Monthly Archives: August 2018

Facebook and Microsoft briefed state officials on election security efforts today

August 25, 2018 No Comments

So much for summer Fridays. Yesterday, BuzzFeed reported that a dozen tech companies, including Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Snapchat, would meet at Twitter headquarters on Friday to discuss election security. For two of them, that wasn’t the only meeting in the books.

In what appears to be a separate event on Friday, Facebook and Microsoft also met with the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and two bodies of state election officials, the National Association of State Election Directors (NASED) and the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS), about their election security efforts.

The discussion was the second of its kind connecting DHS, Facebook and state election officials on “actions being taken to combat malicious interference operations.” The meetings offer two very different perspectives on threats to election security. States are largely concerned with securing voter databases and election systems, while private tech companies are waging a very public war against coordinated disinformation campaigns by U.S. foreign adversaries on their platforms. Social media platforms and election systems themselves are two important yet usually disconnected fronts in the ongoing war against Russian election interference.

more 2018 US Midterm Election coverage

“Effectively combatting coordinated information operations requires many parts of society working together, which is why Facebook believes so strongly in the need for collaboration between law enforcement, government agencies, security experts and other companies to confront these growing threats,” Facebook VP of Public Policy Kevin Martin said of the meeting.

“We are grateful for the opportunity to brief state election officials on a recent call convened by DHS and again today as part of our continued effort to develop collaborative relationships between government and private industry.”

Curiously, while Microsoft and Facebook attended the DHS-hosted meeting, it doesn’t look like Twitter did. To date, Twitter and Facebook have faced the most fallout for foreign interference on their platforms meant to influence American politics, though Google was also called to Congress to testify on the issue last fall. When reached, Twitter declined to comment on its absence, though the company was reportedly playing host to the other major tech election security meeting today.

The meeting with state officials sounds like it was largely informative in nature, with Facebook and Microsoft providing insight on their respective efforts to contain foreign threats to election integrity. On Tuesday, Microsoft revealed that its Digital Crimes Unit secured a court order to take down six domains created by Russia’s GRU designed to phish user credentials. Half of the phishing domains were fake versions of U.S. Senate websites.

“No one organization, department or individual can solve this issue alone, that’s why information sharing is so important,” said Microsoft VP of Customer Security and Trust Tom Burt. “To really be successful in defending democracy, technology companies, government, civil society, the academic community and researchers need to come together and partner in new and meaningful ways.”

Social – TechCrunch

Teardown of Magic Leap One reveals highly advanced placeholder tech

August 25, 2018 No Comments

The screwdriver-happy dismantlers at iFixit have torn the Magic Leap One augmented reality headset all to pieces, and the takeaway seems to be that the device is very much a work in progress — but a highly advanced one. Its interesting optical assembly, described as “surprisingly ugly,” is laid bare for all to see.

The head-mounted display and accompanying computing unit are definitely meant for developers, as we know, but the basic methods and construction Magic Leap is pursuing are clear from this initial hardware. It’s unlikely that there will be major changes to how the gadget works except to make it cheaper, lighter and more reliable.

At the heart of Magic Leap’s tech is its AR display, which overlays 3D images over and around the real world. This is accomplished through a stack of waveguides that allow light to pass along them invisibly, then bounce it out toward your eye from the proper angle to form the image you see.

The “ugly” assembly in question; pic courtesy of iFixit

The waveguide assembly has six layers: one for each color channel (red, blue and green) twice over, arranged so that by adjusting the image you can change the perceived distance and size of the object being displayed.

There isn’t a lot out there like this, and certainly nothing intended for consumer use, so we can forgive Magic Leap for shipping something a little bit inelegant by iFixit’s standards: “The insides of the lenses are surprisingly ugly, with prominent IR LEDs, a visibly striated waveguide “display” area, and some odd glue application.”

After all, the insides of devices like the iPhone X or Galaxy Note 9 should and do reflect a more mature hardware ecosystem and many iterations of design along the same lines. This is a unique, first-of-its-kind device and as a devkit the focus is squarely on getting the functionality out there. It will almost certainly be refined in numerous ways to avoid future chiding by hardware snobs.

That’s also evident from the eye-tracking setup, which from its position at the bottom of the eye will likely perform better when you’re looking down and straight ahead rather than upwards. Future versions may include more robust tracking systems.

