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Instagram influencers see few repercussions for sneaky ads; crackdown’s coming

(TECH NEWS) Instagram influencers are getting slaps on the wrist for omitting the truth about their sneaky posts.

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Instafamous

Do you base all of your purchasing decisions on filtered Instagram posts with paragraphs and paragraphs of hashtags that are blurred out in a haze of consumerism? Are you suspicious of any product or service that doesn’t appear on social media, for fear that it’s “only for old people”?

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As a result, do you find yourself refusing to buy anything that can’t be purchased on a smartphone? Have you been drinking a lot of diet tea and wearing a lot of weirdly specific sock brands lately?

Influencers

If this sounds uncomfortably familiar, you or someone you love may have fallen prey to the increasingly unavoidable population of influencers. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it’s a word for people who spend a lot of time getting paid to do things that other people do for free, like wearing socks and using Instagram filters. Considering the growing popularity of the term, and the occupation, the wordsmith in me feels the need to develop a term for influencers in aggregate.

A pride of lions, a murder of crows . . . a hashtag of influencers?

Influencers are usually paid per post or per campaign by the various brands they endorse, and they’re making more moolah than seems decent. The Kim Kardashians of the internet make upwards of $500,000 for each endorsed campaign, and users with three million plus followers can expect a tidy $75,000 or more per sponsored post. I would wear a lot of sock for that kind of money.

Influencer marketing is all about establishing credibility and trying to get social media users to forget they’re being marketed to.

But it’s definitely still marketing, and shocking as it may seem, there are rules for that.

Cracking down gently

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently announced that they’d sent out 90 gentle reminder letters to rogue hashtaggers who are “forgetting” to disclose paid posts, or who are burying “#ad” in an unreadable puddle of hashtag vomit which, even if their followers are super interested in the influencers #hashtags, might not even show up, since there are usually only three lines shown per post on the mobile app before you have to click that annoying “more” button, which, #aintnobodygottimeforthat #notanad #ijustlikeoutdatedreferences #amidoingthishashtagthingright?

That was so annoying to type, and I hope nobody read it because it’s dumb.

So in their letters, the FTC recommends (like the way a law recommends that you follow it) placing the disclosure above the “more” button, and ensuring that the disclosure truly is “clear” and “conspicuous,” as per the law.

These letters are the FTC’s half-hearted response to a petition filed by a group of consumer advocates that was filed last year.

The petition cited shady ads by Insta-influencers, and Public Citizen, one of the groups spearheading the petition, seems to be happy with the letter thing.

“We live in an era where celebrities and average citizens are sharing every detail of their lives on social media, from what they ate for breakfast to selfies featuring their ‘favorite’ products. It is often unclear whether an Instagram user is paid to post a product endorsement or if they genuinely use it,” said campaign coordinator Kristen Strader. “That’s exactly why brands are using influencer marketing as a primary way to reach young consumers.”

But she went on to emphasize the importance of, you know, actually doing something about it.

“Until the FTC takes enforcement actions against repeat offenders, the culture around influencer marketing will not change and consumers will continue to be misled.”

Same old, same old

As far as I can tell, there’s no reason this little letter will change anything. If they’ve gotten away with it up until now, why should they change their stealthy hashtagging ways?

And, really, they aren’t going to read a printed letter that comes in the mail unless it has a QR code for a new filter or something.Click To Tweet

Does that even make sense? That’s not the point. You know the point. A snail mail hand slap isn’t going to change the status quo. Let’s see the FTC actually tackle regulating social media marketing, instead of #pretend-caring.

#InstagramFTC

Staff Writer, Natalie Bradford earned her B.A. in English from Cornell University and spends a lot of time convincing herself not to bake MORE brownies. She enjoys cats, cocktails, and good films - preferably together. She is currently working on a collection of short stories.

Tech News

The newest booming business: Hiding from facial recognition

(TECH NEWS) ‘Cloaking’ is the new way to hide your face. Companies are making big money designing cloaking apps that thwart your features by adding a layer of make up, clothing, blurring, and even transforming you into your favorite celebrity.

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Facial recognition companies and those who seek to thwart them are currently locked in a grand game of cat and mouse. Though it’s been relentlessly pursued by police, politicians, and technocrats alike, the increasing use of facial recognition technology in public spaces, workplaces, and housing complexes remains a widely unpopular phenomenon.

So it’s no surprise that there is big money to be made in the field of “cloaking,” or dodging facial recognition tech – particularly during COVID times while facial coverings are, literally, in fashion.

Take Fawkes, a cloaking app designed by researchers at the University of Chicago. It is named for Guy Fawkes, the 17th century English revolutionary whose likeness was popularized as a symbol of anonymity, and solidarity in V For Vendetta.

Fawkes works by subtly overlaying a celebrity’s facial information over your selfies at the pixel level. To your friends, the changes will go completely unnoticed, but to an artificial intelligence trying to identify your face, you’d theoretically look just like Beyonce.

