Posts tagged ‘deception’


After years, the tech press catches on about Facebook’s inflated user numbers

07.09.2017

In 2014, I began warning that Facebook’s user numbers were false, and I also began saying that at some point, the site would boast more people than there were online users on Earth. (In fact, I said this very thing again earlier this week, ironically on a friend’s Facebook, above.)
   I couldn’t see how the site could cite more than one thousand million users, given that by that point, the majority of the “users” I saw on the site joining my groups were bots. I made the warning again last year.
   Now that Facebook has done something about the bots, or at least put mechanisms in place where we can identify them more readily, I’ve been seeing falls in user numbers in groups.
   Finally, in 2017, the tech press catches on, even though if in 2014 you could find over 250 bots a night, you should have been suspicious of any user numbers Facebook was claiming.
   Marketwatch notes:

   Recently, Pivotal Research Group analyst Brian Wieser was intrigued by a trade publication study in Australia that said Facebook FB, +0.80% was claiming to reach 1.7 million more 16- to 39-year olds than actually existed in the country, according to Australian census data.
   In reproducing the study for the U.S., Wieser said Facebook’s Ads Manager claims it can potentially reach 41 million 18- to 24-year-olds, 60 million 25- to 34-year-olds, and 61 million 35- to 49-year-olds. The problem arises when Wieser pulls up U.S. Census data from a year ago, showing 31 million 18- to 24-year-olds, 45 million 25- to 34-year-olds, and 61 million 35- to 49-year-olds.

   Facebook’s response:

In a statement, a Facebook spokeswoman said that its estimates “are based on a number of factors, including Facebook user behaviors, user demographics, location data from devices, and other factors.”
   “They are not designed to match population or census estimates,” Facebook said.

What?
   That’s right, Facebook’s numbers are not designed to match population estimates.
   Then what on earth are they designed to match?
   This is the tip of the iceberg, because the fact the site is so overrun with bots that Facebook does nothing about could be connected to why thousands are being falsely accused of malware, and why the site regularly loses basic functions for certain users (e.g. being able to like or comment). If bots are taking up all these resources, and there must be plenty given that the user numbers are so far from reality, then where does that leave legitimate users?
   I say these problems have been going on for years, but good on Mr Wieser for blowing the lid on the made-up figures, and to Wallace Witkowski of Marketwatch for covering it finally.

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Posted in business, internet, marketing, media, technology, USA | 1 Comment »


If Facebook says you have malware, do not download their program—here’s a way around it

03.01.2016

An interesting weekend on Facebook. Despite regaining access, I’m not allowed to post links (with the accusation that my computer is infected—see above), and after considerable research, I know this to be completely untrue. The Facebook malware accusations are targeted at certain users and, from the tiny sample of four that have responded to me, we are all heavy users. Just as I theorized back in June 2014 when Facebook shut down for me for 69 hours, some of us have reached a limit on their servers.
   Boffins, and Facebook, say that that’s impossible, but there have been countless signs of that over the years. Most were recorded on Get Satisfaction before Facebook shut down that community (how convenient). Among them were things such as Facebook being unable to show me every video I had uploaded—the list began at 2011 and earlier ones were omitted—and the many occasions where I could no longer post, comment, like or share. There’s a direct parallel to my experiences on the former Vox.com, which Six Apart confirmed in 2009 and which they had no official answer for.
   What’s the best course of action if Facebook accuses you of malware and forces you to download one of their programs from Trend Micro, F-Secure or Kaspersky? Delete your cookies. Once you do that, you can regain access, though, like me, you’ll have a limited account where link-sharing is impossible. Initially, I was able to share a few links after my accessing Facebook, but it eventually became a blanket block, with the odd one getting through (two a day in my case).
   If you want to be extra-safe, run the free version of Malware Bytes. The free one won’t conflict with your existing antivirus set-up (I’m not trying to do Malware Bytes out of money), but, like the rest of us, you’ll likely discover that your system is clean.
   One woman got around this by downloading a new browser, although she was also limited on the link-posting.
   Whatever you do, do not listen to these big firms. Facebook, Google et al are, as I’ve been documenting over the years, particularly deceptive. I’ve still had to deal with the remnants of Facebook’s scan switching off McAfee, nearly two days later.
   Facebook’s apparently had many complaints about this since 2014, so I’m hardly the first to encounter it. Blaming malware for their own databasing issues is cheap, but enough people will believe it—even with my mistrust of these big Silicon Valley firms I still did their malware scan, not thinking I had a choice if I wanted to access the site again. What it really did during the scan is anyone’s guess.
   I’d rather they come clean and tell people: you are allowed x posts a day, x links a day, and x photos and videos a day. I can work around that. But if they came clean about this and the number of click-farm workers and bots plaguing the site, what will that do to their share price?
   And isn’t it ironic I can presently share more, and have more freedom of speech, on Weibo, monitored by the Chinese Communist Party?