Another interesting piece is the motion-tracking setup. A little box hanging off the edge of the headset is speculated to be the receiver for the magnetic field-based motion controller. I remember using magnetic interference motion controllers back in 2010 — no doubt there have been improvements, but this doesn’t seem to be particularly cutting-edge tech. An improved control scheme can probably be expected in future iterations, as this little setup is pretty much independent of the rest of the device’s operation.

Let’s not judge Magic Leap on this interesting public prototype — let us instead judge them on the farcically ostentatious promises and eye-popping funding of the last few years. If they haven’t burned through all that cash, there are years of development left in the creation of a practical and affordable consumer device using these principles and equipment. Many more teardowns to come!

Gadgets – TechCrunch

Mixmax launches IFTTT-like rules to help you manage your inbox

August 25, 2018 No Comments

Mixmax, a service that aims to make email and other outbound communications more usable and effective, today announced the official launch of its new IFTTT-like rules for automating many of the most repetitive aspects of your daily email workflow.

On the one hand, this new feature is a bit like your standard email filter on steroids (and with connections to third-party tools like Slack, Salesforce, DocuSign, Greenhouse and Pipedrive). Thanks to this, you can now receive an SMS when a customer who spends more than $ 5,000 a month emails you, for example.

But rules also can be triggered by any of the third-party services the company currently supports. Maybe you want to send out a meeting reminder based on your calendar entries, for example. You can then set up a rule that always emails a reminder a day before the meeting, together with all the standard info you’d want to send in that email.

“One way we think about Mixmax is that we want to do for externally facing teams and people who talk a lot of customers what GitHub did for engineering and what Slack did for internal team communication,” Mixmax co-founder and CEO Olof Mathé told me. “That’s what we do for external communication.”

While the service started out as a basic Chrome extension for Gmail, it’s now a full-blown email automation system that offers everything from easy calendar sharing to tracking when recipients open an email and, now, building rules around that. Mathé likened it to an executive assistant, but he stressed that he doesn’t think Mixmax is taking anybody’s jobs away. “We’re not here to replace other people,” he said. “We amplify what you are able to do as an individual and give you superpowers so you can become your own personal chief of staff so you get more time.”

The new rules feature takes this to the next level and Mathé and his team plan to build this out more over time. He teased a new feature called “beast mode” that’s coming in the near future and that will see Mixmax propose actions you can take across different applications, for example.

Many of the new rules and connectors will be available to all paying users, though some features, like access to your Salesforce account, will only be available to those on higher-tier plans.

Enterprise – TechCrunch

Tools to Help You Survive the GDN Mobile App Changes

August 25, 2018 No Comments

This post is a follow up to our first episode of The PPC Newsflash, the new webinar series where we will bring you expert commentary on the newest updates in the PPC industry. See the video below, or if you’re multitasking and just want to listen, check out the podcast! Once upon a time, mobile […]

Read more at PPCHero.com
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How to create an optimized career page for your website

August 25, 2018 No Comments

With recruitment as competitive a market as it has ever been, it’s essential to ensure every careers page or job vacancy on your website is fully optimized in order to place it in front of the perfect candidate online.

They are some of the largest and most powerful websites around, but typically online job boards lack page authority, so while you cannot compete with them on a domain level, you can still outrank these huge companies with good SEO.

The next step is selling your vacancy to the candidate, which can sometimes be a tough process, but one that your job pages can definitely help you out with.

How should you go about doing this?

Conduct thorough keyword research

Your first port of call to ensure your careers pages are fully optimized is to conduct some thorough keyword research in order to identify relevant keywords to target on your job pages.

Location-specific job searches invariably have a favorable ratio between search volume and keyword difficulty (competitiveness), so it’s crucial to ensure you are targeting properly before you begin to optimize.

Ahrefs is my tool of choice for this due to the ease of use and array of filters available to use.

Use internal links

Internal links are your chance to tell Google which pages on your site are the most important. You can manage your internal links as you wish, but one recommended strategy is for any page you are trying to rank, you should point internal links at it from the more powerful pages on your website.

A good way of finding these authoritative pages is by using the ‘Top Pages’ category in ahrefs (other tools are available) which will filter your pages by URL rating (authority) in a descending order. You are left with a list of your most powerful pages ready to be linked from.

When trying to boost vacancy pages, adding natural looking anchor text along the lines of ‘Like what you are reading? See our latest job openings’ and linking to the live positions can work well.

