Russia's information warfare project is a masterclass in digital marketing

Russia's information warfare project is a masterclass in digital marketing

In the US, the investigative work of Robert Mueller has so far scalped 19 people and three companies. Although none have said that they have worked with Russian people, organisations or indeed the Russian Government directly, the latest findings - a charge against a Russian organisation - makes for some extraordinary reading.

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How I cracked Facebook’s new algorithm and tortured my friends

Last Saturday — 12 days ago now — I shared a cringeworthy video on Facebook: a six-minute clip of a twentysomething white woman showing off her small, blandly decorated Brooklyn apartment. Sort of the pumpkin spice latte version of MTV Cribs — innocuous, but annoying. Ever since, this video has been waging a reign of terror over my friends and family, showing up at the top of their feeds every single day, over and over and over. They are complaining to me on Facebook. They are complaining to me in real life. They are tweeting me about it and emailing me. Begging me to remove this cursed video that greets them each time they open Facebook.

And of course, they commented on my post. And then people commented on the comments. The more people commented, the more the video showed up on other people's feeds. As the rage around this post intensified, so did the comments. Coworkers I sit next to commented. College friends commented. Someone I went to preschool with commented. A vicious, algorithmically delicious cycle.

After a few days, the comments shifted from “I hate this woman’s apartment” to “why is this video constantly at the top of Facebook?” or “please, I beg you, delete this video,” and eventually, my boss commenting “please write about this.”

Read more (BuzzFeed)

Web Curios 23/02/18

Even by the standards of a pretty fcuking febrile 2018, this one's been a doozy. Things I have seen or heard about this week, and this is just a small selection - teachers should have guns, we're letting Assad getting away with (lots of murder), Jezzus is a spy, Jezzus isn't a spy, Darpa want to weaponise sea creatures, you can now buy a dildo which will order you a pizza, sex robots.

Jesus, the sex robots. I have to have a phonecall about them now, as it happens, so I'll leave you here with this week's hand-selected cornucopia of links, spilling ripely into your lap, pregnant with promise. Or at least you presume it's promise; then again, that swelling could be gases released by decay. Only one way to tell - BITE IN! Enjoy your latest tasty mouthful of Curios - IT'S LOVELY TO SEE YOU AGAIN!

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Rhesus macaques form preferences for brand logos through sex and social status based advertising

Like humans, monkeys value information about sex and status, inviting the hypothesis that our susceptibility to these factors in advertising arises from shared, ancestral biological mechanisms that prioritize social information. To test this idea, we asked whether rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) show choice behavior that is similar to humans in response to sex and social status in advertising. Our results show that monkeys form preferences for brand logos repeatedly paired with images of macaque genitals and high status monkeys. Moreover, monkeys sustain preferences for these brand logos even though choosing them provided no tangible rewards, a finding that cannot be explained by a decision mechanism operating solely on material outcomes. Together, our results endorse the hypothesis that the power of sex and status in advertising emerges from the spontaneous engagement of shared, ancestral neural circuits that prioritize information useful for navigating the social environment. Finally, our results show that simple associative conditioning is sufficient to explain the formation of preferences for brand logos paired with sexual or status-based images.

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Web Curios 16/02/18

Web Curios 16/02/18

OH GOD IT'S LATE AGAIN. I started doing this at 6am and now it's 1243 and I'm unshaven and filthy and CHRIST ALIVE I HAVE STUFF I AM MEANT TO BE DOING. Anyone would think that writing this rubbish is less of a hobby and more of a sort of overwhelming, life-consuming pointless timesink. 

So with no further ado, let's get ON with it - this week has once again been a rolling cavalcade of horrors, but here's hoping that you at least got a plastic rose out of it. Now lie back, close your eyes and await the familiar sensation of being coated in a thin film of webspaff that it'll take you all weekend to wash off - THIS IS WEB CURIOS!

