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Google starts rolling out better AMP URLs

Publishers don’t always love Google’s AMP pages, but readers surely appreciate their speed, and while publishers are loath to give Google more power, virtually every major site now supports this format. One AMP quirk that publisher’s definitely never liked is about to go away, though. Starting today, when you use Google Search and click on an AMP link, the browser will display the publisher’s real URLs instead of an “http//google.com/amp” link.
This move has been in the making for well over a year. Last January, the company announced that it was embarking on a multi-month effort to load AMP pages from the Google AMP cache without displaying the Google URL.
At the core of this effort was the new Web Packaging standard, which uses signed exchanges with digital signatures to let the browser trust a document as if it belongs to a publisher’s origin. By default, a browser should reject scripts in a web page that try to access data that doesn’t come from the same origin. Publishers will have to do a bit of extra work, and publish both signed and un-signed versions of their stories.

Quite a few publishers already do this, given that Google started alerting publishers of this change in November 2018. For now, though, only Chrome supports the core features behind this service, but other browsers will likely add support soon, too.
For publishers, this is a pretty big deal, given that their domain name is a core part of their brand identity. Using their own URL also makes it easier to get analytics, and the standard grey bar that sits on top of AMP pages and shows the site you are on now isn’t necessary anymore because the name will be in the URL bar.

To launch this new feature, Google also partnered with Cloudflare, which launched its AMP Real URL feature today. It’ll take a bit before it will roll out to all users, who can then enable it with a single click. With this, the company will automatically sign every AMP page it sends to the Google AMP cache. For the time being, that makes Cloudflare the only CDN that supports this feature, though others will surely follow.
“AMP has been a great solution to improve the performance of the internet and we were eager to work with the AMP Project to help eliminate one of AMP’s biggest issues — that it wasn’t served from a publisher’s perspective,” said Matthew Prince, co-founder and CEO of Cloudflare. “As the only provider currently enabling this new solution, our global scale will allow publishers everywhere to benefit from a faster and more brand-aware mobile experience for their content.”


Google starts rolling out better AMP URLs

Podcast industry aims to better track listeners through new analytics tech called RAD

Internet users are already being tracked to death, with ads that follow us around, search histories that are collected and stored, emails that report back to senders when they’ve been read, websites that know where you scrolled and what you clicked and much more. So naturally, the growing podcast industry wanted to find a way to collect more data of its own, too.
Yes, that’s right. Podcasts will now track detailed user behavior, too.
Today, NPR announced RAD, a new, open-sourced podcast analytics technology that was developed in partnership with nearly 30 companies from the podcasting industry. The technology aims to help publishers collect more comprehensive and standardized listening metrics from across platforms.
Specifically, the technology gives publishers — and therefore their advertisers, as well — access to a wide range of listener metrics, including downloads, starts and stops, completed ad or credit listens, partial ad or credit listens, ad or credit skips and content quartiles, the RAD website explains.
However, the technology stops short of offering detailed user profiles, and cannot be used to re-target or track listeners, the site notes. It’s still anonymized, aggregated statistics.
It’s worth pointing out that RAD is not the first time podcasters have been able to track engagement. Major platforms, including Apple’s Podcast Analytics, today offer granular and anonymized data, including listens.But NPR says that data requires “a great deal of manual analysis” as the stats aren’t standardized nor as complete as they could be. RAD is an attempt to change that, by offering a tracking mechanism everyone can use.
Already, RAD has a lot of support. In addition to being integrated into NPR’s own NPR One app, it has commitments from several others that will introduce the technology into their own products in 2019, including Acast, AdsWizz, ART19, Awesound, Blubrry Podcasting, Panoply, Omny Studio, Podtrac, PRI/PRX, RadioPublic, Triton Digital and WideOrbit.
Other companies that supported RAD and participated in its development include Cadence13, Edison Research, ESPN, Google, iHeartMedia, Libsyn, The New York Times, New York Public Radio and Wondery.
NPR says the NPR One app on Android supports RAD as of now, and its iOS app will do the same in 2019.
“Over the course of the past year, we have been refining these concepts and the technology in collaboration with some of the smartest people in podcasting from around the world,” said Joel Sucherman, vice president, New Platform Partnerships at NPR, in an announcement. “We needed to take painstaking care to prove out our commitment to the privacy of listeners, while providing a standard that the industry could rally around in our collective efforts to continue to evolve the podcasting space,” he said.
To use RAD technology, publishers will mark within their audio files certain points — like quartiles or some time markers, interview spots, sponsorship messages or ads — with RAD tags and indicate an analytics URL. A mobile app is configured to read the RAD tags and then, when listeners hit that spot in the file, that information is sent to the URL in an anonymized format.
The end result is that podcasters know just what parts of the audio file their listeners heard, and is able to track this at scale across platforms. (RAD is offering both Android and iOS SDKs.)
While there’s value in podcast data that goes beyond the download, not all are sold on technology.
Most notably, the developer behind the popular iOS podcast player app Overcast, Marco Arment, today publicly stated his app will not support any listener-tracking specs.

