Feb 06

Racy Super Bowl Ads Aren’t Dead — They’re Just Online

By Caroline Knorr, Common Sense Media

Everyone knows that half the fun of the Super Bowl is the commercials. With advertisers paying $5 million per 30-second spot, the results are usually pretty spectacular – and often sexist, stereotypical, and age-inappropriate. This year, though, things look different. Whether it’s the prestige of the 50th anniversary of the Big Game, the reality that sex doesn’t actually sell, or a growing family audience, Super Bowl 50’s advertisers include earnest companies such as TurboTax and WeatherTech. Past offenders such as GoDaddy and Carl’s Jr. are nowhere to be found – on TV, that is. All those risqué ads have moved online, where it’s easy – and exciting – for kids to hunt them down.

Billed as “Banned Super Bowl Commercials,” “Too Sexy for TV,” “Uncensored,” and “Red-band Super Bowl movie trailers,” clips featuring racy content are a huge trend in Internet advertising. And you can bet that the biggest advertising event on TV is also the biggest advertising event online. This year, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) premiered a super-steamy ad deemed too racy for the Super Bowl – and naturally garnered tons of attention. So-called “banned” advertising takes advantage of loosey-goosey online promotion rules, while thumbing its nose at fuddy-duddy broadcast restrictions. While some commercials may have been legitimately rejected by the networks, many are deliberately designed to fail the networks’ rules to increase their online cachet or specifically made for the Internet to add rogue appeal to a product.

Marketers know that labeling something “off-limits” whets viewers’ appetites. And it’s an especially effective strategy for today’s notoriously difficult-to-reach digitally savvy kids and teens. Talking about how marketers constantly change their methods to get their message across is a great way to manage your kids’ exposure to all kinds of advertising – no matter where they encounter it. You may not be able to prevent your kids from seeing age-inappropriate advertising, but encouraging them to think critically can help them become smart consumers. Here are some things to talk about:

Online

Unpack the appeal. Ask your kids if they prefer the “banned” ads. Do you think they were really “banned”? Why do companies boast that they are not allowed on TV? How do you feel about a company that markets one way on TV and another way online?

Talk about sexism and stereotypes in advertising. Ask your kids why companies use sex or exaggerated ethnic stereotypes to sell products. Is it worth degrading someone to make a commercial memorable? Would you buy a product associated with this kind of advertising?

Ask what makes commercials stand out. How do images, sound effects, logos, and videos make certain products seem appealing and like something you might want to buy?

Talk about advertisers’ online marketing strategies. Bud Light is teasing its main Super Bowl commercial with a series of online-only ads featuring Amy Schumer and Seth Rogan. Ask your kids about the different audiences the ads are designed for and why the company uses the Internet to promote a commercial.

Express yourself. Use the hashtag #notbuyingit (developed by the Representation Project) to call out offensive advertising.

TV

Talk about the ads. Ask your kids why they think marketers go all out on Super Bowl Sunday. Ask which ads they like and why. Share the ones you like, and explain why you like them. Which ones are memorable?

Find out who’s behind it. Ask your kids if they know who created a particular ad and which words, images, or sounds were used to attract their attention. Ask if the product was obvious or if the ad used other methods (such as videos of cool kids dancing on a beach) to communicate a positive association with the brand.

Talk about the spokesperson. Some ads use celebrities to influence purchases, and some ads use “regular people” (who are usually actors). Ask your kids which qualities a specific person (such as Jennifer Aniston) or a particular type of person (such as a generic goofy nerd type) communicates about the product.

Talk about emotional manipulation. Ask your kids which emotions or desires an ad prompts them to feel. Preteens take comfort in looking cool – and that means they often associate positive emotions with certain brands. Get them to identify those feelings so they can recognize when ads are affecting them.

Discuss alcohol advertising. Alcohol ads play a role in underage drinking. Ideas and images that appeal to kids are often used in beer commercials. Ask your kids what they remember about specific ads and ask whether they know what was being advertised. —Caroline Knorr, Common Sense Media

Common Sense Media is an independent nonprofit organization offering unbiased ratings and trusted advice to help families make smart media and technology choices.  Check out our ratings and recommendations at www.commonsense.org.

(Photo: iStock)

Permanent link to this article: http://homebiz2bizreview.net/internet-marketing/racy-super-bowl-ads-arent-dead-theyre-just-online-2/

Feb 05

Racy Super Bowl Ads Aren’t Dead — They’re Just Online

Caroline Knorr, Common Sense Media

Everyone knows that half the fun of the Super Bowl is the commercials. With advertisers paying $5 million per 30-second spot, the results are usually pretty spectacular — and often sexist, stereotypical, and age-inappropriate. This year, though, things look different. Whether it’s the prestige of the 50th anniversary of the Big Game, the reality that sex doesn’t actually sell, or a growing family audience, Super Bowl 50’s advertisers include earnest companies such as TurboTax and WeatherTech. Past offenders such as GoDaddy and Carl’s Jr. are nowhere to be found — on TV, that is. All those risqué ads have moved online, where it’s easy — and exciting — for kids to hunt them down.