PS.: As of the last week of April, I have had two reports that deleting cookies does not work, but switching browsers does. Facebook appears to find a way to identify you, your regular browser and your IP address together, without cookies.

P.PS.: Mid-May, and from my other thread on this topic, in the post-postscripts: ‘Andrew McPherson was hit with this more recently, with Facebook blocking the cookie-deleting method in some cases, and advises, “If you get this, you will need to change your Facebook password to something very long (a phrase will do), delete and clear your browsers cache and history, then delete your browser, then renew your IP address to a different number and then reinstall your browsers.” If you cannot change your IP address but are using a router, then he suggests refreshing the address on that. Basically, Facebook is making it harder and harder for us to work around their bug. Once again, if you sign on using a different account using the same “infected” computer, there are no problems—which means the finger of blame should remain squarely pointed at Facebook.’

P.P.PS.: June 17: as detailed at my other post, for those who might find Andrew’s method too technical, the current wisdom is to wait it out. It does appear to take days, however. Reminds me of the time Facebook stopped working for me for 69 hours in 2014. Do not download Facebook’s crap.

P.P.P.PS.: November 30: it appears waiting it out is the best option for those who don’t want to mess around under the bonnet. Shawn Picker, in the comments, says to expect a five-day wait.

P.P.P.P.PS.: May 9, 2017: On the other post on this subject on my blog, a user called David suggested modifying your headers and to fool Facebook into thinking you are using another type of device. In comment no. 66 below, Stephan confirms that it works and gives more details about it. Check it out!

P.P.P.P.P.PS.: October 24: Again in the other thread on this topic, Don Dalton found that he was able to replace his Chrome profile with an older one to bypass Facebook’s block. Have a read of his comment here.

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Posted in China, internet, technology, USA | 234 Comments »


Facebook forced me to download their anti-malware, and my own antivirus gets knocked out

02.01.2016

When Facebook says it cares about security, I laugh. Every day I see bots, spammers and click-farm workers plague the site, and despite reporting them, Facebook lets them stay. It will make a statement saying it would no longer kick off drag queens and kings, then proceed to kick off drag queens and kings. So when I was blocked last night from using Facebook on my Windows 10 computer, after using a website with a Facebook messaging plug-in, with the claim that there was malware on the system, I knew something was fishy.
   Like Google’s false malware accusationsso serious that people have lost websites over them—I knew to take this one with a massive grain of salt. However, I didn’t have a choice: in order to get in to the site, I had to download a Kaspersky malware program, and let it run. The program never appeared in my installed list in Windows. I let it run overnight, for seven hours, whereupon it was frozen at 62 per cent. Restarting the computer, I was back to square one.




Above: Doing things the Facebook way. Listening to them was bound to end in tears.


Above: There’s no sign of Kaspersky in Windows’ installed programs’ list.

   Here’s where things started getting very strange. Windows 10 began saying I had no antivirus, anti-malware, or firewall up. Normally I would use McAfee. However, no matter how many times I tried to choose it, the warnings kept coming, thick and fast. In one case, it chose Windows Defender for me—only because I decided to let it run—and would not permit me to change it back through the settings. The timing of these events was all too suspicious.
   There was a rumour, denied by Kaspersky, that it was creating malware to throw off its competitors. The jury’s still out, but it’s just odd that while Kaspersky is running its Facebook scan, of what I knew to be non-existent malware, that McAfee would be inaccessible. I went to the McAfee website to file this.



Above: While the Kaspersky scan proceeded, McAfee was knocked out and could not be switched on. Coincidence?

   Unlike most people, I have options open to me, so I began to go on to Facebook using several different methods. A VirtualBox containing XP on the same computer was fine, if incredibly slow while Kaspersky was doing its thing. (Think about Windows XP on a 386.) Lubuntu was fine as well, as was Mac OS X. I Tweeted the McAfee community link, and thought it odd that it did not appear in Facebook (I have my Twitter set up to post there). I then tried to paste the link into Facebook manually, whereupon, in Lubuntu and Mac OS, I was told that my computer was now infected with either a virus or malware. Unlike Windows, I had the option of telling them they were in error, and I was able to continue using the machines.
   This really sounds like Facebook and Kaspersky have it in for McAfee and, possibly, rival products, if the scan knocks out your choice of antivirus and anti-malware program, and if the mere mention of mcafee.com inside Facebook results in a warning box saying your computer is infected.


