Methbot: the Method by Which Russians Are Stealing Millions of Digital Advertising Dollars From Advertisers and Publishers Every Day

Here we present the last of the articles which relate to the horrors Facebook has helped unleash on the world that my company, the Joss Group, published in the now defunct Digital Marketing Report newsletter. In this article, originally published in the January 2017 issue, we present a harrowing tale of theft on a dizzying scale.

When you read the article, I want you to think about what Putin might be doing with this money and how the same approach used to steal advertising dollars could be used to attack social media networks and followers. I promise you, too, that anything you come up with is nothing compared to what is really going on. Harrowing is the watch word…

I have pasted in below a JPEG of each of the pages from the issue with this article. Please let me know if you’d like to see a PDF of the issue. In addition, please do read the full report from WhiteOps; here is the link to the background information: The link for accessing the full report is in the background information.

Our article begins, “If this story had broken a few years ago, the company which broke open the story might have called it Ad Theft on Steroids or some such. Given the changes in popular culture, the reference made to methamphetamine in the WhiteOps special report on the latest, and most devastating to-date, of digital advertising theft operations is entirely current and apt. What WhiteOps first told the world about in late December 2016 is, indeed, theft on a dizzying scale.”

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Facebook Should be Worried About the FTC and Here is Why

Last week several news outlets, including the Washington Post, ran articles saying the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is investigating Facebook, and a few days later the FTC officially confirmed the reports. Most of the articles said the FTC is looking into how Facebook has been butchering an agreement the FTC reached with the company back in 2011 regarding Facebook’s mis-use of user data back then. If the FTC concludes Facebook ignored the agreement, it could fine the company tens of thousands of dollars for each incident.

First, though, let me make my position clear. I am not a fan of Facebook and have long consider it a digital blight on the world. I do not and never have had a presence on Facebook as I realized, years and years ago, the main function of  the company and its main source of revenue is gathering and selling information about people using the social media platform. I have been telling people about my reasoned suspicions for years, too.

Mark my words: there is nothing good about Facebook.

I support, completely, the #DeleteFacebook movement.

I am convinced more and more and more information will be coming out in the next few days, weeks, and years about how Facebook has been collecting and selling information about people and also using that information on behalf of nefarious clients to help persuade and yes, even deceive, Facebook users.

We have only glimpsed, so far, the top of the tip of the iceberg on what has been going on with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica (CA), and this is only one of Facebook’s clients of this ilk.

Back to the FTC: I believe the FTC will also come to the conclusion Facebook has been involved in deceptive advertising practices, and once it does, I hope the agency takes considerable legal action against Facebook.

In January 2016 we published an article in the Digital Marketing Report newsletter about the FTC’s warning for advertisers and publishers about deceptive online advertising. Did Facebook deliberately provide advertising disguised as content to certain Facebook users on behalf of certain nefarious operators such as CA and perhaps the NRA? I am sure the FTC wants to know the answer to this question!

Here is the lead-in to our article:

The FTC Issues Deceptive Advertising Warning and Native Advertising Guide

On December 22, 2015 the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued an enforcement policy statement explaining how the consumer protection principles the FTC has established and enforced for decades apply to different advertising formats—including native ads which look like surrounding non-advertising content. While the FTC statement did not point the finger of blame only at digital advertising, the agency did make sure comments about such advertising were mentioned early and often in the statement.

The agency made it clear in the press release announcing the statement its long-standing policies apply to digital media, “The FTC’s policy applies time-tested truth-in-advertising principles to modern media,”said Jessica Rich, Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection. “People browsing the Web, using social media, or watching videos have a right to know if they are seeing editorial content or an ad.”

The same day the FTC released the Enforcement Policy Statement, it issued a much shorter statement entitled Native Advertising: A Guide for Business. This guide, the FTC says, was written and released “to help companies understand, and comply with, the policy statement in the context of native advertising.

The business guidance gives examples of when disclosures are necessary to prevent deception and FTC staff guidance on how to make clear and prominent disclosures within the format of native ads.”

I have placed JPEGs of each page of the article below. This article is relevant and important information regarding a significant line of inquiry the FTC should undertake, if it has not already, regarding Facebook.

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What Vizio was Doing Behind the TV Screen (Hint: It is Creepy, Very Creepy)

What Facebook has been caught out doing is bad, really, really bad. And, there is much more to this horrible story to come out in the news, much, much more.

Meanwhile, here is a story we published in the February 20, 2017 issue of the Digital Marketing Report newsletter. I have uploaded it here as two JPEG images.

