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Chrome 85 to erase ads that hog network, CPU resources

Google last week said that this summer Chrome will remove resource-hogging web advertisements from websites, including ads that mask unauthorized crypto-mining operations.

Arguing that a very small number of online ads – three-tenths of a percentage point of all on the web – disproportionately account for major portions of total network and CPU consumption, Google plans to scrub sites of such ads starting with a Stable build of Chrome near the end of August.

Chrome 85 is scheduled to release on Aug. 25, and would be the most likely version to debut the feature.

“These ads (such as those that mine cryptocurrency, are poorly programmed, or are unoptimized for network usage) can drain battery life, saturate already strained networks, and cost money,” Marshall Vale, a Chrome product manager, wrote in a May 14 post to the Chromium blog.

When Chrome detects one of the über-aggressive ads, the browser will unload the content from the ad’s frame – the portion of the page in which it’s displayed – and refill the space with an error message stating “Ad removed,” along with a link to more information.

After copious measurements, Google decided to strip out any ad that consumed 4MB of network data, used the CPU during half of any 30-second span or tallied a total of 60 seconds of CPU usage. Those bars were so high that they affected only 0.3% of all ads, but, Google contended, such ads accounted for 27% of all ad-generated network traffic and 28% of all ad-related CPU usage.

Other browsers have addressed bad actors, including crypto-miners, using different approaches. Mozilla’s Firefox, for example, blocks crypto-miners by targeting domains known to harbor such scripts. (Mozilla relies on domain lists produced by Disconnect.) It’s not surprising that Google took a metrics-based route here; it typically bases decisions, or says it does, on data collected by Chrome and/or its search engine.

Chrome users can try out this “Heavy Ad” detection and removal prior to version 85 via the chrome://flags option page. Set the Heavy Ad Intervention flag (which also goes by #enable-heavy-ad-intervention) to Enabled and relaunch the browser.

Site developers and ad content creators should use the time between now and late August to test and, if necessary, alter first-party advertisements, Google said. “Our intent with this extended rollout is to give appropriate time for ad creators and tool providers to prepare and incorporate these thresholds into their workflows,” said Vale.

Detailed instructions on how to track removed ads using an API as well as how to test the resource usage of ad content were provided in this support document.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Apple is forcing the ads industry to change

Advertising has become too personal.

Modern systems learn too much about your personal life, tastes and aspirations, and while this is manna from heaven for advertisers, it’s an invasion of privacy for the many. And Apple is changing the equation.

Intelligent Tracking Prevention

Apple has built a technology that reduces the quantity of data advertisers can harvest from your online life. It is called Intelligent Tracking Prevention and The Information tells us that since the tech debuted in 2017:

“Advertisers have largely lost the ability to target people on Safari based on their browsing habits with cookies, the most commonly used technology for tracking.”

There’s bad and good in this, of course.

On the one side, online publishers will feel the pinch as Apple users cease to generate as much ads income, which means advertisers become less willing to pay for ads on those platforms, at least in the current ads economy.

On the other, we all benefit from better privacy and more control over the information agencies about whom we have neither insight or control possess about us.

This is the current situation, but I believe it is subject to change.

The digital transformation of everything

This is simply a transition, and while advertisers may be frustrated in the short-term, there’s no reason for their industry to hoover up all this information – it wasn’t able to do so in the days before the web, after all, and some of the most exciting moments in the industry took place then.

And advertisers simply can’t ignore the growing awareness of the need to protect privacy as public consciousness wakes to the dangers of its loss, and the nature of the data industry that exists.

All the same, it is a conundrum:

Advertisers need good insight into who they reach, while consumers want ads that are relevant to their personal needs while not costing them their privacy.

Ultimately this is a technological challenge, and just like any challenge the motivation – and the technologies – already exist to mend it. They just need to be put in place.

Why Apple users matter

Study after study shows that Apple’s users are active users.

