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TikTok accounts using Service NSW data to expose odometer fraud

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A TikTok video comparing a car's odometer reading history against its Facebook Marketplace listing (Image: TikTok/@matty.rio)

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Let’s talk about one of the most lucrative and widespread forms of online crime. It’s low risk, low effort but with a massive upside. The mark is a roughly $14 billion-per-year industry in Australia. The best part about it? The victims typically don’t even know they’ve been robbed. It’s pretty much the perfect crime.

I’m talking about digital advertising fraud. Those banners across the top of websites, pre-roll videos on YouTube and promoted search results? They pay for a lot of the free internet. Just about every time you click on a link or scroll down an app, a split-second auction between potential advertisers occurs to determine which ad you will be shown. Each ad placement is typically worth somewhere between a fraction of a cent and a few cents, but this very quickly adds (pun really not intended) up. This cash goes back to the owner of the digital real estate, with a cut to the advertising platform owner, such as Google.

Since there’s a nearly endless amount of online advertising space being shown to billions of unique users, and it needs to be sold in an infinitesimally small amount of time, it’s exceedingly difficult to keep track of it all, even if you’re paying for it. Fraudsters exploit this by misleading or outright lying about the advertising they sell and the eyeballs they promise. This information asymmetry is so bad that even the biggest, most legitimate players in this game can be caught out not delivering.

Just last month, The Wall Street Journal covered research by an advertising analytics company that found Google violates its own rules — promising advertisers a premium placement on high-quality websites and only counting advertisements that aren’t skipped — a whopping 80% of the time.

“The firm accused the company of placing ads in small, muted, automatically-played videos off to the side of a page’s main content, on sites that don’t meet Google’s standards for monetisation, among other violations,” wrote the Journal‘s Patience Haggin.

While Google was selling this A+ advertising space — the digital equivalent to being on a billboard in Times Square — fraudsters are using a whole bag of tricks to convince Google that they were actually delivering these advertisements when they weren’t. And it’s the same, more or less, with other advertising platform providers.

Just how big is the fraudster’s bag? Late last month Australia’s peak advertising body IAB Australia released its Digital Ad Fraud handbook that outlined 35 (!) different ways that digital advertisers can be deceived. These include everything from invisible ads (when a digital advertisement is served but a human user can’t see it, perhaps because it’s hidden behind another element on the page) to click farms (humans paid to click on ads to artificially boost the recorded engagement).

The handbook is part of IAB Australia’s way of trying to restore faith in the industry which, up until not so long ago, would “discount or even deny the problem” according to Australian advertising trade publication Mi3’s Andrew Birmingham.

The broader lesson here is that we shouldn’t take the tech industry’s data, statistics and metrics as gospel. Whether it’s the amount of misinformation on a platform (as I wrote about in the last edition of WebCam) or the inflation of view counts that was used to justify Facebook’s infamous pivot to video, big tech is all too happy to play up perceptions of objectivity when it’s using it to spruik its own services. We should always question what is being counted, how it’s counted, and who it benefits when it’s counted that way.

Hyperlinks

The Australian government is making big tech scan your emails, messages

I dug into a largely ignored move by Australia’s online chief which is set to have a seismic impact on how the Australian internet works. (Crikey)

Australia’s eSafety umpire issues legal warning to Twitter amid rise in online hate

And here’s news from another one of the eSafety commissioner’s powers. (Guardian Australia)

Will Albanese’s new ‘misinfo’ law make government the truth police? Not at all

Ironically, there is a lot of misinformation being spread about this law. I dug into what the exposure draft actually says about how it works. (Crikey)

Australian woman shocked to discover her TikToks were being used to advertise Ovira anti-bloating pills without her knowledge

Incredibly, this user was initially banned for creating a TikTok calling out the company for using her story. (ABC)

TikTok is rife with viral Voice to Parliament misinformation

It’s probably not a surprise to most but bears repeating that social media platforms are facilitating the mass spread of bullshit, and they make money off doing so. (Crikey)

Content Corner

Great news for content lovers! Earlier this month, the NSW government opened access to odometer readings to the public.

Anyone can use the Service NSW app to look up another car’s registration and see what readings they had at their previous three registrations. This will, according to the government, stop unscrupulous sellers from tampering with odometers to make it seem as if it’s done fewer kilometres before selling a vehicle, as buyers will be able to check their odometer history to see if it’s magically decreased.

