How to stop doomscrolling

I doomscroll for money, but you're doing it for free! If you want to stop paying the hidden costs, this handy guide might shake out out of the not-so-ludic loop

The recent onslaught of dystopian stories related to the coronavirus pandemic, combined with stay-at-home orders, have enabled our penchant for binging on bad news. But the habit is eroding our mental health, experts say.

Karen Ho, a finance reporter for Quartz, has been tweeting about doomscrolling every day over the past few months, often alongside a gentle nudge to stop and engage in healthier alternatives.

The three main tips are "Time yourself", "Remind yourself why you wanted to look at your phone" and "Create new habits that replace doomscrolling."

I can recommend pizza for the last one there! Just huge slabs of Detroit-style pizza shoveled in like VHS tapes into the slot. Read the rest

CNBC sting: most ad networks accepted fake news site full of scraped content

CNBC's Megan Graham set up a website full of scraped news from other sites. Most ad networks she submitted it to approved it for ad placement.

I only put a few hours of work into this site, but I don’t do this for a living.

Real bad actors can get a lot farther than this with only a little more work. For instance, they can set up a site with actual original content, get approved, and only then start scraping content. Or, they can easily buy an existing website that’s already monetizing with adtech partners, and just flood it with plagiarized content. They can buy fake traffic to conduct traffic arbitrage, a fancy way of saying that they pay less for traffic than they gain from the ad impressions. They can set up more automated means to keep scraping huge amounts of automated content to keep the website looking fresh.

Google appears to be the only platform that rejected her site. Implicit in this is the fact that Google would not have given her scraper site any respectable placement in search results, and would not have let it into Google News at all.

Which gets us to an important omission from the story: she made $0. Ad networks should not have approved her in the first place, but the real check happens when a check is cut. The shadyness in all this deserves a deeper dive. Read the rest

AMC Theaters bans Universal films after it boasts Trolls: World Tour made $100m on TV

Trolls: World Tour is a new animated kids' movie from Universal Studios. Despite the theaters being closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, the film has somehow made more than $100m from streaming media views and other cash-ins such as fast food licensing deals. AMC Theaters, the market leader in the US, has banned Universal Studios from its screens in response. Universal is far from the only studio to move its blockbusters directly to TV during the pandemic, but it is the only one boasting about the results in public, hence AMC's public retaliation.

AMC CEO Adam Aron announced the ban in a letter to Universal chairman Donna Langley on Tuesday, telling her that the decision was triggered by a quote NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell gave to the Wall Street Journal about the blockbuster digital success of "Trolls World Tour." ... Shell told the newspaper that the movie "exceeded our expectations and demonstrated the viability" of on-demand video. But it was Shell's next quote that really incensed AMC, which is controlled by China's Dalian Wanda Group and owns Odeon and UCI — Europe's biggest cinema operator. "As soon as theaters reopen," Shell added, "we expect to release movies on both formats."

Sure looks like movie theaters are fucked. Read the rest

Mike Bloomberg launches zany meme campaign

Presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg's billion-dollar ad spend has already upended the 2020 race to challenge Donald Trump, but yesterday's bizarre and coordinated campaign of meme-style content, published by influencers, has certainly gotten him more attention. Taylor Lorenz:

Mick Purzycki is the lead strategist of the Meme 2020 project. He is also the chief executive of Jerry Media, a media and marketing company that is a powerful force in the influencer economy. The company’s portfolio includes some of the most notable meme accounts on Instagram. Jerry Media was at the center of controversy last year after a debate around proper crediting in meme culture.

Lorenz refers here to Fuck Jerry, the Instagram swipe account whose operators are now coordinating Bloomberg's cringey memes. The memes are screengrabs of made-up private message chats with Bloomberg, portraying him as a tech-savvy, funny billionnaire. Bloomberg is one of those things.