Billed as “Banned Super Bowl Commercials,” “Too Sexy for TV,” “Uncensored,” and “Red-band Super Bowl movie trailers,” clips featuring racy content are a huge trend in Internet advertising. And you can bet that the biggest advertising event on TV is also the biggest advertising event online. This year, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) premiered a super-steamy ad deemed too racy for the Super Bowl — and naturally garnered tons of attention. So-called “banned” advertising takes advantage of loosey-goosey online promotion rules, while thumbing its nose at fuddy-duddy broadcast restrictions. While some commercials may have been legitimately rejected by the networks, many are deliberately designed to fail the networks’ rules to increase their online cachet or specifically made for the Internet to add rogue appeal to a product.

Marketers know that labeling something “off-limits” whets viewers’ appetites. And it’s an especially effective strategy for today’s notoriously difficult-to-reach digitally savvy kids and teens. Talking about how marketers constantly change their methods to get their message across is a great way to manage your kids’ exposure to all kinds of advertising — no matter where they encounter it. You may not be able to prevent your kids from seeing age-inappropriate advertising, but encouraging them to think critically can help them become smart consumers. Here are some things to talk about:

Online

Unpack the appeal. Ask your kids if they prefer the “banned” ads. Do you think they were really “banned”? Why do companies boast that they are not allowed on TV? How do you feel about a company that markets one way on TV and another way online?

Talk about sexism and stereotypes in advertising. Ask your kids why companies use sex or exaggerated ethnic stereotypes to sell products. Is it worth degrading someone to make a commercial memorable? Would you buy a product associated with this kind of advertising?

Ask what makes commercials stand out. How do images, sound effects, logos, and videos make certain products seem appealing and like something you might want to buy?

Talk about advertisers’ online marketing strategies
. Bud Light is teasing its main Super Bowl commercial with a series of online-only ads featuring Amy Schumer and Seth Rogan. Ask your kids about the different audiences the ads are designed for and why the company uses the Internet to promote a commercial.

Express yourself. Use the hashtag #notbuyingit (developed by the Representation Project) to call out offensive advertising.

TV

Talk about the ads. Ask your kids why they think marketers go all out on Super Bowl Sunday. Ask which ads they like and why. Share the ones you like, and explain why you like them. Which ones are memorable?

Find out who’s behind it
. Ask your kids if they know who created a particular ad and which words, images, or sounds were used to attract their attention. Ask if the product was obvious or if the ad used other methods (such as videos of cool kids dancing on a beach) to communicate a positive association with the brand.

Talk about the spokesperson. Some ads use celebrities to influence purchases, and some ads use “regular people” (who are usually actors). Ask your kids which qualities a specific person (such as Jennifer Aniston) or a particular type of person (such as a generic goofy nerd type) communicates about the product.

Talk about emotional manipulation
. Ask your kids which emotions or desires an ad prompts them to feel. Preteens take comfort in looking cool — and that means they often associate positive emotions with certain brands. Get them to identify those feelings so they can recognize when ads are affecting them.

Discuss alcohol advertising. Alcohol ads play a role in underage drinking. Ideas and images that appeal to kids are often used in beer commercials. Ask your kids what they remember about specific ads and ask whether they know what was being advertised.

Common Sense Media is an independent nonprofit organization offering unbiased ratings and trusted advice to help families make smart media and technology choices. Check out our ratings and recommendations at www.commonsense.org.

Permanent link to this article: http://homebiz2bizreview.net/internet-marketing/racy-super-bowl-ads-arent-dead-theyre-just-online/

Feb 04

Internet Retailing Giant SHOP.COM and Market America Welcome 25000 entrepreneurs to its 2016 World Conference …



MIAMI, Feb. 3, 2016 /PRNewswire/ — Market America | SHOP.COM welcomes a sold out crowd of more than 25,000 eager entrepreneurs to its 2016 World Conference in Miami this week, to deliver a powerful message of how to convert everyday spending into earning through the company’s revolutionary Shopping Annuity.



“This is the biggest event in our company’s history,” said Market America | SHOP.COM President and CEO JR Ridinger. “More and more people are realizing the power of our Shopping Annuity, which allows consumers to earn money on the purchases they make every day,” he said. “No one else offers what we have, and this weekend we will unveil new technologies, new products, new methodologies and new opportunities that will make it even easier for consumers all over the world to convert their spending into earning.”


Grammy-nominated rap artist and entrepreneur Joseph “Fat Joe” Cartagena, the company’s President of Urban and Latino Development, will deliver a powerful message of how a person’s own life experiences, combined with the power of SHOP.COM, can fuel entrepreneurial success in urban and Latino communities.



Entrepreneur, investor, “Shark Tank” star and motivational speaker Daymond John will be in attendance to discuss his newly released New York Times bestseller, “The Power of Broke,” in which he discusses overcoming challenges to establish massive success. In addition to his own personal life story, John details the stories of other inspiring individuals including Market America | SHOP.COM’s own Senior Executive Vice President Loren Ridinger.



Among Loren Ridinger’s many successes is the award-winning Motives® cosmetics line — for which she will unveil the latest beauty products at this week’s event along with her dear friend and TV star La La Anthony. Motives has long been one of the most successful brands within the company, having amassed an impressive social media following of over 2M followers.  Together Ridinger Anthony’s collaboration on the Motives brand has created beauty in every shade for women around the world.



