TIME Web

Google’s Big Change Will Make the Mobile Web Way Better

Google Interstitial Ads
Google Google Interstitial Ads

It's fighting something very annoying

Google on Wednesday said it would begin penalizing the search rankings of websites that use pop-up mobile ads asking users to install an app, the latest move by the company that could have a big impact on advertisers, publishers and other content creators.

In a post on its Webmaster Central Blog, Google said that app install ads which block a large amount of content from users and prompt them to install various applications are a big no-no in their book.

“Our analysis shows that it is not a good search experience and can be frustrating for users because they are expecting to see the content of the web page,” Daniel Bathgate, a software engineer at the company, wrote.

The company will now tell sites during its Mobile-Friendly Tests that they should avoid showing such interstitials. After November 1, sites that ignore Google’s advice will no longer be considered “mobile-friendly,” a big factor in how Google determines which sites appear at the highly valuable top spots in search rankings.

This follows an internal study by the company that showed just how much users hate such ads – 69% of people who encounter them abandoned the entire page completely, versus the 9% who actually ventured to press the “get app” button.

Google, as someone pointed out on Twitter, isn’t even exempt from these type of in-your-face ads:

Mobile ads are also facing rebuke from Apple, whose new iPhone software will reportedly allow ad-blocking software.

TIME russia

Russia Reverses Ban on Russian Wikipedia After Only a Few Hours

The entry on hashish contained banned information

Russia’s ban on Russian-language Wikipedia lasted only a few hours, ending on Tuesday.

A Russian communications watchdog agency told Internet providers to block access to the popular site’s Russian language material on Monday, after a provincial court ruled Wikipedia’s entry on hashish contained banned information, the Associated Press reports. Recent legislation in Russia has banned sites from carrying information about drugs, suicide and hate, leading critics to accuse authorities of censorship.

The communications agency lifted the ban on Russian language Wikipedia after saying the entry had been edited to comply with the court decision. But users noted that the entry for hashish had only adjusted its title.

TIME privacy

Ashley Madison Users Included White House and Congress Staffers

Hackers Release Confidential Member Information From The Ashley Madison Infidelity Website
Carl Court—Getty Images A detail of the Ashley Madison website on Aug. 19, 2015.

The AP investigation finds hundreds of U.S. government employees as registered users on the controversial website

(WASHINGTON) — Hundreds of U.S. government employees — including some with sensitive jobs in the White House, Congress and law enforcement agencies — used Internet connections in their federal offices to access and pay membership fees to the cheating website Ashley Madison, The Associated Press has learned.

The AP traced many of the accounts exposed by hackers back to federal workers. They included at least two assistant U.S. attorneys; an information technology administrator in the Executive Office of the President; a division chief, an investigator and a trial attorney in the Justice Department; a government hacker at the Homeland Security Department and another DHS employee who indicated he worked on a U.S. counterterrorism response team.

Few actually paid for their services with their government email accounts. But AP traced their government Internet connections — logged by the website over five years — and reviewed their credit-card transactions to identify them. They included workers at more than two dozen Obama administration agencies, including the departments of State, Defense, Justice, Energy, Treasury, Transportation and Homeland Security. Others came from House or Senate computer networks.

The AP is not naming the government subscribers it found because they are not elected officials or accused of a crime.

Hackers this week released detailed records on millions of people registered with the website one month after the break-in at Ashley Madison’s parent company, Toronto-based Avid Life Media Inc. The website — whose slogan is, “Life is short. Have an affair” — is marketed to facilitate extra-marital affairs.

Many federal customers appeared to use non-government email addresses with handles such as “sexlessmarriage,” ”soontobesingle” or “latinlovers.” Some Justice Department employees appeared to use pre-paid credit cards to help preserve their anonymity but connected to the service from their office computers.

“I was doing some things I shouldn’t have been doing,” a Justice Department investigator told the AP. Asked about the threat of blackmail, the investigator said if prompted he would reveal his actions to his family and employer to prevent it. “I’ve worked too hard all my life to be a victim of blackmail. That wouldn’t happen,” he said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was deeply embarrassed and not authorized by the government to speak to reporters using his name.

The AP’s analysis also found hundreds of transactions associated with Department of Defense networks, either at the Pentagon or from armed services connections elsewhere.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter confirmed the Pentagon was looking into the list of people who used military email addresses. Adultery can be a criminal offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

“I’m aware it,” Carter said. “Of course it’s an issue because conduct is very important. And we expect good conduct on the part of our people. … The services are looking into it and as well they should be. Absolutely.”