Here's Bloomberg spokesperson Sabrina Singh:

“Mike Bloomberg 2020 has teamed up with social creators to collaborate with the campaign, including the meme world. While a meme strategy may be new to presidential politics, we’re betting it will be an effective component to reach people where they are and compete with President Trump’s powerful digital operation.”

Dollars to donuts Bloomberg doesn't have the first clue about what's being done in his name here, and would not be able to answer questions about it meaningfully should they be asked.

I noticed at least one journo doing this on their insta. This is potentially career-limiting behavior. He's paying a lot. Read the rest

What happened to the web in 2014?

André Staltz traces the "web is dead" inflection point to 2014 and the answer is the obvious one: Facebook. The details are more complex, though, and involve Google giving up on its social media efforts, Facebook taking direct control of which websites are exposed to its users, various Facebook publishing schemes (some backed by fraudulent metrics, a la pivot to video), the switch of everything to mobile-first, and (later, in 2018) Amazon achieving a 50% market share for online retail.

There is a tendency at GOOG-FB-AMZN to bypass the Web which is motivated by user experience and efficient communication, not by an agenda to avoid browsers. In the knowledge internet and the commerce internet, being efficient to provide what users want is the goal. In the social internet, the goal is to provide an efficient channel for communication between people. This explains FB’s 10-year strategy with Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) as the next medium for social interactions through the internet. This strategy would also bypass the Web, proving how more natural social AR would be than social real-time texting in browsers. Already today, most people on the internet communicate with other people via a mobile app, not via a browser.

The Web and the internet have represented freedom: efficient and unsupervised exchange of information between people of all nations. In the Trinet, we will have even more vivid exchange of information between people, but we will sacrifice freedom. Many of us will wake up to the tragedy of this tradeoff only once it is reality.

Read the rest

Private equity company acquires .org domain registry

A double whammy for those who use .org domains: ICANN removed price restrictions on .org domain names, and then the registry in control was promptly sold to a private equity group, Ethos Capital.

While Internet Society might not have wanted to raise prices, a private equity company surely will try to maximize the value of the registry.

In a release about the deal, Internet Society noted:

"Today’s news has tremendous benefits for both the Internet Society and PIR. The transaction will help the Internet Society to secure its future through more stable, diversified and sustainable financial resources than it has at present, allowing the organization to plan for the long term and advance its vision of an Internet for everyone on an even broader scale. It will also enable PIR to continue expanding its mission and important work under new ownership — including its goal of keeping .ORG accessible and reasonably priced — while further strengthening and deepening its commitment to the .ORG Community."

We’ll have to see what “reasonably priced” means. Certainly, the goals of Ethos Capital are very different from Internet Society.

Say what you want about the tenets of private equity, at least it's an ethos.

Here's Google's guide on moving domains without losing search profile. Read the rest

Blogging is hard, learns Gawker's new bosses

After being bankrupted by Peter Thiel and sold off to Univision, merged with The Onion, then finally handed off to a private equity group, the G/O Media (formerly Gawker) stable of blogs might yet have thrived due to their undiminished traffic and capable reporters. This was not to be, as the new management were soon proved ignorant of the company's culture in particular and of contemporary journalism in general. Things came to a head after Deadspin, famed as much for its trenchant culture writing as its game coverage, was told to "stick to sports", an edict that led to the firing of its editor and the mass resignation of its entire staff. In the empty office, the new management tried its hand at blogging only to find that this is harder than it looks.

Anna Merlan describes a cringe-inducing, quickly-abandoned effort to write the Gawker way:

The sentence structure was uniformly strained. The ledes were clunky. Many of the paragraphs were simply lists of scores, football plays, or marathon finishing times. (The Kenyan runners who won the New York City marathon were unnamed in a headline and described as "cantering," which is something horses do, not people, a phrasing I argued on Twitter was, uh, problematic.) Attempts at cusses were embarrassing: a few things "sucked" or were "dumbass." The headlines were dizzying verb-thickets that had to be read multiple times to be vaguely comprehensible. After a few days of these horrific word-manglers appearing on the site, whether they were his malformed children or not, Editorial Director [Paul] Maidment resigned, citing an "entrepreneurial opportunity" he simply had to pursue.

