Increasingly, digital ad viewers aren’t human. A study done last year in conjunction with the Association of National Advertisers embedded billions of digital ads with code designed to determine who or what was seeing them. Eleven percent of display ads and almost a quarter of video ads were “viewed” by software, not people. According to the ANA study, which was conducted by the security firm White Ops and is titled The Bot Baseline: Fraud In Digital Advertising, fake traffic will cost advertisers $6.3 billion this year. ... Fake traffic has become a commodity. There’s malware for generating it and brokers who sell it. Some companies pay for it intentionally, some accidentally, and some prefer not to ask where their traffic comes from. It’s given rise to an industry of countermeasures, which inspire counter-countermeasures. ... All a budding media mogul—whether a website operator or a traffic supplier—has to do to make money is arbitrage: Buy low, sell high. The art is making the fake traffic look real, often by sprucing up websites with just enough content to make them appear authentic. Programmatic ad-buying systems don’t necessarily differentiate between real users and bots, or between websites with fresh, original work, and Potemkin sites camouflaged with stock photos and cut-and-paste articles.
The video game Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, in which players form teams of terrorists and counterinsurgents and shoot at one another, is a favorite of the professional e-sports circuit. A tournament in early April sold out Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, where the NHL’s Blue Jackets play, and generated 71 million online views over four days. In May, TBS and WME/IMG will launch their own league for CS:GO, as the game is called, streaming games online and broadcasting them on TV on Friday nights. ... The game’s current success has made it easy to forget that CS:GO wasn’t an immediate hit for game maker Valve. It was the latest in the aging Counter-Strike series and came out at a time when there was no shortage of other shoot-’em-up games to choose from. Everything changed when Valve introduced something new: decorative virtual weapons, known as “skins,” that could be acquired in the game and sold for real money. ... In-game purchases weren’t new, but the cash trade was Valve’s special twist. Within two years, the number of people playing CS:GO had grown 1,500 percent. Today, there are 380,000 people around the world playing the game at any given time. ... People buy skins for cash, then use the skins to place online bets on pro CS:GO matches. Because there’s a liquid market to convert each gun or knife back into cash, laying a bet in skins is essentially the same as betting with real money. ... By one estimate, more than 3 million people wagered $2.3 billion worth of skins on the outcome of e-sports matches in 2015. ... The best way to get players deeply engaged in games, the company had determined, was to give away virtual items of random value and encourage a robust market to trade them.
Risk scores, generated by algorithms, are an increasingly common factor in sentencing. Computers crunch data—arrests, type of crime committed, and demographic information—and a risk rating is generated. The idea is to create a guide that’s less likely to be subject to unconscious biases, the mood of a judge, or other human shortcomings. Similar tools are used to decide which blocks police officers should patrol, where to put inmates in prison, and who to let out on parole. Supporters of these tools claim they’ll help solve historical inequities, but their critics say they have the potential to aggravate them, by hiding old prejudices under the veneer of computerized precision. ... Computer scientists have a maxim, “Garbage in, garbage out.” In this case, the garbage would be decades of racial and socioeconomic disparities in the criminal justice system. Predictions about future crimes based on data about historical crime statistics have the potential to equate past patterns of policing with the predisposition of people in certain groups—mostly poor and nonwhite—to commit crimes.