Internal linking is an oft-underutilized strategy in SEO and Andy Drinkwater is one of the more prominent voices on the topic often sharing useful, actionable information with the SEO community.

Maximize your content

Ensure the copy featured on each of your careers pages is optimized to rank well. Your content should be specific to your company and the individual role, with a minimum word count of 250 words.

Make it enticing! And if your company has a personality, ensure you show it.

The copy itself should be relevant and informative to the user, answering any specific queries they may have. The more information you can give the prospect the better.

Avoid duplicate content at all costs and try to be creative – you can assume the job seeker is looking at a number of job posts so you really need to try and stand out here.

Go behind the scenes

Provide potential employees with a look behind the scenes at your offices before they apply for a role. This is likely to benefit both you and the prospective employee as they can see if the environment appeals to them.

An office walkthrough is the ideal way to show what life is like at your company, plus the tour footage can form part of your Google Business listing (if recorded by an accredited Google Business). Appearing alongside your company address and telephone number, it’s an effective way to boost your site’s local SEO.

If you really want to stand out from your competitors, however, why not invest in a 360 degree tour of your office? This can also be VR-based. Interactive and realistic, it’s the next best thing to being in your office in person and will help a prospective employee to really visualize working for you.

Once you’ve taken these factors into consideration, you also need to think about Google Jobs.

What is Google Jobs?

Having launched in the US in 2017 and the UK in July this year, Google’s new job search tool Google Jobs looks set to radically alter the way job seekers search for roles, also impacting recruitment agencies and their processes.

Google caused a disturbance in the flight industry with the launch of Google Flights, which saw an immediate uptake in bookings from customers who were frustrated by the tendency of airlines to withhold information about additional costs such as baggage fees whilst booking, in order to make their flights appear cheaper.  

Inc.com attributed the success of Google Flights to increased transparency to customers, who are able to see all the relevant costs prior to booking a flight, plus any predicted delays. The impact of the launch of Google Flights was immediate, with Business Insider stating the platform was “an embarrassment to the airline industry”.

The search engine’s success in identifying and capitalizing upon weaknesses in the travel and tourism industry is expected to be replicated in the recruitment industry with the launch of Google Jobs.

Simply recognizing users’ frustration at a lack of information, collating results at once and then proceeding to provide this information immediately results in a more valuable service for users.

What does the launch of Google Jobs mean for job vacancies online?

Google Jobs has been designed to simplify and speed up the process of job-hunting for the job-seeker. At the US launch of Google Jobs last year, Google CEO Pichai Sundar announced that the purpose of the tool was to “better connect employers and job seekers”.

Users are able to filter roles by key criteria such as necessary qualifications and experience, working hours, salary and commute. Recruiters and employment platforms currently working with Google Jobs include LinkedIn, Monster, Glassdoor and Payscale (but interestingly, not Indeed).

The impact on recruitments companies will be severe. Even if you were ranking #1, you will now have the Google Jobs ‘import’ sitting above you plus the usual PPC ads.

While it’s safe to assume that Google will weight Google Jobs above all other recruitment platforms, it is worth bearing in mind that the company recently received a $ 5 billion fine from the EU for abusing their Android dominance, so they may – initially at least – proceed with more caution than usual.

What does this mean for my job vacancy?

Google Jobs pulls through vacancies from many recruitment company sites and jobs boards. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, there isn’t the ability to get your (a SMEs) specific role featured in the platform without posting it on one of these jobs sites/boards.

For businesses who have steered clear of these in the past, now may be the time to start to signing up.

We can assume Google Jobs’ popularity is only going to increase so if you want to maximize the chance of your vacancy being seen, don’t get left behind.


Search Engine Watch

The Top 4 Google Ad Format Updates: Less Transparent Reports and More Options than Ever Before

August 23, 2018 No Comments

A lot of updates are hitting us at once between ad formats and the frustration of limited-data reports, but we’re all in this together. Let’s do this!

Read more at PPCHero.com
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Facebook bans first app since Cambridge Analytica, myPersonality, and suspends hundreds more

August 23, 2018 No Comments

Facebook announced today that it had banned the app myPersonality for improper data controls and suspended hundreds more. So far this is only the second app to be banned as a result of the company’s large-scale audit begun in March; but as myPersonality hasn’t been active since 2012, and was to all appearances a legitimate academic operation, it’s a bit of a mystery why they bothered.

