Google and Microsoft Can Use AI to Extract Many More Ad Dollars from Our Clicks – TOM SIMONITE 08.31.17 07:00 AM

When Google and Microsoft boast of their deep investments in artificial intelligence and machine learning, they highlight flashy ideas like unbeatable Go players and sociable chatbots. They talk less often about one of the most profitable, and more mundane, uses for recent improvements in machine learning: boosting ad revenue.

AI-powered moonshots like driverless cars and relatable robots will doubtless be lucrative when—or if—they hit the market. There’s a whole lot of money to be made right now by getting fractionally more accurate at predicting your clicks.

Many online ads are only paid for when someone clicks on them, so showing you the right ones translates very directly into revenue. A recent research paper from Microsoft’s Bing search unit notes that “even a 0.1 percent accuracy improvement in our production would yield hundreds of millions of dollars in additional earnings.” It goes on to claim an improvement of 0.9 percent on one accuracy measure over a baseline system.

Google, Microsoft, and other internet giants understandably do not share much detail on their ad businesses’ operations. But the Bing paper and recent publications from Google and Alibaba offer a sense of the profit potential of deploying new AI ideas inside ad systems. They all describe significant gains in predicting ad clicks using deep learning, the machine learning technique that sparked the current splurge of hope and investment in AI.

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Google staffer’s hostility to affirmative action sparks furious backlash – Nicola Davis Last modified on Sunday 6 August 2017 17.00 EDT

Google HQ
Google headquarters in Mountain View, California. The manifesto was written by a software engineer. Photograph: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

A Google software engineer’s polemic against diversity efforts has left female staff “shaking in anger” and forced the tech giant to defend its patchy record on racial and gender equality.

The 10-page “manifesto”, which Google executives acknowledge was written by a company software engineer, initially circulated internally but was leaked to the public. The author’s identity remains unknown.

The manifesto argues that the lack of women in tech and leadership is the result, at least in part, of innate differences between in men and women. “I’m simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership,” the author writes.

After a number of female staff described their disgust at the document on social media, Google sent out a company-wide memo saying it did not represent the company’s views.

The document’s author claims that the company’s problem is “left bias”, but the row will raise questions about attitudes to women among some members of staff and force Google back into uncomfortable discussions of its record on gender equality, which progressive critics say is poor.

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Paying Professors: Inside Google’s Academic Influence Campaign – By Brody Mullins and Jack Nicas

Company paid $5,000 to $400,000 for research supporting business practices that face regulatory scrutiny; a ‘wish list’ of topics.

Google operates a little-known program to harness the brain power of university researchers to help sway opinion and public policy, cultivating financial relationships with professors at campuses from Harvard University to the University of California, Berkeley.

Over the past decade, Google has helped finance hundreds of research papers to defend against regulatory challenges of its market dominance, paying $5,000 to $400,000 for the work, The Wall Street Journal found.

Some researchers share their papers before publication and let Google give suggestions, according to thousands of pages of emails obtained by the Journal in public-records requests of more than a dozen university professors. The professors don’t always reveal Google’s backing in their research, and few disclosed the financial ties in subsequent articles on the same or similar topics, the Journal found.

University of Illinois law professor Paul Heald pitched an idea on copyrights he thought would be useful to Google, and he received $18,830 to fund the work. The paper, published in 2012, didn’t mention his sponsor. “Oh, wow. No, I didn’t. That’s really bad,” he said in an interview. “That’s purely oversight.”

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Inside Google’s Global Campaign to Shut Down Phishing – LILY HAY NEWMAN May 31, 2017

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At the beginning of May, a phishing scam flooded the web, disguised as a typical Google Docs request. Some of the emails even appeared to come from acquaintances. If victims clicked through and granted seemingly innocuous permissions, they exposed their entire Gmail account to whoever was behind the scam. It was an explosive scheme. And Google responded in kind.

“We convened what we call a war room,” says Mark Risher, Google’s director of counter-abuse technology. “Basically we pulled people together in a physical room here in Mountain View, California, and we also had experts from many other offices around the company that quickly came together. Each specialty gets called in.”

Unfortunately, that sort of crisis response is all too common for Google. Its massive user base and footprint on the web make its services and customers prominent targets for every imaginable phishing attack, not to mention all the other manner of hacks and assaults. But phishing presents an especially tricky problem. Campaigns are hard to spot by design, and also evolve rapidly.

“The bad guys try hard, so we are motivated to try even harder,” says Sri Somanchi, a project manager in the Gmail anti-abuse team. “We keep going because we know that any little slip up on our side is going to have a huge cost for users.”

That response can take many forms. And if they’re doing their job right, you barely even notice.

Phish Fry

When the Google Docs phish spiked—affecting 0.1 percent of Gmail users, or about 1 million accounts—Google anti-abuse teams started by sharing information, and hammering out shifts across Google offices around the world to ensure 24-hour coverage.

“There’s a team that’s working specifically on Gmail inbounds, they’re trying to make sure that the email messages are not getting spread,” Risher says. “There’s another team that’s working on account abuse patterns, and they’re trying to look at who is using the credentials that have been accessed. There’s a third team that’s looking at the spread of this message.”

Within a few hours, Google had stopped the phishing attempt from spreading further. Within a day, Google rolled out expanded anti-phishing security warnings for Gmail on Android.

That joins a handful of other anti-phishing and threat-warning tools that Google has debuted over the last several years, like the Chrome extension Password Alert, which cautions you if it thinks you just entered your Google username and password into an imposter login page. The company also announced new phishing protections targeted at business users on Wednesday, including warnings when enterprise users attempt to send data outside their company, and additional ransomware protections.

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Google Moves In And Wants To Pump 1.5 Million Gallons Of Water Per Day – Sarah McCammon May 8, 2017 5:00 AM ET

Google wants to pump 1.5 million gallons of water per day to cool servers at its data center in Berkeley County, S.C. “It’s great to have Google in this region,” conservationist Emily Cedzo said. “So by no means are we going after Google … Our concern, primarily, is the source of that water.” | Bruce Smith/AP

When three sacred staples of the South weren’t safe from the cloudy, salty water in his town, Clay Duffie knew there was a problem.

“It’d kill your azaleas if you irrigated with it; your grits would come out in a big clump, instead of creamy like they should,” Duffie said.

Even the sweet tea.

“Your tea would come out all cloudy,” Duffie said. “Oh man, it was bad news.”

Duffie, the general manager of Mount Pleasant Waterworks, said before his agency outside Charleston began purifying the water in the early 1990s, the water was also soft; you’d come out of the shower and still feel dirty, he recalled.

Today, Duffie has a new concern — a request by Google for permission from South Carolina regulators to pump more groundwater than they’re already entitled to for their data center in nearby Berkeley County.

“We’ve invested a lot in making sure the groundwater quality that we treat and send to the customers is of high quality. We also want to protect the quantity side of that,” Duffie said.

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