Here, though, is some of the text from the article (in case you cannot enlarge the page images enough to read them):

Starting in 2014, Vizio made TVs that automatically tracked what consumers were watching and transmitted that data back to its servers. Vizio even retrofitted older models by installing its tracking software remotely. All of this, the FTC and AG allege, was done without clearly telling consumers or getting their consent. 

What did Vizio know about what was going on in the privacy of consumers’ homes? On a second-by-second basis, Vizio collected a selection of pixels on the screen it matched to a database of TV, movie, and commercial content. 

What is more, Vizio identified viewing data from cable or broadband service providers, set-top boxes, streaming devices, DVD players, and over-the-air broadcasts. Add it all up and Vizio captured as many as 100 billion data points each day from millions of TVs. 

Vizio then turned that mountain of data into cash by selling consumers’ viewing histories to advertisers and others. And, let us be clear: we are not talking about summary information about national viewing trends. According to the complaint, Vizio got personal. 

The company provided consumers’ IP addresses to data aggregators, who then matched the address with an individual consumer or household. Vizio’s contracts with third parties prohibited the re-identification of consumers and households by name, but allowed a host of other personal details, for example: gender, age, income, marital status, household size, education, and home ownership. And, Vizio permitted these companies to track and target its consumers across devices. 

This is what Vizio was up to behind the screen, but what was the company telling consumers? Not much, according to the complaint. Vizio put its tracking functionality behind a setting called Smart Interactivity. But, the FTC and New Jersey AG say the generic way the company described the feature—for example, “enables program offers and suggestions”—did not give consumers the necessary heads-up to know Vizio was tracking their TV’s every flicker. Oh, and the Smart Interactivity feature did not even provide the promised “program offers and suggestions.” 

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The Trade-off Fallacy: How Marketers are Misrepresenting American Consumers and Opening Them up to Exploitation

I have decided, in light of the shocking disclosures about Facebook which have come to light during the past few days, to share some of the content from a Digital Marketing Report, a monthly newsletter for digital marketing professionals we published for two years (May 2015 through May 2017).

For various reasons I made the decision in 2017 to stop publishing the report. One of the reasons, admittedly, was disappointing subscription numbers. But, as I suspected then and now, many (not all) digital marketing professionals are not concerned with the moral and ethical aspects of what they do. Rather, they focus unwaveringly on the money they make.

I knew then, and I know now, that most people do not understand how much information various companies are collecting–and selling to anyone who comes up with the cash–about what people do and say online. While there are benign uses for such data, there are some very sinister and even evil uses. I hope, in the coming months and years, this knowledge will spread widely, and people will demand the situation change dramatically.

Enough preaching for now…here a few of the statements from the article.

Editor’s note: in June 2015, the Annenberg School for Communication, which is part of the University of Pennsylvania, published a report entitled  The Trade-off Fallacy: How Marketers are Misrepresenting American Consumers and Opening Them up to Exploitation. The basis for the report,written by three respected and well-known professors, is survey results from discussions with more than 1,500 adult consumers in the United States.

New Annenberg survey results indicate marketers are misrepresenting a large majority of Americans by claiming Americans give out information about themselves as a trade-off for benefits they receive. To the contrary, the survey reveals most Americans do not believe “data for discounts” is a square deal.

It is evident the amount of information marketers have already collected is enormous. For example, the Forrester Research consultancy estimated in 2014 database marketing firm Acxiom has about 1,500 data points for each of over 500 million active Internet users, most of them in the United States. Another 2014 Forrester report looked to not-too-distant circumstances where marketers would routinely make decisions based on “a customer’s circle of social relationships and influencers…sensor data [from in-store technologies], streaming real-time data, acquired data [from firms such as Acxiom]…anything.”

We also found widespread suspicion: 72% of Americans reject the idea “what companies know about me from my behavior online cannot hurt me.” When we combined the people who are resigned with those who believe what firms know can hurt them, we found 41% of Americans are not only resigned, they hold a dark concern the basic dynamics of the emerging marketplace will cause them injury—and that they cannot control it.

Marketing and retailing executives have typically played down any concerns about their use of shopper data. One way has been to depict an empowered public accepting the notion it is releasing data willingly as a trade-off for benefits it receives. Our survey challenges marketers’ typical cost-benefit analysis defense by showing quite clearly most Americans do not accept the fairness of getting discounts in trade for their data.

Please read and share with others this post and the full Annenberg School for Communication report, located here:

#TrumpRussia is Interfering with America’s Real Business

One of the saddest things about #TrumpRussia beyond the obvious and very real insults and injuries of having traitors, spies, liars, crooks, demons, and delusionals in the White House and senior levels of the GOP is how having to deal with this hot mess is keeping America from attending to its real business.