The total number of app suspensions has reached 400, twice the number we last heard Facebook announce publicly. Suspensions aren’t listed publicly, however, and apps may be suspended and reinstated without any user notification. The only other app to be banned via this process is Cambridge Analytica.

myPersonality was created by researchers at the Cambridge Psychometrics Centre (no relation to Cambridge Analytica — this is an actual academic institution) to source data from Facebook users via personality quizzes. It operated from 2007 to 2012, and was quite successful, gathering data on some four million users (directly, not via friends) when it was operational.

The dataset was used for the Centre’s own studies and other academics could request access to it via an online form; applications were vetted by CPC staff and had to be approved by the petitioner’s university’s ethics committee.

It transpired in May that a more or less complete set of the project’s data was available for anyone to download from GitHub, put there by some misguided scholar who had received access and decided to post it where their students could access it more easily.

Facebook suspended the app around then, saying “we believe that it may have violated Facebook’s policies.” That suspension has graduated into a ban, because the creators “fail[ed] to agree to our request to audit and because it’s clear that they shared information with researchers as well as companies with only limited protections in place.”

This is, of course, a pot-meet-kettle situation, as well as something of a self-indictment. I contacted David Stillwell, one of the app’s creators and currently deputy director of the CPC, having previously heard from him and collaborator Michel Kosinski about the dataset and Facebook’s sudden animosity.

“Facebook has long been aware of the application’s use of data for research,” Stillwell said in a statement. “In 2009 Facebook certified the app as compliant with their terms by making it one of their first ‘verified applications.’ In 2011 Facebook invited me to a meeting in Silicon Valley (and paid my travel expenses) for a workshop organised by Facebook precisely because it wanted more academics to use its data, and in 2015 Facebook invited Dr Kosinski to present our research at their headquarters.”

During that time, Kosinski and Stillwell both told me, dozens of universities had published in total more than a hundred social science research papers using the data. No one at Facebook or elsewhere seems to have raised any issues with how the data was stored or distributed during all that time.

“It is therefore odd that Facebook should suddenly now profess itself to have been unaware of the myPersonality research and to believe that the data may have been misused,” Stillwell said.

Examples of datasets available via the myPersonality project.

A Facebook representative told me they were concerned that the vetting process for getting access to the dataset was too loose, and furthermore that the data was not adequately anonymized.

But Facebook would, ostensibly, have approved these processes during the repeated verifications of myPersonality’s data. Why would it suddenly decide in 2018, when the app had been inactive for years, that it had been in violation all that time? The most obvious answer would be that its auditors never looked very closely in the first place, despite a cozy relationship with the researchers.

“When the app was suspended three months ago I asked Facebook to explain which of their terms was broken but so far they have been unable to cite any instances,” said Stillwell.

Ironically, Facebook’s accusation that myPersonality failed to secure user data correctly is exactly what the company itself appears to be guilty of, and at a far greater scale. Just as CPC could not control what a researcher did with the data (for example, mistakenly post it publicly) once they had been approved by multiple other academics, Facebook could not control what companies like Cambridge Analytica did with data once it had been siphoned out under the respectable guise of research purposes. (Notably, it is projects like myPersonality that seem to have made that guise respectable to begin with.)

Perhaps Facebook’s standards have changed and what was okay by them in 2012 — and, apparently, in 2015 — is not acceptable now. Good — users want stronger protections. But this banning of an app inactive for years and used successfully by real academics for actual research purposes has an air of theatricality. It helps no one and will change nothing about myPersonality itself, which Stillwell and others stopped maintaining years ago, or the dataset it created, which may very well still be analyzed for new insights by some enterprising social science grad student.

Facebook has mobilized a full-time barn door closing operation years after the horses bolted, as evident by today’s ban. So when you and the other four million people get a notification that Facebook is protecting your privacy by banning an app you used a decade ago, take it with a grain of salt.

Social – TechCrunch

Court rules warrants are needed for cops to access smart electrical meter data

August 23, 2018 No Comments

You can tell a lot about what’s going on in a home from how much electricity it’s using — especially when that information is collected every few minutes and recorded centrally. It’s revealing enough that a federal judge has ruled that people with smart meters have a reasonable expectation of privacy and as such law enforcement will require a warrant to acquire that data.

It may sound like a niche win in the fight for digital privacy, and in a way it is, but it’s still important. One of the risks we’ve assumed as consumers in adopting ubiquitous technology in forms like the so-called Internet of Things is that we are generating an immense amount of data we weren’t before, and that data is not always protected as it should be.