The company will also announce several enhancements to their mobile platforms.



“Responsive web design is vital to an Internet marketing business,” said Steve Ashley, Vice President of Mobile Social Products. “We’re building out our responsive brand as SHOP.COM to offer a seamless experience for our customers and our UnFranchise entrepreneurs across the globe.”



Basketball Hall-of-Famer Scottie Pippen will spotlight the impressive results and mega success of his Market America-exclusive product, Prime™ Joint Support by Isotonix®.



One of the most exciting highlights of the event, will include enhancements to SHOP.COM’s shopping website that will be discussed in detail by Market America | SHOP.COM Chief Operating Officer Marc Ashley.



“It’s an exciting time for Market America | SHOP.COM,” Ashley stated. “We’re stronger and better than ever, both in terms of our customers and our family of entrepreneurs. We have the technology and the people power in place to really make a difference in how people shop, and the unique opportunity for people to convert their spending into earning and build their own Shopping Annuity. We are excited to be back in Miami to share this opportunity with thousands of people.”



For up-to-the minute updates, visit the Market America blog (http://blog.marketamerica.com) or follow the conversation on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/marketamerica; http://www.facebook.com/shop.com) and Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/marketamerica; http://www.twitter.com/shopcom; or search #MAWC2016).



ABOUT MARKET AMERICA, INC. SHOP.COM
Market America, Inc. is a product brokerage and Internet marketing company that specializes in One-to-One Marketing. Its mission is to provide a robust business system for entrepreneurs, while providing consumers a better way to shop.  Headquartered in Greensboro, NC, the company was founded in 1992 by President and CEO JR Ridinger and has generated $6.4 billion in accumulated sales. Market America employs nearly 750 people globally with operations in the United States, Canada, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Australia, United Kingdom, Mexico and Singapore. Through the company’s shopping website, SHOP.COM, consumers have access to over 40 million products, including Market America exclusive products and thousands of top retail brands. Internet Retailer has ranked SHOP.COM #64 in the 2015 Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide and the 18th fastest growing Internet Mobile Retailer. By combining Market America’s entrepreneurial business model with SHOP.COM’s powerful comparison shopping engine, Cashback program, Hot Deals, ShopBuddy®, social shopping integration and countless other features, the company has become the ultimate online shopping destination.



For more information:
United States: http://www.marketamerica.com or http://www.SHOP.COM



Logo – http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20160203/329188LOGO





SOURCE Market America | SHOP.COM

Related Links

http://www.marketamerica.com
http://www.shop.com

Permanent link to this article: http://homebiz2bizreview.net/internet-marketing/internet-retailing-giant-shop-com-and-market-america-welcome-25000-entrepreneurs-to-its-2016-world-conference/

Feb 03

Yahoo to Pursue Asset Sales, Cut 15% of Staff

Yahoo! Inc. Chief Executive Officer Marissa Mayer is exploring strategic alternatives for the company’s beleaguered Web business while slashing staff by about 15 percent and exiting product lines, giving in to demands by restive shareholders displeased by her failure to boost growth.

The Sunnyvale, California-based company will fire employees, shutter more offices and devote more resources to increasing engagement with users, Yahoo said Tuesday in a statement. Mayer’s plan was unveiled as the company reported fourth-quarter sales and profit that exceeded analysts’ estimates, offering a bright spot to shareholders who have seen the stock drop 35 percent in the past year.

Activist investors such as Starboard Value LP have been calling for leadership changes or an outright sale of Yahoo’s Web units. Late last year, Mayer abandoned a plan to spin off its valuable Asian assets to shareholders, and said she would instead consider a reverse spinoff of other businesses into a standalone company, heightening criticism of her strategy. Though the Web portal on Tuesday said it will continue to pursue that plan, the board will “engage on qualified strategic proposals” while exploring other asset sales.

Mayer has been trying to steer the Web portal through one of the most challenging chapters in its more than 20-year history. As newer Internet search and content hubs such as Facebook Inc. and Google have lured advertisers, Yahoo has failed to keep pace, and sales have slipped since reaching a peak in 2008.

“It’s tough to turn around Internet companies,” said Shyam Patil, an analyst at Susquehanna International Group LLP. “Either you’re kind of in the sweet spot, or you’re not.”

Shares of Yahoo slipped 2.6 percent in extended trading. The stock fell 1.7 percent to $29.08 at Tuesday’s close in New York, bringing the decline for the year to 13 percent. In a separate filing, the company said Charles Schwab resigned as a director, reducing the board to seven members.

Interested Parties

Several parties have expressed interest in a possible Yahoo transaction. Officials from telecommunications giant Verizon Communications Inc. have publicly said they’d consider a deal. Private-equity firms TPG and Bain Capital Partners LLC are also weighing bids for Yahoo, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Verizon Chief Executive Officer Lowell McAdam and Chief Financial Officer Fran Shammo, using similar language, both said in December that Verizon would look at a Yahoo deal “if it made sense.” Verizon acquired AOL Inc. for $4.4 billion last year. Yahoo’s mail, finance, sports and video sites attract more than 1 billion users and represent a stable of assets that would add to AOL’s roughly 170 million Web visitors. Such traffic, along with exclusive content, holds appeal for Verizon, which needs to lure and retain a new smartphone-addicted generation.