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Unilever pulls investment from toxic online platforms

Unilever pulls investment from toxic online platforms

Unilever, the multinational FMCG conglomerate behind fashionable brands including Omo, Lifebuoy, Badedas and Brut (is this right? - Ed) has announced that it will stop using and investing in digital platforms that run counter to an inclusive society.

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Why hiring the best people produces the least creative results

Why hiring the best people produces the least creative results

While in graduate school in mathematics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I took a logic course from David Griffeath. The class was fun. Griffeath brought a playfulness and openness to problems. Much to my delight, about a decade later, I ran into him at a conference on traffic models. During a presentation on computational models of traffic jams, his hand went up. I wondered what Griffeath – a mathematical logician – would have to say about traffic jams. He did not disappoint. Without even a hint of excitement in his voice, he said: "If you are modelling a traffic jam, you should just keep track of the non-cars.’"

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Diesel creates a real fake store

Diesel creates a real fake store

Italian fashion brand Diesel has gone one better after its Go with the flaw campaign of last year. As part of its new campaign, Go with the fake, it has created a store selling supposedly counterfeit goods in New York, which turned out to be selling the real thing.

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Welcome to the post-text future

Welcome to the post-text future

I’ll make this short: The thing you’re doing now, reading prose on a screen, is going out of fashion.

We’re taking stock of the internet right now, with writers who cover the digital world cataloging some of the most consequential currents shaping it. If you probe those currents and look ahead to the coming year online, one truth becomes clear. The defining narrative of our online moment concerns the decline of text, and the exploding reach and power of audio and video.

THIS MULTIMEDIA INTERNET has been gaining on the text-based internet for years. But last year, the story accelerated sharply, and now audio and video are unstoppable. The most influential communicators online once worked on web pages and blogs. They’re now making podcasts, Netflix shows, propaganda memes, Instagram and YouTube channels, and apps like HQ Trivia.

Consider the most compelling digital innovations now emerging: the talking assistants that were the hit of the holidays, Apple’s face-reading phone, artificial intelligence to search photos or translate spoken language, and augmented reality — which inserts any digital image into a live view of your surroundings.

These advances are all about cameras, microphones, your voice, your ears and your eyes.

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Web Curios 09/02/18

HI EVERYONE! I have a confession to make - this week’s Curios, due to my having really screwed up my timings this week, was in part written in advance, hence you may miss the slightly breathless, race-against-time-oh-god-my-fingers-are-bleeding intensity of the usual offerings. Or, more likely, you may not. We will see.

Anyhow, I have places to go and people to see and thus NO TIME to ruminate on the CAR IN SPACE or the rest of the world’s madness and insanity. Instead I ask that you wish me luck and that you enjoy this week’s Curios which I lay before you now much like a cat might lay the freshly-gutted viscera of a small animal at your feet in hopeful supplication; hold your nose, hide your distaste and try at least to pretend to be grateful. This, as ever, is WEB CURIOS!

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Invasive nonhuman actors: In conversation with Saša Spačal and Heather Barnett

Invasive nonhuman actors: In conversation with Saša Spačal and Heather Barnett

Late last year, the new Art Laboratory space in Berlin ran a conference and exhibition entitled Nonhuman Agents.  Focussed on contemporary philosophical approaches to anthropomorphism, topics included object-oriented ontology, human-nonhuman encounters, and the wider philosophical space of nonhuman agency.

We invited Heather Barnett, an artist and researcher at Central St. Martins, and Ljubjuana-based artist Saša Spačal to talk about these concepts and how they mix into the work that they exhibited during the event.

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Umair Haque: How advertising blew its biggest chance since the Mad Men

Umair Haque: How advertising blew its biggest chance since the Mad Men

Media’s in cataclysmic shape these days — publishers closing big and small, newspapers going out of business, consolidation and layoffs everywhere — and it’s easy to blame technology.

There was a war that happened here — and media lost. Who won? Well, the truth is that no one did. The monopolies that Google and Facebook made money, sure — but now they face a steep backlash, social ridicule, oversight, and regulation. A pyrrhic victory, if you ask me.

