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Apple’s Proposal Promises To Prevent Advertisers From Tracking Ad Click Attributions

Safari's new feature, Privacy Preserving Ad Click Attribution, will prevent advertisers from tracking user's online behavior. Click To Tweet

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Apple's new feature will prevent advertisers from tracking user's online behavior.
Apple's new feature will prevent advertisers from tracking user's online behavior. Photo: Adam Jarvis | Creative Commons | CC BY-NC 4.0

Whether you notice or not, the internet is running through ads, and since data is gold for advertisers, they collect data from whoever clicks on the ad to track the performance of their campaigns even if it means jeopardizing the privacy of individual users. But Apple may have found a middle ground, and it will start to implement a new privacy plan for advertisers across the tech giants’ network.

Apple is set to launch a new feature in Safari called Privacy Preserving Ad Click Attribution, which aims to stop ads tracking the moves you make within the web. They said that this proposed solution would allow advertisers to measure their ad performance on the internet without risking the privacy of users.

In layman’s term, this new feature will still allow advertisers to know whether a conversion came from an ad they are running but they won’t be able to gain access to any identifiable information about whoever made the conversion.

A typical ad process includes being able to set up an ad pixel, an invisible image hidden in the ad, that collects cookies from whoever triggers the pixel for advertisers follow the movement and gain insights from the activities of the said user. This would practically send signals to the search engine, in the case of Google Adwords, or Facebook, in the case of FB ads, what actions were made following the clicking of an advertisement.

The information derived from this can now be used to measure the performance of the clicked ad, telling them not just the number of ad clicks but also the number of people who purchased what they advertised in the ad. These data will also be the basis of retargeting them to encourage to buy the products that they didn’t or to buy more of the products that they did.

Of course, there are different ways that a user can circumvent this and prevent advertisers from collecting identifiable information in the process like installing ad blockers or turning on tracking protection in browsers like Intelligent Tracking Protection by Safari or Content Blocking by Firefox. However, the problem with this is that unilateral ad blocking also affects those well-behaved websites who do not run intrusive advertisements in their platform and preventing them from making money out of ads.

But Apple may find a way to get around this problem, which is win-win for both advertisers and users. According to the tech giant, their privacy preservation feature is built into the browser itself and runs on-device, which means that they will not be gaining access to any ad-related data. Also, the company is pushing the new technology as a standard to the World Wide Web Consortium to encourage other browsers to embrace it.

“Online ads and measurement of their effectiveness do not require Site A, where you clicked an ad, to learn that you purchased something on Site B,” John Wilander explained in the blog post. “The only data needed for measurement is that someone who clicked an ad on Site A made a purchase on Site B.”

In the past similar technologies have been proposed like the Do Not Track feature which gives users the option to demand from advertisers that they don’t want their browsing activities to be tracked, but without any surprise, advertisers refuse to acknowledge user preferences as it hampers their business and the Do Not Track feature did not take off.

However, with the current political climate focused on data privacy and the repetitive pressure from multisectoral institutions for Silicone Valley to do a better job in providing transparency in their data collection processes, this new proposal from Apple may prosper, considering that this proposal will have considerable impact to both Google and Facebook – two of the tech giants riddled with numerous data privacy and transparency scandals in recent history – as both companies relies heavily on ad revenues for their business.

The new privacy-focussed setting is available as an experimental feature in the developer build of Safari Technology Preview 82+. While the feature is probably going to be available for everyone until late this year, many are hoping that Apple will mention and market the product at its 30th annual WWDC keynote on June 3.

A consumer tech and cybersecurity journalist who does content marketing while daydreaming about having unlimited coffee for life and getting a pet llama.

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The North Face Google Search Campaign Denounced By Wikipedia — Company Blamed Lack Of Communication

The North Face hacked Google's top search results by exploiting Wikipedia. Click To Tweet

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Screenshot from The North Face video

In The North Face latest video campaign, they proudly announced reaching number 1 in Google’s search results by paying nothing; an impossible feat in the search engine giant’s platform.

“We hacked the results to reach one of the most difficult places: the top of the world’s largest search engine, paying absolutely nothing, just by collaborating with Wikipedia,” says in their video.

The campaign achieved its goal: they were number 1 on Google’s Top Photos. However, the popular American outdoor lifestyle brand found itself in controversy — as Wikipedia and public outcry denounced the campaign.

A Brazilian subsidiary of ad agency Leo Burnett created the video and was behind the effort in April to insert the images on Wikipedia pages.

In the video material shared by AdAge, The North Face explained how they were able to “hack” Google.

The North Face capitalized on the idea that often times, before going on a trip, people turned to Google to make a basic search. Furthermore, those search results often had Wikipedia at the top of the list of search results. In relation, the images attached to these Wikipedia pages are also the top photo results in Google Images.

To exploit this, they hired Leo Burnett’s Brazil team to take photos of models in popularly searched travel locations wearing The North Face jackets, clothes, and equipment — which they eventually used to replace the photos on Wikipedia pages.