The AP’s review was the first to reveal that federal workers used their office systems to access the site, based on their Internet Protocol addresses associated with credit card transactions. It focused on searching for government employees in especially sensitive positions who could perhaps become blackmail targets. The government hacker at the Homeland Security Department, who did not respond to phone or email messages, included photographs of his wife and infant son on his Facebook page.

One assistant U.S. attorney declined through a spokesman to speak to the AP, and another did not return phone or email messages.

A White House spokesman said Thursday he could not immediately comment on the matter. The IT administrator in the White House did not return email messages.

Federal policies vary for employees by agency as to whether they would be permitted during work hours to use websites like Ashley Madison, which could fall under the same category as dating websites. But it raises questions about what personal business is acceptable — and what websites are OK to visit — for government workers on taxpayer time, especially employees who could face blackmail.

The Homeland Security Department rules for use of work computers say the devices should be used for only for official purposes, though “limited personal use is authorized as long as this use does not interfere with official duties or cause degradation of network services.” Employees are barred from using government computers to access “inappropriate sites” including those that are “obscene, hateful, harmful, malicious, hostile, threatening, abusive, vulgar, defamatory, profane, or racially, sexually, or ethnically objectionable.”

The hackers who took credit for the break-in had accused the website’s owners of deceit and incompetence, and said the company refused to bow to their demands to close the site. Avid Life released a statement calling the hackers criminals. It added that law enforcement in both the U.S. and Canada is investigating and declined comment beyond its statement Tuesday that it was investigating the hackers’ claims.

___

Associated Press writers Alicia Caldwell and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington and Raphael Satter in London contributed to this report.

TIME Social Media

Yelp Wants You to Review the Government

Yelp Federal Government Agency Review
Scott Eells—Bloomberg via Getty Images The Yelp logo is displayed in the window of a restaurant in New York on March 1, 2012.

They can now respond to your feedback, too

Reviewing federal agencies on Yelp may soon feel more like a two-way dialogue rather than a shout into the wind, the company announced on Tuesday.

Under a new agreement with Yelp, federal agencies can now claim their existing Yelp pages or launch new ones to respond officially to reviews, according to Luther Lowe, vice president of public policy at Yelp. “It’s exciting because it allows government agencies to take real-time feedback from citizens and act upon it in a way that helps our democracy operate better,” Lowe says.

Non-government services like restaurants and bars have long been able to claim their pages and respond to reviews, Lowe explains, whereas federal agencies had not previously been able to do so — even though many of them, from USPS locations to congressmen offices, have been reviewed on Yelp for years.

“Basically, we had to create a special terms of service for government service agencies, to make sure that the government isn’t endorsing one platform over another,” Lowe says.

The visual changes on the site are subtle. Users won’t see a badge indicating that a federal agency has claimed its page, Lowe explains. But they can still tell whether a page has been claimed if, under the business information, there remains a link that reads, “Work here? Claim this business.”

A similar transparency initiative was launched by Yelp last week to improve medical services.

TIME Web

How to Watch Tonight’s Republican Debate Online

Here are the livestream options

Don’t have a cable subscription? Unfortunately, there are limited online options to watch Thursday’s Republican primary presidential debate hosted by Fox News.

The main debate will be broadcast live from Cleveland at 9 p.m. ET on FOX News Channel, according to the network. It will also be streamed live at FOXNews.com and on the Fox News app, both of which require a cable subscription login. The second tier debate for candidates who didn’t make the top 10 in terms of polling numbers will be broadcast the same way at 5 p.m.

For those who don’t have cable TV, there’s always Twitter, Facebook and live blogs for following along in real-time.

 

TIME Web

Here’s How Microsoft Is Fighting Revenge Porn

Microsoft's Bing website.
Newscast Limited/AP Microsoft's Bing website.

It's easier to request the removal of images from Bing

Microsoft is making it easier for victims of revenge porn to remove images and URLs they find hurtful and embarrassing from Bing search results. The news was disclosed Wednesday in a blog post by Jacqueline Beauchere, the company’s chief online safety officer. Revenge porn refers to the practice of an estranged spouse or partner posting intimate pictures or other materials on the Internet to “shame” the other person.