Yes. I understand why huge podcast companies want more listener data, but there are zero advantages for listeners or app-makers.
I won’t be supporting any listener-behavior tracking specs in Overcast. Podcasters get enough data from your IP address when you download episodes. https://t.co/mplhnrmCsc
— Marco Arment (@marcoarment) December 11, 2018

“I understand why huge podcast companies want more listener data, but there are zero advantages for listeners or app-makers,” Arment wrote in a tweet. “Podcasters get enough data from your IP address when you download episodes,” he said.
The developer also pointed out this sort of data collection required more work on the podcasters’ part and could become a GDPR liability, as well. (NPR tells us GDPR compliance is up to the mobile apps and analytics servers, as noted in the specs here.)
In addition to NPR’s use of RAD today, Podtrac has also now launched a beta program to show RAD data, which is open to interested publishers.

Podcast industry aims to better track listeners through new analytics tech called RAD

Experience The Wonder Of Streaming Piracy With iOSLiveTV.com


This is so illegal that we can probably expect to see it fold in a matter of hours, but if you’re really hankering for some Russian or German TV right now – or some hott sexxxy Penthouse action – iOSLiveTV has you covered.

The site is formatted for iOS and Android and features a number of live TV channels including some adult selections.

The whois record for the site is fairly useless:

Registrar: DYNADOT, LLC
Whois Server: whois.dynadot.com
Referral URL: http://www.dynadot.com
Name Server: NS1.GEEKISP.COM
Name Server: NS2.GEEKISP.COM
Name Server: NS3.GEEKISP.COM
Status: clientTransferProhibited
Updated Date: 18-apr-2012
Creation Date: 17-apr-2012
Expiration Date: 17-apr-2013

And the feeds are clearly coming from somewhere other than GeekISP. Delightfully, even if this particular domain goes down, similar functionality can probably be brought back up almost instantly. Services like this are obviously not that new. This is just the first one I’ve seen with such a delightful URL and hook.

via Gizmodo

Experience The Wonder Of Streaming Piracy With iOSLiveTV.com

So Much For Bouncer: New Android Malware Uses Facebook To Spread


Even though Google recently introduced a malware-blocking system called Bouncer to keep the Android Market safe from malicious software, crafty spammers and fraudsters are still managing to find ways around the restrictions to get their software onto users’ phones. The latest example? A malware program disguised, innocuously, as an Android app called “any_name.apk.” And it appears the malware is using Facebook’s app on Android phones in order to spread.

The software was discovered by security firm Sophos, which came across the malware after receiving a Facebook friend request. When checking out the user’s profile, the researcher, Vanja Svajcer, found a link posted to the requester’s Facebook profile page that, when clicked, directed the browser to a webpage which started an automatic download of an unknown software application to the device.

The software installed and downloaded immediately, without any request for authorization or input from the end user. However, although Svajcer doesn’t mention this in his analysis, for software to automatically install from outside the Google Android Market, the phone’s default settings must have been changed. Typically, Android phones are shipped with a setting switched on that prevents mobile apps from installing from sources besides the official Android Market. Many savvy Android users switch this setting off, though, because they enjoy the freedom that Android provides in discovering apps from alternative app stores and download locations – like the treasure trove that is the XDA Developers forum, for example.

Unfortunately, malware like this is the nasty side effect. And there’s nothing Bouncer can do about it. The link the researcher clicked did not appear to be an APK file by nature of its URL, just a typical website. And it was placed into the user’s About Me section on Facebook, as if it was a link to that person’s homepage.

Of course, many folks would simply ignore a friend request from someone they didn’t know, but curiosity often gets the better of us. (Do I know them? Did we meet at some point, and I forgot?) One errant click, and oops, you’re infected.

In this particular case, the malware in question appears to be a program designed to earn money for fraudsters through premium rate phone services, a scam popular outside the U.S. for the most part, which involves having unsuspecting users send out text messages to premium rate numbers (those that charge). The scammers, who are operating the numbers, end up collecting the money from the victims’ accounts.

The app attempts to associate itself with the Opera browser, and an encrypted configuration file contains the dialing codes for all the supported countries where the premium rate numbers are hosted.