Despite Verizon’s interest, the two companies haven’t discussed a sale, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

Closing Offices

As part of the new strategic plan, Yahoo aims to cut costs by more than $400 million by the end of the year, and is targeting revenue of $1.8 billion in 2016 through its so-called Mavens businesses, which includes ads through mobile, video, native and social platforms.

Some of those cost cuts include consolidating digital magazines under core verticals, while shutting others down. The company will also exit older products, including Games and Smart TV, which have not met growth expectations.

“Cutting costs and focusing on its areas of revenue growth should make the operating business more attractive to a potential buyer,” said Paul Sweeney, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence.

Yahoo, which had 10,700 employees as of September, had already disclosed plans to close some offices, including sites in Mexico and Argentina.

For the fourth quarter, the company reported sales, excluding revenue shared with partner websites, of $1 billion. That compares with analysts’ average estimates of $948.1 million, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Excluding some costs, per-share profit was 13 cents a share, compared with the analysts’ average projection of 12 cents.

Yahoo said it expects to return to modest and accelerating growth in 2017 and 2018. For the current period, sales excluding revenue passed on to partners is forecast to be $820 million to $860 million, according to a company slide presentation. That compares with an average analyst projection of $907.8 million.

The report comes as activists step up pressure on the company after Yahoo reversed course in December on plans to extricate itself from a multibillion-dollar stake in Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., amid rising concerns about the potential tax bill. Its current plan calls for it to explore spinning off the rest of its assets into a separate, standalone company — a move that could take more than a year to complete.

Activist Starboard Value, which first raised concerns about Yahoo in 2014, says that’s too long for shareholders to wait — and has urged an overhaul of the company’s management and board, saying that “significant changes” are needed. The remarks, made last month, were the strongest indication that the investment firm is gearing up for a proxy battle aimed at unseating Yahoo directors. Starboard, which owned less than 1 percent of the company as of the third quarter, has suggested an overhaul of management and potentially a sale of the main Web business.

Considering Sale

Although Mayer and the board downplayed any drastic scenarios last year, people familiar with the matter said last month that Yahoo was considering an outright sale of its business.

Since taking the helm in 2012, Mayer has poured money into improving products and landing media-content deals, while expanding services through acquisitions. Yet many of her efforts have stumbled — and even before the announcements today, Mayer had cut the workforce by more than 30 percent and closed down some offices in futile attempts to jump-start profit and sales growth. At about $27 billion, the company’s market value is less than half what it was in 2005.

It’s been a tumultuous decade. Since 2006, the company has been under the leadership of seven permanent or interim CEOs, including one who was fired with a phone call and another who resigned after failing to correct errors in his credentials. Yahoo has been the target of several activists in the past, including Daniel Loeb’s Third Point LLC earlier this decade, and Carl Icahn in 2008 amid a failed buyout by Microsoft Corp.

While Mayer is again trimming staff and seeking to renew faith in the company, she’s lost several top executives in recent months. In December, the company said Senior Vice President Prashant Fuloria, whose duties included product and engineering for advertising products, was leaving. Other departures last year include Jacqueline Reses, Yahoo’s chief development officer, and Kathy Savitt, who had been chief marketing officer.

Permanent link to this article: http://homebiz2bizreview.net/internet-marketing/yahoo-to-pursue-asset-sales-cut-15-of-staff/

Feb 02

Alphabet Passes Apple as World’s Most Valuable Company With Google’s Help

Google reported profit and sales that topped estimates, lifted by robust sales of online ads and tighter cost controls, putting parent Alphabet Inc. on track to overtake Apple Inc. as the world’s most valuable company.

The results, reported for the first time under a new structure that separates Google’s main search and advertising operations from riskier investments, show that fourth-quarter revenue, excluding sales passed on to partners, rose 19 percent to $17.3 billion. That exceeded analysts’ average projection for $16.9 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Profit, before certain items, was $8.67 a share, beating the prediction for $8.08.

Google, which has been investing in artificial intelligence, self-driving cars and health technology, changed its name and structure last year to give investors a clearer view into the performance of its Web business and the money Alphabet Chief Executive Officer Larry Page is devoting to new projects. The health of Google’s main business and investor confidence in the company’s ability to innovate has helped to more than double the stock price in the past three years.

“It’s a very healthy bottom-line beat,” said Josh Olson, an analyst at Edward Jones Co. “This new transparency is going to help. The core business looks very healthy. That’s going to build investors’ confidence about the other bets they’ve been making.”

The shares of Mountain View, California-based Alphabet rose as much as 9.4 percent in extended trading. The stock advanced 1.2 percent to $770.77 at the close in New York, giving the company a market capitalization of $523.1 billion, compared with $534.7 billion for Apple.

