Hilwa:

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The left-right political divide traces its roots to 18th-century France and is essentially about where people stand with respect to tolerance of social and economic change, giving us progressives and conservatives. While we are split in this country in this regard, those of us who work in technology have tended to have a deeper understanding of the modern mechanisms of change and thus a greater affinity for it. You could say we are heavily vested in it.

For those on the conservative side, they can enjoy the next four years of unrolling some change. For the progressives, the next four years will seem disheartening. I think it is helpful to take a longer view of history and take better stock of the modern era.

Compare our world with that of the 1950s, the turn of the century, or the 18th century. Consider social parameters such as voting rights for women or people of color, or even voting by non-property owners. Consider the shifts in attitude in interracial marriage, in racial segregation and slavery. Read through the Wikipedia page on the “Timeline of women’s legal rights” to see how just a couple of hundred years ago women were not able to own property.

Your exploration will lead you to one truth: In time, progressiveness has a good track record of prevailing.

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Uber admits to self-driving car ‘problem’ in bike lanes as safety concerns mount • The Guardian

Sam Levin:

»

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition has released a warning about Uber’s cars based on staff members’ first-hand experiences in the vehicles. When the car was in “self-driving” mode, the coalition’s executive director, who tested the car two days before the launch, observed it twice making an “unsafe right-hook-style turn through a bike lane”.

That means the car crossed the bike path at the last minute in a manner that posed a direct threat to cyclists. The maneuver also appears to violate state law, which mandates that a right-turning car merge into the bike lane before making the turn to avoid a crash with a cyclist who is continuing forward.

“It’s one of the biggest causes of collisions,” said coalition spokesman Chris Cassidy, noting that the group warned Uber of the problem. Company officials told the coalition that Uber was working on the issue but failed to mention that the self-driving program would begin two days later without permits, he said.

“The fact that they know there’s a dangerous flaw in the technology and persisted in a surprise launch,” he said, “shows a reckless disregard for the safety of people in our streets.”

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These things haven’t been on (illegal) test a week yet, and the risks are mounting. This doesn’t feel good. If Uber kills a cyclist, it is in very deep trouble.
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Alphabet’s Google is searching for its next hit • The Economist

»

When Nest, the thermostats maker, was acquired for $3.2bn in 2014, its executives were promised they could invest and expand their business for years. But when the Alphabet structure was suddenly adopted, the message changed. Overnight, units were expected to pay for their share of overhead, which irked some executives who remembered how the parent company had itself doled out big salaries and other luxuries (like free food). Few at the firm are optimistic that Alphabet is closer to devising a business as lucrative and large as search continues to be. As one former executive says, “You’re unlikely to win the lottery twice.”

Meanwhile, the way that people navigate their way around the internet is also changing, which could eventually pose a threat to Google’s search-advertising business. There are two big impending shifts. One is the use of voice as a way to get information, and the other is the rise of virtual assistants. Already, around a fifth of searches on Android devices are done by voice (as opposed to text), and that share will grow as speech recognition improves. Voice will also become more important with the spread of stand-alone devices that answer questions, such as Amazon’s Echo and Google’s own new product, Google Home, which do not support advertising…

…As well as the fact that Amazon delivers ad-free information via the Echo, the retail giant poses a direct threat to Google because more people are starting searches for electronics and other kit directly on its site, rather than through a general search engine. By one estimate, 55% of internet users now begin researching products on Amazon, depriving Google of the opportunity to deliver an ad.

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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