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The False Teeth of Chrome's Ad Filter.

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Today Google launched a new version of its Chrome browser with what they call an "ad filter"—which means that it sometimes blocks ads but is not an "ad blocker." EFF welcomes the elimination of the worst ad formats. But Google's approach here is a band-aid response to the crisis of trust in advertising that leaves massive user privacy issues unaddressed. 

Last year, a new industry organization, the Coalition for Better Ads, published user research investigating ad formats responsible for "bad ad experiences." The Coalition examined 55 ad formats, of which 12 were deemed unacceptable. These included various full page takeovers (prestitial, postitial, rollover), autoplay videos with sound, pop-ups of all types, and ad density of more than 35% on mobile. Google is supposed to check sites for the forbidden formats and give offenders 30 days to reform or have all their ads blocked in Chrome. Censured sites can purge the offending ads and request reexamination. 

The Coalition for Better Ads Lacks a Consumer Voice

The Coalition involves giants such as Google, Facebook, and Microsoft, ad trade organizations, and adtech companies and large advertisers. Criteo, a retargeter with a history of contested user privacy practice is also involved, as is content marketer Taboola. Consumer and digital rights groups are not represented in the Coalition.

This industry membership explains the limited horizon of the group, which ignores the non-format factors that annoy and drive users to install content blockers. While people are alienated by aggressive ad formats, the problem has other dimensions. Whether it’s the use of ads as a vector for malware, the consumption of mobile data plans by bloated ads, or the monitoring of user behavior through tracking technologies, users have a lot of reasons to take action and defend themselves.

But these elements are ignored. Privacy, in particular, figured neither in the tests commissioned by the Coalition, nor in their three published reports that form the basis for the new standards. This is no surprise given that participating companies include the four biggest tracking companies: Google, Facebook, Twitter, and AppNexus

Stopping the "Biggest Boycott in History"

Some commentators have interpreted ad blocking as the "biggest boycott in history" against the abusive and intrusive nature of online advertising. Now the Coalition aims to slow the adoption of blockers by enacting minimal reforms. Pagefair, an adtech company that monitors adblocker use, estimates 600 million active users of blockers. Some see no ads at all, but most users of the two largest blockers, AdBlock and Adblock Plus, see ads "whitelisted" under the Acceptable Ads program. These companies leverage their position as gatekeepers to the user's eyeballs, obliging Google to buy back access to the "blocked" part of their user base through payments under Acceptable Ads. This is expensive (a German newspaper claims a figure as high as 25 million euros) and is viewed with disapproval by many advertisers and publishers. 

Industry actors now understand that adblocking’s momentum is rooted in the industry’s own failures, and the Coalition is a belated response to this. While nominally an exercise in self-regulation, the enforcement of the standards through Chrome is a powerful stick. By eliminating the most obnoxious ads, they hope to slow the growth of independent blockers.

What Difference Will It Make?

Coverage of Chrome's new feature has focused on the impact on publishers, and on doubts about the Internet’s biggest advertising company enforcing ad standards through its dominant browser. Google has sought to mollify publishers by stating that only 1% of sites tested have been found non-compliant, and has heralded the changed behavior of major publishers like the LA Times and Forbes as evidence of success. But if so few sites fall below the Coalition's bar, it seems unlikely to be enough to dissuade users from installing a blocker. Eyeo, the company behind Adblock Plus, has a lot to lose should this strategy be successful. Eyeo argues that Chrome will only "filter" 17% of the 55 ad formats tested, whereas 94% are blocked by AdblockPlus.

User Protection or Monopoly Power?

The marginalization of egregious ad formats is positive, but should we be worried by this display of power by Google? In the past, browser companies such as Opera and Mozilla took the lead in combating nuisances such as pop-ups, which was widely applauded. Those browsers were not active in advertising themselves. The situation is different with Google, the dominant player in the ad and browser markets.

Google exploiting its browser dominance to shape the conditions of the advertising market raises some concerns. It is notable that the ads Google places on videos in Youtube ("instream pre-roll") were not user-tested and are exempted from the prohibition on "auto-play ads with sound." This risk of a conflict of interest distinguishes the Coalition for Better Ads from, for example, Chrome's monitoring of sites associated with malware and related user protection notifications.

There is also the risk that Google may change position with regard to third-party extensions that give users more powerful options. Recent history justifies such concern: Disconnect and Ad Nauseam have been excluded from the Chrome Store for alleged violations of the Store’s rules. (Ironically, Adblock Plus has never experienced this problem.)

