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Google has a secret blocklist that hides YouTube hate videos from advertisers — but it’s full of holes

This story is the first of two parts.

If you want to find YouTube videos related to “KKK” to advertise on, Google Ads will block you. But the company failed to block dozens of other hate and White nationalist terms and slogans, an investigation by The Markup has found.

Using a list of 86 hate-related terms we compiled with the help of experts, we discovered that Google uses a blocklist to try to stop advertisers from building YouTube ad campaigns around hate terms. But less than a third of the terms on our list were blocked when we conducted our investigation.

Google Ads suggested millions upon millions of YouTube videos to advertisers purchasing ads related to the terms “White power,” the fascist slogan “blood and soil,” and the far-right call to violence “racial holy war.”

The company even suggested videos for campaigns with terms that it clearly finds problematic, such as “great replacement.” YouTube slaps Wikipedia boxes on videos about the “the great replacement,” noting that it’s “a white nationalist far-right conspiracy theory.”

Some of the hundreds of millions of videos that the company suggested for ad placements related to these hate terms contained overt racism and bigotry, including multiple videos featuring re-posted content from the neo-Nazi podcast The Daily Shoah, whose official channel was suspended by YouTube in 2019 for hate speech. Google’s top video suggestions for these hate terms returned many news videos and some anti-hate content—but also dozens of videos from channels that researchers labeled as espousing hate or White nationalist views.

“The idea that they sell is that they’re guiding advertisers and content creators toward less controversial content,” said Nandini Jammi, who co-founded the advocacy group Sleeping Giants, which uses social media to pressure companies to stop advertising on right-wing media websites and now runs the digital marketing consulting firm Check My Ads.

“But the reality on the ground is that it’s not being implemented that way,” she added. “If you’re using keyword technology and you’re not keeping track of the keywords that the bad guys are using, then you’re not going to find the bad stuff.”

‘Offensive and harmful’

When we approached Google with our findings, the company blocked another 44 of the hate terms on our list.

“We fully acknowledge that the functionality for finding ad placements in Google Ads did not work as intended,” company spokesperson Christopher Lawton wrote in an email; “these terms are offensive and harmful and should not have been searchable. Our teams have addressed the issue and blocked terms that violate our enforcement policies.”

“We take the issue of hate and harassment very seriously,” he added, “and condemn it in the strongest terms possible.”

Even after Lawton made that statement, 14 of the hate terms on our list—about one in six of them—remained available to search for videos for ad placements on Google Ads, including the anti-Black meme “we wuz kangz”; the neo-Nazi appropriated symbol “black sun”; “red ice tv,” a White nationalist media outlet that YouTube banned from its platform in 2019; and the White nationalist slogans “you will not replace us” and “diversity is a code word for anti-white.”

We again emailed Lawton asking why these terms remained available. He did not respond, but Google quietly removed 11 more hate terms, leaving only the White nationalist slogan “you will not replace us,” “American Renaissance” (the name of a publication the Anti-Defamation League describes as White supremacist), and the anti-Semitic meme “open borders for Israel.”

Blocking future investigations

Google also responded by shutting the door to future similar investigations into keyword blocking on Google Ads. The newly blocked terms are indistinguishable in Google’s code from searches for which there are no related videos, such as a string of gibberish. This was not the case when we conducted our investigation.

YouTube has faced repeated criticism for years over its handling of hate content, including boycotts by advertisers who were angry about their ads running next to offensive videos. The company responded by promising reforms, including taking down hate content. Most of the advertisers have returned, and the company reports that advertising on YouTube generates nearly $20 billion in annual revenues for Google.

In addition to overlooking common hate terms, we discovered that almost all the blocks Google had implemented were weak. They did not account for simple workarounds, such as pluralizing a singular word, changing a suffix, or removing spaces between words. “Aryan nation,” “globalist Jews,” “White pride,” “White pill,” and “White genocide” were all blocked from advertisers as two words but together resulted in hundreds of thousands of video recommendations once we removed the spaces between the words.

Credit: The Markup

Acer Swift 3 (2019) review: This midrange notebook PC hides Nvidia graphics power

Acer’s Swift 3 (2019) should attract the type of savvy notebook PC buyer searching for a little more graphics oomph than the standard integrated GPU provides. Combining an 8th-gen “Whiskey Lake” chip plus a discrete Nvidia GeForce MX150 GPU opens up more opportunities for light gaming without breaking the bank.