The new corporate structure is designed to accelerate Google’s forays into other businesses beyond online marketing, by giving the newer divisions more flexibility. It’s also expensive: Alphabet’s “Other Bets” category had an operating loss of $3.57 billion for 2015, widening from $1.94 billion in 2014, while revenue — mainly from the Nest smart thermostat, Fiber fast-Internet access and health technology — was just $448 million in 2015, up 37 percent. Spending on those bets “may be uneven in the near-term,” Porat said, stressing that the financial community should evaluate them on an annual basis, rather than quarterly.

The shift to Alphabet has also given more to autonomy to Google’s main business under CEO Sundar Pichai. He has devoted resources to buffing up ad products, introducing new formats while improving the delivery and accuracy of targeted marketing spots. A key challenge is to control spending on initiatives to boost traffic, which are aimed at making up for declining ad prices on mobile devices. Total clicks on ads were up 31 percent in the latest period, even as the average price for an ads on Google’s websites fell 16 percent.

“The primary driver was the increased use of mobile search by consumers,” Ruth Porat, Alphabet’s chief financial officer, said on a conference call following the results. Google’s video website YouTube and automated, or programmatic, advertising also fueled ad growth, she said.

Spending Discipline

While operating expenses rose 14 percent during the fourth quarter to $7.76 billion, they slipped as a percentage of revenue to 36 percent, from 37 percent a year earlier. In another sign of the fiscal discipline brought to by Porat, capital expenditures shrank to $2.1 billion for the quarter, from $3.55 billion a year earlier. Fourth-quarter net income rose to $4.92 billion from $4.68 billion a year earlier.

“It’s the new management story, with a focus on cost discipline and capital spending discipline,” Olson said.

Alphabet’s other bets span everything from robotics and Internet-beaming balloons to self-driving cars and health-care research. While they are mainly costs that are supported by Google’s search-ad operations, they have the potential for long-term growth, according to Ivan Feinseth, chief investment officer of Tigress Financial Partners LLC, who has a buy rating on the stock.

“They are not distractions,” Feinseth said. “They provide Google with insights and opportunities into other things that are complementary to their other businesses and could be future-leading businesses.”

Permanent link to this article: http://homebiz2bizreview.net/internet-marketing/alphabet-passes-apple-as-worlds-most-valuable-company-with-googles-help/

Jan 31

Getting It Just Right for the Web

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Jan 30

Sources: Security Firm Norse Corp. Imploding

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Norse Corp., a Foster City, Calif. based cybersecurity firm that has attracted much attention from the news media and investors alike this past year, fired its chief executive officer this week amid a major shakeup that could spell the end of the company. The move comes just weeks after the company laid off almost 30 percent of its staff.

Sources close to the matter say Norse CEO Sam Glines was asked to step down by the company’s board of directors, with board member Howard Bain stepping in as interim CEO. Those sources say the company’s investors have told employees that they can show up for work on Monday but that there is no guarantee they will get paid if they do.

A snapshot of Norse’s semi-live attack map.

Glines agreed earlier this month to an interview with KrebsOnSecurity but later canceled that engagement without explanation. Bain could not be immediately reached for comment.

Two sources at Norse said the company’s assets will be merged with Irvine, Ca. based networking firm SolarFlare, which has some of the same investors and investment capital as Norse. Neither Norse nor SolarFlare would comment for this story.

The pink slips that Norse issued just after New Years’s Day may have come as a shock to many employees, but perhaps the layoffs shouldn’t have been much of a surprise: A careful review of previous ventures launched by the company’s founders reveals a pattern of failed businesses, reverse mergers, shell companies and product promises that missed the mark by miles.

EYE CANDY

In the tech-heavy, geek-speak world of cybersecurity, infographics and other eye candy are king because they promise to make complicated and boring subjects accessible and sexy. And Norse’s much-vaunted interactive attack map is indeed some serious eye candy: It purports to track the source and destination of countless Internet attacks in near real-time, and shows what appear to be multicolored fireballs continuously arcing across the globe.

Norse says the data that feeds its online attack map come from a network of more than eight million online “sensors” — honeypot systems that the company has strategically installed at Internet properties in 47 countries around the globe to attract and record malicious and suspicious Internet traffic.

According to the company’s marketing literature, Norse’s sensors are designed to mimic a broad range of computer systems. For example, they might pretend to be a Web server when an automated attack or bot scans the system looking for Web server vulnerabilities. In other cases, those sensors might watch for Internet attack traffic that would typically only be seen by very specific machines, such as devices that manage complex manufacturing systems, power plants or other industrial control systems.

Several departing and senior Norse employees said the company’s attack data was certainly voluminous enough to build a business upon — if not especially sophisticated or uncommon. But most of those interviewed said Norse’s top leadership didn’t appear to be interested in or capable of building a strong product behind the data. More worryingly, those same people said there are serious questions about the validity of the data that informs the company’s core product.

UP IN SMOKE(S)

Norse Corp. and its fundamental technology arose from the ashes of several companies that appear to have been launched and then acquired by shell companies owned by Norse’s top executives — principally the company’s founder and chief technology officer Tommy Stiansen. Stiansen did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

This acquisition process, known as a “reverse merger” or “reverse takeover,” involves the acquisition of a public company by a private company so that the private company can bypass the lengthy and complex process of going public.