Who started this war for attention? What was at the heart of it? Who should have ended it? The truth is that the lion’s share of responsibility for a fatally broken media industry lies with advertising, not technology. Let us think about it one step at a time.

Ad agencies had two roads before them, as the digital revolution dawned. One, go on selling the same old ads — nuisances, basically, that people had to put up with, in order to get to what they really valued — only in greater volume, because they would be cheaper. Two, innovate — and turn ads into things that people genuinely benefit from a little bit. Road one was an algorithmic, dehumanized road. Road two was the human, creative one.

Which road did the ad industry choose? The easy one, of course — the first one. It turned billboards into banners and glossy magazine ads into “microsites” and so on — at least at first. But nobody clicked. They tried more variations on the theme. Nothing worked. Ads just kept deflating in value — right down from thousands into pennies.

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James Stanford: Shimmering Zen

James Stanford: Shimmering Zen

Las Vegas-based artist James Stanford has a myriad of interests including religion (and artistic impressions of religion), spirituality, and metaphysical concepts including illusionistic fictive space. With work including photomontages and roles including Arts Commissioner for the city, he has recently come to London to show his most recent work. The series, Shimmering Zen, offers kaleidoscopic, almost hallucinotory, visions of real life, digitally adapted and modified. James reflects on his life, his home city, and his life in his home city, below.

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Web Curios 02/02/18

Crikey. For reasons you really don't want to know about but which can accurately be explained by the first picture in this week's Curios I am slightly up against it this week, timings and deadlines wise. 

So that means NO TIME to say a super-special HELLO to all the people who might have come here on Warren Ellis' very kind recommendation (I promise to buy everything you have ever written and will ever write in triplicate, Warren), no time to talk about Auntie May in China or the State of the Union or the honestly chilling sight last night of the Telegraph's Tim Stanley saying - honestly, he really did - that what this country really needs is Jacob Rees-Mogg as Prime Minister and a return to Thatcherism. NO TIME! Which is a shame. 

Still, there's just enough for me to say an extra WELCOME to all the people reading this on Matt Hancock, and to tell you to strap in tight - no, tighter, TIGHTER, by the time we get to the bottom you will practically RELISH the reduced bloodflow to your extremities. This, as ever, is ALL OF THE INTERNET (or the bits that I saw this week) in the form of Web Curios.

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Rachel Coldicutt: Women, Plandids, Power

Rachel Coldicutt: Women, Plandids, Power

I’m going to talk about clothes and body image and identity, and the way that Instagram and other kinds of new technology are changing and challenging how women are seen, and how we see ourselves. And about the importance of whose gaze we’re looking through: men’s, women’s, or robots.

What I’m going to call “the fashion internet” is interesting to me because it’s mostly out of sight of mainstream technology commentary.

From a technical perspective it’s understood that there is, at the moment, a single Internet — an open network of networks in which everything is connected. But not everyone has the same experience of those networks — there is not a single experience that defines the digital world.

It’s fashionable to call this a filter bubble, but it’s no more or less a bubble than the rest of our lives: the networks we inhabit are constructed by our interests, our backgrounds, the people we know. This isn’t simply a consequence of algorithms or personalisation, it’s also because no one can see everything — there’s no digital omniscience.

Read more (Hacker Noon)

Why many click farm jobs should be understood as digital slavery

Why many click farm jobs should be understood as digital slavery

The digital economy has created new opportunities and ways of working. But it has also created millions of tasks or jobs that involve intense competition, unregulated working conditions and extremely low rates of pay.

Driven by the rapid rise of cloud and algorithmic computing, the “platform economy” is dominated by operators such as Uber, Facebook and Google and Amazon Web services. Airbnb and Uber, for example, use the latest cloud tools like Amazon Web services to drive their dominance and cull competition in a wide range of sectors.