Acer’s new Swift 3 clamshell is a generally solid midrange notebook, though it suffers in two key areas. First, the integrated audio isn’t much to write home about, even with headphones. We found the fingerprint reader lacking as well. But Acer’s Swift 3 also boasts excellent performance and a solid ten hours or so of battery life, with a comfortable keyboard and pleasing IPS display, too.

Acer Swift 3 2019 primary 2 Mark Hachman / IDG

Acer’s Swift 3.

Acer Swift 3 (2019) (SF314-55G-78U1) basic specs:

Don’t think of Acer’s Swift 3 as a cheaper version of the Acer Swift 7, which is basically the epitome of thin-and-light PCs. Instead, the Swift 3 is a less expensive, general-purpose PC that’s somewhat thicker and heavier than the Swift 7. That allows for a more full-featured selection of ports: both USB-A and USB-C, plus HDMI, among others. We think you’d prefer 512GB of storage as opposed to the 256GB on the Swift 3, but that’s an acceptable tradeoff to keep the price low.

The Swift 3’s aluminum chassis is sturdily built, with no discernible flex either in the keyboard or the chassis itself. The clamshell notebook folds back flat. At 3 pounds, it shouldn’t weigh too heavily in your bag.

Acer Swift 3 2019 left side Mark Hachman / IDG

On the left side of the Acer Swift 3 chassis is an a Kensington lock, a USB-A port, an SD card slot, and a headphone jack.

The fan does have a tendency to kick on quickly under load, though that’s usually something beyond just typing in a document or even loading a webpage. When the fan does come on, it’s pretty quiet, helped by spacious venting underneath and at the back of the laptop. There was no discernible coil whine in our review unit.

Though it’s not immediately obvious where the Acer saved money in designing the Swift 3, the display offers some clues. For one, the 1080p IPS display isn’t touch-enabled, meaning you won’t be able to navigate with a finger or stylus. Also, the Swift 3’s maximum 280 nits of luminosity (measured at the center of the screen) is just above the 250 nits we consider appropriate for daily use. In general, though, IPS displays are pleasant to work upon, and the Swift 3’s is no exception.

Acer Swift 3 2019 right side Mark Hachman / IDG

On the left side of the Acer Swift 3 chassis is another USB-A port, an HDMI port, a USB-C port, and the power jack. Convenient labeling helps identify what each port can be used for.

Acer includes a fairly standard complement of expansion ports. There’s one USB-C, though it doesn’t include any Thunderbolt capabilities. It’s also a bit disappointing to see generic USB 3.0 Type-A ports, rather than the faster USB 3.1. Copying files to and from an external hard drive may take a bit longer than other drives over the slower ports, though you’ll probably just accept it without thinking. There’s also a full-sized SD card slot, which is becoming less common in laptops, but will be a godsend for those still using the cards for photo or video storage.

Listening to music or other audio played back on laptop speakers is usually an adequate rather than transcendent experience. Acer’s Swift 3 is slightly disappointing: The speakers deliver plenty of volume, but with a flat low end and somewhat weak midrange. 

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Tech News

Pith & Stem’s DropTop hides a full desk behind a piece of artwork

If you live in a small home, a full-size desk can be an unsightly burden, one that takes up space even when it’s not in use. Pith & Stem has a solution to this problem, one that hides a full desk, including two 24-inch monitors, behind an inconspicuous piece of artwork. The company’s DropTop is described as a durable wall-mounted workstation that can be customized with various wood and art options.

Wall-mounted desks aren’t a new concept, but they tend to come with some downsides: the hinges and desk surface are often flimsy, the useable workspace is often small, and the desks tend to protrude a few inches from the wall when folded. Pith & Stem has addressed these issues with its DropTop, which boasts durability in addition to an appealing, functional design.

Put simply, DropTop unfolds from the wall into a desk surface, revealing two 24-inch Full HD monitors that can be used with your existing laptop. The desk also has storage space for storing the laptop, charger, and accessories like a keyboard when not in use.

When folded, the desk’s face reveals an ordinary frame and a photo or piece of artwork, depending on what the customer requests. The desk supports interchangeable picture inserts for shaking things up, plus customers get to choose the product’s wood finish and frame, including white ash, classic wenge, American walnut, and more.