This case is a great example. Traditional spinning meters are read perhaps once a month by your local utility, and at that level of granularity there’s not much you can tell about a house or apartment other than whether perhaps someone has been living there and whether they have abnormally high electricity use — useful information if you were, say, looking for illicit pot growers with a farm in the basement.

Smart meters, on the other hand, send exact meter readings at short intervals, perhaps every 15 minutes, and these readings may be kept for years. With that much detail you could not only tell whether someone lives in a house, but whether they’re home, whether the fridge has been opened recently, what room they’re in, how often they do laundry, and so on. The fingerprints of individual devices on the house’s electrical network aren’t that difficult to figure out.

To be sure this can help the utility with load balancing, predicting demand and so on. But what if the government wants to do more with it, for example to establish whether someone was home at a certain time in a criminal investigation?

A group of concerned citizens sued the city of Naperville, Illinois, which mandated smart readers several years ago, alleging that collection of the data was unconstitutional as it amounted to an unreasonable search.

An earlier court decision essentially found that by voluntarily sharing electricity consumption data with a third party, residents surrendered their right to privacy. No privacy means it’s not a “search” to ask for the data.

But as the 7th Circuit pointed out in its ruling on appeal (hosted at the EFF), there isn’t really a third party: the city collects the data, and city authorities want to use the data. And even if there were, “a home occupant does not assume the risk of near constant monitoring by choosing to have electricity in her home.” So it is a search.

Collecting the data is not an unreasonable search, however, when it is done with no “prosecutorial intent,” the court ruled. That means that when the city is acting in its own interest as far as administrating and improving the electrical grid, it’s perfectly reasonable for them to collect this information without a warrant.

But should it be required for more than that, for instance in a criminal investigation, a warrant would certainly be required.

This distinction is important and not always observed. Systematic collection and analysis of metadata can produce remarkably detailed records of a person’s movements and habits, and it can be difficult to find and plug the holes by which that data pours out of protected containers like the Fourth Amendment.

Although it’s possible that this could be appealed up to the Supreme Court, it seems unlikely as this is not a major issue of free speech or government access. A warrant for electrical usage is rarely, one presumes, a matter of life or death, but could indeed be critical in a court battle — for which reason requiring a warrant is not an unreasonable requirement.

It seems more likely that the city of Naperville, and others in its position, will abide by this decision. That’s a win for your privacy and a foot in the door for other data collection practices like this one.

Gadgets – TechCrunch

All The Bing Ads Tracking Updates You Need To Know In One Place

August 22, 2018 No Comments

Get the latest on two important tracking updates happening in Bing Ads!

Read more at PPCHero.com
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Elkrem is a blockchain dev board for tinkerers

August 21, 2018 No Comments

Creators of the 1Sheeld, a tool designed to connect smartphones to Arduino boards, have created something even more interesting. Their latest product, the Elkrem, is a smart kit for creating blockchain IoT devices and they have raised $ 250,000 from Endure Capital and Consensys to build the project.

The founders are Amr Saleh and Islam Mustafa launched the 1Sheeld at TechCrunch Disrupt 2013 and sold tens of thousands of units in 120 countries. Now they’re building a new tool based entirely on blockchain.

“Elkrem is a Blockchain hardware development board. It allows Blockchain developers to integrate Dapps with hardware prototypes in an easy way without having deep knowledge in hardware development, and also allows electrical engineers and hardware developers to connect Blockchain to their hardware projects without having deep knowledge of how the Blockchain works,” said Saleh. “So they both can trigger actuators through smart contracts and log sensors data to smart contracts as well.”

The board is similar to an Arduino and has two processors, storage, and WiFi model. One processor runs a specialized Linux variant with interfaces to Ethereum, IPFS, Swarm, Whisper, Bitcoin, Status.im, and others. The other processor can do anything else you throw at it.

“Our edge is faster development, faster prototyping and faster go to market,” said Saleh. “The board allows you to send private, decentralized IoT messages using peer-to-peer communication”

What does all this mean? Basically it’s a little board that makes it far easier to manage your Blockchain efforts. It uses a library called Koyn to let you accept payments in Bitcoin with a single line of code and they even built a few cool projects including a Bitcoin-enabled candy machine and an electrical outlet that you can rent with Bitcoins. The team plans to go live on Kickstarter later this year.

Startups – TechCrunch