Chrome Falls Behind on User Privacy 

This move from Google will reduce the frequency with which users run into the most annoying ads. Regardless, it fails to address the larger problem of tracking and privacy violations. Indeed, many of the Coalition’s members were active opponents of Do Not Track at the W3C, which would have offered privacy-conscious users an easy opt-out. The resulting impression is that the ad filter is really about the industry trying to solve its adblocking problem, not about addressing users' concerns.

Chrome, together with Microsoft Edge, is now the last major browser to not offer integrated tracking protection. Firefox introduced this feature last November in Quantum, enabled by default in "Private Browsing" mode with the option to enable it universally. Meanwhile, Apple's Safari browser has Intelligent Tracking Prevention, Opera ships with an ad/tracker blocker for users to activate, and Brave has user privacy at the center of its design. It is a shame that Chrome's user security and safety team, widely admired in the industry, is empowered only to offer protection against outside attackers, but not against commercial surveillance conducted by Google itself and other advertisers. If you are using Chrome (1), you need EFF's Privacy Badger or uBlock Origin to fill this gap.

(1) This article does not address other problematic aspects of Google services. When users sign into Gmail, for example, their activity across other Google products is logged. Worse yet, when users are signed into Chrome their full browser history is stored by Google and may be used for ad targeting. This account data can also be linked to Doubleclick's cookies. The storage of browser history is part of Sync (enabling users access to their data across devices), which can also be disabled. If users desire to use Sync but exclude the data from use for ad targeting by Google, this can be selected under ‘Web And App Activity’ in Activity controls. There is an additional opt-out from Ad Personalization in Privacy Settings.

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Technicalleigh
1 day ago
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Things to think about.
SF Bay area, CA (formerly ATL)
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TBS Greenlights Lena Waithe's Comedy Series With Queer Black Woman Protagonist

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“Queer Black characters have been the sidekick for long enough, it’s time for us to finally take the lead.” 



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Technicalleigh
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Our civil rights are on the line RIGHT NOW – we need your calls!

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In 1990, the ADA gave people with disabilities the legal right to access in our communities. 28 years later, businesses are still trying to avoid their responsibility to their disabled customers by lobbying for a bill called HR 620. This bill would erode our protections under the ADA and make it easier for businesses to keep discriminating against us. The House of Representatives is voting on whether to roll back our ADA rights THIS THURSDAY your Representative needs to hear from you right away!

This bill will put red tape between you and your rights. If it passes, you would have to go through all these extra steps to get a business to fix an access barrier:

  • First, you would have to send a formal letter to the business describing the problem.
  • If your letter doesn’t include all the technical legal language the law requires, it won’t count, and the business can ignore it.
  • After receiving your letter, the business can put off fixing the illegal barriers that exclude disabled people for up to four months before you can sue for your rights.
  • After those four months, a business can still postpone fixing the access barrier with no legal consequences – as long as they claim that they are making “substantial progress” toward fixing it the issue.

Americans count on civil rights laws to fight back against discrimination. Letting Congress chip away at our ADA rights puts other civil rights laws in danger, at a time when we need them more than ever. We all deserve access to the community–no exceptions.

That’s why we need you to call your Representative and tell them to vote NO on HR 620. You can find contact information for your Congressional Representative at contactingcongress.org. Here’s a script you can use:

My name is [Name], and I live in [your town]. I’m [calling/writing] to ask Representative [Name] to vote NO on H.R. 620. People with disabilities need to be able to shop for groceries, stay at hotels, and use other public accommodations. The Americans with Disabilities Act protects our civil rights, and weakening the ADA opens the door to weakening other civil rights laws. It has been 28 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act. Disabled people in our district have waited too long for access – and businesses have had plenty of time to provide it. Please protect the ADA and vote NO on H.R. 620.

If you don’t speak, you can call using your AAC device, or ask a friend to call in and read your message. Want to avoid talking to a person? Call after hours to leave a message on your Representative’s answering machine. If you need more information, check out our factsheet on calling your elected officials! After you call, you can email or fax your representatives using the same script.

The ADA was one of the most important fights our community ever won. We need, expect, and demand equal access, and we refuse to go back. So call your Representative, and let them know: when it comes to our rights, there will be nothing about us, without us!

