Google, Facebook, and Pew are going after cyber con jobs and fake news

  • TECH
  • Friday, 10 Feb 2017

A Facebook icon is shown on a Samsung Galaxy III mobile phone in this photo illustration in Encinitas, California, January 30, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Blake

Cyber con jobs are on the rise, wreaking havoc on consumers and the social fabric, new evidence from Google, Facebook and the Pew Research Centre argues. 

Google took down 1.7 billion deceptive and shocking ads in 2016 that violated its advertising policies, the company said last month. That's double the level of a year ago. 

Among the ads it disabled, Google cited 900,000 containing malware, 68 million for "health-care violations" (up from 12.5 million the year before), 80 million that "deceived, misled or shocked users," and 17 million for promoting illegal gambling. It took action against 47,000 sites touting weight-loss scams, 15,000 sites pushing unwanted software on users, and 6,000 sites and 6,000 accounts for advertising counterfeit goods. 

The search giant snared more bad guys by expanding its policies – now including payday-loan ads – and with upgraded detection technology. It found 7 million ads that intentionally tried to trick the detection systems and 23,000 "self-clicking" mobile ads that automatically loaded apps onto devices without the users' OK. 

Both Google and Facebook lit into the fake-news crisis, and detailed some responses, in blog posts. Google's detection systems suspended 1,300 accounts last year that cloaked ads as news. And after reviewing 550 sites "suspected of misrepresenting content to users, including impersonating news organizations," it took action in November and December against 300, with nearly 200 publishers booted off its network permanently. 

Hitting the fakers in the pocketbook, the move means they will no longer have access to the Google AdSense system, which places display advertisements on popular sites. In November, Google was notably shamed by media aggregator Mediaite for the top search placement given to a "final election vote count 2016" story that incorrectly stated Donald Trump had beaten Hillary Clinton in the popular vote. 

While not recounting wrongs wrought, Facebook acknowledged that it is tweaking its Trending Topics feature, which has been blamed for spreading false information. 

To "help prevent hoaxes and fake news from appearing," Facebook said, it will demand more "transparency" (that is, clarity/truthfulness) in the original headlines. And its search engine will now emphasise news stories that achieve traction from a number of publishers, rather than putting weight on a single, intensely read article or multiple "mentions of a topic." 

Cyber fraud also loomed large in the findings of a Pew Research Centre study issued Jan 26. Pew found that 64% of adults surveyed have directly experienced some type of significant data theft or fraud, 49% of respondents believe their personal data have become less secure in recent years, and about 25% now lack confidence that the federal government and social-media sites can keep their personal information safe and secure from unauthorized users. 

Driving citizen concerns, Pew found, was that 41% of polled Americans have encountered fraudulent charges on their credit cards and 35% have been notified that sensitive information like an account number has been compromised. (Sometimes, the notifications are cons themselves. When resetting a password, don't do it through a notification link, but by visiting the website itself.) 

Sixteen percent of Pew's 1,040 US adult study participants suffered a takeover of their e-mail accounts, and 13% said one of their social-media accounts had been breached. Those often lead to cons such as: "Hi. I'm stuck in Paris. My wallet and passport have been stolen. Please wire cash." 

Fifteen percent of those polled said they have received notices – real or bogus – that their Social Security numbers had been compromised, 14% said someone had attempted to take out a loan or line of credit in their name, and 6% found that someone had impersonated them to file fraudulent tax returns and score tax refunds. 

Compounding the cyber insecurities and crimes, Pew found that many Americans don't follow best practices: Forty-one percent share passwords with friends and family members; 39% use the same or very similar passwords for multiple accounts, and 25% resort to simple, more easily guessed passwords. 

On the mobile-device front, Pew found that about 10% of smartphone owners risk known security breaches by never updating the operating system or apps. Fifty-four percent engage in sensitive activities such as online banking or e-commerce while connected through an unsecured public WiFi network. — Philadelphia Daily News/Tribune News Service

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