Above: On a Mac, I couldn’t even tell people about the post on mcafee.com. The second I did, Facebook said my computer was infected. The same thing happened on Lubuntu. Facebook accuses you of infection on the mere mention of mcafee.com.

   Eventually, the entire system froze, and while I could still move the mouse about, I couldn’t access the task bar or go to other programs.
   I was forced to do a hard reboot.
   But you’re asking now: was I ever infected? No. It’s Google all over again.
   Peter, the very knowledgeable McAfee support tech who came to my aid many years ago, was present again and put me on to two other programs after this restart. Getsusp analysed my system for malware, and, you guessed it, found nothing. Malware Bytes did the same, and found some PUPs (potentially unwanted programs), all of which I knew about, and I had intentionally installed. They’ve been present for years. In other words, two other malware scanners told me my system was clean. Malware Bytes did, however, restore McAfee as the correct antivirus program, exactly as Peter had predicted.
   He also suggested a system restore, which sadly failed, with Windows giving the reason that an antivirus program was running. Having restored this system once before (after some bad advice from Microsoft), I knew it couldn’t be McAfee. The only difference on this computer: I had had Kaspersky doing its Facebook scan. It appears that Facebook and Kaspersky don’t want you restoring your system.
   I had fixed the newer issues, but the original one remained: I couldn’t get on to Facebook. The Kaspersky scan never finishes, incidentally—you’re stuck on 62, 73 or 98 per cent—and while not having a personal Facebook is no great loss, I have businesses that have presences there.
   I stumbled across a Reddit thread where others had been forced to download antivirus programs by Facebook, and, fortunately, a woman there had found where hers resided. In my case, it was at C:\Users\USERNAME\AppData\Local\Temp\FBScanner_331840299. Deleting this, and all cookies mentioning Facebook and Kaspersky, restored my access.
   What to do if you ever come across this? My advice is to, first, run Malware Bytes, but ensure you run the free version, and do not opt for the trials. Once you’re satisfied your computer is clean, head into your cookies and delete all the Facebook ones, and any from the antivirus provider it recommends. This second Reddit thread may be helpful, too. I don’t know if this will work completely, but anything is preferable to following Facebook’s instructions and wasting your time. I really need to stop following instructions from these big firms—you’d think after all these years, I’d know better.

PS.: I found this video from last July which suggests the malware accusations have nothing to do with your computer set-up:

In addition, I cannot paste any links in Facebook. The situation began deteriorating after I regained access. Initially, I could paste and like a few things, but that facility eventually disappeared. Regardless of platform, I get the same error I did on the Mac yesterday (see screen shot above). Liking things results in the below error, and the wisdom there is to wait it out till Facebook staff get back to work on Monday.

P.PS.: Holly Jahangiri confronted the same issue as I did a few days later. She was smarter than me: she didn’t download the anti-malware malware. Have a read of her post here: other than that one difference, it’s almost play for play what happened to me for four days. She’s also rightly frustrated, as I am, by Facebook’s inaction when it’s legitimately needed.

P.P.PS.: Not only does Kaspersky delete your comment when you ask on its blog how to remove the malware scanner, they also clam up when you ask them on Twitter.

P.P.P.PS.: I’m beginning to hear that deleting cookies will not work (April 26). Facebook seems intent on having you download their suspicious junk. In those cases, people have switched to another browser.

P.P.P.P.PS.: Andrew McPherson was hit with this more recently, with Facebook blocking the cookie-deleting method in some cases, and advises, ‘If you get this, you will need to change your Facebook password to something very long (a phrase will do), delete and clear your browsers cache and history, then delete your browser, then renew your IP address to a different number and then reinstall your browsers.’ If you cannot change your IP address but are using a router, then he suggests refreshing the address on that. Basically, Facebook is making it harder and harder for us to work around their bug. Once again, if you sign on using a different account using the same “infected” computer, there are no problems—which means the finger of blame should remain squarely pointed at Facebook.

P.P.P.P.P.PS.: June 17: for those who might find Andrew’s method too technical, the current wisdom is to wait it out. It does appear to take days, however. Reminds me of the time Facebook stopped working for me for 69 hours in 2014.

P.P.P.P.P.P.PS.: January 28, 2017: David has come up with a great solution in the comments (no. 103). You can fool Facebook into thinking you are using a Mac by changing the user-agent. He suggests a Chrome Extension. I have Modify Headers for Firefox, which might work, too.