Reverse mergers are completely legal, but they can be abused to hide the investors in a company and to conceal certain liabilities of the acquired company, such as pending lawsuits or debt. In 2011, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued a bulletin cautioning investors about plunking down investments in reverse mergers, warning that they may be prone to fraud and other abuses.

The founders of Norse Corp. got their start in 1998 with a company called Cyco.net (pronounced “psycho”). According to a press release issued at the time, “Cyco.net was a New Mexico based firm established to develop a network of cyber companies.”

“This site is a lighthearted destination that will be like the ‘People Magazine’ of the Internet,” said Richard Urrea, Cyco’s CEO, in a bizarre explanation of the company’s intentions. “This format has proven itself by providing Time Warner with over a billion dollars of ad revenue annually. That, combined with the CYCO.NET’s e-commerce and various affiliations, such as Amazon.com, could amount to three times that figure. Not a portal like Yahoo, the CYCO.NET will serve as the launch pad to rocket the Internet surfer into the deepest reaches of cyberspace.”

In 2003, Cyco.net acquired Orion Security Services, a company founded by Stiansen, Norse’s current CTO and founder and the one Norse executive who is actually from Norway. Orion was billed as a firm that provides secure computer network management solutions, as well as video surveillance systems via satellite communications.

The Orion acquisition reportedly came with $20 million in financing from a private equity firm called Cornell Capital Partners LP, which listed itself as a Cayman Islands exempt limited partnership whose business address was in Jersey City, NJ.

Cornell later changed its name to Yorkville Advisors, an entity that became the subject of an investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and a subsequent lawsuit in which the company was accused of reporting “false and inflated values.”

Despite claims that Cyco.net was poised to “rocket into the deepest riches of cyberspace,” it somehow fell short of that destination and ended up selling cigarettes online instead. Perhaps inevitably, the company soon found itself the target of a lawsuit by several states led by the Washington state attorney general that accused the company of selling tobacco products to minors, failing to report cigarette sales and taxes, and for falsely advertising cigarettes as tax-free.

COPYRIGHT COPS

In 2005, Cyco.net changed its name to Nexicon, but only after acquiring by stock swap another creation by Stiansen — Pluto Communications — a company formed in 2002 and whose stated mission was to provide “operational billing solutions for telecom networks.” Again, Urrea would issue a press release charting a course for the company that would have almost no bearing on what it actually ended up doing.

“We are very excited that the transition from our old name and identity is now complete, and we can start to formally reposition our Company under the new brand name of Nexicon,” Urrea said. “After the divestiture of our former B2C company in 2003, we have laid the foundation for our new business model, offering all-in-one or issue-specific B2B management solutions for the billing, network control, and security industries.”

In June 2008, Sam Glines — who would one day become CEO of Norse Corp. — joined Nexicon and was later promoted to chief operating officer. By that time, Nexicon had morphed itself into an online copyright cop, marketing a technology they claimed could help detect and stop illegal file-sharing. The company’s “GetAmnesty” technology sent users a pop-up notice explaining that it was expensive to sue the user and even more expensive for the user to get sued. Recipients of these notices were advised to just click the button displayed and pay for the song and all would be forgiven.

In November 2008, Nexicon was acquired by Priviam, another shell company operated by Stiansen and Nexicon’s principals. Nexicon went on to sign Youtube.com and several entertainment studios as customers. But soon enough, reports began rolling in of rampant false-positives — Internet users receiving threatening legal notices from Nexicon that they were illegally sharing files when they actually weren’t. Nexicon/Priviam’s business began drying up, and it’s stock price plummeted.

In September 2011, the Securities and Exchange Commission revoked the company’s ability to trade its penny stock (then NXCO on the pink sheets), noting that the company had failed to file any periodic reports with the SEC since its inception. In June 2012, the SEC also revoked Priviam’s ability to trade its stock, citing the same compliance failings that led to the de-listing of Nexicon.

By the time the SEC revoked Nexicon’s trading ability, the company’s founders were already working to reinvent themselves yet again. In August 2011, they raised $50,000 in seed money from Capital Innovators to jump-start Norse Corp. A year later, Norse received $3.5 million in debt refinancing, and in December 2013 got its first big infusion of cash — $10 million from Oak Investment Partners. In September 2015, KPMG invested $11.4 million in the company.

Several former employees say Stiansen’s penchant for creating shell corporations served him well in building out Norse’s global sensor network. Some of the sensors are in countries where U.S. assets are heavily monitored, such as China. Those same insiders said Norse’s network of shell corporations also helped the company gain visibility into attack traffic in countries where it is forbidden for U.S. firms to do business, such as Iran and Syria.

THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN

By 2014, Norse was throwing lavish parties at top Internet security conferences and luring dozens of smart security experts away from other firms. Among them was Mary Landesman, formerly a senior security researcher at Cisco Systems. Landesman said Norse had recently hired many of her friends in the cybersecurity business and had developed such a buzz in the industry that she recruited her son to come work alongside her at the company.

As a senior data scientist at Norse, Landesman’s job was to discover useful and interesting patterns in the real-time attack data that drove the company’s “cyber threat intelligence” offerings (including its eye candy online attack map referenced at the beginning of this story). By this time, former employees say Norse’s systems were collecting a whopping 140 terabytes of Internet attack and traffic data per day. To put that in perspective a single terabyte can hold approximately 1,000 copies of the Encyclopedia Britannica. The entire printed collection of the U.S. Library of Congress would take up about ten terabytes.

