How the cookie crumbled

Last year, Apple blocked third-party cookies on its Safari browser, while Google is still in the process of blocking cookies on Chrome, with plans to phase them out entirely by next year. (Shutterstock)
Last year, Apple blocked third-party cookies on its Safari browser, while Google is still in the process of blocking cookies on Chrome, with plans to phase them out entirely by next year. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 27 August 2021

How the cookie crumbled

Last year, Apple blocked third-party cookies on its Safari browser, while Google is still in the process of blocking cookies on Chrome, with plans to phase them out entirely by next year. (Shutterstock)
  • Apple and Google decisions to kill internet cookies mean companies are changing the way they target and measure ads

DUBAI: A cookie is essentially a tag or piece of code placed on any online content — such as an article, video or advertisement — that collects user data. The data collected includes information like the device ID, and the internet usage and browsing habits of a user. It cannot, however, collect any personal data such as a user’s gender, age or name. This data can then be used by publishers to tailor their content offerings and by brands to launch targeted advertising.

Although cookies do not collect personal data, over time, due to the sheer volume of cookies and the time an average user spends across their devices, brands and publishers can start to paint a picture of the person behind the device ID. For example, if a particular ID is engaging with more female content while shopping for beauty products, a publisher or analytics company can begin creating a profile and pushing tailored content and advertising to that ID.

Cookies not only follow users as they traverse through the internet across their devices, but the user data collected from them is then sold and monetized — something users have become increasingly uncomfortable about.

“There has been a reckoning when it comes to privacy building for the last few years,” Nader Bitar, deputy general manager of advertising technology company MMP Worldwide, told Arab News.

Last year, Apple blocked third-party cookies on its Safari browser, while Google is still in the process of blocking cookies on Chrome, with plans to phase them out entirely by next year.

Apple’s iOS 14 update also requires app developers to meet specific privacy requirements before they can be listed on the App Store, and gives users control over apps tracking their movement online and sharing their data with third-party companies.

“Most people never really understood how much information they were giving away about themselves for free, and how much money was being made off the back of this data,” Sarah Messer, managing director at Nielsen Media MENAP, told Arab News.

Typically, cookies cannot identify an individual, but the likes of Facebook know exactly who each user is and thus gain access to a much richer data profile which they use to make money, Messer said, adding: “But people don’t want that.”

The death of cookies is a victory for user privacy, but has thrown marketers into panic mode. “Advertisers have been left in limbo for a while as the goalposts surrounding user privacy began to shift even before the pandemic,” said Bitar.

Nielsen’s Digital Ad Ratings tool, which measures the on-target performance of online advertising, relied on cookies and worked across all web platforms including so-called “walled gardens” with closed ecosystems, such as Facebook and YouTube. One of the world’s biggest advertisers, Procter & Gamble, would ask all online publishers to place the Nielsen cookie on all their advertising in order to measure performance.

Without cookies, brands like P&G are reliant on data from publishers to measure the performance of their ads — lacking any third-party verification from companies such as Nielsen. “All the big digital publishers would say we have a ‘walled garden’ and you can only have the data that we allow you to have, and it’s really them that are then leading the charge in a cookie-less world,” said Messer.

Although Apple’s privacy changes are a massive boon to customers, “Apple is not doing it out of the goodness of their heart,” said Bitar.

“They are, in effect, creating their own walled garden to keep users within their own ecosystem and forcing everyone else to get on board. The advantage Apple and Google have in this space is astounding, and between them, they have upended digital advertising as we know it,” he added.

Messer, on the other hand, believes that “everybody wants a transparent media industry.” She said that the likes of Google are inviting companies such as Nielsen into their walled gardens. “This is very much about respecting consumer privacy, and not about trying to close the doors, because they’re actually inviting people like us in to come and have those conversations with them.”

Now, Nielsen is working with companies including Facebook and YouTube to set up technology on their platforms, which will enable them to receive independent third-party data without cookies. When it comes to other publishers that are not walled off, Nielsen and similar measurement companies are setting up “identity panels,” Messer said. Traditionally, an online panel in the UAE would consist of 60,000 to 70,000 people, but an identity panel is much larger, with ideal numbers of about 150,000 to 200,000 people.

“We will know the identities of people within this panel, and we will use it as proxy data and apply it to what we see on the rest of the web,” she added.

