Archives October 13, 2019

Children ‘Interested in’ Gambling and Alcohol, According To Facebook

The social network’s advertising tools reveal 740,000 children under the age of 18 are flagged as being interested in gambling, including 130,000 in the UK. Some 940,000 minors — 150,000 of whom are British — are flagged as being interested in alcoholic beverages. These “interests” are automatically generated by Facebook, based on what it has learned about a user by monitoring their activity on the social network. Advertisers can then use them to specifically target messages to subgroups who have been flagged as interested in the topic. In a statement, Facebook said: “We don’t allow ads that promote the sale of alcohol or gambling to minors on Facebook and we enforce against this activity when we find it. We also work closely with regulators to provide guidance for marketers to help them reach their audiences effectively and responsibly.” The company does allow advertisers to specifically target messages to children based on their interest in alcohol or gambling. A Facebook insider gave the example of an anti-gambling service that may want to reach out to children who potentially have a gambling problem and offer them help and support.

Smart TVs Are Data-Collecting Machines, New Study Shows

A new study from Princeton University shows internet-connected TVs, which allow people to stream Netflix and Hulu, are loaded with data-hungry trackers. “If you use a device such as Roku and Amazon Fire TV, there are numerous companies that can build up a fairly comprehensive picture of what you’re watching,” Arvind Narayanan, associate professor of computer science at Princeton, wrote in an email to The Verge. “There’s very little oversight or awareness of their practices, including where that data is being sold.” From the report:
To understand how much surveillance is taking place on smart TVs, Narayanan and his co-author Hooman Mohajeri Moghaddam built a bot that automatically installed thousands of channels on their Roku and Amazon Fire TVs. It then mimicked human behavior by browsing and watching videos. As soon as it ran into an ad, it would track what data was being collected behind the scenes. Some of the information, like device type, city, and state, is hardly unique to one user. But other data, like the device serial number, Wi-Fi network, and advertising ID, could be used to pinpoint an individual. “This gives them a more complete picture of who you are,” said Moghaddam. He noted that some channels even sent unencrypted email addresses and video titles to the trackers.

In total, the study found trackers on 69 percent of Roku channels and 89 percent of Amazon Fire channels. “Some of these are well known, such as Google, while many others are relatively obscure companies that most of us have never heard of,” Narayanan said. Google’s ad service DoubleClick was found on 97 percent of Roku channels. “Like other publishers, smart TV app developers can use Google’s ad services to show ads against their content, and we’ve helped design industry guidelines for this that enable a privacy-safe experience for users,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement emailed to The Verge. “Depending on the user’s preferences, the developer may share data with Google that’s similar to data used for ads in mobile apps or on the web.”
“Better privacy controls would certainly help, but they are ultimately band-aids,” Narayanan said. “The business model of targeted advertising on TVs is incompatible with privacy, and we need to confront that reality. To maximize revenue, platforms based on ad targeting will likely turn to data mining and algorithmic personalization/persuasion to keep people glued to the screen as long as possible.”

Another study from Northeastern University and the Imperial College of London found that other smart-home devices are also collecting reams of data that is being sent to third parties like advertisers and major tech companies.

Her iPhone Died. It Led To Her Being Charged As a Criminal

Chris Matyszczyk from ZDNet retells the draconian story of a Financial Times writer who wasn’t able to prove she purchased a ticket for the London buses because her phone died (she used Apple Pay), which led to her being charged a criminal. An anonymous reader shares an excerpt from the report:

Today’s witness is Jemima Kelly. She’s a writer for The Financial Times. Please don’t let any personal thoughts about that get in the way of her story. You see, she just experienced a little technological nightmare. A cheery digital convert, she admits she often leaves the house without her wallet. But surely not without her iPhone. Apple Pay is, after all, a contemporary joy. It’s right up there with Tinder in its ability to make your life easier.

Kelly, indeed, hops on London buses and uses Apple Pay to tap her payment instead of buying a ticket the old-fashioned way. Which, as she cheerily described, is easy unless a ticket inspector wanders by. Just after your iPhone’s battery has died. She couldn’t prove that she’d paid, but gave her personal details and assumed there’d be a record of her probity on the transportation company’s computers. But then she was charged with, well, not providing proof of payment. Charged as in would be forced to go to court and to plead guilty or not guilty within 21 days. Here’s where things got (more) awkward. Kelly produced a bank statement that proved she’d paid. The transportation company — Transport For London — insisted this wasn’t enough.

It seems she’d failed another digital task — registering her Apple Pay with Transport For London. She was edging ever closer to criminal status. But did her Apple Pay details need to be registered? Kelly revealed: “They told me, ‘there is no requirement for cards to be registered, the same as paying for any goods and services in a shop’. But it’s not the same, actually; in a shop, you are given a breakdown in the form of a receipt.” So, here she was, contactless and receiptless. Next, she heard that her court case had happened and she’d been found guilty. Oh, and she also owed a fine of around $592.
In the end, Kelly managed to get back to court and persuade the judge to void her conviction, but the process took months.

“Her story, however, aptly describes how the digital world demands our complete and unyielding participation,” writes Matyszczyk. “Digital systems are designed by those who strive for complete perfection and consistency. Which doesn’t describe the human condition at all.” Do you think digitizing everything is a good thing?