Landesman said she wasn’t actually given access to all that data until the fall of 2015 — seven months after being hired as Norse’s chief data scientist — and that when she got the chance to dig into it, she was disappointed: The information appeared to be little more than what one might glean from a Web server log — albeit millions of them around the world.

“The data isn’t great, and it’s pretty much the same thing as if you looked at Web server logs that had automated crawlers and scanning tools hitting it constantly,” Landesman said in an interview with KrebsOnSecurity. “But if you know how to look at it and bring in a bunch of third-party data and tools, the data is not without its merits, if not just based on the sheer size of it.”

Landesman and other current and former Norse employees said very few people at the company were permitted to see how Norse collected its sensor data, and that Norse founder Stiansen jealously guarded access to the back-end systems that gathered the information.

“With this latest round of layoffs, if Tommy got hit by a bus tomorrow I don’t think there would be a single person in the company left who understands how the whole thing works,” said one former employee at Norse who spoke on condition of anonymity.

SHOW ME THE DATA

Stuart McClure, president and founder of the cybersecurity firm Cylance, said he found out just how reluctant Stiansen could be to share Norse data when he visited Stiansen and the company’s offices in Northern California in late 2014. McClure said he went there to discuss collaborating with Norse on two upcoming reports: One examining Iran’s cyber warfare capabilities, and another about exactly who was responsible for the massive Nov. 2014 cyber attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment.

The FBI had already attributed the attack to North Korean hackers. But McClure was intrigued after Stiansen confidentially shared that Norse had reached a vastly different conclusion than the FBI: Norse had data suggesting the attack on Sony was the work of disgruntled former employees.

McClure said he recalls listening to Stiansen ramble on for hours about Norse’s suspicions and simultaneously dodging direct questions about how it had reached the conclusion that the Sony attack was an inside job.

“I just kept going back to them and said, ‘Tommy, show me the data.’ We wanted to work with them, but when they couldn’t or wouldn’t produce any data or facts to substantiate their work, we couldn’t proceed.”

After that experience, McClure said he decided not to work with Norse on either the Sony report or the Iran investigation. Cylance ended up releasing its own report on Iran’s cyber capabilities; that analysis — dubbed “Operation Cleaver” (PDF) — was later tacitly acknowledged in a confidential report by the FBI.

Conversely, Norse’s take on Iran’s cyber prowess (PDF) was trounced by critics as a deeply biased, headline-grabbing report. It came near the height of international negotiations over lifting nuclear sanctions against Iran, and Norse had teamed up with the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank that has traditionally taken a hard line against threats or potential threats to the United States.

In its report, Norse said it saw a half-million attacks on industrial control systems by Iran in the previous 24 months — a 115 percent increase in attacks. But in a scathing analysis of Norse’s findings, critical infrastructure security expert Robert M. Lee said Norse’s claim of industrial control systems being attacked and implying it was definitively the Iranian government was disingenuous at best. Lee said he obtained an advanced copy of an earlier version of the report that was shared with unclassified government and private industry channels, and that the data in the report simply did not support its conclusions.

“The systems in question are fake systems….and the data obtained cannot be accurately used for attribution,” Lee wrote of Norse’s sensor network. “In essence, Norse identified scans from Iranian Internet locations against fake systems and announced them as attacks on industrial control systems by a foreign government. The Norse report’s claims of attacks on industrial control systems is wrong. The data is misleading. The attention it gained is damaging. And even though a real threat is identified it is done in a way that only damages national cybersecurity.”

FROM SMOKES TO SMOKE MIRRORS?

KrebsOnSecurity interviewed almost a dozen current and former employees at Norse, as well as several outside investors who said they considered buying the firm. None but Landesman would speak on the record. Most said Norse’s data — the core of its offering — was solid, if prematurely marketed as a way to help banks and others detect and deflect cyber attacks.

“I think they just went to market with this a couple of years too soon,” said one former Norse employee who left on his own a few months prior to the January 2016 layoffs, in part because of concerns about the validity of the data that the company was using to justify some of its public threat reports. “It wasn’t all there, and I worried that they were finding what they wanted to find in the data. If you think about the network they built, that’s a lot of power.”

On Jan. 4, 2016, Landesman learned she and roughly two dozen other colleagues at Norse were being let go. The data scientist said she vetted Norse’s founders prior to joining the firm, but that it wasn’t until she was fired at the beginning of 2016 that she started doing deeper research into the company’s founders.

“I realized that, oh crap, I think this is a scam,” Landesman said. “They’re trying to draw this out and tap into whatever the buzzwords du jour there are, and have a product that’s going to meet that and suck in new investors.”

Calls to Norse investor KPMG International went unreturned. An outside PR firm for KPMG listed on the press release about the original $11.4 million funding for Norse referred my inquiry to a woman running an outside PR firm for Norse, who declined to talk on the record because she said she wasn’t sure whether her firm was still representing the tech company.