Not only do they live online, but they are digital natives willing to purchase everything from houses to books to cars to services in the online world.

Not only this, but Apple users tend to possess more disposable income than others, according to a 2018 study from the National Bureau of Economic Research.

“Across all years in our data, no individual brand is as predictive of being high-income as owning an Apple iPhone in 2016,” the paper said.

And we also know Apple’s mobile devices are witnessing accelerating use across the Fortun 500 firms.

These statistics illustrate three important things that should motivate the ads industry to develop a fresh approach that matches both Apple’s platform and the emerging need for privacy among consumers:

  1. Apple users are digitally active
  2. Apple users purchase goods online.
  3. iPhone users may have a high income.

Put this together and what have you got?

Some of the most valuable customers in the world – and that’s why the ads industry will change.

How the ads industry must change

We are transforming into a planet at least in part populated by digital communities.

These communities have varying needs, different dreams and many desires.

Reflecting these desires is what the ads industry is about, turning products into aspirational purchases for those communities most likely to desire them.

But there really is no need for ads agencies to know precisely who wants what, or to have insight into exactly which community any given individual belongs.

Ads agencies can take different approaches, for example, through sponsorship of apps and services that reach people from the communities they want to market too.

Think how one drinks firm became legendary with its simple iPhone app that showed a pint of beer being consumed.

However, it’s machine intelligence – particularly on-device intelligence – which I think will enable ads companies and tech firms to deliver more of what ads companies want without giving them access to personal data.

Taking the ‘i’ out of iAds

Apple and Google both already use a system called federated learning.

This is a rapidly advancing technology that’s used in iOS 13’s Siri to help the assistant get better at recognizing what you say while also ensuring recordings of what you say aren’t shared (much).

When used with differential privacy tools, federated learning promises to provide both what consumers want – convenience – with privacy protection.

Why shouldn’t this same technique be used to obfuscate personal information, to protect user identity while also providing both users and ads agencies with a new business model that gives some useful insights to both sides?

It’s just another digital transformation.

The ads agencies have done quite well out of promoting digital change so far – why on earth did they ever think they’d be immune to change themselves?

I think such a system will emerge within next-generation online advertising systems, and given the value of Apple’s user demographic I’d be shocked if ads agencies (and Apple itself) weren’t already working on it.

Because there’s no need for the I in iAds.

Perhaps this will be part of Apple’s discussion at CES 2020?

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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How to Disable Interactive Pop-Up Ads on Your Roku TV

A TV with a Roku logo on it.

Roku TVs are now displaying pop-up advertisements over commercials on live TV. Whether you’re watching cable TV or free OTA channels via an antenna, you’ll see an occasional Roku advertisement above a commercial. Here’s how to disable them.

These ads were first spotted by Cord Cutters News. An advertisement promoting “Ghost Town” on the Roku Channel, a program sponsored by GEICO, appeared over a GEICO commercial while watching live TV. The ads appear to be part of the Roku OS 9.2 update.

The good news is that these only appear during commercial breaks. If an advertiser has partnered with Roku, that advertiser can display an interactive pop-up advertisement over the normal commercial. These ads will only appear when commercials are already playing on your  TV.

A GEICO advertisement displayed over a commercial on live TV on a Roku TV.
Cord Cutters News

If you don’t want to see these advertisements, you can disable them. To do so, head to Settings > Privacy > Smart TV Experience and disable the “Use info from TV inputs” feature on your Roku TV.

This will also disable suggestions like “More Ways to Watch,” which uses Automated Content Recognition (ACR) to analyze what you’re watching and recommend additional episodes of the show on streaming services as well as similar shows and movies you may be interested in watching.

Disabling the "Use info from TV inputs" advertising feature on a TCL Roku TV.

These advertisements are only available on Roku TVs at the moment. If you have a TCL Roku TV or a Roku TV made by another manufacturer, this affects you.

