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US jury to decide if Twitter worker spied for Saudi royals

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US jury to decide if Twitter worker spied for Saudi royals

– Copyright POOL/AFP/File Yui Mok

Glenn CHAPMAN

Jurors in a San Francisco court on Thursday began mulling the fate of a former Twitter worker accused of taking bribes from Saudi Arabia to help unmask its critics on the platform.

Prosecutors said Ahmad Abouammo sold Twitter user information for cash and an expensive watch some seven years ago, while his defense team contended that he did nothing more than accept gifts from free-spending Saudis for simply doing his client management job.

“The evidence shows that, for a price and thinking no one was watching, the defendant sold his position to an insider of the crown prince,” US prosecutor Colin Sampson said in final remarks to the jury.

Defense attorney Angela Chuang countered that while there certainly appeared to be a conspiracy some 7 years ago to get revealing information about Saudi critics from Twitter, prosecutors failed to prove Abouammo was part of it.

“It’s abundantly clear that the people the government really wants are not here, because they messed up,” Chuang told jurors.

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Chuang conceded that Abouammo did violate Twitter employee rules by not telling the San Francisco-based company that he had received $100,000 in cash and a watch valued at more than $40,000 from someone close to the Saudi crown prince.

However, she downplayed the significance of the gift, saying it amounted to “pocket change” in Saudi culture known for generosity and lavish presents.

– Trust traded for cash? –

Abouammo was arrested in Seattle in November of 2019 on a slew of charges including being an illegal agent of a foreign government.

Prosecutors accused Abouammo and fellow Twitter employee Ali Alzabarah of being enlisted by Saudi officials between late 2014 and early the following year to get private information on accounts firing off posts critical of the regime.

The then-Twitter workers could use their credentials to glean email addresses, phone numbers, birth dates and other private data to identify people behind anonymous accounts, prosecutors said.

“The evidence you heard is that the defendant, who had a great deal of trust given to him by Twitter, sold his access to officials of Saudi Arabia,” Sampson said.

Abouammo quit Twitter in 2015 and took a job at e-commerce titan Amazon in Seattle, where he lives, according to court documents.

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Alzabarah, a Saudi national, is being sought on a charge of failing to register in the United States as an agent of a foreign government as required by United States law, according to an FBI statement.

Chuang told jurors that prosecutors were trying to punish Abouammo for Alzabarah’s actions.

“As much as the government wishes that was Mr. Alzabarah sitting at the table right now, it is not,” Chuang told jurors.

“And that is on them, they let Mr. Alzabarah flee the country while he was under FBI surveillance.”

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Twitter Outlines New Ad Improvements in Line with Evolving Data Privacy Approaches

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Twitter Outlines New Ad Improvements in Line with Evolving Data Privacy Approaches

With the holiday shopping season fast approaching, all of the major platforms are working to update their ad tools, in order to maximize ad spend, and boost campaign performance.

That’s become more important than ever due to the broader economic downturn, which has impacted the results at all the social apps, as marketing budgets shrink, and businesses reassess their promotional activity. As such, the holiday push will also provide a chance for each platform to showcase its capacity to drive better outcomes. And with even less data to work with, due to Apple’s ATT update, that poses a range of challenges in itself.

Which is the key focus of Twitter’s latest ad updates.

Today, Twitter has announced a new and improved Twitter Pixel for website visitor tracking, an updated Conversion API, and a new App Purchase Optimization process to help improve your Twitter ads campaigns.

First off, on its updated Pixel – the new version of Twitter’s pixel will enable advertisers to track more actions, like when someone adds an item to their shopping cart, while Twitter has also simplified the pixel integration and activation process.

“We simplified our event creation process, which helps advertisers more seamlessly set up their measurement solutions, and introduced updates to our Pixel Helper Chrome extension. This will help advertisers better understand the impact of their web campaigns and provide clearer support when checking to see if the Pixel is implemented properly.”

Pixel tracking can provide direct data insights to help inform your campaigns, filling some of the gaps left by users switching off in-app data tracking. It won’t facilitate the same data at scale, but more insight is always better, and these new pixel elements could make it easier to utilize Twitter’s pixel elements.

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Twitter’s new Conversion API, meanwhile, will enable advertisers to feed conversion data back to their Twitter account, without the use of third-party cookies.

“CAPI can also help improve optimization and ad targeting without the need for a Twitter Pixel, which is the first time an advertiser can finally connect data to see conversions without placing a tag on their site.”

Twitter ad updates

The new API is the first major step in Twitter’s broader effort to build for the cookie-less future, with more privacy-friendly tracking solutions to maintain, and potentially even improve performance.

The final new element is App Purchase Optimization, which will enable advertisers to deliver ads to the Twitter users that are most likely to install an app or make a purchase ‘by using machine learning to identify audiences that are more likely to take an action.

Twitter ad updates

As you can see in this example, the process will utilize Twitter’s evolving machine learning tools to select the right audience for your campaigns, which could help to maximize performance.

Twitter says that in early testing, 89% of advertisers saw a reduction in cost-per-purchase.

In addition to these new updates, Twitter has also shared some more detail on its in-development ad options, which don’t have a release date as yet. But again, with the holiday shopping push fast approaching, you can bet that Twitter will be pushing to get them out soon.

First on Twitter’s ‘Coming Soon’ list is Collection Ads, which will enable advertisers to highlight a ‘hero’ image, along with smaller thumbnail previews of related products beneath. Twitter first previewed the option back in March.

Twitter Collection Ads

As you can see in this example, brands will be able to include up to five side-scrolling images beneath the main image, with each driving consumers to a different website or product landing page, if you so choose.

Twitter says that it’s also rebuilding its Web Conversion Optimization model in order to help advertisers reach people who are more likely to convert. Meta is also focusing on similar within its broader effort to mitigate the impacts of Apple’s iOS data tracking update, with the process essentially putting increased reliance on machine learning models to optimize performance.

Finally, Twitter’s also developing a new type of Dynamic Product ads that will ‘deliver relevant products to the right person, at the right time, based on their activity both on and off Twitter’. Twitter’s current Dynamic Product Ads are based on website tracking, with Twitter able to show ads to users based on the webpages that they’ve visited. But the new format will again take a more privacy-focused approach, in order to optimize ad performance with potentially fewer signals.

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These are some significant additions to the Twitter advertiser arsenal, which also signal Twitter’s biggest steps yet in moving more into line with evolving privacy tools and restrictions.

Which is a necessary development – but in terms of actual value, and how effective they might be, it’ll really come down to how good Twitter’s machine learning tools actually are, and whether the right users end up seeing your ads as a result.

If the systems work as intended, these updates could be a big boost for Twitter marketers – but if not, it could be a frustrating holiday season for those utilizing promoted tweets.



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