Beauchere pointed to a new reporting page that consumers can use to register the problematic links and photos and said Microsoft will remove those links and videos from Bing search results. And, it will “remove access to the content itself when shared on OneDrive or Xbox Live, when we are notified by a victim,” Beauchere wrote. This appears to go quite a bit further than what Google did, when it announced its plan to remove images from search results on request last month. Google’s web form posted July 9.

People could already report the offending images, but the reporting page will make the process easier. It is available now in English with other languages to come soon. Images will be removed globally, she said.

Microsoft Bing hovers at just over 20% of desktop Internet search market share in the U.S., according to the latest Comscore numbers. Google stands at about 64% share. On Microsoft’s earnings call Tuesday, the company’s chief executive officer Satya Nadella said he expects Bing to “transition to profitability” in the next fiscal year.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Web

Grooveshark Co-Founder Joshua Greenberg, 28, Found Dead at Florida Home

No cause of death could be determined, although Gainesville police said they had ruled out both foul play and suicide

Grooveshark co-founder Joshua Greenberg was found dead on July 19 at his home in Gainesville, Fla., according to a statement released by local police via Twitter.

The department wrote that there was “no evidence of foul play or suicide” in the death of the 28-year-old. The cause of death was not immediately known. Lori Greenberg, Joshua’s mother, told the Gainesville Sun that a medical examiner’s autopsy had offered no answers and full toxicology results will not be back for at least two months. “They are as baffled as I am,” she said.

It had been a difficult time for Greenberg: Grooveshark, which he started with classmates in 2007 as a streaming website based on users’ own uploaded files, shut down in April after a string of legal battles in which record companies alleged copyright infringement. The final blow came on May 1 when a court ordered Grooveshark parent company, Escape Media Group, to close the site permanently and pay $50 million to rights holders. Nevertheless, Lori told the Sun that her son had been relieved rather than depressed about the outcome and had moved on to other projects.

A letter authored by Greenberg and his co-founders posted on the site offered an apology for “very serious mistakes.” Despite the founders’ good intentions, it says, “we failed to secure licenses from rights holders for the vast amount of music on the service. That was wrong. We apologize. Without reservation.”

TIME Web

Reddit Takes Stand Against ‘Unfettered Free Speech’

Here's what you can and can't post on Reddit

Reddit is clamping down on controversial content.

The popular website’s CEO Steve Huffman fielded questions on Thursday in an Ask Me Anything (AMA) about what content is and isn’t allowed on the popular online bulletin board, amid a controversy over the company’s alleged content policing and lack of transparency.

“As Reddit has grown, we’ve seen additional examples of how unfettered free speech can make Reddit a less enjoyable place to visit, and can even cause people harm outside of Reddit,” Huffman wrote.

In addition to non-consensual pornography, which Reddit banned officially earlier this year, the following types of content are being “considered” for restriction, Huffman wrote in the AMA:

  • Spam
  • Anything illegal (i.e. things that are actually illegal, such as copyrighted material. Discussing illegal activities, such as drug use, is not illegal)
  • Publication of someone’s private and confidential information
  • Anything that incites harm or violence against an individual or group of people (it’s ok to say “I don’t like this group of people.” It’s not ok to say, “I’m going to kill this group of people.”)
  • Anything that harasses, bullies, or abuses an individual or group of people (these behaviors intimidate others into silence)
  • Sexually suggestive content featuring minors

Huffman also told users that several notorious, offensive subreddits—the “really dark side” of Reddit, as some have said—would be banned, including a thread about raping women.

The clarification of Reddit’s free speech limits, and, perhaps more importantly, the audience-facing, participatory way in which the restrictions were explained, arrive after months of user complaints over Reddit administrators’ lack of transparency when policies are changed.

Much of the community’s anger had been directed at former interim CEO Ellen Pao, who last week stepped down as chief after hundreds of thousands of people signed a petition calling for her ousting. Though Pao acknowledged the company’s lack of communication with users, she maintained her belief in restricting certain content in a Washington Post op-ed on Thursday, writing that she is “rooting for the humans over the trolls.”

Read next: Inside the Trouble at Reddit

TIME Web

Microsoft Says its New Browser Is Insanely Fast

Inside The Windows Floor At A BigCamera Inc. Store As Microsoft Corp. Begins To Sell Surface 3
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images The logo for Microsoft Corp.'s Surface 3 LTE tablet is displayed on the device at a Bic Camera Inc. electronics store in Tokyo, Japan, on Friday, June 19, 2015.