“This evolution of identity panels is what will replace cookies and tags,” she said. However, the biggest disadvantage of losing cookies is the accompanying loss of accuracy.

“In a world where we had the entire Facebook audience of about 8.4 million people in the UAE — the entire population in a dataset — we really understood the data,” said Messer. “We are then reducing that to about 200,000 people, so there will be some loss of accuracy.”

This loss can result in less relevant advertising, which in turn can become an annoyance for users. “Users don’t want their experience interrupted online with irrelevant ads, but they also want the right to shield their activity online from potential advertisers, which creates something of a Catch-22,” said Bitar.

While advertising’s relevancy may fall in the short term, consumers will likely see benefits through their lives and data being much more private. “I think that’s something that people want even if they don’t fully understand it,” said Messer.

Advertising often gets a bad rap for being intrusive and irritating, but it is worth remembering that “advertising isn’t bad when it’s done well, and actually anticipates and answers a need,” said Bitar.

Users want to feel valued, heard and understood, and according to Bitar, the only way to do that is to personalize, which means marketers “have to walk a fine line between being invasive and useful.”

He added: “I’m fine with my data being used to shape a better experience for me online as long as there is transparency from all parties involved. This is what will be at the heart of everything moving forward: An open and honest exchange.”


CNN fires Chris Cuomo over help he gave to governor brother

CNN fires Chris Cuomo over help he gave to governor brother
Updated 05 December 2021

CNN fires Chris Cuomo over help he gave to governor brother

CNN fires Chris Cuomo over help he gave to governor brother

WASHINGTON: CNN fired veteran anchor and correspondent Chris Cuomo, the cable news channel said Saturday, during an investigation into his involvement with helping defend his brother, former New York governor Andrew Cuomo, against sexual misconduct allegations.
Chris Cuomo had been suspended from CNN over the matter just days before his termination.
“We retained a respected law firm to conduct the review, and have terminated him, effective immediately,” a statement posted to CNN’s official communications Twitter account said.
“While in the process of that review, additional information has come to light.”
The termination comes after documents surfaced showing that Cuomo, who anchored the 9:00 p.m. news slot, offered advice to his politician brother that was deemed too close for comfort by his employer.
“The documents, which we were not privy to before their public release, raise serious questions,” a CNN spokesperson said Tuesday, adding they “point to a greater level of involvement in his brother’s efforts than we previously knew.”
“He’s my brother. And if I can help my brother, I do. If he wants me to hear something, I will. If he wants me to weigh in on something, I’ll try,” Chris Cuomo, 51, told investigators in July when asked about the counsel he had offered.
“He’s my brother, and I love him to death no matter what.”
Democrat Andrew Cuomo was elected governor three times before resigning in August after New York’s attorney general said an investigation concluded he had sexually harassed at least 11 women.
In October, the former governor — whose father Mario Cuomo had also been governor of New York — was charged with a misdemeanor sex crime for forcible touching.
At the start of the pandemic, the Cuomo brothers soared to new heights of popularity: Andrew, 63, earned praise for his frank daily briefings as the coronavirus ravaged New York, and his live exchanges with Chris on CNN were peppered with banter.
The investigation into Chris Cuomo’s conduct remains ongoing, CNN said.


Report: Google profited from sale of T-shirts praising Hamas

Report: Google profited from sale of T-shirts praising Hamas
Updated 04 December 2021

Report: Google profited from sale of T-shirts praising Hamas

Report: Google profited from sale of T-shirts praising Hamas
  • The Independent report found that Google has been displaying adverts for T-shirts bearing a picture of a Hamas fighter with the message “HAMAS ARMY”

LONDON: A report by the Independent revealed on Saturday that Google has been profiting from the sale of T-shirts glorifying Hamas, days after the UK government designated their political arm a terrorist organization.

Last Friday, Home Secretary Priti Patel made the move in a bid to crack down on anti-semitism, making it a criminal offence to be a member of Hamas or even wear clothing suggesting affiliation.

Nevertheless, the Independent report found that Google has been displaying adverts for T-shirts bearing a picture of a Hamas fighter with the message “HAMAS ARMY” ever since Patel’s designation.

Google had been advertising the £9.93 ($13.14) shirts, to be sold via another website, at the top of the shopping section of its search engine. One advert even highlighted a price drop, showing that the T-shirt was previously sold for £19.26.

Shortly after the Independent published its report, Google removed the adverts.