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Technicalleigh
4 days ago
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SF Bay area, CA (formerly ATL)
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House Members Are Pushing a Bill That Will Roll Back the Rights of People With Disabilities

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The "ADA Education and Reform Act" neither reforms nor educates.

The entrance to the post office in a small town was up a flight of 20 steps. When told he needed to make the post office accessible to wheelchair users, the postmaster was befuddled. “I’ve been here for thirty-five years and in all that time I’ve yet to see a single customer come in here in a wheelchair,” he said, according to Joe Shapiro in his 1994 book, “No Pity.”

It would seem the postmaster didn’t see the irony in that response. But it’s because of that lack of awareness from business owners and government workers that Congress in 1990 passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which promoted the integration, acceptance, and everyday rights of people with disabilities. But this week, the House of Representatives could undermine a key tenet of that landmark civil rights law.

Under Title III of the ADA, private businesses must ensure new buildings are accessible and remove barriers in older buildings where it is “readily achievable”—a standard that considers the cost of the change and the resources of the business. For example, a major hotel chain might need to spend several thousand dollars to make a few of their rooms accessible, but a small business might only be expected to spend a few hundred dollars to grind down a three inch lip into a doorway, or to put a ramp up two stairs. Now a group of businesses led by the owners of large shopping malls have persuaded more than 100 representatives to introduce H.R. 620, the so-called “ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017.” This legislation would require people with disabilities who encounter access barriers at a business or facility to become legal experts on the code, to provide “notice” to the business of what code they are violating, and to wait six months or longer. And this isn’t even for the business to actually fix the problem—just for the business to make “substantial progress” towards accessibility.

Only after all these steps and months of waiting, would H.R. 620 authorize filing a lawsuit. Navigating such a process would be both complicated and time-consuming, which, of course, is the point of the bill.

Proponents of H.R. 620 claim that the bill will help dampen what they see as an increase in individuals bringing harassing or unjustified access lawsuits against small businesses. This is an absurd argument that functions as a strawman to attack the rights of the disability community. ADA lawsuits are already one of the lowest categories of lawsuits filed against businesses. The Center for American Progress has reported that the small uptick in ADA litigation can be attributed to “just 12 individual attorneys and a single disability law firm” which filed more than 100 cases each.
Data Table of Caseload of Accessibility Complaint Statistics

On a practical level, the legislation would effectively exempt businesses from compliance with Title III of the ADA, but it would do nothing to resolve the problem of individuals who are viewed as bringing harassing or unjustified access lawsuits against small businesses. Instead, H.R. 620 erodes the balancing of interests in the ADA by removing incentives for businesses to comply with the law and by placing excessive burdens on individuals with disabilities.

As Amy Robertson of the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center explains, defense firms fight even the most obvious access violations. “When presented with tape-measure evidence of noncompliance,” Robertson has written, “businesses challenge standing, limit or withhold discovery, move to compel and for protective orders, resist class certification, move to stay the litigation, seek summary judgment, and only then—after years of litigation and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees on both sides—agree to comply.”

And in reality, there’s no real incentive to dedicate one’s life to hassling businesses with lawsuits. There are no damages available under the ADA—only attorneys’ fees and injunctive relief, which removes the specific barrier they’re contesting. Litigation is time-consuming, attorneys are expensive, and people with disabilities are too busy leading their lives to file endless lawsuits.

People with disabilities face barriers everyday: inaccessible restrooms, inaccessible medical equipment, inaccessible parking lots, inaccessible entrances, and inaccessible tables at restaurants. But instead of fixing those problems, H.R. 620 would force people who have historically faced the most marginalization and discrimination in society to become legal code experts and navigate a byzantine bureaucratic process before being able to assert their rights under the ADA. The specifics of this bill might look different in the final version, but no cosmetic modifications can change the fact that it’s predicated on a faulty premise. As a matter of law and justice, businesses owe it to people with disabilities to proactively ensure access—not the other way around.

If the House wants to rectify problems in access litigation, it should be assessing penalties against noncompliant businesses—not making it harder for people with disabilities to simply assert our right to be part of society.

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Technicalleigh
4 days ago
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SF Bay area, CA (formerly ATL)
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Android Wear is getting killed, and it’s all Qualcomm’s fault

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Ron Amadeo

Ars Technica would like to wish a very special second birthday to the Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100 SoC. While most flagship SoCs have a life cycle of about one year on the top of the market, over the weekend the Wear 2100 will celebrate two years as the least awful smartwatch SoC you can use in an Android Wear device. It's positively ancient at this point.