Pith & Stem has a customization tool on its website that allows customers to design the desk they want — the price starts at £1,099.00 and is made-to-order in the UK. According to the company, the handmade nature combined with high demand means there’s a waiting list to get ahold of a unit — but if you’re working from home, it may be worth the wait.

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Intel hides the unannounced Iris Xe Max GPU brand in a promo video

Intel appears to have hidden Iris Xe Max, an unannounced version of its Xe GPU branding, inside of the “sizzle reel” for its new logo.

Fast-forward thirty-six seconds into Intel’s ”Wonderful New Look” video, and you’ll see that Intel has published an array of its new logos—everything from the Celeron to the Pentium to the Xeon. To the upper left, however, is something new: a logo touting the Iris Xe Max, a brand that hasn’t been announced yet. Unfortunately, most of the comments attached to the promo reel hiding the new Intel Xe Max brand focused on the new Intel jingle 57 seconds in—which, well, sounds pretty unflattering

An Intel representative confirmed that you’ll hear more about the Iris Xe Max in the future. “We’ll have more details to share about that at a later date,” she said in an email.

When Intel launched its 11th-gen Tiger Lake mobile Core processors earlier this month, Intel revealed a trio of Core i5 and Core i7 processors, including the Core i5-1135G7 and the Core i7-1165G7, which carried the same “G7” suffix. The number of EU graphics cores varied significantly: 80 on the Core i5-1135G7, and 96 on the Core i7-1165G7. Intel, however, used the Iris Xe branding for both.

It’s possible that we’ll see a more robust Iris Xe Max integrated GPU. A day before Intel launched its Tiger Lake chips, a Twitter user called APISAK noticed an Iris Xe integrated GPU clocked at 1,650MHz, significantly higher than the 1.35GHz of the highest-performing mobile part in Intel’s current Tiger Lake lineup, the Core i7-1185G7. If that’s a legitimate leak, such a GPU might be an ideal candidate for an Intel Xe Max branding.

This wouldn’t be the only detail that somehow missed Intel’s official Tiger Lake launch. In a Medium post from the same Tiger Lake launch day, Intel executive Boyd Phelps said the company plans to launch an 8-core “Tiger Lake” chip alongside its already-announced 4-core offerings. Intel also revealed later that the first Tiger Lake laptops would ship in October. 

What other Easter eggs have we not discovered yet?

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SolarWinds hides list of high-profile customers after devastating hack

SolarWinds has removed a list of high-profile clients from its website in the wake of a massive breach. The list was hosted on “Customers” page of the company’s website and is easily accessible through its Google cache. But the page has been deleted from the site itself, suggesting the company may be trying to obscure its clients in an effort to protect them from bad publicity. Google’s cache shows that the page was still live as of Monday morning (roughly 11AM ET). SolarWinds did not respond to a request for clarification.

SolarWinds is still reeling from an extensive Russia-linked hack reported on Sunday, which affected a range of government agencies and private corporations. The hack was reportedly executed by compromising SolarWinds’ Orion IT product, using Orion’s update system to deploy malicious code. As organizations scramble to determine who may have been vulnerable to the hack, the list of organizations using Orion IT is the best guide many have.

The list of vulnerable companies is much smaller than SolarWinds’ overall client list, so simply appearing on the list doesn’t mean a company has been affected. SolarWinds claims that only 33,000 companies use the Orion product, compared to its total client base of 330,000. Out of that 33,000, the company estimates that fewer than 18,000 were directly impacted by a malicious update, and the list of directly targeted companies is likely even smaller. Still, there is much about the attack that remains unknown, and it is possible that additional compromises have yet to be discovered.

SolarWinds’ overall client list includes a broad range of sensitive organizations. Before its removal, the page boasted a broad range of clients, including more than 425 of the companies listed on the Fortune 500 as well as the top 10 telecom operators in the United States. In an article on Monday, The New York Times cited a number of organizations as vulnerable that are not cited on the public client page, including Boeing and Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Other organizations have been cagey about their own exposure, even within the federal government. Several news outlets have reported that the breach affected the Department of Homeland Security, but the department has not made any official statement regarding its exposure.

The chaos has been exacerbated by the recent departure of federal cybersecurity executive Christopher Krebs, who was fired as director of the Cyber and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) after contradicting President Trump’s groundless claims of election interference.

According to a Politico report, the growing scope of the crisis has pushed CISA’s resources to the breaking point. As one official told Politico, “many agencies don’t know how on fire they are yet.”

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