Read the rest

Facebook rebrands as FACEBOOK

Facebook would like to be addressed henceforth as FACEBOOK. NBC News:

Facebook introduced a new brand Monday: FACEBOOK. The company announced in a blog post that the new brand, which retains the name of the social network, would have a new logo to better indicate all the various products and services it now offers, including Instagram and WhatsApp.

If you'll recall, this is what Milo Yiannopoulos did as an immediate prelude to everything going horribly wrong for him. Read the rest

Twitter admits two-factor login phone numbers were used for advertising

Twitter reports that email address and phone numbers added for security reasons such as two-factor authorization "may have inadvertently been used for advertising purposes."

When an advertiser uploaded their marketing list, we may have matched people on Twitter to their list based on the email or phone number the Twitter account holder provided for safety and security purposes. This was an error and we apologize.

We cannot say with certainty how many people were impacted by this, but in an effort to be transparent, we wanted to make everyone aware. No personal data was ever shared externally with our partners or any other third parties.

User data that Twitter cannot sell ended up in an advertising product that lets Twitter monetize such data without revealing it directly to third parties. Inadvertantly. Read the rest

Feds sue Match.com after users complain of swindles and spam

Millions of fraudulent accounts, bogus emails from nonexistent suitors, fake notifications... it's not Ashley Madison, it's Match.com, sued yesterday by the Federal Trade Commission over accusations of swindling its users.

The FTC also accused Match of failing to properly disclose the hoops dateless users need to jump through to qualify for a free six-month subscription. Match also didn't provide a simple way to cancel, officials said, and those that disputed charges through their banks found themselves banned.

The New York Times got a statement from Match, which claims the allegations are all lies.

Match Group said in a statement, “The FTC has misrepresented internal emails and relied on cherry-picked data to make outrageous claims and we intend to vigorously defend ourselves against these claims in court.”

The company said that the F.T.C. was overstating the impact of fraudulent accounts and that Match did not have data that supported the agency’s claims. It also said that the majority of scams the trade commission had cited were spam, bots or other users on the site.

The whole model of "free accounts that do nothing but get you put on a list for endless scammy upselling with fake messages from fake people" was always going to end up in this barrel. Do LinkedIn next!

The deeper problem with most of these sites is they're covertly optimized for engagement rather than whatever they're supposed to be optimized for (finding partners, finding jobs, etc). Read the rest

Comscore and its former CEO charged with fraud

Comscore is a lynchpin of online "metrics", the practice of measuring web traffic and assigning human interest and engagement to it. The SEC announced today it charged the company and its former CEO with fraud.

from February 2014 through February 2016, Comscore, at the direction of its former CEO Serge Matta, entered into non-monetary transactions for the purpose of improperly increasing its reported revenue. Through these transactions, Comscore and a counterparty would negotiate and agree to exchange sets of data without any cash consideration. Comscore recognized revenue on these transactions based on the fair value of the data it delivered, which had been improperly increased in order to inflate revenue. The SEC's orders also find that Comscore and Matta made false and misleading public disclosures regarding the company’s customer base and flagship product and that Matta lied to Comscore's internal accountants and external audit firm. This scheme enabled Comscore to artificially exceed its analysts' consensus revenue target in seven consecutive quarters and create the illusion of smooth and steady growth in Comscore's business

None of the charges were about the eyeballs it reports to advertisers and publishers. It is left to our imagination whether Comscore's lies concern only such numbers as the SEC is interested in. Read the rest

Internet fraudster stole 750,000 IP addresses, say prosecutors

A Charleston man was charged with fraud this week [justice.gov] after investigators unraveled an elaborate scheme to take control of IP addresses. More than 750,000 were snagged, reports the BBC, then sold on.