“These shell companies formed by [the company’s founders] bilked investors,” Landesman said. “Had anyone gone and investigated any of these partnerships they were espousing as being the next big thing, they would have realized this was all smoke and mirrors.”


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Jan 29

Should we be giving away our personal data for free?

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Should you be giving away your personal data free to companies or charging them for it?

We’ve all done it. Those quizzes that appear on social media sites promising to reveal what your choice of holiday destination says about you or what animal you were in a former life.

But how many of us actually stop to think about the vast quantity of personal data we’re surrendering as we keep on clicking, and how much it might actually be worth?

Is it time we started saying: If you want to know about me and my shopping, travelling and living habits, it’ll cost you, because I’m worth it?

It’s notoriously difficult to put a value on the personal data economy in the UK.

People’s information is used by lots of different industries. Advertising, insurance and loyalty schemes all hold vast swathes of our personal data.

Matt Stroud, head of personal data and safety at the government backed initiative, Digital Catapult, believes that whilst it’s an area currently difficult to quantify financially, the whole sector is set to explode over the next few years.

“If you take just one sector of the personal data economy, such as market research, we can start to see what sort of value we’re talking about “

So what sort of money are we talking about?

The UK’s Market Research Society estimates this information is worth about £3.5-4bn, commercially.

It’s not hard then to see just how much of a goldmine of personal information we could all be sitting on – personal data being any bit of information relating to an individual and that can be tied to that person.

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Online quizzes are one way for firms to gather valuable data about potential customers

“If it feels like personal data then it probably is,” says Peter Gooch, head of data privacy at accountancy firm Deloitte.

“Anything that can identify an individual is classed as personal data and is covered by the Data Protection Act.

“Names and addresses and mobile numbers are all classed as personal data – but lifestyle choices, shopping habits and other areas of personal interest are all valuable pieces of information to someone.”

‘Next internet revolution’

The rise of the “Internet of things” and increased ownership in mobiles will lead to a tsunami of information being accessible to marketing companies, said a report last year from Digital Catapult.

And author Matt Stroud warns that consumers need to wise up to understanding just how valuable their data really is.

He believes the rise in awareness of the personal digital economy is set to transform business processes and how current platforms work.

“The rise in personal data is the next internet revolution.”

One business which believes it can transform the personal data economy is People.IO.

Its chief executive and co-founder, Nicholas Oliver, believes personal data should be considered an asset, and that it is time for people to take control of their own personal data.

“At the minute people are giving up this valuable asset class far too easily.

“When we shop online or sign up for things on the internet we’re opening the gates to marketing companies.

“Instead of giving it up for free we need to understand its value.

“Our model allows individuals to connect with brands and to gain rewards in return for their data, but at no time do they relinquish ownership of their information.

“If they decide to leave then their data is deleted.”

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Michelle Beatty

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People need to become more aware of how to get paid for their personal data, says Nicholas Oliver

Another company attempting to put a financial value on personal data is LatestFreeStuff.co.uk.

In a recent appearance on BBC’s Two Dragon’s Den – where entrepreneurs pitch for funding from investors or dragons in exchange for a share of the business – three out of the five “dragons” were clambering to invest.

The site allows consumers to get free products and samples from well known brands in return for their personal information. The website gets a commission for every transaction agreed.

Ad blockers

Chief executive Deepak Taylor, isn’t sure if people who sign up for his website are totally clear about what they’re giving up.

“In my opinion, consumers might never know the true value of their personal information.

“We have lots of big brand names giving away lots of appealing products. But the terms and conditions of each offer is controlled exclusively by the brands.

“Some offers can be really hard to understand and interpret especially when consumers are using small screens like mobile phones. “

Mr Taylor says his firm does its best to inform customers about managing their personal data and the implications of ticking certain boxes.

“But sometimes it’s a race against time to apply for the best offers because people just don’t want to miss out on the latest offers,” he says.

“They’re more than willing to hand over all of their personal information just to make sure they get their hands on the freebie.”

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Awareness of ad blocking technology among online consumers is rising

But not all customers are prepared to do this.

The rise in advertising blocking technology over the past 12 months has highlighted the increased awareness by consumers of how their personal data is being harvested.

“The fact that there’s been an explosion in the number of people using ad blockers shows just how savvy some consumers are becoming,” says People.IO’s boss Nicholas Oliver.

“What’s the point in giving your information away forever when you can franchise it out and get something back in return?

“Big brands understand the power of personal data. The fact they can’t get as much information as they once did means that the balance of power is shifting between marketing companies and consumers, which can only be a good thing.”

Sharing less

Mr Oliver believes that people are going to be happy to allow their data to be used for marketing, but it has to be on their terms.

It’s a belief echoed by a recent survey from software provider Informatica, which found that 73% of consumers were wary about how their personal information and data was being used.

In fact, more than half (56%) of those who expressed concern about the use of personal data they have shared online with brands and organisations are reclaiming access to it – and say they intend to share less information in future.

So the next time you see a fun “quiz” on your smartphone suggesting a few clicks will reveal what sort of an animal you might be – it’s worth bearing in mind just how valuable the information you’re providing could be worth.

Permanent link to this article: http://homebiz2bizreview.net/internet-marketing/should-we-be-giving-away-our-personal-data-for-free/

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