P.P.P.P.P.P.P.PS.: May 9: Stephan, on my other thread on this topic (comment no. 66), confirms that David’s solution worked and has posted a few more details, including extensions for Firefox, Safari and Chrome.

P.P.P.P.P.P.P.P.PS.: October 24: Don Dalton found that he was able to replace his Chrome profile with an older one to bypass Facebook’s block. Have a read of his comment here.

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Posted in internet, technology, USA | 171 Comments »


Google tracks your searches, and uses them, even when your web history is turned off

22.01.2014

My dislike of Google is no secret, and, as a precaution, I have every known Google tracking setting turned off. I even block the Doubleclick and YouTube cookies. However, I have to manage a page at Google Plus—and Google cleverly tracks you through its Plus service.
   It doesn’t lie about it:

When you use our services or view content provided by Google, we may automatically collect and store certain information in server logs. This may include:

details of how you used our service, such as your search queries.

But you wonder why they bother having a web history page. My web history is turned off, but it needn’t matter: Google is still tracking me and giving me useless information.

Web history turned off

   How do I know? Its friendly Google Plus suggestion, asking me if I know a Senger Ralf:

Senger Ralf

I don’t. I run a few Facebook groups, and as most Facebook users know, the site is plagued by fake accounts. It’s not uncommon for me to need to block a dozen a day. Senger Ralf was one of the borderline cases, so after searching on DuckDuckGo, I tried Google.
   It also claims that I have downloaded 39 apps. This is BS. I logged into Google Play recently and without any move on my part, 30-plus apps started coming down. Thank goodness none of them got installed, but Google now inaccurately thinks I am into a whole bunch of useless games. A blessing in disguise, then: the less accurate the data on me, the better.
   The documentary, Terms and Conditions May Apply, is great to watch if you ever come across it. Google’s spying is revealed there, along with that of others. The documentary maker even reveals that Google covered up its original privacy policy on its site, deceptively passing off that its earliest dated from 2000, when there were ones before that. The 1999 policies, which are now on the site (Google has a habit of stopping dodgy behaviour when it is busted), included terms such as:

Google’s policy on our wholly controlled and operated Internet sites is to respect and protect the privacy of our users.

and:

From time to time, there may be situations where Google asks you for personal information. When we intend to use your personal information, we tell you up front. This way you can decide whether you want to give us the information or not. In case you change your mind or some personal information changes, we will endeavor to provide a way to correct, update or remove the personal data you give us.

Upon your first visit to Google, Google sends a “cookie” to your computer. A cookie is a file that identifies you as a unique user. It can also store personal preferences and user data. A cookie can tell us, “This is the same individual who visited Google two days ago” but it cannot tell us, “This person is Joe Smith” or even, “This person lives in the United States.”

How times have changed. (In 1999, I was a Google fan. Understandable if that was their privacy policy.) Now it tracks you when you have turned off your web history, which gives you the false impression that Google no longer looks at your searches, and it uses your name and avatar for advertising purposes, even when you have turned off Google Plus endorsements.
   It pays to be extremely wary of this firm, because it never says what it means.
   Finally, if you are a Wordpress user, and you have Google concerns, then be aware that the big G is tracking you there, too. The Wordpress dashboard uses Google fonts. The way to fix this is to download a very small plug-in called Disable Google Fonts (hat tip to Fontfeed). If you like the look of the fonts, just install them on to your own hard drive—they are open source.

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Posted in business, culture, internet, technology, USA | 8 Comments »


Does frictionless sharing go further than we think?

30.12.2011

Frictionless sharing on Facebook, as I understand it, works largely as described in the diagrams at Shortstack. If you want more depth, ReadWriteWeb explains it.
   But what if you have never authorized the application? In my case, I have never authorized anything from Disney or ABC. I double-checked today to see what apps I had in Facebook, and there’s no mention of anything from this corporation. I’ve nothing to hide, and the list of my authorized apps is shown below.
   If that list is accurate, how could I possibly have shared the article as the ABC News social plug-in states at left?
   My journal does not mention it, but I’ve learned to have a healthy scepticism when it comes to Facebook (or Google) and privacy.
   Is Facebook tracking us even on sites that we have never authorized, just by virtue of their having a social plug-in? If that’s the case, then this is something that I never anticipated—and it means that our understanding of frictionless sharing, and Facebook’s own assurances about it, were not accurate.

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Posted in business, internet, technology, USA | No Comments »