Why are you reading about this in a newsletter about the Australian internet? Because this move has been a gift to us, the punters who love content. TikTok users are making videos using the information to expose people selling cars with inconsistent odometers on Facebook Marketplace.

(Image: TikTok/@matty.rio)

In less than a fortnight, a handful of accounts have popped up dedicated to showing examples, like the 2007 Toyota Hilux that suddenly recorded 200,000km six months after registration.

But, in a game of cat and mouse, some sellers have responded by blacking out their number plate details to thwart these odometer checks when posting online.

TikTok accounts using Service NSW data to expose odometer fraud
(Image: TikTok/@usedcarinspection)

I’m not a car guy but I found this endlessly entertaining. Everyone loves a good scam and a scammer’s comeuppance. I also believe that one of the great driving forces of the internet is bored people with spare time who want to impress strangers online.

What makes this content — and dare I say, justice — possible is access to the data. It’s like the old saying that “what gets measured gets managed”. When it comes to the internet, any new source of information becomes food for the content machine.

That’s it for WebCam this week! I’ll be back in two weeks, in my new regular slot on Thursday afternoons. In the meantime, you can find more of my writing here. And if you have any tips or story ideas, here are a few ways you can get in touch.



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Facebook Faces Yet Another Outage: Platform Encounters Technical Issues Again

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Facebook Problem Again

Uppdated: It seems that today’s issues with Facebook haven’t affected as many users as the last time. A smaller group of people appears to be impacted this time around, which is a relief compared to the larger incident before. Nevertheless, it’s still frustrating for those affected, and hopefully, the issues will be resolved soon by the Facebook team.

Facebook had another problem today (March 20, 2024). According to Downdetector, a website that shows when other websites are not working, many people had trouble using Facebook.

This isn’t the first time Facebook has had issues. Just a little while ago, there was another problem that stopped people from using the site. Today, when people tried to use Facebook, it didn’t work like it should. People couldn’t see their friends’ posts, and sometimes the website wouldn’t even load.

Downdetector, which watches out for problems on websites, showed that lots of people were having trouble with Facebook. People from all over the world said they couldn’t use the site, and they were not happy about it.

When websites like Facebook have problems, it affects a lot of people. It’s not just about not being able to see posts or chat with friends. It can also impact businesses that use Facebook to reach customers.

Since Facebook owns Messenger and Instagram, the problems with Facebook also meant that people had trouble using these apps. It made the situation even more frustrating for many users, who rely on these apps to stay connected with others.

During this recent problem, one thing is obvious: the internet is always changing, and even big websites like Facebook can have problems. While people wait for Facebook to fix the issue, it shows us how easily things online can go wrong. It’s a good reminder that we should have backup plans for staying connected online, just in case something like this happens again.

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Christian family goes in hiding after being cleared of blasphemy

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Christian family goes in hiding after being cleared of blasphemy

LAHORE, Pakistan — A court in Pakistan granted bail to a Christian falsely charged with blasphemy, but he and his family have separated and gone into hiding amid threats to their lives, sources said.

Haroon Shahzad (right) with attorney Aneeqa Maria. | The Voice Society/Morning Star News

Haroon Shahzad, 45, was released from Sargodha District Jail on Nov. 15, said his attorney, Aneeqa Maria. Shahzad was charged with blasphemy on June 30 after posting Bible verses on Facebook that infuriated Muslims, causing dozens of Christian families in Chak 49 Shumaali, near Sargodha in Punjab Province, to flee their homes.

Lahore High Court Judge Ali Baqir Najfi granted bail on Nov. 6, but the decision and his release on Nov. 15 were not made public until now due to security fears for his life, Maria said.

Shahzad told Morning Star News by telephone from an undisclosed location that the false accusation has changed his family’s lives forever.

“My family has been on the run from the time I was implicated in this false charge and arrested by the police under mob pressure,” Shahzad told Morning Star News. “My eldest daughter had just started her second year in college, but it’s been more than four months now that she hasn’t been able to return to her institution. My other children are also unable to resume their education as my family is compelled to change their location after 15-20 days as a security precaution.”

Though he was not tortured during incarceration, he said, the pain of being away from his family and thinking about their well-being and safety gave him countless sleepless nights.

“All of this is due to the fact that the complainant, Imran Ladhar, has widely shared my photo on social media and declared me liable for death for alleged blasphemy,” he said in a choked voice. “As soon as Ladhar heard about my bail, he and his accomplices started gathering people in the village and incited them against me and my family. He’s trying his best to ensure that we are never able to go back to the village.”