At the end of the campaign, there was North Face gear in more than 15 locations including Brazil’s Guarita State Park and the Mampituba lighthouse, as well as, California’s Cabo peninsula, Peru’s Huayna Picchu, and Scotland’s Cuillin mountains.

The result was that The North Face photos that were replaced in Wikipedia ended up to be the top photo results every time someone searched for the popular destinations. Hence, massive publicity boosts and free advertising costs.

Initially, The North Face and Burnett’s team appeared to be clueless about the possible backlash from an ethical standpoint; considering the lines that were said in the video seems to be an accomplishment for the team. The video, shown above, starts with the line, “How can a brand be the first on Google without paying anything for it?” and brags that they “did what no one has done before…we switched the Wikipedia photos for ours” and that they “[paid] absolutely nothing just by collaborating with Wikipedia.”

Hours after uploading the AdAge video campaign, Wikipedia moderators removed 12 images (or, in some cases, simply cropped out the TNF logo), and reported the accounts that had uploaded them for breaches of Terms of Use for undisclosed paid advocacy.

“Adding content that is solely intended to promote a company or its products goes against the spirit, purpose, and policies of Wikipedia to provide neutral, fact-based knowledge to the world,” the Wikimedia Foundation wrote in response. “It exploits a free public learning platform for corporate gain.”

Moreover, Wikipedia said in a tweet, “Yesterday, we were disappointed to learn that @thenorthface and @LeoBurnett unethically manipulated Wikipedia. They have risked your trust in our mission for a short-lived consumer stunt.”

The Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit behind Wikipedia, has since refuted that there was no collaboration of any sort, saying in a blog that “Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation did not collaborate on this stunt, as The North Face falsely claims.”

“In fact, what they did was akin to defacing public property, which is a surprising direction from The North Face. Their stated mission, ‘unchanged since 1966,’ is to “support the preservation of the outdoors’– a public good held in trust for all of us,” it added.

The North Face has since then apologized on Twitter and said that it has ended the promotion. In an interview with The New York Times, the company pinned the blame on a lack of communication between the company and the local distributor in Brazil — which had approved the campaign.

The North Face said in response to Wikipedia‘s Tweet shown above says, “We believe deeply in @Wikipedia’s mission and apologize for engaging in activity inconsistent with those principles. Effective immediately, we have ended the campaign and moving forward, we’ll commit to ensuring that our teams and vendors are better trained on the site policies.”

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Facebook Usage Forecast Continues To Decline

The future isn’t too bright for Facebook all along.

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Facebook is compensating numbers using Instagram's and WhatsApp's growth to cover the fact up that their number is on a decline.
Average US Facebook Usage Time is down by three minutes in 2018. Photo: Stock Catalog | CC BY 2.0

Facebook’s engagement is shrinking — as Americans spend less and less time on the social media network. The future isn’t bright for Facebook either, and they are expected to see a declining trend in US time spent on the platform, a study reveals.

A report published by eMarketer showed that the average time spent on the social media giant declined by 3 minutes in 2018 and is expected to continue decreasing until 2021 — where it is predicted to plateau.

This year, US Adult Facebook users will spend only 38 minutes per day browsing the site, which is down by two minutes in the company’s previous forecast. Furthermore, they expect that by 2020, the average time spent will drop more to 37 minutes per day.

“Facebook’s continued loss of younger adult users, along with its focus on downranking clickbait posts and videos in favor of those that create ‘time well spent,’ resulted in less daily time spent on the platform in 2018 than we had previously expected,” eMarketer principal analyst Debra Aho Williamson said. “Less time spent on Facebook translates into fewer chances for marketers to reach the network’s users.”

For spectators, a few minutes drop in time spending among American may not be significant, but it is a very alarming trend for Facebook whose business depends mainly on advertising and ad revenues. Analysts argue that since the US is one of Facebook’s most lucrative market, a decline in the engagement level in the tech giant’s flagship service may force advertisers to use other advertising platforms.

Nonetheless, the future of Facebook may depend on Instagram soon as engagement levels are on an increasing trend. Average daily time on the Facebook-owned platform will reach 27 minutes this year among US adult users. And time spent will increase by 1 minute every year through 2021, according to the researchers.

“Features like Stories, influencer content and video are all contributing to more engagement and a slow but steady uptick in time spent on Instagram,” Williamson said.

App “family metrics” will be published; no more Facebook-only numbers

According to some people knowledgeable on the matter, it could also be the reason for Facebook’s decision to stop communicating their engagement data to the public. Besides, having bad data is also similar to having no business at all.

Instead, according to Facebook, it will start publishing collective metrics for its “family” of apps, which includes Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp.

“Over time, we expect family metrics will play the primary role in how we talk about our company, and we will eventually phase out Facebook-only community metrics,” Facebook’s CFO Dave Wehner said during the call.