Fawkes isn’t available to the general public yet, but if you’re looking for strategies to fly under the radar of facial recognition, don’t fret; it is just one example of the ways in which cloaking has entered the mainstream.

Other forms of cloaking have emerged in the forms of Tik Tok makeup trends, clothes that confuse recognition algorithms, tools that automatically blur identifying features on the face, and much more. Since effective facial recognition relies on having as much information about human faces as possible, cloaking enthusiasts like Ben Zhao, Professor of computer science at the University of Chicago and co-developer of Fawkes, hope to make facial recognition less effective against the rest of the population too. In an interview with The New York Times, Zhao asserts, “our [team’s] goal is to make Clearview [AI] go away.”

For the uninitiated, Clearview AI is a start-up that recently became infamous for scraping billions of public photos from the internet and privately using them to build the database for a law enforcement facial recognition tool.

The CEO of Clearview, Hoan Ton-That, claimed that the tool would only be improved by these workarounds and that in long run, cloaking is futile. If that sounds like supervillain talk, you might see why he’s earned himself a reputation similar to the likes of Martin Shkreli or Ajit Pai with his company’s uniquely aggressive approach to data harvesting.

It all feels like the beginning of a cyberpunk western: a story of man vs. machine. The deck is stacked, the rules are undecided, and the world is watching. But so far, you can rest assured that no algorithm has completely outsmarted our own eyeballs… yet.

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Tech News

Australia wants Facebook and Google to pay media royalties

Australia seeks to require Facebook and Google to pay royalties to media companies for use of news content on their platforms.

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Australia is in the process of requiring tech giants, Facebook and Alphabet, to pay royalties to Australian media companies for using their content. Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg announced the move the day after the US Congressional antitrust hearing that put the CEOs of Facebook, Alphabet, Amazon, and Apple back in the regulatory spotlight.

In addition to the pressure from the United States investigation into market control by these companies, global leaders are calling for similar regulations. Though none have been successful, media companies in Germany, France, and Spain have pushed for legislation to force Google to pay licensing fees to use their news content. Some companies have been pushing for this for years and yet, the tech giants keep dragging out their changes, even admitting their actions are wrong.

In 2019, the Australian government instructed Facebook and Google to negotiate voluntary deals with Australian media to use their content. The Australian government says the companies failed to follow through on the directive, and therefore will be forced to intervene. They have 45 days to reach an agreement in arbitration, after which the Australian Communications and Media Authority will create legally binding terms for the companies on behalf of the Australian government.

Google claims the web traffic that it drives to media websites should be compensation enough for the content. A Google representative in Australia asserts that the government regulations would constitute interference into market competition – which would be the point, Google!

According to a 2019 study, an estimated 3,000 journalism jobs have been lost in the last decade. The previous generation of media companies has paid substantial advertising fees to Google and Facebook while receiving nothing in return for the use of its news content. Frydenberg asserts the regulatory measures are necessary to protect consumers and ensure a “sustainable media landscape” in the country.

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Tech News

Onboarding for customers and employees made easy

(TECH NEWS) Cohere enables live, virtual onboarding at bargain prices to help you better support and guide your users.

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Web development and site design may be straightforward, but that doesn’t mean your customers won’t get turned around when reviewing your products. Onboarding visitors is the simplest solution, but is it the easiest?

According to Cohere–a live, remote onboarding tool–the answer is a resounding yes.

Cohere claims to be able to integrate with your website using “just 2 lines of code”; after completing this integration, you can communicate with, guide, and show your product to any site visitor upon request. You’ll also be able to see what customers are doing in real time rather than relying on metrics, making it easy to catch and convert customers who are on the fence, due to uncertainty or confusion.

There isn’t a screen-share option in Cohere’s package, but what they do include is a “multiplayer” option in which your cursor will appear on a customer’s screen, thus enabling you to guide them to the correct options; you can also scroll and type for your customer, all the while talking them through the process as needed. It’s the kind of onboarding that, in a normal world, would have to take place face-to-face–completely tailored for virtual so you don’t have to.

You can even use Cohere to stage an actual demo for customers, which accomplishes two things: the ability to pare down your own demo page in favor of live options, and minimizing confusion (and, by extension, faster sales) on the behalf of the customer. It’s a win-win situation that streamlines your website efficiency while potentially increasing your sales.

Naturally, the applications for Cohere are endless. Using this tool for eCommerce or tech support is an obvious choice, but as virtual job interviews and onboarding become more and more prevalent, one could anticipate Cohere becoming the industry example for remote inservice and walkthroughs.

Hands-on help beats written instructions any day, so if companies are able to allocate the HR resources to moderate common Cohere usage, it could be a huge win for those businesses.

For those two lines of code (and a bit more), you’ll pay anywhere from $39 to $129 for the listed packages. Custom pricing is available for larger businesses, so you may have some wiggle room if you’re willing to take a shot at implementing Cohere business-wide.

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