While workers in the “app-driven economy” do often make a decent wage, with some measure of legal protection, many others who do “crowdwork” or “micro-tasking” on platforms can find themselves being paid below the minimum wage and without the basic, ethical protections provided by mainstream employers. A growing body of research shows that large numbers of skilled and semi-skilled virtual workers routinely offer their services on such platforms for extremely low pay, with no recourse to the rights and protections accorded to “mainstream” workers and with little hope for alternative ways of making ends meet.

There is also evidence that a majority of these workers are young, relatively skilled and unable, for many reasons, to find decent work that pays a living wage. Sometimes called the “cybertariat”, these workers are unseen, unheard and paid very small amounts of money to do things like write a book or edit a document or manufacture “likes” on a web page.

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Google’s Arts and Culture app and the damaging bias of technology

Google’s Arts and Culture app and the damaging bias of technology

Just a few months ago, Ava Berkofsky explained something that shouldn't have been revelatory, but was: how to properly film black skin. Ms. Berkofsky is the director of photography on the HBO show Insecure and she used a number of lighting and makeup techniques specifically to make sure the black cast looked their best.

The fact that she needed to delve into the topic at all is a result of how film developed. Since the 1940s, Kodak used a system called Shirley Cards that featured white models to adjust the colour accuracy of its film. Consequently, film was always slanted to help white actors look good, while dark-skinned performers were poorly lit.

In one sense, the nature of colour and light on film stemmed from obscure technical decisions. But as a result, dark-skinned people watching film and television have for decades never seen themselves depicted with the same care and range as their fair-skinned counterparts. It is just one more way in which minorities are denied seeing themselves with the fullness and richness of their lives intact.

We often think of technology as a tool or a means to an end. But it is better understood as something that helps us mediate a relationship to the broader world. And if anything, the digital era has exacerbated how tech shapes the way in which we see the world and ourselves. Another recent example: Google's once-obscure Arts and Culture app suddenly went viral after users discovered its ability to match the likeness of selfies they took with famous works of art. It was fun and spread quickly, as everyone posted their matches with various paintings, marvelling at how much they did or did not look like the figures in the paintings chosen by the app.

Read more (The Globe and Mail)

European Union Ethics Advisory Group report 2018: Towards a digital ethics

European Union Ethics Advisory Group report 2018: Towards a digital ethics

The EDPS Ethics Advisory Group (EAG) has carried out its work against the backdrop of two significant social-political moments: a growing interest in ethical issues, both in the public and in the private spheres and the imminent entry into force of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in May 2018.

For some, this may nourish a perception that the work of the EAG represents a challenge to data protection professionals, particularly to lawyers in the field, as well as to companies struggling to adapt their processes and routines to the requirements of the GDPR. What is the purpose of a report on digital ethics, if the GDPR already provides all regulatory requirements to protect European citizens with regard to the processing of their personal data? Does the existence of this EAG mean that a new normative ethics of data protection will be expected to fill regulatory gaps in data protection law with more flexible, and thus less easily enforceable ethical rules? Does the work of the EAG signal a weakening of the foundation of legal doctrine, such as the rule of law, the theory of justice, or the fundamental values supporting human rights, and a strengthening of a more cultural approach to data protection?

Not at all. The reflections of the EAG contained in this report are not intended as the continuation of policy by other means. It neither supersedes nor supplements the law or the work of legal practitioners. Its aims and means are different. On the one hand, the report seeks to map and analyse current and future paradigm shifts which are characterised by a general shift from analogue experience of human life to a digital one. On the other hand, and in light of this shift, it seeks to re-evaluate our understanding of the fundamental values most crucial to the well-being of people, those taken for granted in a data-driven society and those most at risk.

The objective of this report is thus not to generate definitive answers, nor to articulate new norms for present and future digital societies but to identify and describe the most crucial questions for the urgent conversation to come. This requires a conversation between legislators and data protection experts, but also society at large - because the issues identified in this report concern us all, not only as citizens but also as individuals. They concern us in our daily lives, whether at home or at work and there isn’t a place we could travel to where they would cease to concern us as members of the human species.

