Just days after Pepsi announced that it would advertise its products in space using a Russian startup, the company now says it will no longer pursue the plans, avoiding what likely would have resulted in significant public criticism. Slashdot reader schwit1 shares a report from SpaceNews: The publication Futurism reported April 13 that PepsiCo's Russian subsidiary was working with a startup there called StartRocket to advertise an energy drink called "Adrenaline Rush" using satellites. The company has proposed flying a set of small satellites in formation, reflecting sunlight with Mylar sails to create logos or other advertising messages visible from the ground after sunset and before sunrise.
PepsiCo's headquarters in the United States has shot down the idea. "We can confirm StartRocket performed an exploratory test for stratosphere advertisements using the Adrenaline GameChangers logo," a company spokesperson told SpaceNews April 15. "This was a one-time event; we have no further plans to test or commercially use this technology at this time." The company didn't elaborate on the "exploratory test for stratosphere advertisements," but it appears to refer to a high-altitude balloon test of the technology that StartRocket says on its website it planned to carry out in April in cooperation with Russia's Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, or Skoltech. "People have a visceral dislike of space-based advertising," adds schwit1.
Researchers from Northeastern Unviersity, the University of Southern Carolina, and tech accountability non-profit Upturn have released a paper that says Facebook's ad delivery system itself can steer ads intended to be inclusive toward discrimination without explicit intent. "In a paper titled, 'Discrimination through optimization: How Facebook's ad delivery can lead to skewed outcomes,' co-authors Muhammad Ali, Piotr Sapiezynski, Miranda Bogen, Aleksandra Korolova, Alan Mislove, and Aaron Rieke find that advertiser budgets and ad content affect ad delivery, skewing it along gender and racial lines even when neutral ad targeting settings are used," reports The Register. From the report: The researchers found that Facebook ads tend to be shown to men because women tend to click on ads more often, making them more expensive to reach through Facebook's system. That divide becomes apparent when ad budgets are compared, because the ad budget affects ad distribution. As the paper explains, "the higher the daily budget, the smaller the fraction of men in the audience." Such segregation may be appropriate and desirable for certain types of marketing pitches, but when applied to credit, employment and housing ads, the consequences can be problematic.
Ad content -- text and images -- also has a strong effect on whether ads get shown to men or women, even when the bidding strategy is the same and gender-agnostic targeting is used. In particular, the researchers found images had a surprisingly large effect on ad delivery. Ad URL destination has some effect -- an ad pointing to a bodybuilding site and an ad pointing to a cosmetics site had a baseline delivery distribution of 48 percent men and 40 percent men respectively. The addition of a title and headline doesn't change that much. But once the researchers added an image to the ad, the distribution pattern changed, with the bodybuilding site ad reaching an audience that was 75 percent male and the cosmetics ad reaching an audience that was 90 percent female. According to the researchers, their tests suggest, "Facebook has an automated image classification mechanism in place that is used to steer different ads towards different subsets of the user population." "In terms of credit, employment and housing ads, the problem with this system is that it discriminates where it shouldn't: Five ads for lumber industry jobs were delivered to an audience that was more than 90 percent men and more than 70 percent white; five ads for janitorial work were delivered to an audience that was more than 65 percent women and 75 percent black," the report adds. "Housing ads also showed a racial skew."
The latest findings come after years of criticism of Facebook's ad system. Last month, Facebook announced changes to the platform intended to prevent advertisers from deploying unfair credit, employment and housing ads. One week later, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development sued Facebook for violating the Fair Housing Act.
Google is testing a new "Pilot Program" that puts a row of advertisements on the Android TV home screen. XDA Developers, which was the first to report the program, says: "We're currently seeing reports that it has shown up in Sony smart TVs, the Mi Box 3 from Xiaomi, NVIDIA Shield TV, and others." Ars Technica reports: The advertising is a "Sponsored Channel" part of the "Android TV Core Services" app that ships with all Android TV devices. A "Channel" in Android TV parlance means an entire row of thumbnails in the UI will be dedicated to "sponsored" content. Google provided XDA Developers with a statement saying that yes, this is on purpose, but for now it's a "pilot program."
Sony has tersely worded a support page detailing the "Sponsored channel," too. There's no mention here of it being a pilot program. Sony's page, titled "A sponsored channel has suddenly appeared on my TV Home menu," says, "This change is included in the latest Android TV Launcher app (Home app) update. The purpose is to help you discover new apps and contents for your TV." Sony goes on to say, "This channel is managed by Google" and "the Sponsored channel cannot be customized." Sony basically could replace the entire page with a "Deal with it" sunglasses gif, and it would send the same message.
As tech giants face growing scrutiny over their market power, Amazon has quietly removed some of the most aggressive promotional spots for so-called private label products on its website. CNBC reports: Private label products are created by Amazon or partners and are sold only on Amazon's website under an exclusive brand name. They benefit Amazon in many ways: They expand the selection of products on the site, offer better profit margins than selling third-party products, make supply-chain management easier and can help Amazon persuade big brands to cut prices to remain competitive on its site. Amazon has been ramping up the number of private label brands during the last three years, stoking fear and concern among some sellers and brands that sell competing products on the marketplace.
Amazon's promotions for these products, which started showing up at least a year ago, were exclusively reserved for Amazon's own private label products and appeared in highly visible areas of the site, like the top of search results or next to the "buy box" of a competitor's product page. Other companies spend billions buying Amazon ads that link to their product listings on the site, vaulting Amazon into the number three spot among U.S. digital advertising providers, behind Google and Facebook, according to eMarketer. However, in recent weeks, Amazon has significantly scaled down or relocated on-site promotions for its private label products, according to multiple Amazon sellers and consultants. The report goes on to cite Sen. Elizabeth Warren's call for breaking up big tech companies like Amazon and Google as a reason why Amazon is scaling back its promo spots. "Amazon's practice of exclusively promoting its own private label products on the most prominent parts of its site has drawn the ire of many sellers and brands for being unfair and abusive," the report adds.
An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Moolah Mobile is teaming up with SurgePhone Wireless to offer people a new way to pay their cell phone bills -- by putting ads on their homescreens. Moolah CEO Vernell Woods (pictured above) said the startup has already been offering gift cards and other rewards to users who view its homescreen ads. So this is a similar model, except instead of earning gift cards, the ads are subsidizing cell phone service from Surge. The ads show up on users' homescreens during interstitial moments between using apps, so the goal is to offer free service without consumers having to change their behavior. Woods said all that ad time adds up, with "the average person who's using their phone on a consistent basis" viewing "easily between two to three hours" of homescreen ads each day. And that's enough to pay for the "equivalent" of Surge's $10 monthly plan. On the other hand, if for some reason a subscriber isn't hitting the necessary total, Woods said they can also earn more points by accepting offers or taking surveys. The subsidized wireless service will roll out in Florida, Virginia, Georgia and Texas initially, with an aim of reaching 40,000 locations by the end of the year.
Police in Bulgaria have arrested an alleged Russian hacker who may be responsible for a huge Android ad scam that netted $10 million. The individual identified as Alexander Zhukov is a Saint Petersburg native who's been living in Varna, Bulgaria, since 2010 and was apprehended on November 6th after the US issued an international warrant for his arrest, according to ZDNet.