The US Department of Justice claims that Mr Golestan "fraudulently" won control of the net addresses by using many different shell companies. It alleges that he created websites for fake companies and invented the names of the people who purportedly ran them as part of his scheme. Mr [Amir] Golestan was charged with 20 counts of wire fraud in a US court this week. He has yet to respond to a BBC request for comment. The net addresses were handed over to Mr Golestan by the American Registry of Internet Numbers (Arin) - one of several regional administrators that dole out the few remaining addresses. It is claimed they were then resold allowing him to cash in.

Golestan appears to have attracted attention because he sued ARIN (!) after it failed to transfer control of one block of addresses. Thereafter someone with a three digit IQ finally looks at the paperwork and the FBI gets called in. Read the rest

Uber stock falters on first day

Uber's future prospects depend on doubling fares and halving drivers' pay, or replacing them all with self-driving cars that won't exist for years. What could go wrong?

Experts are hitting the brakes on Uber's trading debut. The ride-hailing company's highly anticipated initial public offering failed to impress investors on Friday, with the stock pricing at the low end of its previously stated range and shedding more than 7% near the end of the session. Market watchers were largely bearish on the IPO, citing Uber's past issues with its culture and corporate governance.

Read the rest

The attention economy "bifurcating" is just the long tail in dystopia

In this interesting post from 2015—getting a viral second wind—Alex Danco offers a model to understand how the "middle ground" of interest in things is fading. That's the normal distribution, the traditional bell curve that suggests the best place to make your business is at a middle optimum of scale and interest, like so:

Instead, these days, you're either interested or not. To make a go of something, you have to nail either scale or interest (i.e. cheap vs quality):

It strikes me that what Danco's defined here is a flip (on the horizontal axis) of the classic early-2000s theory about how the web would allow creators to make money like never before, the long tail.

The idea was that the internet dissolved gatekeepers, democratized the marketplace, and allowed consumer internet to roam over (and buy) a "long tail" of options that was revealed to them by new technology.

And it did, for some. Mostly, though, the long tail ended up as aggregated social media content. The bonds of content, creator and consumer, far from being remade by the internet, were also dissolved by them. Instead of a long tail, we have a green goo of nanocontent which wants to become as vast as possible, with a couple of big corporations making all the money.

I don't have a clever point to make, I just think it's interesting that social media not only submerged the long tail but made us forget it ever existed—and now it's going to be rediscovered from other viewpoints over and over again, each time in increasingly imprecise and alarmed terms. Read the rest

Verizon "trying to sell Tumblr"

Yahoo bought Tumblr in 2013 for $1.1bn, then Verizon acquired Yahoo. Now Verizon, after purging Tumblr of adult material and watching its traffic plunge as a result, is trying to sell whatever's left.

The process is still on-going, and it's unclear whether it will result in a sale or what price Verizon is hoping to get for the web site, according to the report which cites anonymous sources.

Read the rest

Visualization of global "brand rankings" changing over the last 15 years

Where once was Coca-Cola, now there is Apple. Where once was Nokia, now... no idea. Read the rest

Top Google Play game accused of ad fraud

A popular mobile game available on the Play store is an "ad fraud platform", say researchers at a media intelligence company. Word Link was approved by Google and had since been downloaded 50m times, becoming a “major source of fraudulent traffic”.

Tess Bennett and Andrew Birmingham:

“The Google Play Store, although dealing with far greater volumes of app submissions and users than the Apple App Store, is clearly not doing enough to combat this with adequately strict approval and diligent review processes,” the report states.

“Our hope is that this detailed review of Word Link and Worzzle will result in the removal and re-assessment of these apps by Google, and spur a wider review of Google’s policies that dictate what apps are allowed onto their store for their users’ consumption.”

Google appears to be getting fed here at both ends. A strong incentive not to deal with the problem. Read the rest

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