Seriously though, Qualcomm has seemingly abandoned the smartwatch market. The Wear 2100 SoC was announced in February 2016, Qualcomm skipped out on an upgrade for February 2017, and it doesn't seem like we're getting a new smartwatch chip any time soon.

In a healthy SoC market, this would be fine. Qualcomm would ignore the smartwatch SoC market, make very little money, and all the Android Wear OEMs would buy their SoCs from a chip vendor that was addressing smartwatch demand with a quality chip. The problem is, the SoC market isn't healthy at all. Qualcomm has a monopoly on smartwatch chips and doesn't seem interested in making any smartwatch chips. For companies like Google, LG, Huawei, Motorola, and Asus, it is absolutely crippling. There are literally zero other options in a reasonable price range (although we'd like to give a shoutout to the $1,600 Intel Atom-equipped Tag Heuer Connected Modular 45), so companies either keep shipping two-year-old Qualcomm chips or stop building smartwatches.

Android Wear is not a perfect smartwatch operating system, but the primary problem with Android Wear watches is the hardware, like size, design (which is closely related to size), speed, and battery life. All of these are primarily influenced by the SoC, and there hasn't been a new option for OEMs since 2016. There are only so many ways you can wrap a screen, battery, and body around an SoC, so Android smartwatch hardware has totally stagnated.

To make matters worse, the Wear 2100 wasn't even a good chip when it was new. The chip is built with a 28nm process, which was old and busted even in 2016. Qualcomm's flagship smartphone SoC at the time was the Snapdragon 820, which used a much better 14nm process. To find a flagship 28nm smartphone chip, you'd have to go back in time to the Snapdragon 801/800. That's right, 28nm was state-of-the-art smartphone technology in 2013. A smaller transistor manufacturing process will lead to a chip that is cooler, smaller, and more battery-efficient. While these attributes matter in smartphones, they matter far more in smartwatches, and Qualcomm has never put real effort into its smartwatch chips.

From a short-sighted numbers perspective, Qualcomm's behavior makes sense. Smartphones sell far more than smartwatches, so Qualcomm's bottom line in the short term is better if it dedicates its efforts to smartphones. But with the launch of Android Wear, Google, Qualcomm, and the Android OEMs were building a new "Android smartwatch" market category from scratch. It was always going to take some risks and investment from everyone involved, but the upside would be a larger market for everyone. With Qualcomm never putting in a serious effort to produce a good smartwatch chip, the Android Wear market struggled out of the gate, and today it seems dead.

Meanwhile, Samsung and Apple have taken over the smartwatch market. Apple sells Apple Watches to iOS users, while Samsung makes smartwatches based on its own Tizen OS that work with Android and iOS devices. Both companies have managed to avoid being sabotaged by Qualcomm because both have their own in-house SoC teams. Apple and Samsung devices get a new SoC every year, delivering faster performance and better battery life, while Qualcomm and Android Wear stand still. As a result, Apple is at the top of the smartwatch market, and even Samsung Tizen watches

have claimed second place

and overtaken the combined 20 or so companies making Android Wear watches.

Since no other SoC company has taken up arms against Qualcomm at the high end of the market, the only solution for OEMs looking to protect themselves is to build their own SoC program. As mentioned, Apple and Samsung are in the best position. Huawei is next in line with its "Hisilicon" SoC division, although it has only produced smartphone SoCs. Google seems to be slowly building an SoC division, including hiring a key Apple chip architect for the position of "Lead SoC Architect." So far we've only seen a single machine-learning co-processor from the company, the Pixel Visual Core, which shipped in the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, but it seems like a main application processor will someday appear in a Google smartphone.

In the meantime, Android smartwatches continue to be thick, slow, power-hungry devices that can't keep up with the competition. Take a look at some iPhone benchmarks and you'll find Qualcomm's smartphone chip isn't doing that great against the competition, either. Qualcomm killed the Android smartwatch with a combination of monopoly power and apathy. Things will probably get even worse if Broadcom's campaign to purchase Qualcomm is successful.

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Technicalleigh
7 days ago
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READ: Black Woman in Mississippi Charged With Second-Degree Murder After Stillbirth

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Advocates fear this is the latest in a trend of women of color being criminalized for their pregnancy outcomes.



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Technicalleigh
7 days ago
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So messed up.
SF Bay area, CA (formerly ATL)
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