As a side note: a few days later, the researcher visited the same URL, but was directed to an all-new website where another APK file was automatically downloaded (hilariously called “allnew.apk”). This one was functionally similar, but different on the binary level, indicating it was a new variant of the same malware.

Maybe it’s time for Android’s Bouncer guy to get pre-installed on handsets, too?

So Much For Bouncer: New Android Malware Uses Facebook To Spread

A Web Of Apps

iPhone Apps

It is remarkable to think that we’re in the early days of the app era, when there are already close to 600,000 iOS applications and nearly 400,000 on Android (source: Distimo). The growth of these app ecosystems has been rapid, exponential and shows no signs of slowing down. As well it shouldn’t: the untapped, addressable market for mobile apps involves hundreds of millions of users.

And yet, app discovery remains a challenge. Whether in an app store, on the device itself, or via a third-party service. Whoever cracks the nut of app discovery will have the potential to be the next Google: the search engine of the modern age. The search engine for a web of apps.

App discovery is a key focus for a number of startups. Off the top of my head: Chomp, Quixey, Xyologic, Appolocious, AppsFire, Kinetik, and Crosswa.lk are approaching the challenge of app discovery in new ways. (And yes, you too, millions of companies I neglected to mention).

While that’s a rich topic for examination, it’s not one that can be summed up in a single post. So for today, one aspect of building a web of apps: connectivity.

Why do I keep referring to a web of apps? Apps are not like the web – they are not hyperlinked creations that allow you to move seamlessly from one operation to another…or are they?

Perhaps not yet. But they could be, if more developers chose to implement this functionality. Using something called “app URL schemes,” apps can communicate with each other. For example, on the iPhone, iOS developers can call up the built-in apps, like the Messaging app, Email app and the Phone app. Apple’s URL schemes are published in developer documentation, but all apps have URL schemes available.(On Android, something similar can be accomplished via “intent filters.”)

Apps can launch other apps. Apps can connect to other apps.

It’s still somewhat rare to see this in action, but it’s starting to happen. Facebook is probably the most high-profile example of this. In the iOS app, on the left-hand side an “apps” section will link to Facebook apps which also exist as iOS applications. Tap the app in the list and Facebook launches the app on your phone. If you don’t have the iOS version installed, it launches the App Store instead.


Facebook as a portal to the mobile “app web.”

But there are lesser known use cases, too. For example, PhotoAppLink, an open source initiative that aims to simplify photo editing by tying multiple photo-editing apps together. Currently, in order to edit a photo in multiple apps, you have to save the edited photo to the camera roll each time as you move in between applications. But with PhotoAppLink-enabled apps, you simply select another app to use from within your current app.

Another example (actually, a potential example): the educational startup KinderTown offers an iOS app that’s a actually a curated version of the iTunes App Store. Designed to help parents discover kid-friendly, educational apps, KinderTown directs you to the iPhone’s App Store for downloads when you tap the app in question. Imagine if it could also help you find, filter and launch the apps you already have installed on your phone instead of just those you’ve newly discovered.

Meanwhile, at AnscaMobile, a recent tutorial for developers took the concept of app URL schemes a step further. Being able to launch an app using a URL scheme is great, wrote Jonathan Beebe on the company blog, but what’s even better is being able to tell your app to do something in response to being opened via a URL scheme.

“Think for a moment just how powerful this can be,” he says. “You could tell your app to do different things, or start in a different state depending on the URL string that was used to launch your app.”

Indeed, powerful stuff. And sadly under-utilized.

The possibilities for inter-connected apps using app URL schemes are endless, but actually connecting them together is still a challenge. The problem stems from the fact that there isn’t a simple way to discover the custom URLs for the apps you would want to link to.

This summer, a company called Zwapp attempted to address this situation by launching OneMillionAppSchemes.com, an initiative which aims to open source the unpublished custom URL schemes for iOS applications. Using a downloadable tool, Zwapp scans your iTunes library to locate the custom schemes for your apps then uploads those to the website. The goal, as you may have guessed by the name, is to collect one million of these app schemes. It’s not quite there – only 15,066 have been submitted to date.

Despite the Zwapp’s outreach and call-to-action in the app developer community, what it has implemented is really more of a hack – a way to workaround for the fact that there aren’t better tools available.

Whether the usage of URL schemes will ever really take off is unknown. While it’s one thing to launch your own app in creative ways, developers seem to balk at the concept of linking out to other apps. (Send my app’s users, which I fought so hard to acquire, to another app? No thank you!)

But just like hyperlinks allowed users to begin surfing through what’s now a seemingly infinite number of pages on the web, linking apps could prove to be a way to  overcome today’s app discovery challenges, too.

Top image: Daniel Y. Go

A Web Of Apps