If you just have a standard Roku stick or streaming box, you won’t see these ads or the option to disable the “Use info from TV inputs” feature.

RELATED: The Smart TV Crapware Era Has Already Begun

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Use the Off-Facebook Activity Tool to Stop Being Stalked by Ads Online

Facebook recently released a tool called Off-Facebook Activity. This tool gives you better controls over which apps and services can share your data with Facebook. If you want to stop your data from being spread from third-party services to Facebook, this tool can help.

We’ll show you how to use the tool and what data it will and won’t remove. And fair warning: while the tool is useful, it won’t actually delete your data. So we’ll show you how to remove your data from Facebook as well.

What Is the Off-Facebook Activity Tool?

Delete Facebook Data - Facebook Activity

Facebook has been the subject of significant criticism about its approach to privacy. Now the company is trying to rebuild trust with its users. One way it is doing this is by introducing tools which let users see their own Facebook data

Facebook Is Recording More About You Than You Think: How to See Your Own Data

Facebook Is Recording More About You Than You Think: How to See Your Own Data

There’s no doubt about it: Facebook knows more about you than you do.
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and take more control over this data. The Off-Facebook Activity tool allows use to control what data Facebook receives from other apps and services.

There are two ways that Facebook gathers data about you: firstly, through the information you give Facebook directly. This is information such as your name and the interests which you enter into the Facebook website or app.

The second way Facebook gathers data is through sites that use Facebook functions like the Like button, the option to log in with Facebook, or through an invisible piece of code called a Facebook Pixel. That’s why, after you browse Amazon looking for something like a toaster, your Facebook page is suddenly full of ads for the same toaster.

The Off-Facebook Activity tool gives you more control over this second type of data. It lets you see a summary of the data that Facebook has collected from other apps and websites and disconnect this information from your Facebook account.

How Do You Use the Off-Facebook Activity Tool?

Delete Facebook Data - Off-Facebook Activity Tool
Image Credit: Facebook

Facebook users in Ireland, South Korea, and Spain will be the first people able to access the tool. It will continue to roll out to users in other countries over the coming months. So if you’re not able to access the tool yet then you can keep checking back.

To use the Off-Facebook Activity tool, start by logging in to the Facebook app on your device. Then go to Settings. Here, in the Your Facebook Information section there should be an option for Off-Facebook Activity. Click this to bring up the tool.

In the Your Off-Facebook Activity section you’ll see information about what the tool does, followed by a list of icons showing the apps and websites which have sent data to Facebook in the past. Beneath this are three options: Manage Your Off-Facebook Activity, Clear History, and More Options.

If you click on Manage Your Off-Facebook Activity you can see a full list of all the apps and websites that have shared your activity with Facebook. In the list you will see an icon, the title of the website, the date at which data from that source was last received, and a number next to the icon showing how many times your activity has been shared.

To clear all this information so it is no longer linked to your Facebook account, click the Clear History button. Next you can also go to the Manage Future Activity section and set the slider for Future Off-Facebook Activity to off to stop Facebook tracking your activities

Facebook Is Tracking You! Here’s How to Stop It

Facebook Is Tracking You! Here’s How to Stop It

Many entities are tracking your internet activity, including social media sites like Facebook. Here’s what you need to know.
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in the future.

What Data the Will the Tool Remove?

The tool anonymizes your browsing data so it is no longer linked to your Facebook account. It should take effect within 48 hours, according to a Facebook engineering blog post. However, an important caveat about this tool is that it will not actually delete your data. It will disconnect the data from your Facebook profile, but it won’t allow you to delete your browsing information.

Facebook still collects information from third party apps and services. But now it assigns a unique ID to each activity report instead of linking it to your name. Facebook continues to harvest data but now keeps it anonymously.

While this is certainly an improvement in terms of privacy, it still means that Facebook has access to vast quantities of data about your internet activities from apps and sites across the web. Even if you don’t have a Facebook account, Facebook can still collect information about you from any site using features like the Facebook Like button or the Facebook Pixel.