Read more (Ethics Advisory Group, PDF)

The looming digital meltdown

The looming digital meltdown

For computer security professionals, 2018 started with a bang. A new class of security vulnerability — a variety of flaws that affect almost all major microprocessor chips, and that could enable hackers to steal information from personal computers as well as cloud computing services — was announced on Wednesday. The news prompted a rush of fixes, ruining the holiday vacations of system administrators worldwide.

For an ordinary computer user, there is not much to panic about right now. Just keep your software updated so you receive the fixes. And consider installing an ad-blocker like uBlock Origin to protect against ads that carry malware that could exploit these vulnerabilities. That is about all you can do.

However, as a citizen of a world in which digital technology is increasingly integrated into all objects — not just phones but also cars, baby monitors and so on — it is past time to panic.

We have built the digital world too rapidly. It was constructed layer upon layer, and many of the early layers were never meant to guard so many valuable things: our personal correspondence, our finances, the very infrastructure of our lives. Design shortcuts and other techniques for optimization — in particular, sacrificing security for speed or memory space — may have made sense when computers played a relatively small role in our lives. But those early layers are now emerging as enormous liabilities. The vulnerabilities announced last week have been around for decades, perhaps lurking unnoticed by anyone or perhaps long exploited.

Read more (NYT)

Web Curios 26/01/18

Web Curios 26/01/18

Whilst ordinarily following a week like that we've just seen I'd be fully entitled to go FULL DYSTOPIAN HOWL, you're spared that specific horror this week - so you'll have to imagine all my white-hot takes on the Presidents Club and the rest, as I am running LATE. 

That said, for the few new people who might have come to Curios in the past few weeks or months, I thought it might be useful to do a quick recap of, well, what this is. So:

  • What is this?: It's Web Curios, the longest and least-selectively edited weekly linkdump on the web! Delivered every week (well, ish) to your inboxes and to Imperica around about 1230 on a Friday, give or take a few minutes. 
  • Who are you?: I'm Matt, nice to meet you.
  • Why is this so LONG?: Two main reasons; there is a LOT of webspaff produced every week, and I have appalling quality control
  • Who do you do this for?: Charming. Myself, mainly - I tend to find that if I don't do this almost weekly I get what feels basically like a fatberg of information building up between my ears (insert your own 'that's your BRAIN ahaha' gag here, but know that I judge you for so doing). 
  • What's in Curios?: Depends on the weekly link harvest, but the top section is always about social media platform news and stuff about advermarketingpr; the second and third are MISCELLANEOUS LINKS, the fourth is Tumblrs, the sixth is the best of the longreads I've consumed that week, and the final one is new videos music or otherwise. 
  • Why the desperately unfunny section headings?: I am a sucker for a running gag, even if the only person who recognises it as such is me
  • How do you DO this every week?: I have a very, very limited 'social' 'life'.
  • Can I nick all this great insight and pass it off as my own each week, thereby making myself look better to my agency colleagues and piggybacking shamelessly on your effort and curiosity?: I am your humble servant. 
  • Must you do the shouty caps thing?: YES.

GREAT! Well, now we're all caught up, and as we wait for Donald In Davos - and, on that note, the spectacle of a billionaire idiot, in his role as 'most immediately powerful man in the world', delivering a barely coherent address about why he is great to a roomful of other billionaires, some idiots, some possibly geniuses, who will then all get together and decide, based on their collective wills and whims, how the world is going to work for the rest of us, is enough to make even me, a reasonably rational person, start to get a bit BILDERBERG BILDERBERG LIZARDS ILLUMINATIE EYES AND PYRAMIDS OH MY DAYS about everything - let's CRACK ON WITH THE LINKS! It's another 8,000 word hit of web, RIGHT IN THE MAIN VEIN. This, as ever, is Web Curios!

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