It beat Chrome and Safari in speed tests

Microsoft’s new replacement for Internet Explorer appears to be faster than its competitors. The new web browser, called Microsoft Edge, beat Google’s Chrome and Apple’s Safari browsers in a series of JavaScript benchmarks conducted by Microsoft.

According to a Microsoft blog post, Edge was 112% faster, 11% faster and 37% faster than Chrome in three different speed tests. Chrome surpassed Internet Explorer as the most popular browser in the U.S. last year in large part thanks to its speediness.

Consumers will get a chance to try Edge for themselves when it launches as the default browser with Windows 10 on July 29. One of the browser’s main selling points is its deep integration with Cortana, Microsoft’s Siri-like virtual assistant, as well as the ability to mark up web pages with sharable annotations.

Microsoft isn’t yet killing off Internet Explorer completely, both it and Edge will co-exist in Windows 10 for now.

TIME Web

Here’s How People Make Money From Viral Videos

Today - Season 63
NBC NewsWire—NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images Grumpy Cat appears on NBC News' "Today" show.

Sure, your kitten is cute. But can he help pay the rent?

Andy Warhol famously introduced the idea that someday everyone would be world famous for 15 minutes. But if the pop artist had lived long enough to watch some web videos, you have to think he’d change his timeframe to 15 seconds. That’s because everyone from pet owners to parents are looking to cash in viral videos these days.

But when it comes to web video, does fame equal fortune? That depends on how much money you expect to make. While most successful viral videos tend to earn hundreds or even thousands of dollars, the biggest hits — which are rare — can generate more than a million, according to Daniel Fisher, senior vice president of audience solutions at London-based video monetization firm Rightster.

“We have seen, in the last four or five years, an enormous collection of high-definition content being uploaded primarily to YouTube, and now other platforms including Facebook,” says Fisher. Typically, those videos get seen by next to no one. But in rare cases, wildly funny, extremely scary, or just downright amazing videos will start getting shared, and that’s when the viral phenomenon begins. Successful videos get picked up by a thought leader, says Fisher, which is either an Internet personality, celebrity, or other prominent figure. Once someone with lots of social influence shares a video, its reach is accelerated rapidly, and thousands of people start watching and sharing it instantly.

If you’ve monetized your video, this is when the cash starts rolling in. On YouTube, you can monetize your video with the AdSense program, which places ads before, inside, or near your footage. How much your video earns depends on a number of factors, including the types and pricing of ads that run with your clip. Once it’s live, as the view count ticks higher, YouTube tallies the totals and deposits your share of the proceeds into your bank account.

Video ads alone can generate a healthy amount of money. In 2012, The Guardian reported that “Charlie Bit My Finger,” now with more than 800 million views, made more than £100,000 at that point. One blogger says YouTube paid him $5,675 for a video with about 4 million views over six years. And these Quora users have many more first-hand stories about how much money they made with their videos.

But Fisher says you’re more likely to see a payout only in the hundreds for a successful viral video, unless it’s a mega-hit. And keep in mind that the content of a video uploaded to YouTube must not violate anyone else’s copyrights. So if you’re thinking of playing “Chariots of Fire” on that funny movie of your kid’s first steps, be prepared to hear about it from Vangelis.

Another way to make money on viral videos, says Fisher, is to license them — and this is where companies like Rightster help make deals happen. “If your video looks commercially attractive, it will generate attention from production companies and advertising agencies,” he says. These firms may offer you pennies on the dollar to use your video, and can lock you into restrictive contracts. Rightster acts like an agent representing viral video owners’ best interests. It also has extensive contacts and can market your movie to partners that may be interested in featuring your clip. Once a video has reached this stage of popularity, it can make anywhere from $10,000 to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But if a viral video is popular enough, there’s another way to make big bucks. “Merchandising, merchandising — where the real money from the movie is made,” said Mel Brooks in Spaceballs. Honey Badger the T-shirt. Honey Badger the stuffed animal. Honey Badger the Christmas ornament! ”You essentially turn into a brand with this one piece of content,” says Fisher.

But can those tchotchkes make you rich? “There have been reports of a single piece of content making upwards of a million dollars,” says Fisher, declining to reveal the hauls of any of Rightster’s clients. Are those reports true? The best way to find out is to upload a 15-second clip of your own and find out.

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