Shahzad has met with his family only once since his release on bail, and they are unable to return to their village in the foreseeable future, he said.

“We are not together,” he told Morning Star News. “They are living at a relative’s house while I’m taking refuge elsewhere. I don’t know when this agonizing situation will come to an end.”

The Christian said the complainant, said to be a member of Islamist extremist party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan and also allegedly connected with banned terrorist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, filed the charge because of a grudge. Shahzad said he and his family had obtained valuable government land and allotted it for construction of a church building, and Ladhar and others had filed multiple cases against the allotment and lost all of them after a four-year legal battle.

“Another probable reason for Ladhar’s jealousy could be that we were financially better off than most Christian families of the village,” he said. “I was running a successful paint business in Sargodha city, but that too has shut down due to this case.”

Regarding the social media post, Shahzad said he had no intention of hurting Muslim sentiments by sharing the biblical verse on his Facebook page.

“I posted the verse a week before Eid Al Adha [Feast of the Sacrifice] but I had no idea that it would be used to target me and my family,” he said. “In fact, when I came to know that Ladhar was provoking the villagers against me, I deleted the post and decided to meet the village elders to explain my position.”

The village elders were already influenced by Ladhar and refused to listen to him, Shahzad said.

“I was left with no option but to flee the village when I heard that Ladhar was amassing a mob to attack me,” he said.

Shahzad pleaded with government authorities for justice, saying he should not be punished for sharing a verse from the Bible that in no way constituted blasphemy.

Similar to other cases

Shahzad’s attorney, Maria, told Morning Star News that events in Shahzad’s case were similar to other blasphemy cases filed against Christians.

“Defective investigation, mala fide on the part of the police and complainant, violent protests against the accused persons and threats to them and their families, forcing their displacement from their ancestral areas, have become hallmarks of all blasphemy allegations in Pakistan,” said Maria, head of The Voice Society, a Christian paralegal organization.

She said that the case filed against Shahzad was gross violation of Section 196 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), which states that police cannot register a case under the Section 295-A blasphemy statute against a private citizen without the approval of the provincial government or federal agencies.

Maria added that Shahzad and his family have continued to suffer even though there was no evidence of blasphemy.

“The social stigma attached with a blasphemy accusation will likely have a long-lasting impact on their lives, whereas his accuser, Imran Ladhar, would not have to face any consequence of his false accusation,” she said.

The judge who granted bail noted that Shahzad was charged with blasphemy under Section 295-A, which is a non-cognizable offense, and Section 298, which is bailable. The judge also noted that police had not submitted the forensic report of Shahzad’s cell phone and said evidence was required to prove that the social media was blasphemous, according to Maria.

Bail was set at 100,000 Pakistani rupees (US $350) and two personal sureties, and the judge ordered police to further investigate, she said.

Shahzad, a paint contractor, on June 29 posted on his Facebook page 1 Cor. 10:18-21 regarding food sacrificed to idols, as Muslims were beginning the four-day festival of Eid al-Adha, which involves slaughtering an animal and sharing the meat.

A Muslim villager took a screenshot of the post, sent it to local social media groups and accused Shahzad of likening Muslims to pagans and disrespecting the Abrahamic tradition of animal sacrifice.

Though Shahzad made no comment in the post, inflammatory or otherwise, the situation became tense after Friday prayers when announcements were made from mosque loudspeakers telling people to gather for a protest, family sources previously told Morning Star News.

Fearing violence as mobs grew in the village, most Christian families fled their homes, leaving everything behind.

In a bid to restore order, the police registered a case against Shahzad under Sections 295-A and 298. Section 295-A relates to “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs” and is punishable with imprisonment of up to 10 years and fine, or both. Section 298 prescribes up to one year in prison and a fine, or both, for hurting religious sentiments.

Pakistan ranked seventh on Open Doors’ 2023 World Watch List of the most difficult places to be a Christian, up from eighth the previous year.

Morning Star News is the only independent news service focusing exclusively on the persecution of Christians. The nonprofit’s mission is to provide complete, reliable, even-handed news in order to empower those in the free world to help persecuted Christians, and to encourage persecuted Christians by informing them that they are not alone in their suffering.

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Individual + Team Stats: Hornets vs. Timberwolves

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CHARLOTTE HORNETS MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES You can follow us for future coverage by liking us on Facebook & following us on X: Facebook – All Hornets X – …

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