“We prohibit ads or products that are made by or in support of terrorist groups. In this case, we removed the ads and listings from our platform. We enforce our policies vigorously and take action when they are breached,” a Google spokesperson said.

Teepublic, the website selling the T-shirts, removed the adverts after being contacted by the Independent.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We expect tech companies to tackle terrorist content on their platforms and respond to emerging threats quickly. We are pleased Google acted so swiftly here, and we will continue to work with companies to ensure it remains a priority.”


Facebook whistleblower says transparency needed to fix social media ills

Haugen said the company should be required to disclose which languages are supported by its tech safety systems. (AFP)
Haugen said the company should be required to disclose which languages are supported by its tech safety systems. (AFP)
Updated 04 December 2021

Facebook whistleblower says transparency needed to fix social media ills

Haugen said the company should be required to disclose which languages are supported by its tech safety systems. (AFP)
  • Facebook whistleblower says the degree to which Facebook is harmful in languages other than English will leave people “even more shocked”

LONDON: A deeper investigation into Facebook’s lack of controls to prevent misinformation and abuse in languages other than English is likely to leave people “even more shocked” about the potential harms caused by the social media firm, whistleblower Frances Haugen told Reuters.
Haugen, a former product manager at Meta Platforms Inc’s Facebook, spoke at the Reuters Next conference on Friday.
She left the company in May with thousands of internal documents which she leaked to the Wall Street Journal. That led to a series of articles in September detailing how the company knew its apps helped spread divisive content and harmed the mental health of some young users.
Facebook also knew it had too few workers with the necessary language skills to identify objectionable posts from users in a number of developing countries, according to the internal documents and Reuters interviews with former employees.
People who use the platform in languages other than English are using a “raw, dangerous version of Facebook,” Haugen said.
Facebook has consistently said it disagrees with Haugen’s characterization of the internal research and that it is proud of the work it has done to stop abuse on the platform.
Haugen said the company should be required to disclose which languages are supported by its tech safety systems, otherwise “Facebook will do ... the bare minimum to minimize PR risk,” she said.
The internal Facebook documents made public by Haugen have also raised fresh concerns about how it may have failed to take actions to prevent the spread of misleading information.
Haugen said the social media company knew it could introduce “strategic friction” to make users slow down before resharing posts, such as requiring users to click a link before they were able to share the content. But she said the company avoided taking such actions in order to preserve profit.
Such measures to prompt users to reconsider sharing certain content could be helpful given that allowing tech platforms or governments to determine what information is true poses many risks, according to Internet and legal experts who spoke during a separate panel at the Reuters Next conference on Friday.
“In regulating speech, you’re handing states the power to manipulate speech for their own purposes,” said David Greene, civil liberties director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
The documents made public by Haugen have led to a series of US congressional hearings. Adam Mosseri, head of Meta Platforms’ Instagram app, will testify next week on the app’s effect on young people.
Asked what she would say to Mosseri given the opportunity, Haugen said she would question why the company has not released more of its internal research.
“We have evidence now that Facebook has known for years that it was harming kids,” she said. “How are we supposed to trust you going forward?“


Twitter admits policy ‘errors’ after far-right abuse

Twitter launched new rules Tuesday blocking users from sharing private images of other people without their consent. (File/AFP)
Twitter launched new rules Tuesday blocking users from sharing private images of other people without their consent. (File/AFP)
Updated 04 December 2021

Twitter admits policy ‘errors’ after far-right abuse

Twitter launched new rules Tuesday blocking users from sharing private images of other people without their consent. (File/AFP)
  • Twitter admitted policy errors which say anyone can ask Twitter to take down images of themselves posted without their consent
  • This comes after a screenshot of a far-right call-to-action circulated on Telegram claiming things now “work more in our favor.”