The real business America needs to be attending to, but cannot because Trump is a traitor and a liar and a crook is:

  • jobs
  • education, and
  • infrastructure.

It is the same story all over America, and all sane Americans understand what I am saying in a heartbeat. These are the fundamentals we cannot address as a nation because we have to clean out the nest of traitorous vipers which has infested the White House and Congress.

America knows we need more jobs in this country: jobs that pay more than a living wage, jobs that do more than keep someone standing on their feet for 10 to 12 hours a day picking crops or pushing cash register keys. When people have jobs that move our country forward, all of America wins. When people have jobs that give them the power to move up in the world, all of America wins. When people have jobs that empower them to change the world, all of American and all of the world wins.

America needs to become the world leader in 22nd century manufacturing but needs to do it in the 21st Century. This is a lofty aspiration, to be sure, but we can do it! Together we can put people to work while at the same time using the best of what automation can offer. Not only can we do this, but we must do this.

We cannot do this with a traitor in the White House who talks about jobs, lies about jobs, and talks about how much of a entrepreneur he is but everything he sells is made in China! 

Decades ago America embraced public education for all children. It is the foundation upon which our freedoms and our opportunities for the 21st, 22nd, and 23rd centuries will be built. Without education for all, regardless of financial circumstances, without education for all which invests in all of our children, regardless of race, creed, color, or financial circumstances, without education which calls for the best in our children, our country will suffer not just in the next decade but also in the next century and beyond.

We cannot move forward by moving backward. We cannot afford to have a dabbler heading up the nation’s efforts to give every child in this country the best education possible. 

And, America also knows a different kind of fundamental system, an underpinning of a different sort, is in desperate need of attention. All over this country our roads, our bridges, tunnels, water systems, and electrical grid are crumbling, decaying, and failing. Drive down any road in America, talk to any long-haul trucker in America or any bus driver, talk to anyone in Flint, Michigan.

Estimates vary, but everyone who has studied the issue in depth says we need to invest more than $40 billion in America’s infrastructure immediately. Immediately! And this figure does not even begin to cover the amount of money we need to invest in upgrading our transportation and electrical systems.

For years the Republican-led Congress has balked at spending anywhere near that kind of money. Yet, now, suddenly, the entire Republican Party has agreed spending $20 billion dollars to build a wall at America’s southern border is not only a good idea, it is a brilliant solution. No, absolutely not! Trump’s wall is a monument to racism, a brick and mortar sign of the hate in this man’s heart. And, it is a telling sign of the depths of depravity to which the Republican Party has sunk.

So, America, we must move forward and move relentlessly to remove the traitors, the spies, the liars, the crooks, the dabblers, the destroyers from our White House and Congress. That is, clearly, Job One. We will get it done. Then, we must, as a nation, move on to the real business at hand.


Betsy DeVos: If You Truly Want to Help America’s Children You Should Resign Immediately

My mother had to drop out of school when she was 14 years old. Back then, only a few decades ago, really, only the well-to-do and wealthy go to go on to high school because you had to pay to attend. My grandmother and grandfather, poor working class people living in the Deep South, could not afford the fees. My mother, one of the smartest women I have ever known, deeply mourned that lack, that loss the rest of her life.

Had I not had a public school education, I could not have become a National Merit Scholar and Valedictorian of my high school class. I could not have attracted the attention of Bryn Mawr College, and the institution would not have offered me the generous scholarships and grants which allowed me to obtain a Bachelor’s degree.

Education changes lives. Education changes families. It changes neighborhoods, cities, countries, and the world. Not one penny spent on educating a child is wasted.

America embraces public education. It is the foundation upon which our freedoms and our opportunities for the 21st, 22nd, and 23rd centuries will be built. Without education for all, regardless of financial circumstances, without education for all which invests in all of our children, regardless of race, creed, color, or financial circumstances, America knows our children will always be left behind by the best and brightest of other nations.

You, Betsy DeVos, bought the job you have. All of America knows this. You are not, in any way, shape, or form fit for the job. Again, all of America knows this. I have no idea what you thought you were buying, but the real job of heading up America’s efforts to educate its children, all its children, is not a rich woman’s part-time play toy.

You are a dabbler, if you do not know what the word means, here is a good definition:

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You are no more suited to, no more qualified for, no more capable of helping America develop a world class education plan for the nation’s children than a toddler wielding a scalpel is of removing a brain tumor.

Betsy Devos, if you really want to help America’s children, then do the right thing. Resign immediately.