How Can You Secure Your Facebook Data?

If you want to remove your data from Facebook, it’s going to take more work. You can start by going to Facebook Ad Preferences. Here you can see the profile Facebook has built of you and your interests based on all the data it has access to. You can also go to Facebook settings and download a copy of the data that Facebook has on you. But be warned: the downloaded file will likely be huge.

Another good tip is to limit how much of your Facebook data is shared with third parties

Facebook Privacy Tip: How to Limit Your Data Being Shared With Third Parties

Facebook Privacy Tip: How to Limit Your Data Being Shared With Third Parties

You should tweak these Facebook privacy settings to prevent your data from unknowingly being shared by friends to third-party harvesters.
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. You can do this by removing Facebook app permissions by going to Settings > Apps > Apps, Websites and Plugins.

It’s also important to prevent your friends from sharing your data by looking in Settings > Apps > Apps others use and going to Edit, then unchecking any items so your friends can’t share them.

The very best way to remove your data from Facebook, however, is to delete your account. If you deactivate your account, it won’t erase your personal data.  Deleting your account will remove most but not all of your data. To learn more about what happens when you delete your account, see our guide to what deactivating or deleting Facebook really means for privacy

What Deactivating or Deleting Facebook Really Means for Privacy

What Deactivating or Deleting Facebook Really Means for Privacy

Thinking about quitting Facebook? Here’s how deleting or deactivating Facebook can improve your online privacy.
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Take Control of Your Facebook Data

The Off-Facebook activity tool gives you some measure of control over how your data is shared with Facebook. However, it won’t actually delete your data. So if you want to be sure your data isn’t being misused, it’s best to remove it from Facebook altogether.

Controlling the data that Facebook collects about you isn’t only important for your personal privacy and security. It can also have a big effect on society as a whole. To learn more about this important issue, see our article on how your Facebook data is collected and used to win elections

How Your Data on Facebook Is Collected and Used to Win Elections

How Your Data on Facebook Is Collected and Used to Win Elections

What do you do when your Facebook data is harvested and manipulated to influence the course of international politics?
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How to Print Web Pages Without Ads and Other Clutter

A printer sitting on a desk, printing out a sheet of paper with a bar graph on it.

Articles on the web come with advertisements and other clutter. If you print them, you often get all that junk. But you can cut out the ads and other extraneous elements with a feature built into your web browser.

We recommend using “reading mode” in web browsers to eliminate this. In reading mode, your web browser creates a special view with just the text and important images. But this mode isn’t just for reading—you can also print from it and get a better, more streamlined hard copy. All you have to do is activate the web browser’s reading mode before printing the article. Here’s how:

  • Google Chrome: Chrome has a hidden reader mode you can enable. After you do, click menu > Distill Page. If you don’t want to mess with hidden flags, we recommend opening the web page in another browser and printing it from there.

Click the main Chrome menu, and then select "Distill Page."

  • Mozilla Firefox: Click the article-shaped “Toggle Reader View” button in the address bar or press F9.

Click the "Toggle Reader View" button.

  • Microsoft Edge: Click the book-shaped “Reading View” icon in the address bar or press Ctrl+Shift+R.

Click the "Reading View" icon.

  • Apple Safari: Click the “Reader” icon on the left side of the address bar. It looks like a few lines of text. You can also press Cmd+Shift+R.

Click the "Reader" icon.

After enabling reading mode in your browser, open its menu and click “Print,” just like normal. This prints the streamlined, more minimal version of the web page. That cut-down version also appears in the print preview window.

Chrome's print preview of a distilled web page.

If you’re trying to print a web page that isn’t an article, the reader view icon either doesn’t appear or is grayed out. This is because reading mode only works with web articles, as your browser can automatically strip those down.

RELATED: How to Use Google Chrome’s Hidden Reader Mode

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