Facebook is probably doing this to project growth even if the growth of Facebook (the social media platform) is on the decline and the growth of other platforms such as Instagram may compensate for the bad numbers in Facebook’s arsenal.

Controversy after controversy

Analysts and researchers posit that Facebook’s shrinking numbers are affected by a series of controversies over security that the company has faced in the last few years. The tech giant has been repeatedly slammed for their failure to protect their users’ privacy in different occasions.

Only recently, a study published by Consumer Reports suggests that there are a lot of Facebook users who can’t turn off the facial recognition feature and cannot prevent the social media network from using the technology to identify their faces in the platform. According to CR, they have found out that eight out of the 31 test accounts that they used in the study does not have an option to turn off facial recognition. As an implication, it is possible that there are more users out there who don’t have the same ability even if the researchers have noted that they are still unsure whether there are others.

Furthermore, the growing number of fake news and fake accounts used for political motives also dissuades users from using Facebook as often as they used to. Even if the company has renewed its commitment to end the swath of fake news and fake profiles on its platform, the problem persist and the perception of people over the way the company is handling the problem does not change.

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Company Denies “Unethical” Collection Of IG Influencer Data Following Online Exposure

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The company accused of exposing personal info of celebrities and IG influencers said that they did not get the data from "unethical" sources but researchers don't agree.

Chtrbox, the Indian marketing and promotions company accused of sourcing millions of celebrities and Instagram influencers illegally and exposing the database online, denied the allegations that they unethically sourced the data in the discovered leaked data pool.

In late May, a tech researcher found an exposed database containing the personal and private information of millions of celebrities, social media influencers, and brand accounts from Instagram. Following an investigation conducted by the researcher, it was determined to be owned by an Indian marketing company named Chtrbox, which is selling services such as marketing promotions with influencers as well as sponsored ads.

Recently, the company in question responded the allegations made by tech researcher Anurag Sen from Twitter and said that they did not purposely or recklessly leaked the said data, but instead, a third party inadvertently exposed the data.

“The reports on a leak of private data are inaccurate. A particular database for limited influencers was inadvertently exposed for approximately 72 hours,” said the company’s official statement regarding the incident.

But this claim has been debunked by the original reporter of the data breach. Zack Whittaker, a journalist from TechCrunch, through his Twitter account, said that the breach had been discovered since May 14 and the claim that the breach lasted for only 72 hours is “inaccurate.”

Each record in the database contained publicly listed data scraped from influencer, celebrity, and brand Instagram accounts including their bio, profile picture, their follower count, verification status, and their location by city and country. However, the database also contained private contact information, including email address and phone number.

Several high profile influencers and celebrities were found in the database, including some prominent beauty and fashion bloggers, food bloggers, celebrities, and other famous social media influencers. According to Whittaker, he contacted several people on the list at random whose information was found in the database, and some of them indeed replied, confirming that some – or most – of the data contained in the database are actual data scraped from their Instagram accounts.

The report revealed that each record, aside from public and personal information of the account owner, also includes an estimated worth of each account, factored by the number of followers they have, the engagement level they receive, the width of their reach, likes, and shares they had. The calculation was used as a metric to determine how much to pay an influencer to post a sponsored content on their account as an ad.

However, the company also denies this claim saying that private information was not taken unethically.

“The database did not include any sensitive personal data and only contained information available from the public domain, or self-reported by influencers. We would also like to affirm that no personal data has been sourced through unethical means by Chtrbox. Our database is for internal research use only, we have never sold individual data or our database, and we have never purchased hacked data resulting from social media platform breaches. Our use of our database is limited to help our team connect with the right influencers to support influencers to monetize their online presence, and help brands create great content,” the company added.

Another tech researcher chimed in the discussion on Twitter saying that it is possible that the database entries were taken from a February 2019 Instagram breach that he previously reported. He said that not only did the exposure started from May 14th, but even since December 2018.

David Stier, a cybersecurity researcher, said that even after Instagram fixed the exposure following his report, phone numbers and email addresses of IG accounts were still visible on many accounts in the Instagram app.

Another tech researcher chimed in the discussion on Twitter saying that it is possible that the database entries were taken from a February 2019 Instagram breach that he previously reported. He said that not only did the exposure started from May 14th, but even since December 2018. David Stier, a cybersecurity researcher, said that even after Instagram fixed the exposure following his report, phone numbers and email addresses of IG accounts were still visible on many accounts in the Instagram app.

Until now, it is still unclear how Chtrbox gathered the data. The original theory was regarding the IG breach, something that the company has also denied in its statements.

Meanwhile, in a statement made by Facebook following the disclosure of the database said that the company is investigating the matter.

“We’re looking into the issue to understand if the data described – including email and phone numbers – was from Instagram or other sources,” said an updated statement. “We’re also inquiring with Chtrbox to understand where this data came from and how it became publicly available,” the social media giant said in a statement.

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