WASHINGTON: Twitter’s new picture permission policy was aimed at combating online abuse, but US activists and researchers said Friday that far-right backers have employed it to protect themselves from scrutiny and to harass opponents.
Even the social network admitted the roll out of the rules, which say anyone can ask Twitter to take down images of themselves posted without their consent, was marred by malicious reports and its teams’ own errors.
It was just the kind of trouble anti-racism advocates worried was coming after the policy was announced this week.
Their concerns were quickly validated, with anti-extremism researcher Kristofer Goldsmith tweeting a screenshot of a far-right call-to-action circulating on Telegram: “Due to the new privacy policy at Twitter, things now unexpectedly work more in our favor.”
“Anyone with a Twitter account should be reporting doxxing posts from the following accounts,” the message said, with a list of dozens of Twitter handles.
Gwen Snyder, an organizer and researcher in Philadelphia, said her account was blocked this week after a report to Twitter about a series of 2019 photos she said showed a local political candidate at a march organized by extreme-right group Proud Boys.
Rather than go through an appeal with Twitter she opted to delete the images and alert others to what was happening.
“Twitter moving to eliminate (my) work from their platform is incredibly dangerous and is going to enable and embolden fascists,” she told AFP.
In announcing the privacy policy on Tuesday, Twitter noted that “sharing personal media, such as images or videos, can potentially violate a person’s privacy, and may lead to emotional or physical harm.”
But the rules don’t apply to “public figures or individuals when media and accompanying Tweets are shared in the public interest or add value to public discourse.”
By Friday, Twitter noted the roll out had been rough: “We became aware of a significant amount of coordinated and malicious reports, and unfortunately, our enforcement teams made several errors.”
“We’ve corrected those errors and are undergoing an internal review to make certain that this policy is used as intended,” the firm added.


However, Los Angeles-based activist and researcher Chad Loder said their account was permanently blocked after reports to Twitter over publicly-recorded images from an anti-vaccine rally and a confrontation outside the home of a former Vice journalist.
“Twitter is saying I must delete my tweets featuring photographs of people at newsworthy public events that did indeed get news coverage, or I will never get my account back,” Loder told AFP, adding it was the third report of their account to Twitter in 48 hours.
“The current mass-reporting actions by the far-right are just the latest salvo in an ongoing, concerted effort to memory-hole evidence of their crimes and misdeeds,” Loder added, using a term popularized by George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984.
Experts noted that Twitter’s new rules sound like a well-intentioned idea but are incredibly thorny to enforce.
One reason is that the platform has become a key forum for identifying people involved in far-right and hate groups, with Internet sleuths posting their names or other identifying information.
The practice of so-called “doxxing” has cost the targets their jobs, set them up for intense public ridicule and even criminal prosecution, while the activists who post the information have faced threats or harassment themselves.
A major example was the online effort to track down people involved in the violence at the US Capitol, which was stormed in January by Donald Trump supporters seeking to block the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory.
Even the US Federal Bureau of Investigation regularly posts images on its feed of as-yet unnamed people it is seeking in connection with the violence.
“Twitter has given extremists a new weapon to bring harm to those in the greatest need of protection and those shining a light on danger,” said Michael Breen, president and CEO of advocacy group Human Rights First, which called on Twitter to halt the policy.
The new rules, announced just a day after Parag Agrawal took over from co-founder Jack Dorsey as boss, wander into issues that may be beyond the platform’s control.
“It gets complicated fast, but these are issues that are going to be resolved probably in our courts,” said Betsy Page Sigman, a professor emeritus at Georgetown University. “I’m not optimistic about Twitter’s changes.”


Twitter’s design, engineering heads to step down in management rejig

The moves come just days after co-founder Jack Dorsey stepped down as chief executive officer. (File/AFP)
The moves come just days after co-founder Jack Dorsey stepped down as chief executive officer. (File/AFP)
Updated 04 December 2021

Twitter’s design, engineering heads to step down in management rejig

The moves come just days after co-founder Jack Dorsey stepped down as chief executive officer. (File/AFP)
  • Twitter's design and engineering heads will step down from their roles as part of a management restructuring campaign

LONDON: Twitter Inc. said on Friday its engineering head Michael Montano and design chief Dantley Davis would step down from their roles by the end of this month, as part of a broader management restructuring at the social networking site.
The moves come just days after co-founder Jack Dorsey stepped down as chief executive officer and handed over the reins to Chief Technology Officer Parag Agrawal.
Twitter said Agrawal, in his newly assumed role, has decided to reorganize the leadership structure at the company and shift to a general manager model for consumer, revenue and core tech that would oversee all core teams across engineering, product management, design and research.
Product lead Kayvon Beykpour, revenue product lead Bruce Falck and Vice President of Engineering Nick Caldwell will now lead the three units respectively, the company said.
Twitter added Lindsey Iannucci, a senior operations and strategy executive at the company, would be the chief of staff.